essay

Infinite Regressions

[This contains some spoilers from the first two hours of Bioshock Infinite.]

I tried to jump off the pier and it wouldn’t let me.

After jumping up and down a few times, I had turned in my friend’s chair to get his opinion on the situation. It was his copy of Bioshock Infinite and I had only been playing for about 30 seconds. He had watched me get out of the boat at the very beginning and, for a few moments, start walking toward the lighthouse, the way I was supposed to go. However, instead of going that way, I had turned away from the road in front of me and had tried to jump off the pier.

“The game doesn’t want you to do that.”

For the next two hours of playing, the total extent of which I have played Bioshock Infinite so far, that became the voice behind me. It was one of two phrases that represented the personification of the authoritarian control the game had over me. Whenever I would try to move away from its path, to go off the rails, it would gently but forcibly put me back on the way it wanted me to go. I couldn’t even kill myself.

Yes, it’s true, I tried to jump off the floating city of Columbia. As soon as I was given the chance, I tried it. My friend had laughed about that too. “No, wait,” he said, trying to copy the cadence of the narrator from The Prince of Persia as I was reset on the platform. “That didn’t happen.”

Of course, that was after the game forced me to get baptized. I should have known better at that point.

For all the moral issues of being able to kill myself or not, and the obvious weirdness of this complete stranger roaming through the city and eating out of trash cans right in front of people, that was the thing I had the most trouble with initially. Upon entering the lighthouse and being thrust into this strange new world of Columbia, I paused in the temple. I didn’t want to continue.

Actually, that’s completely not true. My first actions were to steal everything I could find. I brazenly walked past the people I came across and stole the coins from the floor. I went through the items on the altars and took what I wanted. This was a video game after all. I knew no one else mattered.

Then, I was confronted with a situation I didn’t like. (And, it seems, one another person didn’t like too.)

You must accept.

I stood in front of the man, this gatekeeper, as the people murmured behind me. To echoes of “Yes, Lord” and “Hallelujah,” I waited through the dialogue and then tried to take the other option. When I heard Booker — me — say that “It’s either this or turn around and get back on that rocket,” I thought that was a choice. I turned around.

In watching me struggle to get away these people and this place, my friend spoke again. “The game doesn’t want you to do that either.”

“I have to do this?”

“Yeah. You can’t go back.”

“But he just said –”

“Just accept it.”

It became the second mantra to remember while playing Bioshock Infinite that night. Every time I tried to deviate from what it wanted, to get away from its system of rules and power, I needed to just repeat those two sentences to myself: “The game doesn’t want you to do that” and “Just accept it.”

From trying to jump off the city or run away from the violence in the game, I was continually confronted with situations where I wanted to take another path or do something else. Each time, I was placed exactly where the game wanted me to be next. There was no escape from its domineering control. Even death was taken away from me.