Bioshock Infinite: A Vigorous Perception of Fantasy

The use of magic can appear in many forms. It is a more commonly renowned phenomenon in the works of fantasy but it also has its place in the genre of science fiction.

The interpretation of what is magical is actually entirely dependent on the person who is perceiving the use of magic. To one who is knowledgeable in the ways of science, say perhaps a researcher or science officer from the television show Star Trek, they would likely conclude that the lightning bolts emanating from the fingertips of the wielder has a logical and convincing reason for doing so. I can just imagine a stone-faced Spock’s reaction to it as he utters the phrase ‘interesting’.

To the mild mannered yet cautiously ignorant hobbit from the Shire who knows nothing beyond the borders of his own understanding, such a show of power would likely astound and mystify the poor fellow before he falls to his knees and begs to be spared the indignity of becoming akin to a roasted duck. There is a reason that some of them were a tad cautious about the arrival of Gandalf into their midst at the beginning of the Fellowship of the Ring after all.

Recently I have been battling my way through the floating city of Columbia in Bioshock Infinite which, if you aren’t aware, is a city populated by idealist, egotistical patriots (The Founders) and the vengeful, downtrodden underclass (The Vox Populi) moving amongst the clouds of an alternate 1912. The story is immensely layered and intricately complex, as one would expect from a Bioshock game, and much of what you will experience has a basis firmly rooted in the use of science fiction/fantasy and the manipulation of technology. The part of the game I wish to highlight though is the use of this worlds ‘magic’ which comes in the form of Vigors.

‘If I told you a man could shoot lightning from his fingers now, would you believe me? If I told you a man could hoist a one-ton stallion straight into the air, would you believe me?’ – Vigor salesman at the Columbia Raffle and Fair, 1912.

Vigors are essentially manufactured bottles of ingestible liquid that grant the users some potent abilities that showcase the possible tactical nuances of the game beyond that of a mere ‘shooter’. Their creation consists of both an inspirational link to and a story based connection to the Plasmids of the first two Bioshock games and in all of them you are basically granted, for all intents and purpose, the ability to wield a form of magic.

These capabilities include the power to possess another being or construct that will fight for you until the effect wears off (Possession), the power to have your enemies encircled by a group of deadly crows that increase their vulnerability to gunfire (Murder of Crows), the power to throw your enemies into the air and have them suspended helplessly until they fall to the ground (Bucking Bronco) as well as the ability to wield the elements of fire (Devils Kiss), air (Charge), water (Undertow) and electricity (Shock Jockey) to varying degrees. The last one even allows you to stop bullets with your bare hands and fling them back at your enemies through the use of a magnetic shield (Return to Sender) and I’ll grant that this one is a more fitting ability for the lore of the game, possibly more so than the others.

The thing that I find most interesting about these skills that you gradually obtain throughout the story is that they are never referred to with any instance as having a basis in magic. They are always referenced within the framework of scientific manufacturing as a marketable convenience. Despite my own personal bias toward experiencing and preferring the realms of fantasy over that of science fiction, I don’t actually have a problem with this in any way. But throughout my playthrough of Infinite, as well as my previous jaunts through the city of Rapture, I couldn’t shake the feeling that the powers coming out my hands were a little out of place. This is despite the fact that there are very detailed in game references as to how they were created and then accepted into general use. To put it simply, something just felt off to me.

I then came to realise that the ‘issue’, if it can even be referred to as such, was with myself and how I was perceiving the utilisation of these Vigors. My own perception of the use of magic or similar abilities emanates from a personal preference toward the genre of fantasy as well as a decent smattering of my own brand of unintentional bias.

