Warning: BioShock Infinite spoilers lay ahead. If you’ve yet to play the game, I recommend doing so before reading on. If you don’t care or have otherwise completed the game, press on.
BioShock Infinite, one of this year’s contenders for Game of the Year, has been accused of racism.
At the source of all of these accusations is a blogger named Jeff Kunzler, who argues in his blog that the game is racist on the basis that its creators intend to promote a racist agenda. He argues that this isn’t “ironic”, and that he considers the game to be every bit as racist as the National Liberty Foundation (an organization which recently used BioShock Infinite’s concept art to promote a xenophobic perspective) with the difference that the game’s developers “just, well, know how to hide it better.”
It’s true that the game is a bit tone deaf when it comes to its depiction of the minorities, who make up the vast majority of the organization called the Vox Populi, who rebel against the Founders—Columbia’s overlords and ruling class.
In short, they’re depicted as being every bit as violent as their oppressors and very little characterization is given to fleshing them out as human beings with motivations beyond “kill whitey.”
That’s deplorable, true, but it doesn’t imply that the game’s creators are racist or that their “message” is that the solution to racism lies somewhere in the middle between oppression and liberty—only that violence, more often than not, begets violence.
The message I got out of the game was that revolutions are often violent and that the motivations of some characters, such as the Vox Populi leader Daisy Fitzroy, may not necessarily be pure. She is motivated by revenge against those who oppressed her rather than a desire to set her people free. Casting off their chains is secondary to the revenge she seeks against Comstock, who framed her for his wife’s murder. The Voxophones, paltry though they might be as a storytelling device, serve to enforce this understanding of the context. Miss them and you might miss the story.
If anything, the presence of Daisy Fitzroy is a critique that had nothing to do with race and shows how the oppressive segregation took its toll in more than just lives, but in her sanity. After all, the game doesn’t even chastise Fitzroy for initially rising up. The only chastising that the game does is against the latter version of Fitzroy’s ruthlessness and power-hungry attitude. Seen as a single character, Fitzroy is not an extension of the entire Vox Populi. That particular read is something you’d have to personally make while playing the game.
Fitzroy’s attitude can be summed up in the Voxophone where she declares her intent: “The one thing people need to learn is that fear is the antidote to fear. I don’t want to be a part of their world. I don’t want to be a part of their culture, their politics, their people. The sun is setting on their world, and soon enough, all they gon’ see…is the dark.”
Before the game goes full-on with the revolution, you step into the homes of people who were committed to changing public opinion about minorities and encouraging society to do away with racism and slavery. The game makes a big point of it by showing you their printing press operations.
Unfortunately, the story moves on and the revolution gets ahead of whatever efforts these peaceniks were conducting. The game seems to throw all of this out the window when it depicts the Vox Populi as being just as bad as the Founders. Booker even says “when it comes down to it, the only difference between Comstock and Fitzroy is how you spell the name.” Is that offensive? I don’t know. It’s just how things worked out for Columbia. I don’t think the game has the responsibility to tell anything more than the story its creators set out to tell and forcing them to make some sort of political statement about how the revolutionaries are the “good guys” only serves to weaken whatever nuance the game seems to have.
At this point in the game, the revolution serves as little more than a backdrop to the science fiction and the character drama between Elizabeth and Booker, which is unfortunate because up until this point, the game’s politics had a lot going for it beyond “red versus blue.”
If the game is guilty of anything, it’s that it just doesn’t go far enough with its politics and keeps it at arm’s length.
Video games have a bigotry problem, at least in the community where they are celebrated.
As if missing the point entirely, Penny Arcade is attempting to address the issue of bigotry in games through the inexplicable creation of the “Diversity Lounge” across its Penny Arcade Expos.
The “Roll for Diversity Hub and Lounge” at PAX events in Seattle, Boston and Melbourne will be “a resource for PAX attendees to find information related to issues surrounding women, LGBTQ, people of color, disabled people and mental health issues in gaming.”
In effect, the Diversity Lounge is supposed to act as a safe space, in a larger, unsafe environment. At first glance, it might sound like a good idea, except it isn’t. That larger, unsafe environment—PAX—ought to be a safe space to begin with.
The Diversity Lounge serves only to segregate diverse gamers from their non-diverse (read: heterosexual white men) counterparts and fails to address the fact that diversity itself isn’t the problem, but bigotry.
Indeed, the Diversity Lounge idea wouldn’t be a bad one were it not for the fact that Penny Arcade does not have a wider no-tolerance-to-bigotry policy where women and those of diverse backgrounds can feel safe. I’m told that they have those in colleges, but colleges in general have policies to keep their students safe regardless of their racial and gender orientation. PAX has no such policy, especially considering it’s a place where Mike Krahulik, one half of Penny Arcade, said it was a mistake to apologize for rape jokes, to an audience that even cheered him on.
So here’s a question to PAX’s organizers: Why not make all of PAX a safe and inclusive space?
You don’t need to be a genius, you just need to be yourself. That’s the message from Austin Kleon, a young writer and artist who knows that creativity is everywhere, creativity is for everyone. A manifesto for the digital age, Steal Like an Artist is a guide whose positive message, graphic look and illustrations, exercises, and examples will put readers directly in touch with their artistic side. Buy it here.
I was talking with my friend Katy today when she brought up the concept of word association games, something she plays with the students she teaches English to. She brought up how she would pick out a random topic, like that of an empty wall.
The thought of an empty, white, wall first reminds me of how it could be filled up with something to make it more interesting. Graffiti, art, posters, or what have you. That’s the first thought that occurs to me when I think of walls.
Walls also remind me of the time I thought to hit my head against the wall because I was so mad with my parents. I can’t even recall what I was angry about, except that it made me want to bang my head against the wall because it’d been something I’d seen on TV. Kids banging their heads against the wall in frustration and anger. Did it help? Or would it just make my head hurt? I was too afraid to try, so I didn’t bang my head against the wall very hard. It was just a few knocks and that alone frustrated me beyond my initial point of anger.
Needless to say, I had a lot of anger issues as a teenager. I was always fighting, quarreling with my parents—especially my mother, even though I was closer to her than I was with my dad. I never really connected with my dad. He always seemed a distant figure, so much so that I felt closer to my uncle than I did to my dad because he was rarely ever around in my life.
Being in the military, dad was always away, posted out to some distant outpost. He returned often, but we never really clicked. More than being physically distant, dad was always emotionally distant, so I never felt as if I could confide in him my problems because he’d always make it about himself. It’s how my dad solved his own problems—by making them about him and dealing with it on his own terms and not on anyone else’s terms. No one ever managed to solve their son’s depression by treating it as a problem to be “fixed” like any other.