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Manuel Franz and Henning Jansen: A Shining City and the Sodom Below: Historical Guilt and Personal Agency in BioShock Infinite

1 Leave a comment on paragraph 1 0  “You…you were there…at Wounded Knee…I can see it in your face” (Shotgunnova, “GS 09: Hall of Heroes”). As Elizabeth confronts Booker DeWitt with these words, the main character of BioShock Infinite[1] is confronted with his past—a past directly linked to one of the darkest chapters of U.S. history. Video games, such as BioShock Infinite, play an integral part in the perception of history in everyday life and in recent years, have increasingly become integrated in commemorative and historical culture (cf. Heinze 26-30). By analyzing the depiction of history-related ‘content’ in video games, historiographical research may help to understand the impact of this medium on the societal perception of history itself.

2 Leave a comment on paragraph 2 0 Elizabeth’s words concisely illustrate the three aspects of commemorative culture this essay addresses: first, the depiction and use of history in relation to historical guilt (“Wounded Knee”), second, the personal agency associated with such guilt (“you were there”), and third, the actions of and effects on players (“in your face”). After introducing BioShock Infinite’s historical setting, the essay examines both the narrative and the ludic components of the game. We argue that its depiction of history addresses individual responsibility and guilt as a driving force of commemorative culture; furthermore, we demonstrate the game’s attempt to evoke such guilt/responsibility as well as its eventual failure to do so.

3 Leave a comment on paragraph 3 0 BioShock Infinite is set in an alternate version of the year 1912. Booker DeWitt, the game’s anti-hero, is a former soldier and Pinkerton agent struggling with alcoholism and gambling debts. A nihilistic cynic ever since he left the U.S. Army, he is making a living by selling his talent for violence to the highest bidder. The game’s plot begins when DeWitt is offered a rather unusual job in order to “wipe away the debt”: he is to rescue Elizabeth, a young woman held captive in the city of Columbia.

4 Leave a comment on paragraph 4 0 Columbia soon turns out to be a steampunk metropolis floating above the clouds. A brainchild of the self-proclaimed prophet Zachary Hale Comstock, the technologically advanced city was initially built for the 1893 World’s Fair as a showcase for American exceptionalism and was later dispatched around the world. During the 1901 Boxer Rebellion, however, Comstock—without orders from Washington—commanded Columbia’s forces to destroy Beijing, thus revealing that his city was, in fact, heavily armed. When the U.S. government disavowed Comstock’s renegade actions, Columbia seceded from the United States and vanished above the clouds, claiming to build a better society apart from the “Sodom Below.”

5 Leave a comment on paragraph 5 0 When players first arrive in the city, they get the impression of a shining paradise, given Columbia’s beautiful architectural appearance combining Roman and colonial American influences. Like all newcomers, DeWitt is being baptized at the city gate, symbolically washing off the impurity he is leaving behind upon entering this “New Eden.” Not far into the game, however, the city’s true character becomes more and more apparent. Turning out to be a totalitarian dictatorship, Columbian society is built on religious fundamentalism, hyper-nationalism, and white supremacy.

6 Leave a comment on paragraph 6 0 Just moments after DeWitt’s arrival, the city’s devotion to an odd religious fundamentalism mixing Old Testament leitmotifs with American nationalism is introduced. In fact, Columbians worship America’s Founding Fathers as saints, as players witness in a scene where believers pray to statues of George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, and Thomas Jefferson. While deeply reveling in patriotic symbolism, the city has only adapted from the United States what seemed fit to their xenophobic ideology. In their view, their former homeland abandoned its divine purpose not only by turning away from religion but from racial purity as well. In the city’s historical narrative, Abraham Lincoln is demonized for having ended slavery, while his assassin, John Wilkes Booth, is portrayed as a martyr. Columbia’s social hierarchy rests upon the notion of white supremacy. Jim-Crow-like laws ensure that only the city’s Anglo-Saxon population holds positions of political and economic power. Blacks, Catholic Irish, and other ethnic minorities constitute a racial underclass, deprived of rights and only tolerated as a useful pool of cheap labor. Propaganda posters, excessively present in the whole city, warn against the “foreign horde” and fuel a paranoid spirit. Consequently, Columbia is a highly militarized police-state. There is, however, opposition against Comstock’s regime. The resistance movement Vox Populi, spearheaded by its black leader Daisy Fitzroy, has rallied the oppressed in order the fight the system. When a violent civil war erupts on the streets of Columbia, DeWitt gets in the crossfire between Comstock’s and Fitzroy’s forces.

