Loving the existential ending
By Ian Crane
The following editorial contains spoilers about the end of Bioshock Infinite
Bioshock Infinite has been out for just over a week now and for all intents and purpose 2K Games have created a fitting end to their underwater Opus, or have they? Around the same time last year the third Mass Effect game was dividing gamers with its euphoric (anti) climax and deeper meaning and yet Infinite is receiving glowing reviews critical acclaim and generally a whole lot of love.
Considering the middling graphics, lack luster shooting mechanics and in your face themes of race and religion Infinite could be mistaken for the casual man’s Bioshock, simplified and a whole lot less subtle. However, those crying foul that “you never get to go to Rapture” are instantly called out as obviously not finishing the game, because it is the ending of the game, the final revelations that have gamers gob smacked. 2K has seemingly handled this open ended existential ending far better than Bioware ever did.
This type of end to a series that leaves it just as open to reboots and sequels is not new, especially in video games and especially when a series reaches its third and the developers suddenly have to figure out how to tie up all the loose threads.
In lay man terms, the simplest example is ‘the player wakes up and it was all a dream’ however more conventional methods include ‘the player was actually dead all along’ or more recently ‘the player enters or is assimilated by technology or a machine and kills himself to either join the universe or reboot it all over again’
April this year seems to be rife with these life metaphors across all genre. Morning Glories is a graphic novel that this month wrapped up its first season of 25 comics, written and created by none other than the producers of LOST. LOST in and of itself came full circle with religious and existential metaphors about life and a seemingly contrived paradox where the main character had to die to live and was never alive to begin with. Doctor Who also returned to screens in April and is no stranger to the paradox equation whereby the ending triggers the beginning which in turns is the reason for things ending in the first place.
Bioshock could have taken this route, nay the floating city of Columbia could have existed in the same world and space as Rapture, however 2K took a decidedly unique and fresh approach that is one of the oldest staples in science fiction: The multi universe; one point, one choice, one decision creating an infinite number of different worlds all slightly unique stretching out among the stars.
The difference between an alternate or parallel world is that they exist independent of each other and do not rely or are affected by one very critical thing- choice. Choices are the epitome of video gameplay and what Bioshock does so well is create strong linear narrative but at the same time seemingly explores the consequence of choice.
Booker DeWitt is sent to recue Elizabeth from a tower and yet this lady is in fact his daughter from another life where he chose to sell her to a couple of time jumping twins. He doesn’t remember because as he travels through the different worlds his memories are re written and replaced or re remembered. The very worlds he travels to were in fact created by himself and the very enemies he fights are his own fault. Rapture is the same place as Columbia except because of a few key choices, turned out very different at different points in time and space. Elizabeth and the little sisters might as well be based on the same archetype of Bookers daughter Anna DeWitt and yes, in amongst it all is still the Deus Ex machina of the man trapped in the machine both literally ( The Big Daddy and the Song bird) and metaphorically. In this way the key choice or “point of no return” is at the lighthouse, the same one in each game that Elizabeth shows in the end as 100,000 light houses stretching out amongst the stars blinking in the night sky.
So let’s flip a coin and consider some of the more popular existential crisis that Bioshock Infinites ending explores
DEUS EX MACHINA
Assassins Creed is probably the most obvious and literal example in recent video game history of the “mans end (as God) inside the machine” not unlike the Matrix itself the Animus allows access to all of histories memories however the plot can become stuck with nowhere to go except, deeper and deeper inside the mind.
This comes full circle with games like Mass Effect or Deus Ex where man riles against the impending threat of technology either as alien entities or the assimilation of future technology. The ultimate ending is either the man accepting his fate and going to sleep inside the machine to resolve or create a paradox, or in Deus Ex history continuing but becoming ‘more and more machine’ as humanity loses itself to the computer mind.
Bioshock actually handles this idea in a fresh perspective wrapped up in a steam punk industrial, turn of the century vibe pitching America as both the savior of mankind and also the root of all evil at the same time. In each case one man is fully succumb to the future and in Bioshock 2 you literally play as the metal man in the big Daddy machine.
In all these cases a sacrifice is always demanded and for Booker DeWitts life this results in a new set of choices and variables where by a lot of bad things that could have happened – didn’t.
As far as human existence goes paradoxes start and generally end with a death. Until something fundamentally changes in the universe death has become the ‘deepest’ way for video game developers to express or end a story, either tying up all the loose ends- or ignoring them.
In Bioshock the paradox is that The very big bad boss that Booker fights- is in fact HIMSELF that grew old and in time created the very universes of Rapture and Columbia and ‘the real world’ that he now resides in. Paradoxes are sometimes never resolved, like in Assassins Creed and usually get stuck in loops, repeating until something stops or ends the cycle. The best paradoxes are self substantiating and support themselves with all consequences such as memory loss- explained.
The multi universe theory avoids this by creating an ‘infinite’ set of individual worlds but that do not loop rather creating a new world at every decision point
MULTIPLE OR PARRALEL ALTENRATE UNIVERSES
Once the main character has died or interceded something still has to be left behind. In more recent times the idea of re birth is quite popular however worse still is the notion that the inside of the machine escapes out, or somehow becomes sentient. Multiple or alternate universe need to hinge on a single idea or usually a person; that only exists once. This “one” person may or may not be the savior or destroyer of all the worlds, but is a common link that each world spills out from.
In Bioshock Infinite it is not Booker but actually the Twins that pop up in the game; epitomizing choice to the player. They are the reason the worlds are tearing open and the answer to how and why Elizabeth can “access them”. Where alternate universe usually exist due to the destruction of another, multiple universe stack up against each other and are usually accessible at the same time through tears or breaks in reality.
THE NEXT BIOSHOCK
Bioshock Infinite is not an excellent game. It shouldn’t be Game of the Year and it was delayed enough times that both the graphics and game play feel somewhat dated. What was once fresh is now tried and true but where 2K takes the next game, only the players’ imagination could believe.
The game builds a credible fiction of alternate history, propaganda, religion and cult status, the little details in the world are dropped like clues for fans and thanks to their existential ending 2K are free to take both Columbia and Rapture wherever they wish; Bioshock in Space?
The sky’s the limit.