It has been a long road that has led me to where I am now, in terms of video game fandom. When I was younger I had no problem when it came to talking about Mario, Ryu and Ken, Sonic and Tetris. It was a shared language we all had. But then when I reached my teenage years something changed. I no longer saw the knowing nods and glances when I told people about Solid Snake, Aeris or Crash. Now that I’m in my twenties I’m still aware of the glazed over looks I receive when I try and explain my latest gaming obsession but, there’s something different. I’m now able to talk about more than “Dude, graphics”, I can ramble on about plots and characters in a way that I don’t think was possible before. Perhaps it’s because my own vocabulary and comprehension has bettered, but I like to think that it’s because games have allowed me to. I only realized that after playing Bioshock: Infinite.
Bioshock: Infinite is the latest game from Irrational Games set in 1912. In the most basic of terms, you play as Booker DeWitt; A gun for hire that’s been tasked with travelling to the flying city of Columbia in order to find a girl named Elizabeth and get her out. Along the way you will face off against various members of the city’s population and their allegiances, morals, beliefs and creations.
But it’s so much more.
First off, the city of Columbia. This is a city that’s literally in the clouds. It’s a series of platforms suspended by huge balloons and rockets. On each of these platforms is a chunk of Americana. Every building is draped in a mix of Victorian architecture and industrial showmanship. Red, white and blue banners hang from balconies, barbershop quartets sing old hymns and songs from American minstrel shows. The people walk around on cobblestone streets wearing sharp suits and porkpie hats complete with patriotic pins. A massive angel statue keeps watch over the city on it’s own floating platform. There are massive factories and shantytowns, churches and clubs and all of them feel right, and placed purposedly in service of the story.
While the setting of Bioshock: Infinite is awe-inspiring by itself, it’s the story that really makes the game stand out. The bare bones description given earlier would’ve been enough for most games. But the layers that have been draped over that skeleton are grand and intricate. For the sake of remaining spoiler free, I’ll skip the details. Just know, that the story is as fantastic as any Final Fantasy game, Harry Potter, and Lord of The Rings. It has as much heart as O Brother Where Art Thou, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and To Kill A Mockingbird. And, it touches on subjects as heavy as those touched on in Blade Runner, Minority Report and 12 Monkeys.
Do not be mistaken, this is not a review of the game. It’s simply an example.
Obviously, when Sonic The Hedgehog, Street Fighter 2 and Super Mario came out, I was way too young and stupid to ever comment on how these games were weaseling their way into popular culture in a lasting way, the way I would now. When I was old enough to start making intelligent comments on games, it was in the days of the Playstation 2. Just try and discuss various aspects of war using terms like Metal Gear and La Li Lu Le Lo. Or talk about modern day epics in terms of Materia, Blitzball and Sephiroth. It’s just not very easy, because those games were unfortunately released when video games were in a place where they weren’t toys anymore, and they were too strange to be taken seriously by anyone who hadn’t played them.
Now, video games have returned to the public consciousness in a big way. All one has to do is look at World of Warcraft and Call of Duty to see that. This newfound public awareness and in certain ways, respect of video games allows me to talk about them, with intelligence I didn’t have before and I am thankful. Furthermore, I think it’s very important that those of us who enjoy video games continue to not only play them, but openly talk about them in ways that go beyond “epic” “awesome” “weak”. This will only propel the medium further into the realms of academic acceptance and respect that almost all other entertainment mediums have enjoyed.