7 Leave a comment on paragraph 7 0 On their quest to rescue Elizabeth, players gradually explore the floating city and decipher its secrets along the way. What begins as a classic damsel-in-distress plot embedded in an unconventional scenario gradually transforms into a more elaborate storyline, especially as it not only reveals the intertwined past of its main characters but also involves traveling between parallel worlds. Referring to quantum physics, the game postulates the existence of an infinite number of universes, each of them based on different decisions made by its inhabitants—hence the title BioShock Infinite.

8 Leave a comment on paragraph 8 0 Given Columbia’s state of technology as well as a number of other steampunk and supernatural elements in the game world, BioShock Infinite’s year 1912 is obviously not our universe’s historical year of 1912.[2] However, the values on which Columbian society is based are all too familiar to players from our reality. Supposedly dedicated to American exceptionalism, the city in the clouds is actually a mirror image of the darkest facets of U.S. society in the early twentieth century—and after. Thus, the scenario’s hyperbolic character may encourage players to ponder the moral ambivalence of real American history, while the game’s alternate world provides a projection surface to reflect on the dilemma of historical guilt (cf. McCarter).

9 Leave a comment on paragraph 9 0 The phrase ‘historical guilt’ has been a controversial concept in debates on the politics of memory. The notion that members of an “imagined (…) community” (Anderson 6) are personally accountable for the wrongdoings committed in the name of that community is not without flaws. After all, it defies modern standards of individualism and self-responsibility. At the same time, the very nature of the imagined community is such that it is imagined across time. How can an appropriate culture of remembrance be developed as liberal societies struggle to come to terms with the darker chapters of their past? In recent decades, the term ‘historical responsibility’ has emerged in the public discourse on collective memory. Unlike the notion of historical guilt, the phrase ‘historical responsibility’ does not indicate that members of a community who did not themselves partake in historical wrongs ought to feel guilty on a personal level. Rather, it encourages individuals to face the darker chapters of their collective history, to take their lessons from it, and to not repeat the mistakes of the past.[3]

10 Leave a comment on paragraph 10 0 While the rather abstract idea of historical responsibility dominates the academic debate on commemorative culture, BioShock Infinite attempts a more direct approach to this politically sensitive issue. The game does not limit itself to a setting in which the antagonists—namely Comstock and his followers—represent historical wrongdoings that most players would probably identify as reprehensible.[4] As the plot progresses and players learn more about the cruelties that Columbia has committed in its dedication to American exceptionalism, the game merges the themes of historical and individual guilt in a remarkable way. It turns out that DeWitt, the game’s protagonist through whose eyes players perceive the world of BioShock Infinite, is personally entangled in America’s sinister past.

11 Leave a comment on paragraph 11 0 Fittingly, this revelation takes place in Columbia’s museum, a whole building complex devoted to commemorative culture. The so-called “Hall of Heroes” is home to several displays dedicated to historical events that have shaped Columbian society. Comstock, however, has made sure that the museum serves as an elaborate propaganda instrument that revises and reinterprets history to extol the city and its leader. For example, the exhibition on Columbia’s 1901 raid on Beijing is portrayed as a heroic fight against the Chinese, who are racially stereotyped as devious creatures and bloodthirsty aggressors. The Boxer Rebellion, an actual historic event, is not only partly fictionalized in BioShock Infinite but also ideologically revised within the game’s narrative itself. This approach is particularly important in the second case of such fictional revisionism: the Wounded Knee Massacre.

