[This article does contain some slight spoilers, so if you want to avoid them don't read it]
First off, I realize that I may be a little bit late to this party. Bioshock came out just over two short weeks ago, and all of the major opinion pieces about the game have already been discussed, written about and raged over. I guess I was just a little bit too busy playing the game rather than writing about it. Can you blame me? Regardless, while playing the game and reading what other people were saying, one of the more controversial topics I came across was how violent Bioshock Infinite was. There was a pretty obvious split when it came to people’s opinions: A lot of people thought that the violence took away from Bioshock: Infinite‘s beauty and cut down it’s fan base, while others thought it was just another part of the FPS experience. Personally, I don’t think either of these things are right. While Bioshock: Infinite was a very violent game, I don’t think it takes away from the overall beauty of the game. In fact, I think it plays an integral role in how Infinite plays itself out.
Lets gain some perspective about where these arguments about violence come from. When you start out the game, you are met with an epic scene that takes you through a lighthouse. That’s where you get the first glimpse of what Bioshock: Infinite is going to offer. There’s a dead body in a chair, the ground soaked with blood. While this is a pretty gruesome scene, it does a good job of adding to the atmosphere that is present at that point in the game. You’re wandering around a lighthouse, not knowing where you are or what you are supposed to be doing. The atmosphere is already very dark, furthered by the thunderstorm outside and the comments Booker made about the pot of water at the foot of the stairs (He comments about how it won’t help, or something along those lines). This bloodied figure just adds to that atmosphere.
When you finally reach Colombia, you are met with quite a few beautiful sights. The church scene is quite stunning, paired with that beautiful piano arrangement. After that, you are let out into the city of Colombia. The vibrant colors and bright lights are intoxicating. The city is bustling with happy people, all ready to celebrate this event called “The Raffle” which you know nothing about. Everything has a uppity feel to it, especially when you are attending the festival. Then everything supposedly started to go downhill when it came to graphic violence. You realize that the raffle is actually a drawing to see who will be the first one to throw a baseball at an interracial couple. This is quickly followed by you being captured by the police. They’re about to maul your face with a skyhook, so what do you decide to do? Beat them to the punch by forcing the other police officers face into it first. I will admit, this scene is one of the more graphic things I have seen in any game, but that’s okay. The game then introduces you to melee finishes, which are where most critics claim the game is far too violent. You have the unique ability to either break the neck of your enemy, cut their head off completely or spew their brain all over the pavement. Again, very violent sequences. Throughout the rest of Bioshock: Infinite, violence ranges from making enemies heads explode with the shock jockey plasmid to shooting a defenseless man through his skull with no signs of remorse. Violence levels in the game are quite high, but I think it all has a purpose. One of these could be to further the dark nature of Bioshock: Infinite.
At its core, Bioshock: Infinite is a very dark game. The amount of dark themes at play is innumerable, and I actually find it hard to believe that people think that this violence doesn’t play right into these themes. While sure, it can get annoying to constantly watch people getting dismembered as blood spurts across your screen, doesn’t it kind of fit? Early on in the game, you learn about Booker’s involvement in various military battles, most notably his involvement in the Boxer Rebellion and the Battle of Wounded knee. The game brings up these events, and comments on the brutal murder of these Native American and Chinese people. Right off the bat, the game has you painting a very dark image in your head when it comes to Mr. Dewitt’s past. Once this picture was drawn, Dewitt’s actions throughout the game don’t seem too terrible. At least to me, anyways.
Another big point I had a problem with was how people got offended by the violence, but were totally okay with the racism going on throughout the game. First off, I think that these racist elements add another layer to Infinite that I actually liked. It was all part of that specific time period over which the game takes place, and also goes on to give a bit more character to Comstock. Even though it made me think very lowly of him. To be totally honest, that whole raffle scene with the interracial couple made me feel more emotions than any amount of violence throughout the game. I remember a feeling of rage when I was confronted with it. I was very angry that I was going to be forced to throw a baseball at a couple who most definitely didn’t deserve it (which was luckily met with relief when I realized I had the option to throw it at Fink). This feeling was also mimicked when I was listening to the various Voxophones that had to do with slavery and the such.
