Did someone order a contrarian opinion of Bioshock Infinite? No? Well here is a shameless one anyway.
Before I get onto Bioshock Infinite, I want to point to this old episode of the Jimquisition
, in which Jim Sterling goes off in his usual manner to explain why video games are not films. I find it all very agreeable. I do not particularly concern myself with whether games are art, but when it comes to making them I do not think they should defer to films, or any other media. Video games need to be looked at as there own entity standing among other media.
If I did have to try an place gaming among the arts, I would place it somewhere in-between written literature and opera as basically their bastard love-child. On the one hand, video games demand a high level of interaction, not too distant from reading a book. On the other hand, like an opera, a good game brings together a multitude of elements, visuals, dialogue, music and sound, and in the case of games, game-play.
Game-play and interaction is what separates video games from any other medium. It is the thing that no film can ever offer to its audience. It is a worrying trend that whenever we think of games as art this vital component gets left behind in favour of fawning over story and graphics. The end result of this kind of thinking is Dear Esther, an artsy game that cannot really be called a game at all because it offers no interaction. It is a virtual roller-coaster with nothing to do. Perhaps it is because game-play has more in common with engineering than art, or maybe game-play is harder to judge as art than narrative or appearances. A layman can see when a game is visually stunning and can tell the basic difference between a shallow and deep narrative, but it would require someone knowledge in art and game design to answer the question of when game-play becomes art or whether it could ever be considered art at all.
When I think of artistic games I think we should look towards ones that above all else provided a special experience that it could only have given in the form of a video game. That is to say, something that could not have a similar impact on the audience if it were made as a book, or a film, or a play. None of them can offer the grand sense of exploration one feels from an Elder Scrolls game, the creative freedom of Minecraft, or the fusion of movement, exploration and music like Proteus.
And thus I move onto Bioshock Infinite, or more specifically its game-play. Let us not mince words, it is a first person shooter in the most basic sense. While Bioshock’s gun-play might not be bad, it does not seem particularly impressive or special either. It is a shooter with powers basically ripped from its predecessor and a sky-rail gimmick added in.
Bioshock Infinite has a great story I am sure, but is it anything that a book could not have done just as well? Bioshock Infinite also has wonderful visuals and art direction, but is it anything a film could not have done just as well or even better? What special thing does Bioshock Infinite offer up as a game, on a purely mechanical or game-play level even? By the looks of it, nothing much. It might not be bad by any stretch, but trying to pass of a fairly generic first person shooter off as some kind of unique experience is not going to fly in my books.
It strikes me as worrying that we are all jumping to crown this game with a mass of accolades even though the most important aspect of being a video game is lacking somewhat. It would be no different than say crowning someone among the best musicians, not because his music was great, but because his videos or clothes were. I feel that people are falling into the trap of holding up films as being the superior medium and judging video games against them. When Call of Duty or Battlefield try to be cinematic we see right through it because the stories and game-play are both terrible when it comes to the single-player campaigns. With Bioshock we are talking about a game that actually pulls of story and visually impeccably well, and this muddies our perceptive on the matter.
It is all fine to gush over emotions and how a game finally has a good story and how Liz is the best female character ever (I could write an essay all about how the self-congratulatory back patting from male gamers was wearing thin for me right at the word go). However, I firmly endorse standing back and looking at things with a stone cold heart and lift up the pretty bonnet. We need to look at games not only as art but also as games, because that is what we know for a fact is what they are.
I take this quote from The Escapist’s review
of the Bioshock infinite.
“Calling it simply a first-person shooter is practically an insult.”
Yeah sorry, but Bioshock Infinite is simply a first-person shooter.