Welcome to Jester's Trek.
I'm your host, Jester. I've been an EVE Online player for about six years. One of my four mains is Ripard Teg, pictured at left. Sadly, I've succumbed to "bittervet" disease, but I'm wandering the New Eden landscape (and from time to time, the MMO landscape) in search of a cure.
You can follow along, if you want...

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Complicate the narrative

Warning: the following post is only peripherally about EVE Online.  It also contains spoilers for the game Bioshock Infinite.  Only if you've finished Bioshock Infinite and if you're a fan of EVE's underlying meta should you read this post.  The rest of you should bookmark it and come back to it later when you've met that condition.

So one more time: Warning!  Spoilers follow!

Ready?  OK.  I'm a really big fan of the Bioshock franchise and as such there was no question about whether I'd play Infinite, just when.  I finally got the chance to do so during the weekends immediately preceding and following Fanfest.  And once I'd finished the game the first time, there was also no question about whether I'd replay the thing: I had to.  Good Heavens, that was a dark ending!  Sure, the game itself was dark, but it was dark in a really appealing way.  Er... yeah.  Did I mention I'm an EVE player?  ;-)

Amusingly, the ending itself would be best explained by Doc Brown in Back to the Future Part II with a big black-board.  I could almost hear him talking about how the time-line skewed off from the moment of that baptism.  If you haven't seen it, how the ending works is best explained in the video below.  If you're not clear on the ending, I recommend you watch it to get a clear(er) picture.

Man, that's really grim, dark stuff.  On paper, the existences of Comstock, Columbia, and Elizabeth herself are wiped away.  The fates of Booker and Anna are a bit more opaque, but in the post-credit scene dated 8 October 1893, whether Anna is in the crib or not there are still gambling forms on the desk... pretty grim.  So the ending left me with a lot to think about.  And while it all appears to hang together beautifully through the game's Voxophones and in-character dialogue, I could feel in the back of my head that there were definitely gaps and plot holes.

And thus, this blog post.  Because sometimes to get back to EVE Online stuff, I need to exorcise this kind of nonsense out of my head.

"There's always a man.  There's always a city," Elizabeth says during that ending sequence.  And because of clever game design and player management, your camera is drawn to Booker as she says this.  And so your brain naturally jumps to the conclusion that Elizabeth is talking about Booker when she says it.  But that idea collapses under the tiniest bit of scrutiny because Booker was never associated with Columbia... Comstock was.  Booker was just the invader of Columbia, as Jack invaded Rapture.  Comstock was the "man" for Columbia just as Andrew Ryan was the "man" for Rapture.

But in a multitude of universes, it doesn't have to be that way.

And that's the hole I was intuitively seeing in Bioshock Infinite's ending: Elizabeth and the game designers keep pulling you along so fast that you don't have time to think.  Elizabeth and Booker want to stop Comstock's existence before it starts, and in that way they both really spend the entire game fighting desperately to negate their own existences.  That's why the game's ending is so grim and dark.  But ironically, it's also completely futile because ending Comstock's existence doesn't really change a thing!  In the game's backstory, Comstock is a politician who pushes for the American government's creation of Columbia as a show of "American exceptionalism."  That certainly wasn't changed by Elizabeth's actions.

After all, it wasn't Comstock that made Columbia possible... it was Rosalind Lutece that did so.  And in negating Comstock's existence, Rosalind Lutece's murder is suddenly also negated.  That means her work (and the work of her "brother") continues, in both the "Lutece field" and "quantum particles."  Hell, the (one? two?) people who benefit the most from Comstock being erased from existence aren't even mentioned in the game's ending.  And that means that there's nothing stopping Columbia from being built.  After all, there's always a man.  There's always a city.

If only there were some other wealthy, politically powerful, corrupt man that could sponsor Lutece's work... owait.  Know who else's murder was negated?  Jeremiah Fink... he could very easily step into Comstock's shoes.  The Bioshock wiki blandly states about Jeremiah Fink that the "...status of Fink in other realities is unknown, though with both Comstock and Columbia being erased from existence, it can be assumed that his life would play out very differently."