12 Leave a comment on paragraph 12 0 The actual Wounded Knee Massacre occurred on December 29, 1890, on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in the state of South Dakota. The 7th U.S. Cavalry Regiment confronted the indigenous Lakota tribe and demanded they hand over their weapons. When one of the Lakota refused to give up his gun and a shot went off, the soldiers opened fire. After the guns fell silent, roughly 200 Lakota were dead, more than half of them women and children. Today, the Wounded Knee Massacre is widely seen as the last in a long series of atrocities committed during America’s so-called Indian Wars. A hundred years later, the United States Congress issued a resolution formally expressing its deep regret for the massacre.[5]

13 Leave a comment on paragraph 13 0 In the lore of BioShock Infinite, the Wounded Knee Massacre happened as well. Both DeWitt and Comstock took an active part in it and earned a reputation for their cruelty. In its aftermath, DeWitt was haunted by guilt and nearly broke over it, while Comstock embraced his deeds and became the fanatic founder of Columbia. In the “Hall of Heroes,” however, Comstock presents his twisted version of the historical incident. Portraying the massacre as a heroic act of self-defense, the “Battle of Wounded Knee” exhibit displays cut-out caricatures of violent Lakota murdering American soldiers. A mechanical display shows two Indians holding a white woman hostage while aiming a tomahawk at her; another display shows a native holding the woman’s scalp while she is on the ground. The exhibit ends in a tribal field with a statue of Comstock, “the hero of Wounded Knee,” standing triumphant over a horde of aggressive Indians. In the background, an image of George Washington—idolized with toga and sword—looks favorably upon the great victory over America’s savage foes.

14 Leave a comment on paragraph 14 0 When players first enter the “Hall of Heroes” in the early mid-game, they are already familiar with Columbia’s predominant nationalism. Thus, the misrepresentation of history comes as no surprise. From the beginning, players are invited to look behind the scenes and identify the Wounded Knee exhibition as cheaply ideological. Hyperbolically stereotyping the Indians as aggressive savages while celebrating Comstock’s heroic chivalry is easily recognizable as propaganda. To avoid misunderstandings, additional comments by DeWitt make players aware of the true nature of the historic events.

15 Leave a comment on paragraph 15 0 BioShock Infinite makes it almost impossible to miss the game’s central point regarding commemorative culture. In a less than subtle way, the “Hall of Heroes” ensures that players are able to see through Comstock’s propaganda and grasp the significance of his reinterpretation of history. It becomes clear that Columbia is dedicated to a conception of U.S. history that not only denies the atrocities Americans have committed in the past but embraces them and praises the nation for their perpetration. In this narrative, “America has never (…) done anything wrong” (Psiropoulos) and can never do anything wrong. Consequently, it dignifies even the darkest chapters of its past.

16 Leave a comment on paragraph 16 0 The hyperbolic depiction of a perverted American exceptionalism in the “Hall of Heroes” aims at causing players to ponder the dilemma of commemorative culture: how does a society cope with the wrongdoings committed in its name? Does the process of coming to terms with the past lead to a sense of guilt or a sense of responsibility? And how does it affect the individual? Remarkably, BioShock Infinite not only reflects on the rather abstract level of society’s historical narratives that are so obviously epitomized by the game’s setting, but it also addresses the individual level. After all, Booker DeWitt, the game’s only playable character, was, much like Comstock, personally involved in the atrocities committed at Wounded Knee. During the course of the storyline, the entangled themes of personal and historical guilt are further explored and lead to a remarkable plot twist.

