Opinion Piece

Those Random Thoughts: BioShock Infinite (Spoilers)


All credit goes to the fantastic GoshaDole on DeviantART for this wonderful piece of BioShock Infinite art.

WARNING: There are some potential spoilers ahead. I recommend this article to those who have completed the game. You’ve been warned.

Welcome to what may or may not end up being a constant series of articles titled “Those Random Thoughts”. The basis for these hopefully short pieces comes from all those strange thoughts I have when playing games, from all those moments when I question videogame logic and come up with mad little stories to explain what’s going on, or simply notice things that don’t seem to make sense. In other words the things that we normally ignore because that’s just how games work. These are usually things that never make it into the reviews I write for the very simple reason that, well, they’re not really important. Videogame logic has, after all, always been a bit wonky. And where better to start things off than BioShock Infinite, a game which you may have noticed that I was rather fond of.

And yes, as you may have already fathomed this article isn’t meant to be taken too seriously.

It all starts with Booker Dewitt’s strange serenity about having his DNA played with and gaining access to strange and unusual powers. I am, of course, talking about his surprising calmness about Vigors and the powerful abilities they bestow on him. The very first Vigor that Booker gets firsthand experience of is found within the fun-fair. You walk up to a stall to play a game, pick up the Bucking Bronco Vigor and WHAM! All of a sudden Booker can outstretch his left hand and blast enemies into the air! It’s amazing! It’s cool! And yet Booker doesn’t seem to actually give a royal fuck about it. At all. He exhibits the same level of uncaring about Vigors as politicians do for everyone else. Imagine for a moment you were in the shoes of Booker and you had wandered into a fun-fair, drank a strange substance and discovered you could lift people into the air by merely extending your hand. You’d be bloody amazed, right? I know I would be, so why isn’t Booker? Shortly after that he gains his first Vigor proper by drinking one of the samples being handed out. He downs the drink, things get a bit strange and he finds himself able to possess machines! And yet still past a single uttered sentence he doesn’t seem too fussed by it. It’s not until he picks up the Devil’s Kiss Vigor that we can a real reaction from Booker, and even then it’s only because his bloody hands are on fire.  The fact that he can hurl fireball afterwards doesn’t seem to faze him.

In fact, now that I think about it there are loads of amazing things that Booker doesn’t seem that impressed by. He seems oddly uncaring about a floating city, or the girl he can literally rip open holes in the fabric of the universe like it’s nothing. It gets even more amusing when he utters the already legendary phrase, “A city at the bottom of the ocean? Ridiculous.” Really, Booker, you’re baffled by the concept of an underwater city but don’t give a rats arse about standing on a city that’s floating above clouds?

So what oddity did my mind come up with to explain Booker’s strange behavior? Well, my brain concocted the idea that Booker was in complete shock at this point, having been launched via rocket to a floating city full of strange wonders and almost drowned his mind had pretty much shut down, leaving him numb to the many wonderous things he was seeing and experiencing, including the powerful effects of Vigors. Is this explanation plausible? Well, sort of. The human brain can and does work in that way, but it’s still a pretty crap explanation. But then this daft article is supposed to be about all the strange things I notice in games and the often equally strange explanations that my brain comes up with on the spot to explain ’em.

Or maybe Booker is a hipster…nah. That’d be stupid, even for videogame logic.

What the hell is up with the amount of stuff lying around on the streets of Columbia? In particular, what’s up with so many coins and hot dogs being in bins? I actually did mention this briefly in my review, but frankly it’s a question that still haunts my dreams. Amidst all the insanity of Infinite’s plot I can’t help but feel this is the true mystery at the heart of the story, and that if we solve it then everything will finally fall into place. The truly universe shattering idea that my mind arrived at is that the ruling class of Columbia are so filthy rich that they display this by casually discarding money and food, demonstrating that they already have so much that these few coins and hotdogs mean nothing to them. As a result it’s possible to walk down a single street in Columbia, raiding bins as you go, and find yourself as a fat millionaire by the end of it. Oh, and then there’s the very strange fact that you can open a small box of chocolates and find an entire pineapple in it. Or a tin of beans.

That also brings me to Booker and food, and the many strange things that come of it. Surely by the sheer quantity of stuff Booker can consume he should have enough pure mass by now to collapse into a Black Hole and take Columbia out? And then imagine what Booker must look like when you raid a storage container and eat all the consumables:

And then there’s the questionable places in which Booker is all too willing to eat the things he finds, like toilets. I can’t tell you the amount of times I’ve been amazed by videogame characters complete joy at finding and eating stuff from toilets. But bins aren’t that much better, either.

