As with any post with Infinite in its name, this one is likely to contain spoilers. While I don't plan on going too much into spoiler territory, I would suggest anyone who hasn't played the game (and plans to) to avoid any article relating to Infinite, in order to keep their first play-through as "virginal" as possible.
To those of you that have played through the game, and probably even to those who haven't, my statement may come as no surprise. "Of course Bioshock made you think!" you shout at your computer screen, "racism is presented within the first half hour of the game, and the topics only pile on from there", you point out. Yes, whether it be dystopian societies, quantum mechanics, or simply Booker as a character, the game gives you a hell of a lot to think about, and you'd have to be thicker than a bag of bricks not to pick up on at least one of them. That's not the kind of thinking I'm talking about though. I am talking about how Bioshock made me think about it, as a game. On my first time through a lot of things went through my mind that normally required a forced effort on my part when playing a game. Without evening noticing I was pondering what the mechanics might symbolize, how the ultra-violence was presented, what it meant about Booker and what it meant about me, the player. During a particularly powerful scene, when Booker picks up a guitar and Elizabeth begins to sing, I realized the lengths at which I was really thinking about the game and what it was saying. That moment will stick with me to my grave, not only because of the power of the scene itself, but because it was in that moment that I realized how far games have come, and how far they can go from here, and I was genuinely proud (I may or may not have cried).
Bioshock you sly dog, you made me appreciate you as a piece of art!
Once I finished the game, naturally, I went to the internet to hear what everyone else thought. At first I was baffled by the sizable outcry of "ludonarrative dissonance" I found. I read comment after comment that started with, "this game will change the history of the medium forever! But...". Most people that praised the game had something negative to point out, or found some detail that bothered them. At first I wanted to punch these people in the face. "This game is perfect! Why can't you see it is our savior!", but after a while, I realized that these criticisms ultimately prove what an incredible game Bioshock Infinite really is. In comparison, most first-shooter criticism tend to be very shallow: A certain mechanic did not work right, some levels were boring, the plot was absurd, so on so forth. With Infinite we are seeing some seriously deep criticisms and observations about the game coming not from critics, but from the general gaming crowd, which, given this is the internet, is an incredible feat.
The game got people thinking, got me thinking. Around every corner the game throws something at you that begs to be examined and pondered. The game paces itself though, it starts out simple enough in every aspect. Find the girl, wipe away the debt. They throw the first wrench in the works with the lottery scene, where you win the chance to throw a baseball at a cross-racial couple. It doesn't require too much thought though, we realize that Columbia is racist, and we have to make a decision about Booker's character, whether he would throw the ball at the announcer or the couple. As the game progresses though, the plot gets noticeably more deep, and definitely more complex. I don't think this is strictly a narrative decision. The game is designed for us to be eased into contemplation. As the game gets deeper, so does our level of thought. By doing this Irrational opens the game up to take deeper criticisms. Not only is this absolutely masterful, but it takes some balls. Infinite secretly trained us to be more critical consumers, which is exactly what we need in this medium. I am an avid believer that "games are art", but it's somewhat embarrassing that it took me this long for me to truly appreciate one as such, and respond to it accordingly.
"You've got something on your nose..."
This finally leads us to the discussions we are all (hopefully) having about the game. After experiencing Bioshock most of us are left with tons to say. I waited patiently on Skype while my friend finished up, and immediately when he did we both burst into conversation. First we discussed the narrative, because its the most obvious discussion point, but from there we talked for at least an hour about all the symbolism and what everything meant. From specific scenes, to visuals, to game-play. By the end I appreciated the game a thousand times more because there were so many things he saw that I did not and vice versa. There were also some things we legitimately disagreed on. Where I see an artistic point being made with the violence in the game, he saw dissonance and disconnect from the story and that is totally fine, neither of us are really correct. Bioshock Infinite left itself open to interpretation in so many ways that the discussions we are having, even when they are critiques, advance games as an art form, and most importantly, advances the way we perceive them.