[Re-post from evanritchie.blogspot.com]
Bioshock Infinite – Telling People About Videogames – Hey, Listen
There. That’s the plan for this post. Got it? Good.
Bioshock Infinite spoke to me in a way that games haven’t done in a while. Almost a Mother 3 experience. I felt things. I marveled at intricacies. I was engaged by the world, the lore and the loopholes. But more than that, Bioshock Infinite opened my eyes to the current limitations of the medium.
It’s easier to see how such visually impressive, aurally interesting and thematically powerful set pieces are let down by the fact there are “bosses”, shields health from garbage and all the other videogame tropes we know and (don’t always) love. These are stat checks in a shooting gallery. We’re playing I Spy for ammo when an interesting narrative built around Quantum Physics, oppression, nature vs. nurture, faith, baptism and redemption is playing out around us.
I loved it. Despite what many have said, I found the combat engaging with plenty of strategy and there are several scenes which will stay with me for life, but after trying to show someone else the wonder of Bioshock, I came to realise a few things. Kirk Hamilton puts it well in his article on the violence in Bioshock Infinite. It could have been the game to give validity to our pastime in the eyes of many “non-gamers”. But maybe, just maybe it needs to stop being a game.
I would argue that more than the ultra-violence, more than that first act of violence and that policeman’s face and more than the juxtaposition of clean air and bright skies against the bloody themes, it is the health packs (pineapples, whatever) and littered ammunition that hold Bioshock back from reaching that specific potential. For many, the idea that it’s an arena of simulated violence where we must keep watch over a health bar and ammunition count is enough for them to disqualify it from having anything interesting to offer. They don’t play laser tag for the story. They’d probably just see a movie.
I was sitting at a desk with two friends (who happen to be Christian ministers), as one tried to show the other something of the world of videogames by showing him the original Bioshock. The first was very excited about discussions of morality and the idea of how transient and impermanent death is in these virtual worlds, whereas the other couldn’t wait to escape. I’ve had much experience with trying to show videogames to people who generally don’t touch them (yes, they still exist) and I would have taken a very different approach to our little play-test. I understand that more than the violence and the idea that we might have some hand in it, it’s often the game-y mechanics that will be even more off-putting.
I would have started from the beginning. I would have kept an eye on our friend as he saw the water after the crash, the architecture, the recorded speech by Andrew Ryan, explaining Ayn Rand’s Objectivism. But as soon as any exploration, or too much of a fire-fight was required, I would have stopped and asked for an opinion. See? Philosophy? Art? Engaging narrative? My approach is flawed, but it usually gets the conversation going, even if the person won’t actually engage first-hand with the medium.
Jenova Chen and thatgamecompany are exciting entities because much of their philosophy is built around not looking back. They want to throw off the shackles of a medium born out of young men’s hobbies, with metrics that were easy to run because of limited tech. We will always have RTS games and stat-heavy RPGs where the mechanics are obvious, and many of the D&D influenced titles will still wear their dice on their sleeves. If we want to share something important, maybe we need less game, more experience.
My friends and I have been working on a little podcast of geekery. It intends to speak with a distinctly Australian/Malaysian/Melbournian accent on board games, manga, anime, videogames and whatever geeky things have taken our fancy.
It’s good to be back.
You can check out Evan’s own blog here.