The Good, The Bad and The Infinite

(or “The road to hell is paved with implausibly constructed cities”…)

Last time I wrote on this topic, it was on the option paralysis that my time with Bioshock Infinite left me in. I was, and still am, in a state whereby I could write about my past experiences rather than my enthusiasm to play again. I have worked through some of the problems preventing replay, but I still want to talk about the game and what it did right.

This post contains SPOILERS. In fact, it is so full of spoilers, it possesses the potential to ruin future titles in the Bioshock series. So, if you haven’t played Bioshock 1, 2 and/or Infinite, expect to have something busted for you. If you intend to, but have yet to walk the ocean floor, or stroll through the city of clouds, best close this browser tab and move on to other fare. Go on! I won’t take it personally!

Exhibit A: Me not taking it personally.

Exhibit A: Me not taking it personally.

It’s been a while since I mind-walked the virtual sky-roads of the capital city of the atmosphere (Columbia, duuh). Initially I had a lot I wanted to say about the game, but then I got through the game, wrote my first post, and then fell into a lull of reflective melancholy, as I came to quite the depressing realisation: There is not a single Good Guy in Bioshock Infinite.

Good guys! Stories thrive on them. We cheer, and identify with them. They invariably save the day, get the girl and more often than not also receive the reward of justice having been done. I’m not going to harp on this too long, but just by looking at the major players, you can see they all had a screw or two loose. Many of them have a self-held belief they are a good guy, but the reality is that none are particularly upstanding members of the community.

In Columbia, we have the leaders of the pack, Zachary Hale Comstock and Jeremiah Fink. One is a mad man who has taken increasingly draconian steps to prove the point that he is right, and the other is the over-the-top personification of corporate avarice; a slave driver and penny-pinching lunatic. Opposing them you have Daisy Fitzroy and the Doctors Lutece: The former was persecuted for a crime she never committed, becoming just as bitter and twisted as those she fought against whilst the latter were not at all evil, but weren’t trying to save the world or the people in it, rather just undo the bad they wrought. (And they do so with such clinical detachment – they mustn’t care that much for the people involved, but rather the outcomes.)

Which brings me to the heroes of the hour, Booker and Anna-Elizabeth, whom I have already tarred with that bristly tool, soaked in some form of liquid covering, probably with a water, oil or evil base. (most likely evil) How can I say these two are not good guys? Simple – the jaunt into the future shows us a Columbia led by Anna-beth, where she is attacking New York City during the 80’s. This isn’t the actions of a good person, and her instructions to Booker to un-make it so are to help her out personally – she took on Comstock’s cause herself, so it makes her ethics very questionable. And Booker! Booker, he who runs amok murdering half of Columbia in an effort to save the girl and redeem himself…he’s just a little self-deluded. He committed atrocities during the Battle of Wounded Knee, and has some mad idea that by rescuing this girl, he will absolve himself…

The Rugged Face Of Handsome Evil?

The Ruggedly Handsome Face of Evil?

But how do the previous installments compare? Like a tarnished mirror with intent to mess things up, that’s how. As the ending shows us, each world in Bioshock is a reflection of the same people and events; Comstock’s deluded grandeur matches Andrew Ryan’s, Fontaine and Fink are cut from the same greedy cloth, Lutece and Rosenbaum both did bad things, and take steps to put things right out of guilt and Fitzroy ‘n’ Lamb are badly done by, and become monstrous in their response. Jack…Booker…neither was in control of their own destiny, and both commit horrible crimes in the name of ‘doing the right thing’ (Let’s not forget Jack hijacked a plane and shot it down from within). The only ones with a semblance of any Good Guy to them, are the mindless automatons Songbird/Subject Delta; in both cases any good they performed was wired into them, coming at the price of mercilessly smashing up anyone who got in their way.

In the world of Bioshock, there are no good guys. There is a cast of characters who all believe in their own actions, but none of them are right or just. This is a world where there may very well be people of good character, people of virtue, but we never see them. Why not? Have they not made an impact on their world? Have they not contributed to it? Not in a meaningful way, no. And why is that? Could it be that the entire Bioshock reality is one based on dystopic alignment? No matter how much effort the Good Guys put in, they will amount to naught as the universe simply won’t let it pay off? Maybe. I’m firing off conjectures like a character in a John Woo gunfight, but I feel I have to. I’m clutching at the opposites of Good and Evil meaning that if one exists so must the other, but the more I think about it, the more I’m being drawn to the conclusion that the Bioshock realm runs on a single, linear idea: if you want it, you must get it yourself. Every character who has achieved anything, has done it at the expense of many (in some cases, many MANY) others. And those with the noble intentions? Dead. Brainwashed. NEVER HAVING EXISTED.


Does this world sound like fun? Nope. I can only imagine that given we’ve seen both sides of the coin, any future entries in the series will be uphill battles to convince us we have a choice, that our actions will play a meaningful role in shaping the story. So far we’ve ample evidence that this simply won’t be the case, and we’ll end up with the depressing realisation that our character was just one more flag-waving member in a procession of high concept bastards.

And then there’s Sander Cohen, the John Waters-looking sociopath. However that guy made Jack Nicholson’s Artistic Joker look downright charming and rational in comparison (He avoided the Good/Bad moral compass by taking a sharp turn and heading West to “artistic expression through any means necessary”). Did his actions alter the story? Did he get what he wanted out of it? No and yes, respectively. But did it ultimately matter? No. Mad as a sack of doorknobs.

The Doorknobbed Face of Sack Madness

The Door-knobbed Face of Sack Madness

~ by nick on June 20, 2013.

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