17 Leave a comment on paragraph 17 0 After the confrontation with the supposed end boss Comstock, Elizabeth, who has accompanied players through the game after rescuing her, takes DeWitt through various dimensions to finally reveal his true identity to him. During the final sequence, he realizes that his cryptic mission to rescue Elizabeth—“Bring us the girl and wipe away the debt” (Shotgunnova, “WK 02: Welcome Centre”)—is actually a glimpse of lost memory referring to a contract between Comstock and DeWitt himself. Roughly twenty years ago, DeWitt sold his own daughter to pay for his gambling debts. Perfidiously, the main character not only inherits this personal guilt from his own past but even has to relive/replay these crucial events to continue on his quest. After the revelation that his lost daughter and Elizabeth are the same person, DeWitt is convinced that only destruction can end this infinite loop of guilt. Thus, he decides to “smother the son of a bitch in his crib” (Shotgunnova, “GS 20: Ending”). Elizabeth then, after reassuring herself that DeWitt really wants to do this, opens a portal to the birth of Zachary Hale Comstock. Surprisingly, they end up at the baptism DeWitt was considering after the cruelties he committed at Wounded Knee. In his universe, Booker refused to be baptized because he did not believe that a splash of water could wash away his sins (Bosman 111). Yet Elizabeth reveals that, in a different reality, DeWitt actually took the baptism and was reborn as Comstock. Remarkably, either decision—being baptized or refusing it—could not redeem him from his guilt. As Booker DeWitt, he got addicted to alcohol, ran into debt, and sold his own daughter. As Zachary Hale Comstock, he became a fanatic tyrant whose crimes even exceeded those committed at Wounded Knee. He not only established a murderous regime but locked up his ‘own’ daughter, planning to use her supernatural powers for his designs.

18 Leave a comment on paragraph 18 0 In the combined person of DeWitt and Comstock, the themes of personal and collective guilt merge with one another, and thus reveal BioShock Infinite’s implicit narrative perspective on history. Reflecting on the long existing historiographical debate over agency within history, the game assumes that history is shaped by (fallible) individual decisions. In the world of BioShock Infinite, every individual decision opens a new dimension, in which characters pursue their own path and (hi)story. The narrative level of the game thus claims that historical guilt first and foremost arises from individuals and not collectives or structures.

19 Leave a comment on paragraph 19 0 Yet is this the guilt of the player as well, or is it just that of the avatar? Players do incur guilt in their own ways during the game, namely through their interaction with the game world and their actions mirrored by their surroundings: first—given the genre-conventions of a first-person shooter—by killing innumerous adversaries, and second, by supporting the paramilitary underground group Vox Populi. At first glance, Fitzroy’s organization, which has opposed Columbia’s charismatic leader[6] and his fanatic followers for years, appears to fight for a good cause. The resistance movement, however, unmasks itself by its extremely violent actions as morally corrupt—for example as Daisy Fitzroy, in her quest for revenge, does not shy away from killing an innocent child.[7]

20 Leave a comment on paragraph 20 0 The intrinsic and extrinsic genre conventions force players to shoot their way through the conflict-oriented storyline, but these game mechanics are not problematized as, for example, in Spec Ops: The Line (published a year before BioShock Infinite by 2K). Here, players are increasingly unsettled by the tasks they have to fulfill. Faced with options for action which all lead to destruction and violence, players as well as the game’s protagonist distance themselves from the methods of war. Subversively, the game lures players to incur guilt (Smethurst 211). In a remarkable sequence the Spec Ops force is confronted by revolting civilians. The task is to rescue a fellow soldier who is about to be hung by a mob. After several hours of gameplay dictating to solve conflicts by shooting, players know only one way to rescue their comrade. They do not even know that there are other options to resolve the situation because the interface abandons players by giving no help and just stating the mission goal. In a perfidious way, the game mirrors the chain of command in the military. The interface permanently instructs and commands players to shoot, so that they rely on this assistance without thinking about and reflecting on own strategies. Therefore, players shoot and kill civilians although they could just fire in the air to scare them off. Moral dilemmas like this shape Spec Ops: The Line and subvert the conventions of its own genre, but this is not how BioShock Infinite works.

21 Leave a comment on paragraph 21 0 Players encounter the gory violence of BioShock Infinite for the first time roughly fifteen minutes into the game. In the early stages, they are able to explore the beauty of Columbia. The horror that hides within the darker layers of this picturesque city only comes to light when players witness a bizarre raffle where an interracial couple is exposed, shamed, and will be symbolically if not actually stoned. In this horrific sequence, players are for the first time confronted with the grim side of the dystopian setting of the game. At first glance, the game allows them to decide whether they throw the baseball at the announcer or at the couple.[8] In contrast to Spec Ops: The Line, a choice of action (throwing at the couple/throwing at the announcer) is given, but the decision is not of any consequence: in both instances, players are hindered to complete the action. On a narrative level, the decision only influences whether they will be able to see the couple alive later in the game or not.