When it comes to these things, I just think it is wrong to say that violence takes away from Bioshock: Infinite‘s beauty and when there are so many other things that could have the same effect. Just because something isn’t graphical doesn’t make it any less offensive to people playing the game. Why are people freaking out about the ability to cut someone’s head clear off and not that you were almost forced to throw a baseball at an interracial couple? I just don’t get it. The way I see it, these somewhat offensive aspects were put into Bioshock: Infinite for a reason, and they add to the game rather than take away from it. Speaking of adding to the game, the violence in Bioshock: Infinite also does a good job of making the impact of the ending even more prominent.
As I explained above, Booker Dewitt was a member of a calvary unit that was deployed during the Battle of Wounded Knee and during the Boxer Rebellion. Slate explains the sorts of terrible things that he was forced to do to serve his country, and Booker explains how it scarred him in ways that he could not even describe. He wanted so bad to erase his past, but saw no feasible way of doing so. So right there, add that to Booker’s box of past experiences. Then, near the end of the game you find out that Booker had the chance to get baptized, which would supposedly wipe his slate clean. He obviously chose not to do so, so he continued his life. He then gave away his daughter to the Lutece brother to wipe away a debt. This could not exactly be viewed as a noble act. Then Booker is sent to Colombia where he proceeds to murder copious amounts of people. By the end of the game, Bookers slate is dripping with so much blood that it is unimaginable. However, this makes Booker’s final baptism that much more powerful. When Booker gets baptized (and subsequently drowned) at the end of the game, he is atoning for all of the various wrongs he had committed throughout the game. He is atoning for the people he killed in the war, for the pain he put Elizabeth/Anna through under Comstock’s watch, for all the people he killed in Colombia, for all the people who’s deaths he was part of (Fitzelroy, Fink, Chen Lin, etc.) and also for the fact that he gave away his daughter. Had Booker’s past not been as brutal as it was, would this scene had been as powerful as it was? If Booker would have waltzed through Colombia giving everyone a smack on the head or a shot to the knee, would you have felt the way you did when Booker finally let go? I know that I wouldn’t have.
I think it is also worthy to note that modern day shooters do a very good job of trying to hide the fact that the main character usually ends up being a brutal murderer by the end of their game. Uncharted did the same thing. While Nathan Drake seems like a great guy due to all the silly quips, relatable relationships etc, it’s important to note that he is a treasure robber who has amassed quite a few murders (im thinking in the hundreds) across his various adventures.
A similar thing happens in the recent Tomb Raider. Lara Croft is made out to be the victim, and most people see her as that. Though, the thing is, by the end of Tomb Raider Lara is brutally murdering people for what seems like the fun of it. She openly states something along the lines of “Come get me! I’ll kill every single one of you!”. By the end of Tomb Raider, regardless of whether you choose to accept it, Lara is no longer a victim in that situation. Uncharted and Tomb Raider did a good job of trying to make the violence less noticeable by over-laying it with an overly likable character. Booker isn’t exactly the cute and cuddly character you can relate to, so Bioshock‘s violence was just put on the plate for everyone to notice. In reality, Bioshock doesn’t really have that much more violence than other games of similar distinction. It just seems that way because of how Irrational chose to display it. Yes, Irrational chose to do it.
Overall, I think people are nuts to be making such a debacle over the violence in Bioshock: Infinite. Sure, it may cut down on the people who choose to play the game (such as Chris Plante’s wife), but I think that is just a minority when it comes to the general population. We have become far too desensitized to violence for something like this to really be that big of a deal. Irrational chose to put this amount of violence in their game (and not cover it up with cheeky, likable characters, a la Uncharted). They obviously had some sort of reasoning behind it. I doubt Ken Levine sat down with his team and said “C’mon guys, I want to see more head explosions and neck breaks!”. It all served a purpose in the overall scheme of Bioshock: Infinite. Whether it was to further the dark themes at play or increase the impact of the games significant ending, the violence in Bioshock: Infinite is nothing to squabble over. I mean really, did you actually expect Booker to rescue Elizabeth by asking nicely?