Huh.  You think so, Bioshock wiki?  I don't think his life would play out all that differently at all.  There's always a man.  There's always a city.  And Rosalind Lutece and her work opening tears are still out there, potentially allowing a powerful corrupt man to massively profit from knowledge of both future events and the events of alternate realities.  Fink presumably wouldn't have Comstock's religious zeal instigating racial warfare, but I think we can rest assured that Fink's version of Columbia wouldn't be all that different from Comstock's.  The class warfare would certainly survive!  Instead of religious zealotry, we'd have out-of-control rampant capitalism, out-of-control exploitation of the masses, industry gone mad for the purposes of unlimited warfare--

Hey!  You in the back.  Hush.  This post isn't really about EVE Online, remember?  ;-)

OK.  Maybe it is.  A little.

::coughs::  Anyway, it just struck me as funny that Booker and Elizabeth, in their rapid and desperate pursuit to negate their own existences, didn't solve the real problem at all.  I don't think we're done with Columbia quite yet and those that think Bioshock Infinite would have trouble finding fertile ground for sequels haven't thought the matter through.  Hell, thanks to a tear showing Fink a certain employment interview, the Bioshock franchise doesn't even have to put Booker DeWitt aside yet if it doesn't want to...

So I can be happy and secure in the knowledge that the Bioshock franchise will be interrupting my EVE play at some point in the future.  Anyway, demon exorcised.  Now back to our regular programming.


  1. If I never plan to play a Bioshock game, may I then continue to read the post? Does it make sense to read it then? Will it do irrevocable harm to me?

    1. In that case, I'd suggest reading the plot summary on wikipedia first, then watch the video above, then read the blog post. But you'll miss most of the emotion.

  2. You're still not going to stop thinking about it for a while yet... :P

  3. Biggest problems with the latest generation of "big" games--the game designer's all seem to be trying to write the "Great American Novel", with deep messages and, ultimately, they make it so the endings are grim. I blame high school/college creative writing instructors who give better grades for "real and gritty" stories. (see also Mass Effect 3, GTA IV, Red Dead Redemption, Dragon Age, etc...) Usually, the only way a positive ending occurs where the freaking hero doesn't die/lose hope/get changed into megacyborg/start doing a crossdressing cabaret show in Detroit is if the players raise a big enough stink and then the producers might grudgingly give a slight carrot.

    1. Tbh, the Mass Effect "stink" wasn't really about the gritty ending, it was about the "wtf" deus ex machina solution that negated pretty much the whole franchise. I mean, even an hour before the ending, you can basically make peace between the AI Geth and their creators, then someone you've never even met before and could well be just a mental trick is telling you that it can't be done. I don't know about you, but it rings all sorts of alarms in my head.

    2. I don't see a problem at all. Both Bioshock 1 and 2 had possible happy endings. Who says everything should be all sunshine and rainbows in the end?

      My primary reason I play the Bioshock series is the story. If the "Great American Novel, with deep messages..." didn't exist, then I wouldn't buy it. Who needs another shallow FPS?

    3. Each January there is a list of the NYT's best novels of the year. Not best sellers, but best novels; the novels written each year that could become classics. Every year I dutifully read through them. And every year, for the last 4-5, I've thought a game released the same year had a better story and execution than any of the books on the list.

      So if game makers want to write "The Great American Novel", let them. They're doing a better job of it than novelists as far as I can tell.

  4. Good rundown and analysis, and always great to see what other people thought/felt about the game...

    But if I had to give my two cents, it's that I personally believe you're missing the point about what "the real problem" facing the two are- because the story (or at least how I see it) is a *personal* one, and not an *epic* one. The impetus provided by the entire 'New York in flames' sequence definitely raises the stakes as to why Columbia could turn into something not so great, but even in that 'vision', it isn't because Columbia exists that that particular future comes about- it's because Elizabeth exists, and is finally broken by Comstock. The 'real problem', I feel, is at its core less about saving the world as it is about saving one man, his soul, and his daughter. If you look at it that way, as a personal quest, then it no longer matters what becomes of Lutece or Fink or anyone else- only what becomes of Anna and Booker. Which is precisely why the easter egg ending is throwing in after the credits.