22 Leave a comment on paragraph 22 0 While raising the hand to throw, DeWitt is identified as the False Prophet, although players have no clue what it means yet, and during this brief cut-scene the first homicide of the game is committed. Players watch as DeWitt crushes the head of a police officer using the mechanic grappling hook of another policeman. Then DeWitt grabs this hook, and only at this point are players able to interact with the game world again. Nevertheless, the path is predefined: without offering alternative problem-solving strategies, the game has already ‘corrupted’ players to eliminate their adversaries. The game takes the guilt out of the first killing from players by making them passive observers, but it continues to do so by justifying the deaths that will follow as a result of their direct action. After all, the goal was to rescue a girl—a noble, chivalric task—and from now on DeWitt is simply forced to use his skills and tools in an act of self-defense. Contrary to Spec Ops: The Line, violent actions are never reflected. It is possible to kill every NPC[9] without any punishment—the only risk is increased attention from the police, which DeWitt wants to kill anyway.

23 Leave a comment on paragraph 23 0 Yet are there any other ways to play the game? The answer is a restricted yes, there are some limited ways—even though the game does not support these explicitly. While the main game does not offer any stealth mode (in contrast to its DLC Burial at Sea: Episode Two), it is possible to complete BioShock Infinite without inflicting any direct damage. To be fair, the phrase “direct damage” covers an exception because some areas cannot be traversed before every adversary is killed. Andrew Walt, then editor of haywiremag.com, has tried to “break BioShock Infinite” following this maxim of avoiding direct damage. Direct damage, he defines, consists of “attacks squarely targeted at enemies with all firearms and damage dealing vigors[10] as well as melee maneuvers.” Ex negativo, Walt characterizes indirect damage as “use of the Possession vigor on enemy units, vigor traps, tear manipulation and passive abilities from certain pieces of gear.” Here, the act of killing is in fact only outsourced, and the reduction of responsibility is at least questionable, but it does constitute an attempt to subvert the game and its mechanics within the game’s rules and designs. Another rather ludic or community-driven attempt to avoid killing is ‘speedrunning’[11] through BioShock Infinite. One way to speedrun is to use glitches within the level design to dodge whole areas (for example the raffle scene). While focusing on beating the game in the shortest time possible and subsequently earning the respect of the speedrunning community, the story and the game mechanics (e.g. killing) recede into the background. Therefore, non-killing is rather a by-product and happens accidentally, not intendedly. However, so-called ‘pacifist runs’—intended non-killing runs without exploiting glitches—do not exist for BioShock Infinite. This might be the case because they are deemed not interesting enough or appear to be simply impossible because of the game’s level design (e.g. gate openers). In sum, other options and ways to play the game exist, but are nothing more than marginal phenomena.

24 Leave a comment on paragraph 24 0 In the “Hall of Heroes”, the game introduces another deeply unsettling justification to kill situated in the game’s plot. Players inadvertently fulfil the last wishes of a group of adversaries by granting them a soldier’s death. Cornelius Slate, a former general at Wounded Knee and the Boxer Revolt, and his fellow veterans have fortified themselves in the museum. Slate sends his soldiers against players—not to hinder their progress within the story but to exploit DeWitt’s way of handling things. Slate and his companions have simply lost their purpose, and by fighting against the protagonist, and dying in the process, this void is filled again. By killing the soldiers, players give them their identity back. Not only is the act of killing justified but also it is enhanced and glorified.

25 Leave a comment on paragraph 25 0 After making his way through the “Hall of Heroes,” players find a wounded Cornelius Slate on the floor, barely leaning against a pillar. The general begs DeWitt to kill him and thereby free him from his loss of identity. This time, the game leaves the decision up to players, and they can kill or spare him. Thus, grave questions are forced upon them: is not killing Slate really sparing him? Is granting him a—from his perspective—noble death not rather an act of mercy? Is killing him not freeing players from the guilt of the things Comstock will do to Slate? This time, the decision really matters, as players will face the consequences on a narrative level. If they spare him, Slate will be captured and players will see him later on in the story as a tortured man in a catatonic state. Thus, BioShock Infinite indicates there are worse things than death and implicitly blames players for not killing the general before. DeWitt then gets another chance to kill Slate, just to end his suffering. If players chose this option and kill Slate, however, they have to deal with the disgust and horror in Elizabeth’s face.

