Foot in the Door or Step in the Right Direction? AC:S & Its Variety of Characters

  • Class: ENGL 797 — Feminist & Gender Critique in Critical Video Game Theory
  • Assignment: Weekly reading/game play responses, 1-2 pg length requirement, 1 scholarly source included
  • Week 12

EvieFrye(This might be a terrible way to open an argumentative post BUT) I have no foundation for this rumor, but I’ve heard from friends and gaming sites that most of the Assassin’s Creed fanbase is comprised of female gamers.  If this were statistically true, it would not shock me. Despite its lack of strong female characters (let alone playable ones) and use of women as tools (literally, in previous games you can use women, specifically prostitutes, as cover), the AC games are very accessible to both genders. What I mean by this is that, for the most part, none of the games are so heavily sexist or laden with preference for masculinity that a female gamer could not find enjoyment in it.  The games are fun, a mix of stealth and melee fighting. There’s mystery, thrill, and a foundation in history that would please any player, from nerd to thrill seeker.

But this post is about Assassin’s Creed: Syndicate, and this game, depending on if I’m feeling optimistic or pessimistic, is either taking a step in the right direction for women in AAA games or just barely getting a foot in the door.  I’ll lay out the cons first, because I want to end on a positive note.

Cons

One of the biggest complaints about this game, and most of the AC games, is that it’s incredibly white-washed. Aside from Henry Green (who, admittedly, is an awesome character, although very minimally used throughout the game), there are no significant characters of color. You might catch a glimpse of a black dock worker once or twice, but AC remains incredibly limited on variety in race.  For a game that takes place during the Industrial Revolution, the mix of people in urban areas should be obvious, even in London, England. On that account, UbiSoft really dropped the ball and missed a great opportunity for inclusion.  The AC games are improving with character variety in every game, BUT…the strangest part of this game not having significant characters of color is that–as a game franchise–they have included many Other-ed types of characters, creating a sense of normalcy in variety within the games (even if, in reality, women and non-white characters were hardly seen or given power in public).  Yet, they still have not included characters of color. In AC:S alone, one of the protagonists is a woman, one of their main informants is a trans-man, and other contacts include children, immigrants, and working women, all shown in a positive light.  But, aside from dear Mr. Green, they are all white.

The second issue with the game, which might be intimately tied into the issue of color, is the role of the twins.  In Feminist Frequency’s review of the game, voiced by Anita Sarkeesian, she critiques the role that the twins play when stepping into London’s tyrannical infrastructure: “The game presents them as liberators, freeing London from oppression, bu they’re really just conquerors replacing one crime syndicate’s rule with another’s” (Feminist Frequency).  In the game’s story, in order to weaken Crawford Starrick’s (the villain) monopoly of London’s underworld, the twins earn the allegiance of another thug group, the Blighters, in order to combat him.  Most of the Blighter’s are just angry factory workers, people who have been oppressed and broken down by Starrick’s tyrannical rule of the factories and peoples’ lives.  The twins come barreling into London, win a few fights and free a few children from factories, and they’re given the keys to the kingdom.  While there is and should be a sense of accomplishment in saving enslaved children and challenging the cruel Starrick, the twins don’t actually change the system that is hurting London’s people.  The reason I said that this issue might be tied to the lack of colored characters is that, had the protagonists or significant NPCs been of another race, the act of conquering already oppressed people–like themselves–might have had a bigger role or significance in the narrative of the game. This issue also comes up in Bioshock Infinite; while you play to conquer the evil Comstock, the game is blissfully unaware and rather uncaring towards the struggles of its oppressed people.  While not every historical game needs to be a cry against social injustice, the fact that you are placed in such a turbulent time with so much power and put in direct contact with the oppressed of London, and yet you still use it for your own, selfish (dare I say it, Imperialist) needs should be telling of the game industry’s ease of ignoring and forgetting the past.

