First, the important stuff…
Neill Blomkamp is making a new movie! It’s called Elysium, and I’m psyched to see it. Apparently Elysium is a space station where all the cool people live, while all the suckers are left to slum it on Earth. Matt Damon stars as a guy who gets an exoskeleton and learns how to kick ass with it. Sharlto Copley has a beard and a sword, which is also pretty cool. Jodie Foster plays a platinum blonde, which is kind of weird, but I think I’m down with it. She’s consistently awesome in most things I’ve seen her in, so I’m guessing it will work. In fact, all of those actors are consistently awesome. I like Matt Damon’s recent action hero gig, because he has the chops to add a better “caliber” of acting to an action movie. And Sharlto Copley was the unlikeliest of action heros in Blomkamp’s previous feature, District 9. Copley also played Murdock in the newest A-Team movie, which is extra points for him, even though I didn’t actually see that movie.
Blomkamp was supposed to direct a Halo movie a few years ago, but at some point, and for some reason, that was shelved and he made District 9 instead. District 9 is an excellent action flick, if you haven’t seen it. A friend of mine didn’t like it as much, because it starts as heady sci-fi and switches to full-on action for the third act. The combination of the two didn’t work for him, but I thought it allowed for a great build-up of the main character, Wikus (Copley), before getting to the totally nuts catharsis of the final half hour of the film. Elysium is only Blomkamp’s second feature film, but based on the first, I’m excited for this new one.
Okay! Now let’s talk some more about Bioshock Infinite! I will keep this post spoiler-free, so no worries if you’re one of the three people reading this and you haven’t played or finished the game yet. Specifically, I want to talk about the meme I’ve seen pop up in the past week or so, which is that Infinite‘s copious violence detracts from the overall game.
Yes, the game is super ultra mega violent at times. Comically so, some might say. And there’s an argument going around that says this violence is turning off potential fans, who might otherwise be enjoying a fantastic game. Chris Plante offers what I consider the definitive version of this argument over at Polygon. I don’t mean to call out Plante specifically; I just think he offers the best case for that side. Plant writes that his wife was intrigued by the game, but became discouraged when she saw a guy’s face get ground into steak tartare by a spinning skyhook. Plante argues that a game as thought-provoking and well-written as Bioshock Infinite should aim for as wide an audience as possible, and that the gratuitous violence hinders this goal.
I disagree, and here’s why, simply put; you can’t please everyone.
Yes, Plante’s wife was interested, and she might have tried playing the game, and she ultimately didn’t try because the violence made her uncomfortable. That’s one side of the coin. The other side of the coin is me, a fan of the Bioshock series, who knows how scary and violent the Bioshock games can be, and who frankly looks forward to that. So if you’re Ken Levine and the Irrational dev team, and you make the decision to remove the gory stuff from the game, you’re also making a decision to please one player and disappoint another. In this particular universe, Irrational decided to include the violence and make me happy. That is, of course, a decision of which I approve. But you can’t please everybody; it’s impossible. So you try to please as many people as possible, but first and foremost, you make it a priority to stay true to your vision of what the game should be, AND you also make it a priority to please the fans of the original game. So should the fans suffer because a casual observer may or may not decide to play the game? What if they don’t like first-person shooters? Should they make it a puzzle game? An RPG? Should Ken Levine decide to skip the game element altogether and write a book instead? Bioshock Infinite is, at its core, a Bioshock game. And that means being able to light people on fire and electrocute them. And shoot them while they’re electrocuted so their heads pop. Honestly, I don’t appreciate that people are pretending that the violence in the game is something to either be derided as the low point of an otherwise great game, or to be quietly, shamefully enjoyed. I proudly enjoy the ridiculous gory violence in Infinite, and I’ll bet there are plenty of other people who do as well.
As to the specific context of violence within the larger themes present in the game, I would argue that not only does it not detract from the story, but that it is integral to the experience and your knowledge of the characters involved. I know I said I won’t get spoiler-y, and I won’t… I promise. I can only say that all is not as it seems (gasp!) in sunny Columbia, and that the idyllic Main Street veneer gilds a much darker society. The main character, Booker, is a veteran of the Battle of Wounded Knee, and a Pinkerton to boot. Have you ever met a Pinkerton? Well… okay; me neither. But they don’t have a reputation for being nice guys. That’s not what they’re hired to do. They’re hired to terrorize people, and how better to terrorize someone than by pelting him with bloodthirsty crows and smashing his face with a freight hook? There is no better way; that’s the correct answer to that question.
Anyway, Booker is the bull you let loose in your enemy’s china shop; that’s his special purpose. And Elizabeth is the exact opposite of that. And, Lo and Behold, the two are thrown together to form an unlikely duo! See how that works? Cool story potential! It’s like The Odd Couple, but with shooting and racism!
Totally coincidentally, I’m five books into Stephen King’s Dark Tower series at the moment, and that’s got a cool sci-fi/fantasy vibe and characters as well (it’s not as tight of a story as Bioshock Infinite, but that’s a blog for another time). You know what else it’s got? A ton of really gross and disturbing imagery, that’s what. Maybe Stephen King should’ve taken out all that gross and weird stuff so I’d feel more comfortable recommending that series to my grandmother. Actually, wait… my grandmother really likes to read Stephen King’s books. She’s read nearly all of them. She didn’t read The Dark Tower, though; she didn’t like all the sci-fi/fantasy stuff in it.
See what I did there?