26 Leave a comment on paragraph 26 0 Sources such as this ‘subreddit’ about ‘Decisions in BioShock Infinite’ supports the thesis of a more abstract emotional punishment of moral questionable decisions, even though it has no impact on a narrative or ludic level:

27 Leave a comment on paragraph 27 0 However—and this is the point of my argument—these decisions do matter. Not to the story, no, as I’ve clearly established above, but to me as a player. On my first playthrough, I chose to give Elizabeth the bird pin and ended up getting my hand stabbed at the ticket booth. For the rest of the game, whenever Booker used his hands or I looked at Elizabeth, I was reminded of that choice. It was cemented in me, and affected the game far more than most decisions do in other games.

28 Leave a comment on paragraph 28 0 The game gives you response to your choices in a way that feels natural; you’re only changing small things, so it’s only small things that are changed in this short time-frame, but you are constantly reminded of those changes. In the back of your head, you still know that you shot Slate in front of Elizabeth, or the ticket-man. The decisions might not matter as much to the direction the story is taking, but they do wonders with the player’s feelings. (AManHasSpoken)

29 Leave a comment on paragraph 29 0 Elizabeth’s detailed facial expressions and her likeability evoke empathy and the players’ desire to be liked by her in turn. Due to this deep narrative bond that is carefully constructed by the game in various sequences, her reactions and feeling should influence the way players perceive the game. Her shocked face during and after the death of Slate mirrors the consequences of the brutal deed. However, it is not her first contact with violence. She first witnesses the player killing people within the “Battleship Bay” sequence. After rescuing Elizabeth and falling into an artificial beach setting, citizens of Columbia tasked with catching the fugitives trap them both. The game leaves the player no chance to solve this situation other than to embrace conflict, to use violence, and to kill the pursuers. Overwhelmed by the brutality of the events, Elizabeth temporarily flees from Booker. Within a scripted scene, she confronts him with his acts.

30 Leave a comment on paragraph 30 0 Elizabeth: You killed those people. I can’t believe you did that…they’re all dead… You killed those people!

31 Leave a comment on paragraph 31 0 Booker: Elizabeth, I—

32 Leave a comment on paragraph 32 0 Elizabeth: You’re a monster!

33 Leave a comment on paragraph 33 0 Booker: What did you think was gonna happen? Hmmm?

34 Leave a comment on paragraph 34 0 Elizabeth: What?

35 Leave a comment on paragraph 35 0 Booker: Do you understand the expense people went through to keep you locked up in that tower? You think people like that are just gonna let you walk away? You are an investment…and you will not be safe until you are far away from here.

36 Leave a comment on paragraph 36 0 Elizabeth: What do…what do they want from me?

37 Leave a comment on paragraph 37 0 Booker: I don’t know. (Shotgunnova, “GS 07: Battleship Bay”)

38 Leave a comment on paragraph 38 0 This initial tension, the dehumanization by killing, and the discussion of personal guilt are quickly wiped away by DeWitt’s economic explanation, and players are thus shielded, much like Elizabeth, from having to question the ethics of his actions.[12]

39 Leave a comment on paragraph 39 0 The indication of a debate on guilt, which is then quickly avoided, is striking in the game, and especially the gameplay goes against the grain of this narrative implication. On the one hand, Elizabeth confronts players with their guilt; on the other hand she is a reliable scavenger for ammunition throughout the game. She helps DeWitt to survive by offering supplies, thus enabling him to kill further. BioShock Infinite’s treatment of violence consequently fails due to ludonarrative dissonance.[13] On a narrative level, violence and killing is reflected and questioned; on a gameplay level, it is even celebrated or at least accepted as a genre-specific necessity. The procedural rhetoric[14] of the game subverts and diminishes the story-based discussion over guilt. In terms of gameplay, killing—besides the marginal alternatives introduced above—is unavoidable; it is the core mechanic and what the gameplay is all about. Even within its genre as a first-person shooter, the focus on a body count is significant, while e.g. a stealth mode is not implemented in the game. On top of that, players are even rewarded for killing more. In fact, there are additional achievements waiting to be unlocked for clearing an area of all adversaries.