One last issue to discuss, and then I promise to be kinder to this game (which I rather enjoy, despite my critiques): Evie. She is wonderful and I couldn’t be happier with how she is portrayed.  But…despite the significance of this game having two protagonists–one male and one female (and they’re not in a relationship! Even better!)–in both public advertisement for the game and within the game itself, Evie is often slighted in gameplay.  While, at first, the game switches between Jacob and Evie rather consistently, eventually, Jacob’s story overtakes hers. His missions and storyline become the game’s focus, and even becomes more and more like a side-kick. In the gaming advertisements as well, unless you did research into the game, Jacob would have appeared to be the only protagonist (check most of the game trailers pre-release). Even on the game’s front cover, Jacob is front and center, while Evie is off to the side.  As I was searching for articles on the game, I came across one that–at first–angered me by the title, but as I read it, I found the complaint to be quite sound.  In Edward Smith’s article called “Assassin’s Creed Syndicate: Is Ubisoft exploiting feminism for easy PR?,” Smith questions big-name game’s approach to including women in games. True, it is wonderful that woman–well-developed, non-sex object women–are included in games (finally), but how the game designer’s advertise them still frames the industry as a male space occasionally populated by that random, weird gamer girl. Smith frames his concern, saying that:

This isn’t what the process of creating gender equality in games looks like. More helpful – more powerful – would be to simply HAVE female characters in games, for them to simply BE THERE, not for developers to point out and proclaim it like it’s some noteworthy oddity. Admittedly, it is noteworthy. As I’ve said, videogames traditionally have treated women abysmally. But I don’t think it’s instructive or helpful to draw direct attention to women being in games. It still feels like the process of “othering” women, only now approached from a different angle – othering, but via the back door…As long as the existence of female playable characters, or just female characters that aren’t heinous caricatures, is drawn attention to, women in games will feel like an alien presence. (Smith ibtimes.co.uk)

Touché, Mr. Smith. Admittedly, I do get an odd, uncomfortable feeling when game designers announce a new game, saying something like “hey look, we finally have a not-entirely sexualized woman! There’s actually a woman in this game! Her breasts aren’t triple-D and she’s not wearing just a thong! Check out the woman!”  Yes, it is good that game companies are recognizing where they’ve been lacking. But they are stuck there. Women shouldn’t be, as Smith says, an “alien presence” in games (ibtimes.co.uk). There’s no need to add insult to injury or to try to reinforce a woefully false statistic that few women play games. We don’t need to be catered to, just respected and given just as much chance to flex our autonomy as all the male gamers.

Weird, right? Who would have thought.

Pros

As I promised, I will now list AC: S’s feminist and general gameplay successes, and there are quite a few.

First and most obvious, the series now has its first, main game female protagonist and playable character: Evie-badass-Frye.  Starting with the physical, Evie is dressed like all of the classic assassins that have come before her: fully-clothed and with exquisite detail.  Her costume is intricate and the excellent graphics emphasize all of the lovely pieces, from the carvings in her leather jacket to her red sash/cloak to her eagle-head cane.  She wears boots (not heels!!!), has an assortment of weapons smuggled in her cloak, and her outfit is snug but not over-emphasizing breasts or butt.  She is feminine to a degree, with minimal make-up and an elaborate up-do, but that is never used against her (the men in the game don’t go out of their way to point out how pretty she is, as if it’s for them that her good looks exist). Her walk too is not the model, swaying catwalk most female characters display; she just walks, light and direct, which contrasts well with her brother who is a bit more trudging and forceful in his movements (and character).

Her fighting style–and I have to fangirl for a moment–is wonderful! She commands speed and strength, and her technique is definable and easily different than her brother’s (who fights a bit more like a boxer).  Her fighting noises and grunts are natural and not, as Sarkeesian says, made to sound like a woman “in the throws of ecstasy” (like in many fighting games) (Feminist Frequency).  The controller-vibration feedback, the fighting noises, and the consequent gore were all rather natural and not over-saturated or horror-film-level.  In other words, I was fighting as a skilled woman, and her movements were neither hyper-masculine nor entirely genderless. It was awesome, and I hope future AC games include more female fighters like her.