My choices over the years have led me to have a built in personal understanding of the nature of such powers and I have come to accept that this isn’t always easy to intentionally deviate from. It is in our natures to use our own preferences as a basis of comparison for anything that we come to experience in our lives. I choose books of high fantasy over science fiction because it is my personal preference. I choose the Dragon Age series over Mass Effect because it is my personal preference. I choose the Lord of the Rings over Star Wars because it is my personal preference. There is nothing inherently wrong with this but I feel that it would be foolish for anyone to deny that our decisions are impacted by our choices, our preferences, and it is incredibly difficult to be completely objective when experiencing something that falls outside of these predilections. We all need a basis for comparison.

It is my firm belief that I observe the use of these Vigors as more inclined toward fantasy magics over the much more accepted version of their scientific creation because of my own views of the matter and how they affect my perception of their use. I then began to wonder that if I were a staunch fan of the genre of science fiction far more than that of fantasy, would my insights toward in game magic be altered just as much in other games such as Skyrim, as an example. Would I then view the use of the Dragonborn’s abilities through the eyes of an avid fan of science fiction and then adjust my perceptions accordingly? Would my conjuring a creature from another plane of existence lend to a more scientific approach to consideration and would this have any effect on my ability to enjoy the game for what it is? There is no one answer to this unfortunately as such considerations wildly differ from person to person.

I am in no means attempting to fuel a war between the genres by stating that one perception is superior to the other because frankly, such a notion is just absurd. The is no one better way to look at the use of magics, or their equivalents, in any fictional realm. There are only altered perceptions and personal partiality based on each individual’s own experience. Thank bugger we don’t all like the same thing then, right? The world would indeed be a boring place.

What appears to me as a system of naturally occurring, lore based phenomena in a game, a movie or a book can appear as something completely different through the eyes of another beholder. Many folks may accept what they see at face value for what it is when absorbing information relating to certain fictions but some of us will, through no fault of our own, see things a little differently.

It is our own perceptions, no matter how narrow or far reaching, that alters how we view something. The story of Bioshock Infinite eventually reveals a world of infinite choices, constants and variables, that can alter a world based on the decisions of those in the position of being able to influence their chosen path. In a way, our own perceptions have the potential for us all to see something or understand something in our own unique way, as I have done above.

Essentially, Bioshock Infinite has been and will be witnessed by millions of differing viewpoints and more based on a story that does not change in any way but for the choices made and the individual perceptions of the players of the game. And the fact that I can experience something so different from another person, even though we have just played through the exact same story, is utterly fascinating to me.

Forged From Reverie.

14 thoughts on “Bioshock Infinite: A Vigorous Perception of Fantasy

  1. Excellent points here. 🙂 It is truly interesting how differently we all can view the exact same thing based off our own experiences and preferences as you mentioned. That’s one of the great things about art in any of its many forms (including video games), we all get to interpret it in our own ways. Thanks for sharing your thoughts on the subject.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you. Artistic interpretation is another valid argument for varying degrees of perspective and that we can talk about such a game in this manner, it shows how far the industry has advanced.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Ah, that is a shame though I can understand your position. If you’re able to get by with spectating whilst another plays the game, perhaps the chance to bear witness will still be open to you.

      Like

  2. Utterly fascinating piece of work my friend. As a player/audience /reader who happily embraces both the Sci-Fi and Fantasy genres with equal passion and exuberance this was a great read. I am always interested in both the literary applications of magic and technology (or even magical tech hybrid) as well as the cinematic or it’s use in the gaming industry. I have recently argued with a fellow writer for video games’ literary legitimacy if you will, given the storytelling they so often brilliantly convey.
    I had a brief dalliance with Bioshock Infinite on PS3 a couple of years, but never pursued it, despite being drawn to the grim opening at the lighthouse and then the spectacle of Colombia. If find both magic and science/technology work well in games (and even better in fiction) if they are treated with a kind of offhand acceptance as matter of fact. Works that draw pointed attention to magic or technology risk casting them as characters in their own right, which (for me) cam detract from the protagonists & antagonists.
    As ever I love being a party to your insights Stuart.

    Liked by 1 person

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