Finding things in various places also neatly brings me on to the subject of Voxaphones, and why in the name of Satan’s pet cat everybody is leaving them lying around the place. Looking at them I can’t help but feel they’re fairly expensive devices, and yet various people seem intent on leaving them haphazardly strewn around the place, which could be a serious safety hazard. It’s even more baffling in the case of people like Zachory Comstock. Exactly why is the prophet leaving recordings of himself absolutely everywhere? Does he, for example, wander into a building, monologue away into a Voxaphone and then just dump it for anybody to find? It’s even stranger when you consider many of his recordings contain facts that the general public of Columbia would be very interested in hearing and that Comstock would be very much interested in them not hearing. Actually, now I think about it’s pretty damn convenient that all of these recordings also just so happen to contain important plot elements. It’s hardly the first time this narrative device has been used in games, and yet none of them have ever really explained it. Even my strange mind couldn’t actually come up with a reason for all of these Voxaphones, other than that these people are very, very arrogant, and very, very stupid. Mind you, it’s sort of nice to know that even in a game is brilliant as BioShock Infinite some daft videogame story clichés remain! Convenient plot devices, FTW!

We mustn’t forget, either, that Booker has the amazing skill of being able to instantly put on any pair of trousers he finds without using his hands. Or moving. Any time you pick up new gear and decide to equip it, it just magically appears on Booker. It’s that or he strips in front of Elizabeth and irrational Games decided to skip those bits out in case people began thinking there was going to be a porn scene. A very, very…wrong porn scene.  Or maybe one of the Vigor’s Booker drinks grants him the ability to put on clothes without moving. Hell, maybe by the end of the game he’s wearing about 10 layers of clothing because the Vigor doesn’t remove the ones your already wearing. Yeah, I think I’ll go with that one.

Staying on Booker for just a second more, is that man incapable of using an elevator without aggressively punching the button? It’s like he has some deep grudge against elevators. Maybe he was trapped in one when he was younger, and now whenever he has to use one feels the nearly uncontrollable rage to utterly trash it, but instead settles for whacking the button so hard that everybody trying to use it afterward is going to be seriously inconvenienced.

Moving on, one of the biggest logical mental moments came when I began to wonder how Booker’s knees hadn’t exploded from leaping off of the Skylines. Seriously, the speeds and heights he leaps off of those Skylines at should have turned his knees into jelly by now, along with the rest of his body, really. I actually spent about 10-minutes in one of the sections dismounting from Skylines from as high as I could just to see if I could make Booker have to go through the rest of the game with a walking stick. It’s not just his knees, either, what about his arms? Imagine the jarring impacts that come from leaping off the edge of a building and catching a Skyline  50-100ft below? The first time he did that his arm should have been left dangling on the line and the rest of him should have plummeted to the ground, possibly landing on some little old lady just minding her own business.

I also couldn’t help but question some of the insane heights he can leap to reach the rails! There’s some magnetism involved, but it’s still pretty impressive when he jumps a good 30-40ft straight upwards. The only logical explanation, of course, is that Booker has mechanical legs, sort of like a Handy Man’s. In my mind I concocted an entire story about how Booker lost the use of his legs in a previous conflict and had them replaced with mechanical ones. Oh, and they replace his arm, too. Obviously. Even though we can see its flesh and blood. Um. I have absolutely no idea how people outside of Columbia had the technology to do this, but then frankly I never claimed that my logic was any better than a videogame’s, as clearly proven by whole arm theory, there.

I also arrived at the firm conclusion that Elizabeth is trying to get me killed in combat because she insists on throwing things at my face just when I’m moving from cover to cover. She may even be trying to knock me out cold considering the force with which she hurls things at me, like a vengeful bloody spirit. I know I’m perfectly allowed to simply ignore her, but years of honing my reactions in games mean I pretty much automatically hit the button when it flashes up on-screen without even thinking about it in case it’s one of the irritating quick-time-events. I swear she’s going to have my eye out one of these days with a coin.


So what explanation did my mind have for that one? Simple: for a large portion of the game Elizabeth doesn’t want to go with Booker, so she tries to get his ass killed when he is in a firefight. Later on when we move past that she just finds it funny.