Sidenote: This does bring up another potential critique though. While Evie represents an intentionally-designed female character who actually fights to, well, fight and not to visually please male players, her fighting style is–to me–feminine. There is less overt power behind her strikes than Jacob, who is all fists and throwing his entire weight behind an attack.  Evie has direct, intentional strikes that are not about bodily power but about thought–she has specific, well-thought points of strike, usually using her boots or cane.  This is not necessarily bad. I think she fights more like an assassin than her brother, who would fit more in a boxing ring.  Also, this brings up an interesting question (of which I cannot entirely answer because I don’t have the background in human anatomy): do men and women inherently, by nature, move and consequently fight differently or have our bodies and their images of movement been so captured by social standards that we’re trained to physically move based on gender?  The classic nature vs. nurture argument rears its head.  I think the answer might have an anchor in both camps, but, again, I have no background in this area to prove it.  If the answer predominantly resides in nature, then Evie is presented to the best of the designers’ abilities; she is given physical power and is not stereotypically dainty.  If the answer is primarily nurture, then, sadly, even a woman’s abilities and autonomous bodily actions have been dominated by patriarchal standards for what is “properly” feminine.  No matter the answer though, in future games–both in the Assassin’s Creed series and beyond–I hope that female fighters will be given a variety of fighting styles, both of noticeably feminine and masculine origins, so that female fighting styles are not stereotyped in new ways.

But Evie is more than just her appearance. Between her and her brother, her character, her speech, and her interactions are by far more interesting and diverse.  While her brother (although fun and quirky) is a bit of a one-trick pony–brash and hot-headed–Evie is witty, confident, logical, a big-picture thinker, and conscious of both her own feelings and those around her. To quote Sarkeesian again, Evie “doesn’t feel like a male character who was a last minute gender swap, but like she was developed from the ground up with a strong, capable, and spirited personality” (Feminist Frequency).  While I do love Evie and Jacob’s interactions and a male-female, non-romantic duo, I do wonder why UbiSoft felt the need to not only pair Evie–an incredible character in her own right–with a less-developed Jacob but also to not just give her the reigns to her own game.  If Jacob’s personality had been stronger, perhaps their dynamic would be more appreciated, but Evie is clearly the better-developed character (and more interesting person). While it is refreshing and great to have a strong woman in a game series like AC, I feel that it is also a bit of a backhand to male players for the male protagonist to be so dang stereotypical.

In any case, UbiSoft truly did a wonderful job with Evie Frye and, in general, with their new game. The fighting style is as smooth as ever, and the graphics–especially the nearly-flawless jump between cut-scenes and exploring–are stunning.  However, the more that the AC series places characters in the thick of history and equally ignores a greater variety of people, the more disappointment their fanbase will display, I believe. History, as the popular saying goes, is written by the conquerors, but does that mean that this game series–hopefully aware of all of the failings of past empires–has to make the same mistakes and erase the multitudes that were denied voice? I don’t think so, and hopefully UbiSoft will continue to expand its cast and narrative to include not only more kinds of characters but also players’ sense of belonging too.

Works Cited:

 

The Blue Pill or the Red Pill…or the Purple Pill?: Decisions on Culture, Ethics, and Romance in ME2

  • Class: ENGL 797 — Feminist & Gender Critique in Critical Video Game Theory
  • Assignment: Weekly reading/game play responses, 1-2 pg length requirement, 1 scholarly source included
  • Week 4, Response #3

There is soooooo much to cover in the second half of ME2, so I’m breaking it down into 3 categories: culture, ethics, and romance.


 

