So I watched my spouse play through BioShock Infinite over the past few days. As usual, I don’t believe in game spoilers, but if you do, then I guess you shouldn’t read this. Some (barely connected) thoughts:
When your super-liminally racist society ends up being destroyed by the only black characters in the game, who are depicted as violent, white-people-hating, child-murdering savages, you’re just confirming the racist white peoples’ ideas about black people and presenting them as true.
Centering a story about people of color fighting against racist oppression on a white person and making that white person the agent of the fight’s success is racist. Showing people of color as needing a white person on their side in order to win is racist. Transforming a group of people of color into a group of white people halfway through the game is racist. Yes I understand that in the game’s setting of 1912, Irish people were not understood to be white yet. But it’s 2013, Irish people have been white for all of living memory, and the game is set in a giant flying city where people can shoot flocks of birds out of their hands. I didn’t realize that the glue holding this fantasy together had to be racism.
(Here’s your historical accuracy: Irish immigrants coming to the United States at the turn of the 20th century were treated almost as poorly as the newly-freed African Americans. When presented with a racist system that privileged whiteness, Irish people worked hard to assimilate into white society, including perpetuating racism against people of color themselves. This is what racist systems do: they reward people in the system for keeping the system alive.)
When a revolution happens, yes sometimes the leaders become corrupt with power. That usually happens AFTER the power-grab is secure, not mid-victory. Also nothing Daisy Fitzroy does in the game, including shooting a crying kid, is as damaging to as many people as the day-to-day oppression perpetrated by Comstock’s society. I get that given the game’s setting, it’d be kind of boring to sit around and wait 10 years to see Fitzroy’s evolution into The Godfather or whatever (side note: WOULD PLAY), and it’s unfortunate that this game has no mechanics that allow for jumping forward in time…
This was cool: the open auction where people bid on jobs for less and less pay — a thing that has happened before in US history and which we’re close to enacting again (like debtors’ prison). It’s almost like this game could have had a lot to say about power structures and the deification of rich white men. Where was my Occupy Columbia? …Oh right, it was divided on race lines and immediately fell apart (because black women can’t lead? because a strong black woman pushing for change is “just as bad” as the regime she’s trying to topple? I feel like the game thinks it’s delivering a good and interesting message but none of its actual messages are good or even new).
An equally big swing-and-miss: A game showing oppression at a citywide scale eventually drills down into the individual impact of poverty and just how desperate it makes people, the horrible choices being poor can force you to make. If the game hadn’t utterly abandoned the Vox Populi halfway through and dismissed their leader as “deserving” Comstock, this game could have been an amazing gut-punch for the middle class folks. I feel like if the game wasn’t so eager to immediately showcase how “bad” Columbia was, it’d have been a much more nuanced journey from judging the behavior of the rebels to understanding what actual desperation feels like. Instead I spent several hours with a lot of people who were either overtly terrible, labeled terrible, or were revealed to be terrible as a surprise twist.
About that twist: for a game that made sure to hold my hand and overly-explain just about every concept in each setpiece, the actual story and ending of the game felt extremely hurried, which in turn made it seem half-baked and like this wasn’t something that was thought through enough. Alfred Hitchcock famously explained the different between suspense and surprise as showing the bomb under the table at the beginning of the scene or just presenting the scene and then the bomb suddenly goes off. Could have stood a bit more bomb-showing throughout the rest of the game, rather than, “SURPRISE HERE ARE A BUNCH OF IDEAS OKAY YOUR MULTIVERSE DAUGHTERS ARE DROWNING YOU NOW AND SOMEHOW THAT FIXES WHATEVER THE PROBLEM IS THE END…OH WAIT I GUESS THAT DIDN’T FIX THE PROBLEM BECAUSE IN ANOTHER UNIVERSE YOU’RE STILL ALIVE.”
(Young straight white dude game devs are becoming old straight white dude game devs and thus the pretty big-titted girl is now your daughter-love-object not your erection-lust-object, whoops.)
At one point Elizabeth wonders if she’s wishing these alternate universes into being. While that turns out to be false (the truth instead being the current state of DC comics) I actually would have loved that to be true. I love the idea that Fitzroy’s mid-fight behavior and failed revolution are because when a white girl raised in a racist society imagines a reality where the poor black people win, she can’t help but do it in the most racist way possible.
I just cannot get past the fact that the game took so much time to set up this extremely oppressive culture and then worked very hard to make me not care about what happened to anyone in it and then stopped focusing on it entirely.
Why do the twins care so much about saving Manhattan? I mean, I get *we* lived through 9/11 but they didn’t, so why does the bombing of a place we never go to in the game matter so much more than all of the people living in Columbia? For a game set in US history, this was the one piece of the game that actually stank of US entitlement. Who gives a shit about the city off-screen, let me save the city in front of me, yeesh.