Tag Archives: Bioshock

Bioshock Infinite (2013)

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My first guest post, from the awesome Lee Landey!

Given the overriding concept of this blog, I rarely get to comment on games while they’re firmly in the zeitgeist. Since I started Playing the Canon last June, my life has basically been that xkcd comic where the dude plays games six years late and sings “Still Alive” to all his friends in 2013. (Note: I think xkcd is often sorta problematic in its worldview, but that one got me.)

Few games in the history of the medium have been as thoroughly zeitgeist-y as Bioshock Infinite, so my good friend Lee Landey graciously volunteered to cover the game here while I stumble my way toward the end of the Mass Effect trilogy. Lee is a great dude, a fantastic writer, and one of the most sincerely passionate game-lovers I’ve ever had the pleasure of knowing. You can read more of his thoughts on his own blog, Last Boss (which he should update more frequently because it’s great!).

I haven’t played Bioshock Infinite, but the discussion surrounding it has been simply incredible and fills me with hope for the future of games writing and the industry in general. At the risk of hyperbole, this feels like the games community’s first genuinely mature, nuanced conversation about a mainstream, big budget action game. (Mass Effect 3 had a shot, but unfortunately entitled whiners hijacked the discourse early on.) People who love it, like Lee, are approaching it from a philosophical angle and still questioning certain aspects of the game’s design; there is little of the IGN-esque, “10/10 OMG AMAZING STFU N00BS” one-sided nothingness that haunted past releases’ praise. On the flip side, people who were more lukewarm on Infinite are still largely praising its ambition and finding aspects of the game worthy of a real discussion. (Check out Tim Rogers’ take for a Homerically long but largely brilliant counterpoint. And the excellent blog This Cage is Worms has a pretty solid linkdump that covers all sides and angles.)

I’ll let Lee take it from here. His enthused contribution to Playing the Canon (which — full disclosure — I’ve only read in part, because spoilers) makes me incredibly excited to take Infinite for a spin. Regardless of where I fall in the debate, for once I can’t wait to take part in it. – Joel Newman

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Side Quest: Celine and Julie Go Gaming

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CouldĀ Celine and Julie Go Boating — a semi-obscure masterpiece of French cinema — contain the secrets of proper video game storytelling?

Video games need to stop trying to be movies. You’ve heard it here and elsewhere; the tight, thematically coherent structure that reins in your typical two hour film will just never fit the wily, interactive nature of a game that can be fifty times that long. Games are typically better at moment-to-moment plotting and visceral release, waves of emotional catharsis cresting on the backs of set pieces and trial-and-error player accomplishments. These scenarios can move us; at best, they can insert us into an entire world ripe with someone else’s personality. But for any number of reasons — the audience as an active participant; the variations of player experience; the sheer time investment; the, um, general awfulness of most video game narratives — the common consensus is that games can’t do what movies do, and we are hurting our medium and ourselves by still imploring them to. It’s gotten to the point that cutscenes and nakedly cinematic opening credits sequences are greeted with cringes and eyerolls by most discerning gamers. It’s like we want to tell developers, “Stop trying to invite yourselves to the movies’ Grown-Ups’ Table. Just relax. There’s nothing wrong with the Kids’ Table; we can start food fights here!”

For the most part, I agree with this sentiment. Didn’t Wreck-It Ralph just heartwarmingly teach all of us gamers that fostering community is easier when you actually like yourself? (Um, spoilers?) But as someone with no great love of big-budget genre films — from which video games borrow approximately 99.8% of their cinematic idealsĀ  — I sometimes wonder if gaming’s supposed inferiority to movie storytelling is more about misguided inspiration than the true differences between the mediums. Why would games — rambling and easily distracted by nature, or at least since the leap to inhabitable, three-dimensional worlds — try to emulate action and adventure films, easily one of the most tightly scripted and traditionally “plot-driven” movie genres? (The answer, unfortunately, is because man-children like guns and aliens, and usually can’t draw a line between “form” and “content.”) What if there were films out there that could teach us how to deepen and strengthen video game narratives without violating the tenets of the medium? What if we’ve just been watching the wrong movies? Continue reading

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