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Aaron Waite Aaron Waite
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Infinite Dark' is art

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Bioshock Infinite's descent into storytelling


If you want to avoid some mild spoilers for 'Bioshock Infinite,' you may want to stop reading for a bit and catch up later on in the article.

There's a point early on in 'Bioshock Infinite' that made my mouth drop. Not in a 'DUDEBRO, THAT WAS A TOTALLY RAD EXPLOSION THAT WE JUST MADE WITH OUR LIGHTNING STRIKE SCORESTREAK!' kind of way, or even a 'I am so invested in these characters that I can't believe they did that' kind of way. No, no, this was an honest-to-goodness, mouth-agape, I-can't-believe-they-actually-did-that jaw dropping moment.

The floating city of Columbia, at first appearance, seems to be a shining symbol of early Americana. Women in bonnets, men in duff caps, and well-behaved children that sit in rapt attention to the various displays of patriotism. In the midst of all this, you come upon an assembly of people drawing baseballs with numbers on them for a raffle. You take your baseball, and as luck would have it, your number is drawn and you're invited to the front of the stage where they elect to give you your prize. The crowd cheers behind you as the curtains unfurl on stage to show... inter-racial couple in stocks.

Not only was this formerly-happy couple being humiliated in front of this crowd, but adding insult to injury, incredibly (and I mean incredibly) racist stage props pop up and wreath them with an extra dose of ignorance and close-mindedness. The jeering crowd, seeming to feed off the poor man and woman's plight, chants at you to throw the first proverbial stone. It's possibly the worst scene I've ever seen in any game I've ever played.
And yet, it became my favorite gaming moment, because suddenly I had absolute faith in our chosen medium to make mature, deep and moving stories.

Up until now, games had always been more about the aspect of the player wandering through worlds of complete and utter imagination, never truly touching things that make us human. Games were summer blockbuster popcorn flicks, a whole lot of bombast and not a lot of substance. We chose to keep the extraordinary as a shallow trough to guide our plot lines in. Where games are made to be entertainment, an escape, we chose to keep many of our stories to a minimum depth, if just for our own suspension of disbelief.

However, when I was playing 'Bioshock Infinite' staring at these terrible stage props surrounding this Columbia-forbidden mixed-race couple, I realized that we as an industry are ready to grow up. We're ready to forge a path that takes away from the mundane, predictable plots that make up the vast majority of the industry and start telling stories that can dredge up the worst of humanity and show it as the truly terrible thing it is. We can actually show that there are and were such people that can thing in such twisted ways.

Movies have long been considered art. They've depicted racism, violence, depravity but also the soaring heights of what the human spirit is capable of accomplishing. They've told stories that have managed to tug at the hearts of millions.

Games haven't had the ability to do that until recently, but even with the ability comes the responsibility of bringing their points across in a way that is neither too gentle nor too harsh. Did Irrational Games need to put this topic of racism in 'Bioshock Infinite'? No, they could have continued along their merry way, riding on the original Bioshock's coattails of philosophical and ethical debate. They chose the harder role of hitting subjects far closer to home, ones that don't just appeal to the higher segments of your brain, the fun fuzzy stuff that is mostly metaphorical and pseudo-psychological. They chose to be harsh, to be cruel, to expose the soul of corruption that lies as a possibility in the heart of every single person.

Games are growing up. We don't have to fall back on a crutch of guns, gore and sexuality anymore. We can tell stories that involve these things, but we don't have to make them some sort of attraction or a barrier to entry anymore. We have storytelling tools, and we need to start using them as something other than the usual 'pachoopachookillstreakflagcapOMGBEWBS' method.

I think it's time we as a gaming industry realize that it's OK to talk about terrible things.


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