As Jeremy Hsu details in his article, “The Secrets of Storytelling: Why We Love a Good Yarn”, stories resonate with everyone for a variety of reasons. In the early days of civilization they provided a basic social setting for humans to converse. Nowadays stories certainly entertain people, but also offer an ample fodder for critical discussion. Most people’s favorite stories stem from movies or books, but the video game medium is notably absent of any substantial examples that are well known in the public sphere. Irrational Game’s newest release, Bioshock Infinite breaches this gap offering a story that adheres strongly to the scientific and basic relations stories provide as outlined by Hsu.
The narrative transport detailed by Hsu whereby audiences are transported into the world they’re examining is a trait Infinite excels in. Utilizing the unique ability of video games to provide deep immersion in a fully realized world, the game opens with what could be described as a slow burn. There are no huge explosions, no giant battles, no prison escape sequences. Instead the game allows the beginning to breathe as players gradually explore the floating city of Columbia. Core gameplay concepts are introduced organically through strange carnival games juxtaposed with the typical training missions that begin so many other titles. This beginning is probably one of the best in any game purely because of Irrational’s patience in believing players will take the time to slowly immerse themselves in the manic city before discovering the intense first person shooter action that highlights most of the game.
Where narrative transport in video games often fails however, is the sense of life experience that can enhance one’s immersion in a story. According to Hsu’s article, animated characters created less intense responses in people than real life people performing the same actions onscreen. This makes game writer’s jobs doubly difficult as they must search for human issues that can relate to real life while trying to create lifelike characters that are relatable.
Infinite doesn’t provide the moment to moment human experiences that a game like Heavy Rain offers with real-life issues such as losing a child at a mall. However, Infinite does create a hyper-realistic fictional world that brings issues such as nativism, racial conflict, labor unrest, religious fervor and American exceptionalism as core components of this twisted city’s DNA. The player’s viewpoint of this once promising utopia evolves as they discover each of these disturbing issues that mirror the early years of America’s lifespan. These real-life historical issues create a distinct relationship, particularly for history buffs, for players willing to immerse themselves completely into this warped 1912 equivalent of Noah’s Ark.
Additionally Elizabeth is portrayed as a realistic character with even her ability to create tears to other worlds tying into Hsu’s article that discusses the human predilection to craft stories out of objects around us. Lacking any true companions while she’s locked in a tower for 17 years, Elizabeth crafts stories through tearing views to other worlds. She discovers the stunning vistas of Paris in the process, and her preconceptions of this outside world help her mask the true conflict taking place outside as well as her infinite confinement. She becomes a companion throughout the game through both her lifelike interactions and constant presence as an ally and enemy when she feels mistrusts Booker initially.
Infinite isn’t a perfect narrative, but the ability to nail lifelike qualities in its characters helps the story feel far more immersive than most static woodlike performances in games. Finally, the realism present in Columbia’s deep imperfections and diverse political views underscore the ability to immerse players in an animated world, a feat that makes this impossible floating city seem wholly possible.