#1: Culture

As Shepard traverses the galaxy, building her team and their loyalty, she becomes involved in many cross-cultural conflicts and is often deferred to as the sole person who can fix them.  As a female player and a fem Shep, I admit, I was initially flattered that someone was taking my/her opinion seriously at all, especially in politics.  However, the amount of times that Shepard–gender ignored–is given the reigns to entire civilizations and their fates is concerning.  On one hand, I’m glad that ME2 gives you a diverse crew and the chance to explore some of their homes and origins. The game doesn’t shy away from explaining up front the intricacies of different races and cultures, from relationships to governing bodies to rites of passage. However, this game, which ironically hinges on decisions, doesn’t leave much breathing room when it comes to who is actually in charge: Shepard.  In Christopher Patterson’s “Role-Playing the Multiculturalist Umpire,” he addresses the game’s “assumption that both nationalist and imperial governance are failed systems, part of exploitative cycles of violence. In contrast, the system of the multiculturalist umpire exists outside of history, and it overcomes the imperial violence and capitalist exploitation that defined all of history before it. In the game, the humans—analogous to western civilization—are best suited for this task” (Patterson n.pag).  In the game, there is an unspoken pride and fact that the human race has transcended all of the terrible -isms (racism/sexism/imperialism/etc), unlike those [insert random ME alien race here] who are so primitive that they still [insert discriminatory action here].  Even though Shepard has no Earth country of origin, Bioware does, and a lot of those messages leak through.  Patternson points this out when he explains that “texts and discourses that trumpet liberal tolerance can also work to make American multiculturalism appear exceptional and thus to legitimate the violence of U.S. imperial projects” (Patternson n.pag).  Although Shepard’s identity has flexible aspects for the player, their (pre-designed) decisions and the direction of their missions are often charged with an American imperialist agenda.  Shepard, the logical, civilized human (whose default is a white guy, don’t forget), must “fix” the savages of the galaxy and save them from themselves. In every situation, Shepard is looked to as the faultless, wise guru of all galactic issues, even though–in most situations–she is hardly qualified or informed enough to even logically make a good choice.  In the few situations where, on the dialogue wheel, Shepard can ask her teammates for their opinion, they–all experts in their own fields and (obviously) cultures–instantly lose their authoritativeness and defer to Shepard.

#1.5: Imperialism and Environmentalism

Although Patterson tackles many aspects of postcolonial critique, he does fail to mention a somewhat-hidden, yet power instance of imperialism: harvesting resources.  I didn’t figure out this part of the game til much later (although it is necessary to afford upgrades, even though there is literally no instruction on how to do it), but when I did, I binge-cleared out each star system.  I admit, I was very impressed on the detail of each planet you can observe.  Each planet had a history, a detailed account of vital resources, population (if it could sustain one), approximate age, etc… All of this only, while impressive, only further emphasized my actions: I was harvesting.  I scanned each planet, harvested every bit of precious materials, and then left. Most of these planets were lifeless, but each belonged to a life-sustaining planet that used its resources for itself. So I was either gutting someone’s homeworld or taking their resources.  And it’s such a minor part of the game that it doesn’t even tie into the story. No one comments on it. No one can stop you. I almost wish there had been some conflict concerning this mini-game.  Just like the gender stereotypes, the Western/American influence on perspective in ME2 is so ingrained, it isn’t even considered a problem; it’s an accomplishment.  And because you are the galaxy’s savior, everything done is “for the greater good,” which is probably one of the most dangerous concepts ever conceived, since that “good” is always subjective to the one determining it.


 

#2: Ethics

A lot of the ethical decisions in ME2 mix with interventions with alien cultures.  Some of the most jarring cross-cultural moments of ME2 for me was discussing the genophage (a virus engineered to stunt Krogan birth rates) with Mordin and deciding the Geth’s fate with Legion. I have not played ME1 (yes, yes, I’m a terrible person for doing 2 before 1.), so learning about the significant impact of the genophage, and many of the races’ defenses of it, was alarming.  Even more alarming was that if you wanted to become more buddy-buddy with Mordin, you would agree with his research and could, later on, destroy the only potential for a cure.  For points and for achievements, you could choose to play God and cripple an entire race…because they were “too violent” for you.

legionm32

Another instance when an entire race’s fate lay in Shepard’s hands was during Legion’s loyalty mission.  Legion, a rational, non-violent (words intentionally chosen) Geth, joins Shepard and asks that she help them re-purpose a Geth virus that was meant to turn all Geth into killers.  In a clever move, Shepard is lead to believe that the only mission is to destroy the “bad” Geth.  However, towards the mission’s end, Legion throws a curve-ball and tells Shepard that the virus could be used to change the Geth to “see their truth.”  When the moment of truth arrives, Legion says that they are too conflicted to decide, so Shepard must.  To brainwash or to destroy? I personally wrestled with this one for awhile. Was there any difference? Yes, the “heretic” Geth were literally just trying to destroy all synthetic life (which is pretty bad no matter what), but never once is it considered that the Geth might have their own correct truth. They should either be rehabilitated to be like Shepard or destroyed.  In the end I chose brainwashing, but only because committing genocide seemed the greater of two evils.