40 Leave a comment on paragraph 40 0 Yet the setting of BioShock Infinite and its entanglements with America’s historical guilt is not only interesting but also thought-provoking. Furthermore, its integration of personal agency within the game’s (hi)story opens a wide field of potential. It could have stimulated a level of reflection on these historical events that far exceeds the level in which players’ own actions are reflected upon, but it fails in this regard. BioShock Infinite does not evoke a sense of (historical) guilt because it sabotages itself within the gameplay. It may only rather represent such a feeling and integrates itself in the commemorative culture as an extraordinary beautiful yet pretentious attempt to exhibit American atrocities to an audience that mostly wants to play. Depending on the character of players—whether they are story- or gameplay-oriented—the guilt-discourse either unfolds or remains meaningless. A sense of historical guilt is either developed and solidified or vanishes like the sound of a fired bullet.


41 Leave a comment on paragraph 41 0 Works Cited

42 Leave a comment on paragraph 42 0 AManHasSpoken. “Decisions that Matter.” Reddit. https://www.reddit.com/r/Bioshock/comments/1dzmt8/spoilers_infinite_decisions_that_matter/ Accessed 18 Nov. 2018.

43 Leave a comment on paragraph 43 0 Anderson, Benedict. Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism. Rev Ed., Verso 1991.

44 Leave a comment on paragraph 44 0 Bogost, Ian. Persuasive Games. The Espressive Power of Videogames. MIT Press, 2007.

45 Leave a comment on paragraph 45 0 Bosman, Frank. “Accept your Baptism, and Die! Redemption, Death and Baptism in BioShock Infinite.” Gameviroments, vol 6, 2017, pp. 100-29.

46 Leave a comment on paragraph 46 0 Cooper, John Milton, Jr. Woodrow Wilson: A Biography. Random House, 2011.

47 Leave a comment on paragraph 47 0 Cornelißen, Christoph. “Was heißt Erinnerungskultur? Begriff—Methoden—Perspektiven.” Geschichte in Wissenschaft und Unterricht, vol. 54, 2003, pp. 548-63.

48 Leave a comment on paragraph 48 0 Grua, David W. Surviving Wounded Knee: The Lakotas and the Politics of Memory. Oxford UP, 2016.

49 Leave a comment on paragraph 49 0 Heinze, Carl. Mittelaltercomputerspiele: Zur Darstellung und Modellierung von Geschichte im populären Computerspiel. transcript, 2012.

50 Leave a comment on paragraph 50 0 Hocking, Clint. “Ludonarrative Dissonance in BioShock.” 7 Oct. 2007. http://clicknothing.typepad.com/click_nothing/2007/10/ludonarrative-d.html. Accessed 15 Nov. 2018.

51 Leave a comment on paragraph 51 0 Maurer, Andrea. Herrschaftssoziologie. Eine Einführung, Campus, 2004.

52 Leave a comment on paragraph 52 0 McCarter, Reid. “Booker DeWitt and the Guilt of a Nation.” Digital Love Child, 3 Apr. 2013, https://digitallovechild.com/2013/04/03/booker-dewitt-and-the-guilt-of-a-nation/. Accessed 15 Nov. 2018.

53 Leave a comment on paragraph 53 0 Psiropoulos, Brian. “In the Sky, Lord, in the Sky: Historical Guilt and BioShock Infinite.” Girls Like Giants, 4 Apr. 2013, https://girlslikegiants.wordpress.com/2013/04/04/in-the-sky-lord-in-the-sky-historical-guilt-and-bioshock-infinite/. Accessed 15 Nov. 2018.

54 Leave a comment on paragraph 54 0 Shotgunnova. “BioShock Infinite Script.” GameFAQs. 4 April 2014. https://gamefaqs.gamespot.com/pc/605053-bioshock-infinite/faqs/69191. Accessed 15 Nov. 2018.