Actually, on the subject of Elizabeth how many of you actively thought there was going to be a love story between Booker and Elizabeth? Come on, own up, you damn well thought they’d hook up, didn’t you? I know I did. It just seemed the predictable story thing to do, and there did seem to be some very chemistry between them, because of course neither of them knew the actual truth at that point. And then Irrational yank the rug from under our feet. What’s truly scary is that even after seeing the end of the game there’s still people out there pushing the idea of Booker and Elizabeth. And that’s horrifying.

I also can’t talk about Elizabeth without mentioning her super healing abilities. That woman can revive you from anything. Burned to death? No problem, she’ll fix you right up! Bullet through the eye? HA! Not even a challenge for Elizabeth. She is a miracle worker, one that should be immediately employed within the medical industry. But where exactly did she learn this? Early in the game it’s explain that she learned her skills from reading books, like her freaking mad lockpicking skillz, but reading a book and putting first-aid skills into actual real-world use are very different things! And reading books doesn’t explain how she can seemingly bring Booker back from the brink of death no matter what happened to him. I also found it funny that when you die, you lose some money. I’m fairly sure that as your vision blurs and fades, that’s not Elizabeth trying to bring you back, that’s her nicking the money from your wallet for services rendered.

Moving on a bit, I did have a chuckle at the introduction of the Fireman enemy. This large fellow certainly cuts an imposing figure, but before he event takes a swipe at Booker he set fire to an entire freakin’ block of Columbia for absolutely no reason that I can figure out, presumably leaving a lot of burned corpses and unhappy people in his wake. Admittedly the Fireman is called out to deal with the False Prophet, which is pretty serious stuff and so drastic measures are called for, but setting fire to your own city, and failing to actually kill Booker in the process, seems a tad excessive. And it should also be said that Booker manages to the handle the Devil’s Kiss Vigor without burning down the entire city accidentally, without any special training or anything. Somewhere there’s a man handling the defense budget cursing the decision to go with Firemen.

It’s also a bit strange that we never see many enemies wielding Vigors. Nor we do we ever see those that do use Vigors wielding multiple Vigors like Booker does. within the game it’s explained that the general public hasn’t fully embraced Vigors, but it does seem that the military elements of Columbia have, so I can’t help but ponder the logic behind the decision to not arm more troops with Vigors. Mind you, you’d probably get your ass kicked if they did, especially in 1999 mode. Or maybe they’re just as bit more sensible than Booker and refuse to guzzle down every single suspicious liquid handed to them in case it turns out to be the secret, utterly useless Vigor that let’s you burp the national anthem and grow your toenails slightly quicker. A more sensible explanation might be that they decided handing turning their soldiers into super-humans capable of untold damage might be a crap idea when they inevitably go nuts and blow up half the city. Like the fireman. Oh.

And can you imagine how very different the game would have played out had Booker simply put on a pair of gloves? It might have been ages before anybody noticed him if he had just had the common sense to cover up his hand after seeing that sign. Such a simple thing with huge ramifications. Just one more reason why we should always invest in good gloves, kids! Mind you, it would have made for a boring game.

Did anybody else notice them selling surfboards in Battleship Bay? Surfboards in a place where the water just goes straight off the edge. That makes sense. My only explanation here is that the people of Columbia like a joke as much as everybody else, even if they are all racist idiots who leave money in bins.

On the thought of stuff….uh, dropping, I wonder where all the sewage goes? Maybe every month they discharge it all straight out of the bottom of the city. In my mind I’ve got images of various cities around the world believing they’re under attack from a country with some strange new chemical weapon. Not nice images, mind you. Raining feces never makes for a nice image.

I think I’ll bring this to a close here. There are other things I could mention, like how Booker and Elizabeth don’t seem to be bothered about just haphazardly ripping open the fabric of the universe for the sake of bringing in a wall to hide behind, but I fear that if I carry on people might start taking things seriously and I’ll end up with a mob at my front door demanding to know what my problem with BioShock Infinite is.

However, I will leave you with a little random things that I noticed and love for an inexplicable reason: when you first meet Elizabeth in person, the book she almost swings at your face is titled, “The Principles of Quantum Mechanics.” It’s written by Rosalind Lutece.

And if you though BioShock Infinite was already tragic, then think of this: Booker was only 16-years old when he fought at the battle of Wounded Knee. And he was only 19-years old when he lost his wife and child.

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