#2.5: Gender

Also, I noticed something interesting about what decisions, in general, you are encouraged to make.  Even though Renegade decisions are often brutal, excessively violent, and inconsiderate of others, a note at the bottom of my screen during a loading sequence told me that “[if you want to be more badass, improve your Renegade scores].” I can’t remember the exact wording, but it did equate “badass-ness” with the (often) self-centered, hyper-violent options of Renegade.  Paramour options, I have found, are not powerless or indecisive. Shepard can still be Paramour and get in people’s faces and assert herself.  But I never saw a note encouraging the good qualities of Paramour.  The connection between selfish violence and being awesome or “badass” shouldn’t have surprised me, considering who the game’s intended audience is, but it bothered me that the male players were encouraged to stick to stereotypes.  Violence = badass, and badass = manly.  Or so I’ve been told.

So what does that make the Paramour?

Even the awesome Lesley Kinzel seems to slip on this, attributing the male assertiveness to being badass, when she says “When I played Dragon Age 2, I walked away from my Lady Hawke feeling frustrated because I realized I had made many choices in the game based on what is considered “appropriate” behavior for a woman- soft, peacemaking, appeasing decisions. While that led me to consider my behavior in real life, it wasn’t exactly satisfying! I walk away from a ME session feeling like a badass” (“Shepard ain’t white…” Kinzel).  While it is a wonderful, very important change of pace for a female character to have power and assertiveness in games, the assumption that her attitude validates the greatness of her gender is a problem.  Even if Shepard played into all of the usual gender stereotypes and was “soft, peacemaking” and “appeasing,” as Kinzel says, she could still be amazing. Her violence or her assertiveness does not make her a badass, just as a soft-spoken man is not weak.

Action vs. Passivity isn’t the only gendered binary in this game though.  The races also exhibit very polarized traits.  The Asari, for example, are the only race we see that is entirely female in appearance.  While a very intelligent and diversely accomplished race, they are presented mainly through very sexualized characters.  Samara, Morinth, and Aria–the three main Asari you encounter in the game–are created with a view in mind. Samara, even though she’s a warrior, wears a very impractical, low-cut catsuit, complete with heels.  The first time you see her, the camera pans up, getting a very gratuitous view of her chest before reaching her face.  Her daughter, Morinth, is limited to the very typical role of femme fatal and is a genetic sexual predator.  And Aria, tight leather and all, is a pimp (and of course, all of her dancers are Asari, and all of the dancers in the game are female).  Meanwhile, the other race we see most of is the Krogan, which are presented entirely through male characters. While it is proven that there are female Krogan, the only time one is seen in the game is at a researchers lab, dead after undergoing cruel experiments.  Krogan warriors are male only, and they have very hyper-masculine rules and traditions. Acceptance is based on violence, pride, and a demanding attitude. In fact, the Krogan council only responds with respect towards Shepard once she threatens violence.  They would, according to Kinzel and the game’s standards, be “badass.”  While the races in ME2 seem diverse in culture, their incredibly gendered presentations reveal that the game designer’s intended audience was certainly heterosexual male.  Patterson describes a concept called “neo-racism” in which racial labor stereotypes are enforced while claiming to support multiculturalism (“Role-Playing…” n.pag).  Mass Effect 2, for all of its support of equal gender power, reinforces social stereotypes of hyper-sexualized women and tribal, violent men.  Mirroring neo-racism in practice, this neo-sexism appears a lot in current, big-name games and claims to support a feminist equality but actually changes very little to the status quo.

Some of the races avoid these stereotypes though. The one that comes first to mind is the Quarians.  Aside from some minor physical differences (females are more slender and males have broader shoulders), nothing seems to separate the male and female Quarians from sharing equal opportunities at respect, authority, jobs, etc… Tali, one of my favorite crew mates, is a brilliant scientist and mechanic. She is just as prone to express rage and authoritativeness as sweetness and kindness. Neither her job nor her personality is contingent on gender stereotypes.

