Player Choice: BioShock Infinite’s Beautiful Inevitability
~SPOILERS. Do Not Read Ahead if You Haven’t Finished the Game.~
The Cage or The Bird?
Elizabeth looked up at me expectantly as she waited for me to make my choice. I hesitated, wondering what she might think of me if I were to pick the ‘wrong’ one. What terrible butterfly effect might my choice have in the world of Columbia? In our world, I would probably pick for Elizabeth the one that I thought was the prettiest, the one that matched her dress, or the one that showed a subtle sparkle in her eye. In Columbia though I thought things were likely very different. Like the sometimes grim choices of The Walking Dead, the burden of being Commander Shepard or the life-affecting dilemmas of Heavy Rain, I was trained to know that even the simplest of conclusions could be monumental.
I looked carefully at the images, first at the cage and then at the bird – and then into Elizabeth’s eyes. I reached over for the Bird. Even she says the cage is “somber”. Somber is the last thing I want her to feel. Elizabeth seems happy with my choice but I still have an uneasy feeling in my stomach. What if my choice was ‘wrong’? I search for other people, wondering what they chose for their Elizabeth. All of them sounded the same as me. Which should I pick? I don’t want to make the wrong choice! What happens if you pick the other? I need to know, should I try again with the other choice?
Everyone had the same uneasy feeling. We were not used to being able to make choices, so when we did, we were used to them working in the same way. They had great impact; they changed things. And we were worried they might change them in a way we didn’t expect. I walked away from the conversation and chatter about which you should pick, and decided to play it out regardless. I’d already made my choice, and Elizabeth seemed happy with it. She placed it around her neck, and the soaring bird looked beautiful in the Columbia sunshine.
As we ran through the streets and flew through the skies together, I slowly forgot about the choice that I made rightly or wrongly. Occasionally I spotted it as she looked up at me but nothing too bad had happened so far – maybe I had made the right choice after all?
Throughout our adventures, my Elizabeth taught me many things, some about myself and some that I found hard to believe. Despite some setbacks I started to feel like I’d done okay. As we neared the end of our adventures together, I looked down into her eyes as I’d done so many times before. She spoke of our choices, my choices, and how I had made them all before. I had made them all before, in the exact same way. And my choices meant nothing. I was taken aback. I felt powerless, and yet where in other stories this had felt like a weakness, in Columbia this felt like a strength. The beauty was in the tragedy of it’s inevitability, in a world that felt more real by the fact that we can’t always change what we want – how we want – by making a binary choice for one thing or another.
In a peaceful clearing full of sunshine and birdsong, my Elizabeth spoke to me with sadness in her eyes. And in that moment I knew what my choice meant. It meant nothing. Except for the fact that this was not my Elizabeth. The brooch around her neck was not The Bird, or The Cage – it was not there at all. And yet here we were – where we’d always been, be, and will be.
Heads or Tails?
When I first met Robert and Rosalind Lutece it struck me that they were in many ways the same but also very different. Rather than twins they seemed to be two versions of the same person. At a point early in our journey Elizabeth and I met the pair in the street and they offered up a choice – heads, or tails? This choice did not seem like a tough one. I should just choose one, right? All in good fun. Robert was wearing a board that kept track of the results. The tally for heads was too many to count by eye, but the ‘tails’ side of the board had not so much as a smudge of chalk dust. As they chattered, I was baffled by their manner. They spoke strangely and almost in riddles, finishing each others sentences, contrasting and uniform at once. I tossed the coin into the air and as it came up heads once again, I’m wasn’t sure whether they were surprised or not. Probability suggests that this shouldn’t have happened, but yet, it did. At the time I wasn’t quite sure what it meant. They bantered and bickered. The Lutece twins – so similar in appearance, mannerisms and wit – are a pair of fatality and free will, two sides of the same coin.
“I never find that as satisfying as I’d imagined.”
“Chin up, there’s always next time.”
“I suppose there is.”
The pair seemed omniscient, and as they spoke to me and Elizabeth I felt uneasy and lost. Did they know my coin toss would land on heads? Was that what they expected – or wanted? When I first met them, Robert commented that I do not row. “He doesn’t row?” asked Rosalind. “No, he doesn’t row.”
I never row.
I never toss tails.
Everything that has happened before is happening again, and my choices mean nothing. As our stories play out before me I am powerless to change anything. In some ways it seems I have free will, but ultimately in others I have none. The Luteces tell a tale – of a woman, and a man, two parts of the same person, betrayed by Comstock and seeking revenge, or trying to prevent what seems an inevitable future of war. As I travel through Columbia, Elizabeth’s guide, I learn more about the woman Rosalind. A genius scientist interested in alternative universes and dimensions, it becomes clear that she is the one guiding me through Columbia towards my fate. As we talk I try to read her face, stern but strong, she oozes knowledge on another level I can’t appreciate just yet. I see her books on the shelves of Columbians, hear stories of how her theories created the methods by which the city existed at all.
“When I was a girl, I dreamt of standing in a room looking at a girl who was and was not myself, who stood looking at another girl, who also was and was not myself. My mother took this for a nightmare. I saw it as the beginning of a career in Physics.”
– Rosalind Lutece
Until the end I did not fully comprehend the role I was playing in Elizabeth’s life and the story of Columbia, but the Lutece twins always did and always will. When they told me not to pick #77 I wasn’t sure why, but now I know it was because I always had.
As I played out the journey, the one I had many times, and would again, I wondered whether this truly was my story – or maybe it was hers. Elizabeth helped me in many ways in our quest, as I did her, but it was Rosalind that seemed in control. She knew what had happened before and what would happen. She enabled Elizabeth to show me the way. I was merely the vessel, my eyes playing the part of the audience in a tale in which I had little agency.
Bring Us The Girl and Wipe Away The Debt
As I looked down on the baby girl laying in the crib in the room I thought I knew so well, I felt an overwhelming feeling of powerlessness. I didn’t remember her being here, but nothing much made sense. I felt so sure that I wouldn’t hand over a baby. But Elizabeth spoke softly, with conviction in her voice.
“Booker…you don’t leave this room until you do.”
As the father I didn’t even know I was, I felt a lump in my throat and a pain in my chest. I thought to myself that there had to be another way. But they knew that once we reached this point, there had never been another way. Bring us the girl, and wipe away the debt. It was much clearer in my head now – this was the girl they were talking about, not my Elizabeth. My incapability had never been stronger in my mind than at that point, and it was clear that there was nothing I, this Booker, could do. With a heavy heart full of bitter disappointment and regret, I handed over the baby. I don’t leave this room until I do.
“Hey, The deal’s off! Give her back. GIVE ME BACK MY DAUGHTER!”
I couldn’t go through with it. I gave chase. There had to be something I could do. Despite everything, there had to be another way. As I watched the baby, wide eyed and full of hope, dissapear through the tear in the wall I wanted to scream. Her tiny fingers reached out for me, and mine to hers. The tear closed around her tiny finger, and the pieces of the puzzle fell into place. My Elizabeth was my Anna, and my discresions had been branded in front of me the entire time.
It was only in my final moments – as I allowed the water to wash over me , my Elizabeth and countless others pressing down on my chest to undo the terrible future – that I saw the whole picture.
I was Booker DeWitt, and I wasn’t. I was Zachary Comstock, and I wasn’t. I was the powerless protagonist, in a tale that might finally come to an end.
- What BioShock Infinite Says about Choice and Fatalism
- How BioShock Infinite Isn’t Booker’s Story
- BioShock Infinite – Free Will vs. Determinism
- Constants and Variables – Exploring the Many Doors of BioShock Infinite