    But, again, that's one of the great things about this game- it's like Inception in that you can argue in circles for days with people about it, and in the end, it's all entirely subjective. Which, sometimes, is just the way I like it.

  5. One thing that I THINK is a plothole in Bioshock Infinite: When Elizabeth takes herself and Booker through a tear into the timeline where Booker became one of the leaders and martyr of Fitzroy's revolution, we never see any sign of that timeline's Elizabeth. She's mentioned in a voxophone recording from that timeline's Booker as being in Comstock House (indeed the split between that timeline and the one the player starts in seems to be that in that timeline Elizabeth was either moved from Monument Island to Comstock House before Booker reached her, or was never moved to Monument Island in the first place, hence Booker joining up with Daisy Fitzroy to get access to Comstock House) however the player goes first to Comstock House and then to Monument Island in that same timeline without ever encountering that timeline's native Elizabeth and the Comstock of that timeline is dedicated to capturing the Elizabeth who arrives with the player.

    As far as we know it's possible for two instances of the same person to exist in the same timeline - Comstock and Booker are an obvious example, as are the Luteces prior to their attempted murder, and while player-Booker seems to gain access to revolutionary-Booker's memories when entering that timeline (which is never explained despite apparently being one of the 'rules' of timeline-hopping in the Bioshock Infinite 'verse) he doesn't overwrite revolutionary-Booker's existence; people still remember revolutionary-Booker died and Daisy Fitzroy seems to understand they are different people, so it doesn't seem as if crossing over would have merged Elizabeths or overwritten the local Elizabeth with the one who comes with player-Booker.

    Is there any explanation for that that I missed somewhere?

    1. You missed something. In that timeline, the moment Booker's feet touched Columbia, Comstock evacuated Elizabeth to Comstock House. Monument Island was empty. Booker discovered Slate was working for the Vox and instead of fighting each other, they joined forces and both joined the Vox. Booker's motivation was to use the Vox as a private army to take Comstock House by storm. It didn't go as planned. The key Voxophone explaining this is #49, recorded by Booker himself.

      But by the time Booker *reaches* Comstock House, he steps through another tear, jumping forward six months in time. Remember the bridge covered in snow? "Snow? But it's July!" Booker says. Then later, when he encounters one of the voice tears, it's revealed that he's jumped forward six months to the date of Elizabeth's surgery. The game starts in July 1912, but ends in January 1913. What isn't sufficiently explained in this bit is why Comstock allowed Elizabeth to dress as Lady Comstock for six months. ;-)

    2. http://np.reddit.com/r/Bioshock/comments/1c087s/huge_real_unexplainable_plot_hole_where_is/

      Excellent theories abound there, if you're keen to check them out. :)

      My personal take on it boils down to two options- 1) the 'merging'/Liz's powers are inherently different from the Luteces theory, and/or 2) the reality you visit Comstock house in is NOT the same one you try to get in to it from- you first travel forward in time, and are then sent through yet another tear by old Elizabeth. So the tear you go back to could very well be a reality in which the Vox receive their weapons AND Booker rescues Liz from Monument, who is then captured by Songbird, taken to Comstock House, etc etc.

  6. You do realize booker IS comstock albeit aged in a different time/world.

  7. Heh, Dust launched today (14th) and you are blabbing about Bioshock. Shame, shame ;-)

  8. Ya, fundamentally you nailed it. What a terrific game, but what a silly ending.

    I mean, it was some OK storytelling, and we all love dark shocker endings (Sucker Punch, etc), but the way the multiverse is layed out, it just makes no sense at all to try to mess various causalities.

    In fact, it demeans so much of the various sacrifices and human achievement that occurs in those timelines.

    Oh well, videogame time travel. Important stuff.


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