12714344_10208704890204773_1934487074_nBut actions taken are not the only signifiers of gender in ME2. Dialogue and camera angles speak a lot to the game designers’ views as well. While the dialogue directed at Shepard is relatively gender-neutral (because Shep’s default is a guy), interactions with a few other characters attack gender directly. The earliest one that comes to mind is during Miranda’s loyalty mission. An Asari merc calls Miranda a “bitch” and says that she’s “surprised Cerberus lets you whore around in that outfit.” The female merc is in full-body armor, so perhaps script writers thought this dig would come off as humorous since Miranda does wear an impractical battle outfit. No matter what, they were wrong. No matter the outfit, her identity as a female or as someone feminine should not have been used as an insult. This confrontation is one of the many times Miranda is degraded as a female in the game.  Another is the player’s view of her.  While much of ME2 can be judged based on what you as a player can do (decisions, interactions, romance, etc…), the act of spectator can be just as interactive and influential. In almost every conversation (especially the ones in her office), Miranda is viewed from below and behind, giving the player a full view of her spandex-clad butt.  Even though Miranda and her story are interesting and empowering, the camera guides players’ eyes to what they’re meant to deem as important: her body.

Another loyalty mission which had gender-directed insults was Samara’s. While navigating the Eternity VIP section, Shepard overhears a Turian harassing an Asari dancer into coming home with him.  Shepard can intervene, but not before hearing the Turian threaten the Asari, saying “You’ve got a mouth on you! I can’t wait to see how you’ll use it.”  This is the only time in the game that I can recall where sexual violence is threatened towards a female character.  As a female player/Shepard, I was particularly happy that my only reaction was to beat the crap out of him.  However, I then realize that, yet again, Shepard’s “badass” mode is measured in violence.  As both male and female Shep, the dancer thanks you and then leaves.

While there are instances in the game that put females/femininity at a disadvantage, I cannot think of a single time when any of the female characters are intentionally granted any sort of advantage or respectful complement on their gender identity. On one hand, ME2 does give a lot of the female characters strong qualities and stories not connected with their gender. However, ignoring their gender does not necessarily empower it.  While femShep is a very powerful and female-empowering character (especially for female players) and I’m glad BioWare made her an option, all of her non-gender conforming aspects are due primarily to her basic frame/dialogue being copied and pasted from broShep.  While these copied aspects allow her to move between gender stereotypes without complaint or comment, I question whether Shepard is more empowered as a female because of this or are companies like BioWare ignoring the challenge of creating a game that intentionally addresses the female gender in a respectful and in-depth way?


#3: Romance

Even though the romance in ME2 does not take up most of the gameplay (props to Bioware for not making a story hinge on romance but still providing it), the decisions made in that department are yet another opportunity for diversity in the game.  Also, as Bioware is all about making decisions with consequences, your relationship can be long-term and carry over to ME3, which I felt made it more meaningful.

Before beginning the romance options, I did look up basic lists of who my options would be.  I was pleased to see that 1.) options were not limited to only humans and 2.) Shepard did not have to be straight.  BUT…only femShep has the option to romance same-gender (or at least, same-gender appearing) shipmates. And if she does, they do not count for the Paramour Achievement you would receive for romancing a male/male-appearing shipmate.

This breadcrumb is similar to the one tossed at players for participating in multi-cultural/racial situations. On one hand, the (stereotypically white male) player is supposed to feel accomplished for having such a diverse crew and interactions. BUT (but’s are the worst)…you are always in power and always making the decisions for them. You direct the diversity, not include it.

Just as Lesley Kinzel quotes Susan Bright who looks for “crumbs” of sexuality/gender representation in films, I would say that BioWare does something similar (“Probe Away!…” Kinzel). Yes, it is good that there are options. In most first-shooter adventure games, you get one protagonist (the white, straight dude) and you don’t even get to choose a romance. But just because the gay relationship is possible, just because the crumb is there, doesn’t mean that it counts as a loaf of bread. The relationships are never validated in the game’s achievements nor in the actual cut-scenes of the game (Shepard can always have sex with their straight partner, but not with their gay/lesbian relationships). Samara’s romance isn’t even fully acknowledged until ME3, and Kelly dances in a stripper outfit in Shepard’s quarters.  The interactions and dialogue for femShep’s potential lesbian romances aren’t nearly as fleshed out as her straight relationships. Considering that femShep, especially when ME2 came out, was treated as a side-option (and so were the only homosexual relationships in the game), I am fairly certain that I would be right in assuming that Bioware wasn’t catering her and her romances to potential lesbian/bi players, but to the usual male players who just want to watch and treat non-straight relationships as a game.

