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.

The Apprentice Guide to Skyrim: Part 2

Welcome back apprentice. I hope your journey is going well, the frostback spiders not giving you the creeps are they? Just keep your distance, watch out for that poison and you will be fine. Well, here is the next piece of your guide to conquering Skyrim.

 

Not All Skills Are Created Equal

There are many disciplines for you to choose from when deciding where you place your perk points after levelling up. However, in my many hours developing characters in this game there has been one perk line that I have avoided entirely because, well…. the investment is just not necessary and thus quite useless. Simply put, avoid putting any perks into the Lockpicking skill. In many instances, I have managed to open Adept, Expert and even Master level chests just by having a mammoth’s butt tonne of lock-picks in my inventory. They are everywhere in Skyrim and the avid looters amongst you will have no issues accumulating a vast number of these useful tools. Sure, you’ll break plenty of them but this will still increase this skill and it is one that does increase quite quickly. The only barrier between you and the treasures contained within those locked chests are a basic lack of preparation.

 

Seek Out the Skill Books

Skyrim is a land not just for fighters and seekers of fortune. There are plenty of opportunities for the scholar or bookworm to indulge themselves, one need only keep their eyes peeled. Dotted around all over the place are literally hundreds of tomes that tell stories, offer helpful information (some will even kick start a quest) and some interesting histories of Tamriel’s past. Every now and then though you will come across a book that has a higher gold value than the others. Most books are worth about ten gold or so but if you come across one that is worth around the 50 gold mark or more, then I implore you to open it and have a look. These ones gift the reader an increase to one of their skills by one point. Find all of them and you will have gained 90 free skill points across all 18 disciplines to aid your development. Not a bad benefit for the curious mind.

 

Please Don’t Fast Travel

As you venture further and further across the map and you slowly begin to unravel Skyrim’s many secrets, the game allows the chance to fast travel to any previously discovered location. My wholehearted recommendation to anyone playing this game for the first time, and probably second or third, is to avoid this temptation whenever possible. Skyrim is a beautiful and intricately detailed land that can only truly be experienced by journeying from place to place on foot or horseback. This is how your own personal story will unravel as you encounter infringing strangers and curious instances, follow new pathways to places unknown and discover the many hidden secrets this ancient country has to offer.

 

You’ll Never Walk Alone, If You Choose

Sometimes we all need a little help and there is no shame in that. Near the games start you will be directed to travel to a small village called Riverwood. I suggest you go there to begin your adventures by following the soldier who guided you through the depths of Helgen to his hometown. It is a good place to get started and here you will find your first chance to gain a follower, which is someone who is willing to travel with you, carry your items and help you fight off your enemies. By speaking to either Faendal or Sven you will be given a choice with whom to side with in a lover’s dispute. Your choice determines your follower. Pro tip – don’t choose Sven, trust me! Along your travels, you will encounter many more potential followers that you can befriend or abuse as you see fit.

 

If in Doubt, Run!

Danger lurks in many places in the northern province of the Empire. In the deep tombs of the dank and dark dwell the undead draugr, within the cold caverns creep the falmer, high atop the icy peaks are where the frost trolls linger and when you reach a certain point in your adventure, the skies will become the domain of the dragons. A headstrong hero may look upon the visage of their foe and charge directly toward them unprepared and unaware that they may be too weak, too low levelled at the time and lacking the necessary equipment or abilities to slay that which threatens their very life. Be vigilant apprentice. If after one blow you have lost the better part of your health and your vision begins to blur, then run. There is no shame in fleeing to live another day and if you haven’t saved your progress recently then you could be looking at having to re-tread the same ground again just to catch up to where you fell.

The Apprentice Guide to Skyrim: Part 1

Welcome apprentice to the snow laden province of the Nord lands. From journeying into its villages and cities to trekking upon paths into the unknown, a gamer can become truly enraptured by this wonderfully engrossing and enormous landscape. However, it can also be an intimidating prospect for fresh faced newcomers eager to breath in that chilly air and work their way to becoming a powerful force to be reckoned with. Here are some of the things that I have learned from my own experiences that I wished I knew from the very beginning.

 

Race Doesn’t Matter

Once you step off the cart with your fellows in peril you are given a choice of ten races that will become the basis of your character’s creation and eventual development. Many other guides, including some that I have written, will tell you to pick this race or start with that one to get an early advantage. In terms of roleplaying, this is a good idea but the reality is this, the benefits aren’t so overwhelmingly significant enough to justify solely sticking to the same race they recommend. Each race gives you slight increases to certain skills or a racial power that presents just enough to offer something to distinguish your choice besides how they appear from one another. It can be advantageous to gain some early benefits but it is not absolutely necessary so just choose the one that appeals to you the most. Any power or ability you feel you may be missing out on can be acquired in another fashion during the game some other way via certain items/quests or by becoming proficient in Smithing, Enchanting or Alchemy.

 

If You Must Roleplay

Okay, I get it. I too understand the temptation to commit to a particular play style or character archetype in a game like this. In the stories of the Elder Scrolls, you can become anything you desire and so if you do wish to submit to a specific role that will truly define your playthrough then I offer the following basic recommendations to give you a head start.

The Imperials can be considered your jack of all trades race, they are fairly good for almost any character. The Nord, Redguard and Orc races are the most natural warriors. For the magic wielders amongst you I recommend choosing either High Elf, Dark Elf or Breton. Finally, if you want to sneak amongst the shadows to commit your deeds then you should consider picking one of the Wood Elf, Argonian or Khajiit races.

 

Choose Your Battle Style

There are two primary armour types in Skyrim, Light Armour and Heavy Armour. It is feasible to get by with mixing and matching the ‘coolest’ looking items you come across but you may find yourself lacking defensively later in the game. By sticking to one or the other you can focus your perks to make the most out of your chosen type. Light Armour allows you move around more easily and more quickly but offers less protection than Heavy Armour that, whilst cumbersome, coats your body in plated armour pieces that protects you that much more.

The same philosophy applies to weaponry. First of all, choose either One Handed or Two Handed weaponry as your main focus. The former is quicker to wield but the latter has higher damage potential. Speed or power? Then ask yourself if you’d prefer wielding a sword, axe or mace for your chosen style and then commit to applying the appropriate perks. By focusing your perk choices, you will increase your death dealing potential early on and into the rest of the game. Bows for the Archery skill line is also a valid choice that supplements a weapon style very well to offer any character a ranged option in battle, and you will need one especially if using magic is not your thing. Those flying dragons won’t land in front of you just so you can whack them on the nose until they’re dead!

Basically, try not to spread yourself too thin when applying perks. Choices are good but they shouldn’t come at the expense of building a character that is capable of truly excelling. I would recommend avoiding becoming good at much but great at nothing. Pick three to five skills to focus on for your primary battle style.

 

Join a Faction

You start out with practically nothing in the beginning. No gold, no decent weaponry or armour and no place for a weary traveller to lay their heads to rest. If you want to make the most of your time in Skyrim, I recommend attempting to find allies in the form of joining a faction. If you do decide to join one of the games several groups you will offered the opportunity to store your belongings, rest in your own bed and more importantly, the chance to earn great rewards by following the quest-line of that faction. Your primary choices are the Companions of Whiterun (great for warriors), the College of Winterhold (ideal for mages), the Thieves Guild in Riften (for the pickpockets amongst you, obviously) or the Dark Brotherhood of assassins (seek Aventus Aretino in Windhelm).