BioShock Infinite Review

I don’t write many video game reviews — this is only my second one, and the other one was just to test the creative waters. So the very fact that you are reading this should tell you something.

I’m going to skip much of the usual stuff (story, character development, environment, graphics, blah blah) because lots of other review sites have already covered those bases and I pretty much agree with them. One review that I particularly like is from Eurogamer because it digs pretty deep into the whole Elizabeth back-story analysis and looks at the overarching themes other reviews miss out on.

But what I haven’t seen reviews do is give the ending any more than with a brief, “it was confusing, my mind was blown, Inception all over again” kind of slant. Which is perfectly fine, but this is an ending I guarantee gamers will be talking about for quite some time and I’d like the discussion to be a little deeper than “mind blown”.

So, without further ado, SPOILER WARNING.

Quantum?

One word that gets thrown around a lot is “quantum”. This review pretty much sums up the popular idea about the multiverse of lighthouses at the end: in the world of quantum theory, everything that can possibly happen does in one universe or another. As a quick and not so accurate analogy, you can think of the popular Schrödinger’s cat. The cat is both alive and dead at the same time, alive in one timeline and dead in another. We don’t know which timeline we’re in until we open the box.

As another analogy, consider the Quantum Bogosort algorithm:

function QuantumBogosort(List list) {
    Randomly shuffle list
    If list is unsorted, destroy the universe
    return list
}

This works because every possible ordering of the randomized list ends up happening. If we destroy all universes that have unsorted lists after the randomization, the only universes left “alive” will have sorted lists in them.

Now consider BioShock Infinite. One twist on this standard multiverse idea is that Elizabeth can open tears into other times as well. We see her opening a portal to a 1980’s Paris and, later, somehow going back to Booker’s baptism. This time travel isn’t restricted to Elizabeth; both Comstock and Booker experience visions of the attack on New York which happens far in the future (when Elizabeth is older). Comstock apparently does so through the Siphon, but Booker has no means to see it. We can only assume it is a memory from one of his previous incarnations.

Multiverse vs. Samsara

The reason why “quantum” isn’t quite accurate in BioShock Infinite’s case is that the story also happens cyclically. The first blatant indication of this happens roughly thirty seconds in, when the Lutece twins note that Booker never rows the boat. This suggests that he has relived the journey to the lighthouse countless times before, and in all cases has never rowed. There is also the case of the coin flip at the raffle, wherein Booker perpetually chooses tails. The number of tallies for heads on Robert’s board gives an indication of how many times Booker has been through the same ordeal.

Such a plot device isn’t new at all. It goes way back to the Hindu idea of Samsara (continuous flow) that’s been around for millennia. It’s featured in many Hollywood movies and novels (my favorite: The Dark Tower series by Stephen King). What Bioshock Infinite does better in this respect its its subtlety. Unless you play the game over and over again, you won’t catch all the little hints to this cyclic idea. And there are LOTS of hints.

Hardcore quantum theorists would balk at such hints because:

  • That isn’t how quantum theory works at all, and Rosalind should know that if she’s such a great quantum physicist
  • Multiverses are concurrent (insofar as we know, and we don’t really know…it’s really all just theoretical)

But we’re not hardcore quantum theorists, now are we?

The Paradox

Booker kills himself. Or rather, he lets a bunch of Elizabeths kill him. This is the part that went a bit far for me…I’d been keeping up perfectly fine with the ending until this happened. I wasn’t sure what was going on. Mind blown.

Of course, by this point we’re assuming that spacetime and special relativity and Newtonian physics have gone all to hell and Elizabeth is pretty much omnipotent. The analyses I’ve read online come to the conclusion that the incarnations of Elizabeth at the end are from all the “past” times Booker has tried and failed to set things right.

I tend to disagree. I think it’s just Irrational’s way of making a really trippy and quite disturbing scene where the main protagonist gets drowned by 20 of his daughters so that people like me can blog about it in the weeks to follow.

Breaking the fourth wall aside, Booker dying isn’t all that paradoxical. If you recall the Quantum Bogosort, you can think of the baptism as being an “unsorted list”. Here’s our revised algorithm:

function WinBioShockInfinite(Person Booker) {
    Have Booker decide whether he's going through with the baptism
    If he is, destroy the universe
    return Booker
}

Now the only universes that are left are ones where Booker hasn’t gone through with the baptism. Anna is just Anna, not Elizabeth + pinky finger, Comstock is nonexistent, and we won’t even begin to conjecture about Lutece(s). And they all lived happily ever after.

No, the real paradox is Elizabeth. Because Elizabeth doesn’t exist anymore. Because the only reason Elizabeth existed in the first place was because Comstock went all Vaas on the whole situation. But since Comstock doesn’t exist anymore, who’s there to make the girl that kills him?

Whoa.

In order to resolve this I humbly advance my theory: Booker is hallucinating the whole thing, and the many Elizabeths are really just Preacher Witting and all the other onlookers. Because the game’s story is perpetual, we can say that Booker has somehow “merged” back into his older self, ready to start another cycle, except this time he has enough sense to drown himself. In case anyone disputes my theory:

  • Wouldn’t you be hallucinating after going through all the things Booker went through?
  • Preacher Witting sucks at baptism. He nearly drowns Booker at the gates to Columbia anyways; it wouldn’t take much more effort to actually drown.

TL:DR

BioShock Infinite is an amazing game, and not just for its ending. Although this review has pretty much talked only about the ending, it’s not even the best part of the game. I’ll leave it to you to discover what is.

Rating: 10/10
Get It: If you don't you are a bad gamer and you should feel bad
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One thought on “BioShock Infinite Review

  1. Pingback: Brainstorming the Next GOTY | WillyG Productions

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