All of that being said, I am glad to hear that Bioware has opened up more relationships for both Sheps in ME3.  As for the cultural interactions, I will have to test the game out myself to see if the balance of power shifts.

This is Commander Shepard, signing out.

 

Response to My Response: How to “Fix” the Beautiful Mess of Bioshock Infinite

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In my assignment response, I listed some questions that I discussed with my professor in class. One of them went something like this: “If one of the biggest conflicts in the game narrative/play is that B.I. is so aware of its problems yet still sweeps them under the carpet of BOOKER, how could the game be changed to still include all of the positive aspects yet actively use its self-awareness of its problems to correct itself?”

In short, how could the game be improved? How could its potential be reached to include more of its diverse characters and audience members?

Here are some potential revisions:

  • If the original game stayed the same, have the ending resolve more than just the problem of Comstock. Show how Elizabeth and Booker’s actions tried to change more than just Booker’s personal issues. Confront how both Booker and Comstock’s actions hurt the many non-white races in the game and the women.

 

  • Replace Booker with Daisy. I think this would be absolutely the most interesting revision (possible DLC?). What if Daisy and Elizabeth tried to find Booker to save their world from his potential future, Comstock? Daisy knows that Comstock killed his wife, and Elizabeth knows about the potential for alternate realities.  If the Luteces reached out to them to eliminate Comstock’s Colombia, Daisy and Elizabeth could lead the non-baptized Booker (still the same guy from the original game’s start) through the game to stop Comstock. They could still discover the surprise that Elizabeth was his daughter. They could still confront Fink and the revolutions and Lady Comstock’s ghost. Maybe both characters could be playable (switching off between scenes like Assassin’s Creed: Syndicate). How would that change the fight style though? I definitely think that first-shooter would be out of the question. Third-person perhaps.

 

  • Bring the issue of race much closer to home. Make Booker black or Asian. Make Elizabeth half-black or -Native American (possible connection to Booker’s past). If the game had to be played through the eyes of a character who is absolutely rejected from Colombia’s white supremacist, hyper-masculine system, how would that change the game? I think the narrative would be altered incredibly. You wouldn’t have the freedom to just wander through Colombia unnoticed. Booker/Elizabeth would definitely have much more sympathy/empathy for the Vox and the Asian weapons builder (whose name, sadly, escapes me, because he’s brushed off so easily in the game). Their mission would become less selfish and more about changing their people groups’ lives.

 

  • Bring Elizabeth’s mother into it SOMEHOW. She isn’t mentioned once. Not once, in this entire, incredibly detailed game. Whether she was a one-night-stand or the long-time love of Booker’s life, her absence is so ridiculously non-existent that I wonder why it hasn’t been mentioned before.  Bring her into the game. Add the backstory. Whether she was added as an already-dead character or an active addition to Booker’s life, that aspect alone would dramatically change Booker. Why isn’t she there?  If she meant anything to Booker, why did he sell his daughter? If she was an active part of the game, would that change Booker’s character and purpose?

 

  • Daisy was mentioned earlier, but another change could be that the entire game was told from the perspective of the Vox. Most definitely, the issues of sexism and racism in this game could not be hidden in a version all about the oppressed peoples of Colombia (especially since their leader is a very capable, commanding woman).

 

Again, Bioshock Infinite has many incredible aspects to its original story and game play….BUT. But, for all of its attempts to (possibly) be a satire about racism/sexism/Western-entitlement/etc, it lacks the key element of satire, that it is created to prompt change. Otherwise, it’s just a joke. We laugh and point at what we COULD be, but “obviously aren’t.” But if it’s just a joke, we most certainly are embodying some of the worst aspects of the game, and we’re doing nothing to change them. Perhaps a remake or a new DLC is in order to restart the conversation.

Food for thought.