I wasn’t always an avid gamer. My first real introduction to video games (aside from Mario Cart and Super Smash Brothers being played in my dorm lounge in college) is the fault of my friend, Michael, who got me hooked by sitting me down and having me play the introduction to BioShock on his laptop. This occasion wasn’t even that long ago – it’s been barely two years, but since then, I’ve been hooked on story-driven games, and the first BioShock game remains one of my favorites.
After finishing the series, Michael and I happened to talk one day about our obsession with Rapture, and I was (maybe not all that) surprised to hear that he did not finish BioShock Infinite due to his discomfort with the politics of the game. It makes some sense: while the games are very much connected, the enemies of BioShock and BioShock 2 are different from those of Infinite, and the fact that the player has to fight characters that he/she/they may be sympathetic to in Infinite doesn’t quite match the satisfaction of defeating Frank Fontaine and Sofia Lamb in the first two games.
The shift between BioShock 2 and Infinite, I think, is important. While the first two games give players a protagonist that is somewhat absolved of wrongdoing via their backstories and construction of Rapture, Infinite removes those possibilities and implicates the presumably straight white male player in the violence of the world. While players do have important choices to make in each BioShock game that determines light or dark endings, I still think those choices are excused in the first two games to some degree – and excused in a way that Infinite does not allow. To illustrate my point, I want to read Infinite against its predecessors, BioShock and BioShock 2, rather then taking it as a stand-alone game. I also want to focus on the topic of violence and masculinity, in keeping with the theme of gender on my blog.
Spoilers for all of the games, as well as trigger warnings for discussions of violence.