[If you haven’t played all the Bioshock series I would suggest avoiding this article as I cover many elements that could be considered spoilers.]
I was yet again late to the party in terms of latest releases. I played the first Bioshock a couple of months after release and loved it from beginning to end. The world was a new experience, sci-fi retro future-esque city under the sea, a location and style that hadn’t been played with before. Obvious nods to Jules Vern and the Steampunk ideology shaped this subaquatic ‘utopia’. The game came out at the start of the ‘Moral Choices’ explosion in Role-Play Games and Action titles.
Set in the underwater haven of Rapture the game saw you as Jack, a man who has fallen on hard times, or rather his plane fell into the sea. Seeing the symbolic and literal safety of a lighthouse up ahead Jack swims his way over finding a bathysphere, a submarine of sorts, that takes him to the depths of the ocean and into Rapture. The game is set decades after Rapture developed some ‘issues’, everyone going mad being the main one. The game features the iconic ‘Big Daddy’, a force of nature in a diving suit, with only one real aim, look after their Little Sisters, they can be a struggle to get past. Once disposed of the Big Daddy leaves a Little Sister alone in the room crying and trying to comprehend what Jack did to her friend. Here comes one of the most black and white moral choices you can have presented to you in a game.
Do you ‘harvest’ the kind of creepy/cute little girl and take a big bonus instantly, or do you exorcise her sea slug demon and let her go hide, the second option giving you a nice gift further down the line. The problem is they both have positive outcomes, the morality of looking for personal gain in this situation is taken away.
Levine in a phone conversation with IGN said – “And I have my useless liberal arts degree, so I’ve read stuff from Ayn Rand and [George] Orwell, and all the sort of utopian and dystopian writings of the 20th century, which I’ve found really fascinating. There was a great period in the middle of the last century where there were a lot of people, Huxley, Orwell, and Rand, writing about utopias and dystopias.” All of those writers are known for using either the concept of fate or the concept of ‘Stuff is going to happen no matter what you try to do’, something which is rife throughout the Bioshock Trilogy.
After being relatively timely with my playing of Bioshock 1, Bioshock 2 was a game that I ruined for myself. I was in the middle of an achievement whoring race with a friend and I let finding all the audio tapes destroy the fun of experiencing the world and game. What it comes down to is you play as a Big Daddy, Subject Delta, and a little sister that has grown up aids you in you equal aim of bringing down Rapture and deal with Sofia Lamb who has gone a little bit, insane. At the end of the game you are greeted to a cut scene where you are basically shown to be damned whether you have built up positive karma or not. There are multiple endings, which you get is based on whether you saved enough little sisters or NPCs, but at the end of it all, which ever ending you got, Subject Delta is out for the count, the character who has survived many ordeals, including killing himself, is left on the deck of a raft to die.
In Army of Two: The 40th Day you had the various options of what to do, do you let the corrupt TWO agent run away or do you execute him for his general dickishness? Determinism is a concept relating to fate, on its most basic level it states that if a particular selection of events play out a particular way there is no other course of action than the one that will happen, think Cause and Effect. If you are inclined to play Army of Two: The 40th Day twice, once running each option for the moral choices you will see that no matter what option you choose something bad is going to happen to whoever is involved. In the case of the corrupt TWO agent executing obviously ends his run there, but letting him go means he escapes to a beach to sun himself only to be killed by a scuba assassin.
Bioshock: Infinite is a game where you are treated to a subtle middle finger throughout. Within minutes of getting to Columbia, the floating city which has claimed independence from America, you are greeted by the Luteces. The dimensional siblings approach and ask the player to have a game of heads or tails with them, you make your decision and they walk off, that’s it. A little later into the game when you, as Booker DeWitt, are on the lam with Elizabeth you are offered a couple of options to adorn the choker on Elizabeth’s neck, the bird or the cage. For the rest of the game you are left wondering what the punch-line would be. You are treated to another 9 odd hours of great gameplay, and then you remember the choker, ‘hold on’ you think, ‘what was the point in that?’. The simple answer? There was no point.
Remember the very start of the game where you’re being rowed to the lighthouse? The conversation between your two sea-mates (the Luteces) explains pretty much every element of the game and pretty much says to the player ‘yeah, it’s all pointless.’
“No, he *DOESN’T* row”
What you come to realise, with the wonderful thing that is hindsight, is that these events have played out before, and in essence no matter what happens in the middle bit, i.e. the coin toss, the saving or sacrificing of the enemy, or the choker, you are buggered, the same things will happen over and over. Welcome to the wonderful world of Fatalism.
Booker has been in this situation 123 times before, apparently this is shown by the coin toss board though this is debated in many forums. In none of those other timelines has he helped with the rowing, as such, because the same events have led to this point, he’s not going to help row this time. My favourite rumour regarding all this is that this is Ken Levine, creator of the series, backlashing against the tirade of people saying the moral choices in previous game were either pointless or too black and white. As such Ken Levine decided to have a handful of choices in Bioshock: Infinite and make them all completely pointless. Whether this is true or not I don’t know, but it would be the greatest F.U. to gamers since the ending of Mass Effect 3.
This running theme of fate throughout all of the Bioshock series is fascinating and easily skipped over if it doesn’t interest you. The player is at no point force-fed this stuff, a lot of Bioshock: Infinite it explained away by the whole ‘dimension’ thing, which is great and does hand out enough satisfaction, but scratch just a tiny bit deeper and you realise the whole series has been based on the concept of whether you as the player have free will or whether fate is bending you over and using you as a ventriloquist dummy to get to the punchline of the joke.