I recently finished Bioshock Infinite Burial at Sea Episode 2, and so delighted was I at my achievement I wanted to go online and read other people's thoughts and views on what I thought was a great piece of cinematic gaming (the gameplay was flawed but in a fun way). When I went online, however, I saw there was a prevailing problem, one that has been bugging me since my first playthrough of Infinite: People won't shut up about the ending of the first game, saying it "ruins" the story. Well, I came up with an explanation that I think satisfies a lot of anger, misunderstanding and confusion that has become part of trying to enjoy Bioshock.
First of all, you have to examine the nature of Bioshock's design. Every in game mechanic is explained, thoroughly, from the shield being defined as a kinetic shock absorber to the game explaining death as a quantum loop: the point you have to take away is that Irrational LOVE to use narrative to cover game tropes. "Would you kindly" famously explains why in the first game you can do nothing BUT follow Atlas' commands. It's a staple of the series and a reason the original game was so beloved. I believe that, intentionally or not, Bioshock Infinite is a game with a similar twist, but one that not many people seem to realise is there.
Constants and variables. Some things stay the same, some things change, within each universe there's infinite possibilities, providing you stick to the rules of the constants. Video games are loaded with this kind of logic. GTA might promise you the freedom of go anywhere, do anything, but it's go anywhere we let you.
Do anything that you are allowed to do.
Bioshock Infinite is of course no exception to these kind of rules and restraints games simply have to have. But still, within Bioshock Infinite there are many choices to make. Not just the obvious "bird or cage" moments but also what guns you ended up using, who you killed, in what order, how long you spent exploring. We all played the same game, but there were variables. Nearly infinite variables but all the same story. There were things we couldn't change, but we all had a different experience.
But the constants prevent infinite universes. There is a finite number of ways to beat Bioshock Infinite, regardless of how petty the tree diagram gets. So why call it Infinite? What makes the game adopt that moniker? To explain that it's time to jump to the most overrated and misunderstood part of the game: the ending.
Allow me to present the problem. At the end of Infinite we see Elizabeth drown Booker. This creates a time loop paradox. If Elizabeth kills Booker then she never existed so she can't kill Booker but then she does exist so she can kill Booker... etcetera. It loops. Forever. Infinitely. There's no escape from the loop and the loop will happen over and over. And within that loop you'll have variation, but the constants remain the same. The ending is the same, the plot is the same, even the weapons and vigours are the same. Every time you press New game, you loop it. You loop the world, the story, the pain and the triumph of Bioshock Infinite. You can't stop it from happening.
But then there's that post credits sting, where Booker goes into Elizabeth's room. Why is that there? Well, it comes down to everyone's favourite inconsistently animated feline, Schroedinger's Cat. The point of the original experiment is that you cannot know if the cat is alive or dead until you observe it, whereby it'll become either one or the other. In this scenario replace "cat" with "daughter" and you basically have the same idea. We can't know what'll happen next because if we try to observe then we have to start new game, plunging us back into the loop. But maybe, maybe if we don't observe and we leave them alone, maybe something else happens. Maybe.
So the point? Yes, the end of Bioshock Infinite is a time paradox loop. It's supposed to be, it's supposed to explain what happens when you press "new game". It's meant to explain how everyone has played the same game, without it being the same game. In other words, every time someone has played Bioshock Infinite they have been experiencing a different universe to yours, because of the decisions you have made on a minute level. There's no Infinite in the possibilities, just in the fact it will never, ever stop no matter how many times you press "new game". They are going to live out their fate, every single time.
But then again, what'll happen if you just try again?