55 Leave a comment on paragraph 55 0 Smethurst, Tobi: “‘We Put Our Hands on the Trigger with Him’: Guilt and Perpetration in Spec Ops: The Line,” Criticism vol. 59, no. 2 , 2017, pp. 201-21. Accessed 15 Nov. 2018.

56 Leave a comment on paragraph 56 0 Walt, Andrew: “Breaking BioShock.” Haywire Magazine, 15 July 2013, http://www.haywiremag.com/features/breaking-bioshock/. Accessed 15 Nov. 2018.


57 Leave a comment on paragraph 57 0 [1] BioShock Infinite was developed by Irrational Games and published by 2K in March 2013 for Windows, Xbox 360, and PlayStation 3. Two sequel DCLs (Burial at Sea, Episode One + Two) were published in November 2013 and March 2014. This essay focuses exclusively on the main game.

58 Leave a comment on paragraph 58 0 [2] Our historical year of 1912 has also been a rather tumultuous one in American political history, seeing the heyday of the progressive reform movement, a major split in the Republican Party and the ascendancy of Democrat Woodrow Wilson to the presidency. Both a progressive and a war president, Wilson “would come to be one of the best remembered and most argued over of all presidents” (Cooper 599).

59 Leave a comment on paragraph 59 0 [3] Given Germany’s decade-long struggle to come to terms with its Nazi past, there is a multitude of literature on commemorative culture published in German. For an overview, see Cornelißen 548-63.

60 Leave a comment on paragraph 60 0 [4] Settings in which players fight antagonists representing historical ‘villains’ are a common feature in video games. Counter-factional historical scenarios have also been explored in a number of popular games such as the Wolfenstein series or Command & Conquer: Red Alert.

61 Leave a comment on paragraph 61 0 [5] For a detailed account on the Wounded Knee Massacre and its aftermath, see Grua.

62 Leave a comment on paragraph 62 0 [6] Weber characterizes three possible ways of legitimizing sovereignty: traditional, rational, and charismatic. The focus on charismatic leadership, in the persona of Zachary Hale Comstock, underlines the game’s view on agency within history because the other, structure-based legitimizations of sovereignty are subverted and overthrown by the individual charisma of Comstock. For the characteristics of charismatic leadership see Maurer 45.

63 Leave a comment on paragraph 63 0 [7] The question of guilt requires agency, which is rarely given in BioShock Infinite directly. Other options to play the game are discussed later.

64 Leave a comment on paragraph 64 0 [8] The baseball, a symbol of American everyday culture, functions as an allegory for the game design and narrative strategies, in which American culture works as a toolbox for the game’s plot and its mechanics. Furthermore, it implies that stoning/public lynching is as emblematic as baseball is for American culture.

65 Leave a comment on paragraph 65 0 [9] Children cannot be killed or harmed; they do not have any life counter and are even more spatial environment than adult NPCs.

66 Leave a comment on paragraph 66 0 [10] BioShock Infinite‘s equivalent to BioShock’s plasmids, which are liquids to gain greater powers and special abilities.

67 Leave a comment on paragraph 67 0 [11] “Speedrunning is the act of playing a video game with the intent of completing it as fast as possible, for the purposes of entertainment and / or competition” (https://www.speedrun.com/about).

68 Leave a comment on paragraph 68 0 [12] On a side note, this sounds like the cynical extradiegetic explanation for the whole violence of the game: it is an investment, and it sells well.

69 Leave a comment on paragraph 69 0 [13] Clint Hocking introduced this term 2007 while analyzing BioShock. He stated that the player can always act selfishly while the game celebrates selflessness.

70 Leave a comment on paragraph 70 0 [14] Ian Bogost uses the terminology of rhetoric to describe the meaning and ideology of play options within a video games (cf. 2).

Source: https://opr.degruyter.com/playing-the-field-video-games-and-american-studies/manuel-franz-and-henning-jansen-a-shining-city-and-the-sodom-below-historical-guilt-and-personal-agency-in-bioshock-infinite/