I love BioShock Infinite. BioShock Infinite is one of my favorite videogames, and probably my favorite FPS of all time (maybe that means I just don’t “get” videogames, but the P is way more interesting to me than the S). That said, in any story involving parallel worlds, time travel, alternate history, quantum physics, girls whose menstruation gives them the power to control space and time, and magic potions that let you shoot birds out of your hands, there are bound to be a few things that don’t make sense. Try as I might, there are a few parts of this game I still can’t wrap my head around, and I’m not sure which of us is at fault for that.
1. Why does Booker respawn in his office?
We know from the Luteces’ tally board that we begin the game as the one hundred twenty-third version of Booker who has attempted to rescue Elizabeth from Columbia. The Luteces have previously recruited Bookers from 122 alternate universes to fight 122 alternate versions of Comstock, and each of those 122 attempts ended in failure; as Elizabeth says, “Songbird always stops you.” Depending on the player’s skill, it’s possible, even likely, that Booker 123 will fail as well.
The idea behind the respawn mechanic seems to be that when you die in combat and Elizabeth isn’t around to revive you, the version of Booker you were playing as actually does die. The Booker who subsequently spawns in his office is another Booker from another universe, and you continue playing as him. This is a clever way of organically integrating gameplay into the narrative, but it doesn’t seem to work quite as well as the Vita-Chambers in BioShock.
If Booker’s character is to have any kind of meaningful arc or progression (which it must, because that’s the point of the game), every version of Booker we play as throughout the game must be basically the same person, with the same history, experiences, and personality. Say Booker 123 is killed because you kept fighting when you should have taken cover to recharge your shields. When Booker 124 reenters the game through the waypoint of the office and continues from where Booker 123 left off, 124 must have done everything in the game exactly the same as 123, except for not taking cover when he should have. But since the office returns you to the moment after your previous Booker was killed, we have no control over and no way of knowing what the new one did differently.
Since you retain your previous upgrades and find all the remaining loot where you left it, it’s almost as if Booker 124 is picking up from Booker 123 in the same universe where Booker 123 left off. But the Luteces don’t bring new Bookers into the same universe where a previous Booker already failed. I mean, when we first enter Columbia as Booker 123, it’s obvious that 122 versions of him haven’t previously been there shooting up the place. Every respawn must be a new Booker entering a new Columbia
So since we don’t see how Booker 124 survives whatever killed Booker 123, how do we know that 124 did everything else the same as his predecessor? With this in mind, the narrative becomes a fragmented mess seen through the eyes of various different Bookers who didn’t necessarily make all the same decisions that you’ve watched play out under your control.
The Vita-Chambers in BioShock smoothly integrated the game’s respawn mechanic with its narrative.
I’ll admit, maybe I’m putting too much thought into what’s really just a simple gameplay mechanic. The more pertinent question may be: why the office? Booker respawns in his office, then steps through the door back into Columbia and you continue playing from there. But what is this intermediate trip to the office supposed to be? At the end of the game, we see how the Luteces first pulled Booker into Comstock’s world, and it didn’t involve him stepping through his door into a white light.
At various points in the game, when Booker loses consciousness but doesn’t die, he dreams that he’s back in his office because that’s where he was first hired to “bring us the girl and wipe away the debt.” But what is the connection between these muddled subconscious memories and the way the player takes control of new Bookers? Is there one? Is it just the hallucination of another reality-hopping Booker trying to put his scrambled brain in order? Maybe it doesn’t matter, but with so much thought put into every aspect of this game, the developers must have had a reason for this, too.
2. Why aren’t there infinite Luteces? Alternatively, why isn’t there just one? Also, what the hell?
Just to clarify, because a lot of people still don’t seem to get this: the Rosalind Lutece who appears in the game is originally from Comstock’s universe, and the Robert Lutece who appears in the game is originally from Booker’s universe. The only time Robert Lutece traveled between universes (before Comstock’s assassination attempt scattered his consciousness throughout the probability-space) was when he and Comstock took the infant Anna through a tear back to Columbia. The Luteces’ dialogue in that scene, as well as Rosalind Lutece’s voxophones about her brother’s altered memories, confirm this.
But although we know where the Luteces originally come from, it’s never adequately explained how they fit into the game’s version of the multiverse. Are the Rosalind and Robert Lutece who help us throughout the game just singular individuals from two different universes, or are they the total sum of all Luteces from across all possible universes? If the latter, why isn’t there just a single Lutece, since Rosalind and Robert are just alternate versions of the same person? If the former, is there an infinite number of other spatially displaced Luteces helping an infinite number of other Bookers, and they just never appear or are mentioned in the game?
Every Booker can’t have his own unique Luteces, because the Lutece twins who appear throughout BioShock Infinite have already recruited 122 Bookers prior to the Booker as whom we start the game. Maybe these specific Luteces are the only ones in the entire multiverse who survived Comstock’s attempt on their lives. But why these ones?
