The stigma surrounding video games is unrightfully negative because of the tale that the media has created that video games poison the minds of the youth. Now more than ever, video games can be extremely powerful tools for storytelling. These stories can reflect the state of the world in various ways, from scarily realistic portrayals of real life to fantastical representations of imagined universes. Regardless of the style and genre of a video game, the worlds and characters that compose a video game are used to illustrate a message. Nowadays, this message can often be a direct commentary on modern social issues. Because of the unlimited potential of the worlds that can be created with video games, some games even explore the future and try to predict social issues in a more advanced society.
What Kinds of Video Games Are There?
Some basic categories of games are role-playing games (RPG), first-person shooter (FPS), survival, and text. These different genres and styles within them can set drastically different tones for a player, and some are more useful for conveying various types of messages.
RPGs and the adjacent massive multiplayer online RPGs (MMORPGs) are very classic styles of video games as they typically feature a character or group of characters that the player uses to go on a journey. Whether the journey has a blunt end goal or has a continuously growing database, these types of games are an excellent way to build a detailed world and have an immediate understanding of a setting.
First-person shooters (FPSs) usually have more restricted game mechanics. They can be repetitive, but some FPSs have incorporated the classic world-building elements and techniques of RPGs to still create a thorough story like with an RPG but employ a different game mechanic than usual.
Survival games usually have a more static world than typical RPGs and place the player in a more cyclical and infinite setting where they face increasingly challenging situations or simply have to accomplish an end goal to escape the world trying to kill them.
Text games are a very old-school way to tell a story and place the player in a position of moral dilemmas or other stressful decision-based situations.
The Creation of BioShock Infinite
Nowadays, it is not uncommon to find a game that incorporates several aspects of different genres and styles to create a complex experience for the player. One of the best examples of such a complex game is BioShock Infinite because it takes a shockingly direct jab at the state of modern society, addressing issues such as racism, xenophobia, violence, and the extent of the role of religion in the structure of society. While the genre of this game is FPS, choice, and role-playing are major parts of the story. Naturally, as a player assumes the identity of whatever character, they take on a role that they have to perform in the fictional world. Additionally, BioShock Infinite and other games in the series experiment with the free will of the player, offering various choices that seemingly affect the outcome of the game. However, in BioShock Infinite there is only one known ending, so it strips the player of any real power which has inspired many theories about the purpose of this feat.
Real Racism in a Fake World
BioShock Infinite is set in a historically adjacent 1910’s United States with heavy steampunk influence. The main conflict of the story lies within the history of a city called Columbia that was founded by Zachary Hale Comstock, an incredibly religious man who used his hand in the American government to build the floating city of Columbia. Comstock converted Columbia into a brutal warhead that took pride in white elitism, wishing for only whites to inhabit the city yet bring non-whites to the city for cheap labor. Sound familiar?
In addition to the point that racial slavery exists in this universe, racial segregation, in general, was thoroughly highlighted. While interracial couples are becoming more common in real life, the world of Columbia doubled down and would physically punish those who threatened the white purity of the city. However, a greatly contentious society is not without a fairly powerful rebellion. The group Vox Populi, translating to the People’s Voice, is led by a woman and is comprised of people of all sorts who want equal rights in Columbia. The main issue here is that the antagonist group known as the Founders is based on a religion in which they worship the Founding Fathers of the United States. Obviously, there would be major backlash if the creators outright demonized Christianity, but the fact that the United States was founded on Christian ideals and that the Founders worship the founders of the United States gives a cushioned parallel between the extremists in Columbia and the real-world government of the United States.
As a whole, the BioShock series has a lot to unpack and explores different social themes, but I think that BioShock Infinite is interesting to digest, especially with the recent resurgence of civil rights and gender equality activism. Now that video game technology is readily and widely available all over the globe, storytellers have a powerful new medium through which they can express their views and reflect reality in a fictitious world.