The Lutece “twins” are at the heart of many of the game’s more confusing elements.
Furthermore, the baptism after Wounded Knee is supposed to be the critical point from which all relevant timelines diverge, but Lutece had already been born by that time. In the universe where Booker rejected the baptism, Lutece was born a man, and in the universe where Booker became Comstock, Lutece was born a woman. So the timeline had already diverged, by at least one chromosome, before Booker even had the choice to be baptized. Doesn’t that mean his choice is preordained and not really a choice at all?
Let’s suppose that every universe where Booker rejects the baptism is not necessarily a universe with a male Lutece, and every universe where he accepts it doesn’t necessarily have a female Lutece. If Lutece’s sex is a variable like Elizabeth’s pendant or Booker’s choice at the coin toss, that avoids the issue of predetermination.
But this supposition doesn’t seem to mesh with the revelations at the end of the game. Unless our Robert Lutece has the combined consciousness of all Robert Luteces from across the multiverse, he isn’t the same Robert who bought Anna from Booker 123; more likely, he’s the Robert who bought her from Booker 1.
So when Elizabeth returns Booker to the night she was taken, is the Robert Lutece who absconds with her through the tear Robert 1, the same Robert who has guided us through the game, or Robert 123 (or whatever number Booker the player finishes the game on), an alternate version of the character we know? If both undertook the same actions in their respective Bookers’ pasts, is there even a meaningful distinction?
For that matter, are the details of that night even unique to whatever Booker we finish the game with, or are they a constant that played out identically in every universe? If the latter, then we arrive back at the idea that Lutece is a woman in every universe where Booker became Comstock, and a man in every universe where he didn’t. This is the real circle that needs to be broken!
While we’re on the subject, do the Luteces have the same conversation every time they recruit a new Booker? When Elizabeth takes Booker back in time to relive being pulled through a tear by the Luteces and losing his memories, their dialogue suggests that this is the first time they’ve successfully done this. Which we know it isn’t; they’ve recruited Bookers from at least 122 other universes before our Booker.
So do they just have the same conversation every time they drag a new Booker into a new Columbia, or was our Booker somehow reliving the memories of the first Booker they ever recruited, even though that never happens anywhere else? Did Elizabeth intentionally show him the first Booker’s recruitment instead of his own? If so, why?
3. Why does no one act like they’re in a parallel universe?
The Comstock who Booker drowns in the bird bath isn’t the same Comstock who stole his daughter, since Booker and Elizabeth have passed through two tears at that point and end the game in a different universe than the one in which they started. So when Elizabeth is captured, shouldn’t that universe’s Comstock wonder why he now has two Elizabeths? It’s established in the voxophones that the Elizabeth from this universe was moved to Comstock House from Monument Island before Booker (the one who was killed during the Vox Populi uprising) got there, so what happened to the original Elizabeth from that universe? Why did Comstock try to brainwash our Elizabeth instead of his own?
On that note, why does the Songbird from this universe have the same crush-damage to his eye as the first Songbird we encountered? Is Songbird somehow cracking his eye in the exact same pattern a constant in every universe? This also means that the Songbird who helps us at the end of the game and is then murdered by Elizabeth isn’t even the same Songbird who raised her. Doesn’t that somewhat mute the pathos of his betrayal and death?
Every version of Songbird encountered in BioShock Infinite is treated as the same individual, regardless of his universe of origin.
It’s like the characters don’t understand that they’ve crossed over into a different universe. Upon failing to find Daisy Fitzroy’s guns, Booker and Elizabeth travel through a tear into a world where they can complete their mission and trade Fitzroy her guns for their airship. But why would this universe’s Fitzroy uphold the bargain made by her counterpart? How do they know such a bargain even exists in this universe, or that she even has their airship?
Maybe this was done intentionally to show that the nuances of parallel worlds are beyond the ken of a thug like Booker. But by and large the game seems to treat all parallel versions of a given character as the same individual we had encountered before, in however many earlier universes. This makes sense for the linear progression of the plot, but not so much for the concept of infinite worlds with infinite possibilities.
I wonder if it wouldn’t have been better for the player to travel back to the original Columbia the game started in, maybe just before Elizabeth is captured. At least that way the final Comstock and the final Songbird we encounter and kill would be the same ones we met at the start of our adventure. Otherwise, if the game is going to treat every version of every character the same, why does it make an exception for Robert and Rosalind Lutece, and for Booker and Comstock?
4. Why are there other Bookers and Elizabeths at the field of lighthouses at the end?
How can any other versions of Booker have succeeded in their mission? They must have, because when Elizabeth becomes a time goddess and takes Booker to the metaphysical sea of doors, they see other versions of themselves exploring other lighthouses. So that means other universes’ Bookers were also successful in destroying the Siphon and giving their universes’ Elizabeth the power to rewrite time. “We swim in different oceans but land on the same shore,” Elizabeth explains, explaining nothing.
This cheapens the game’s story, which seemed to be that we were playing as the only version of Booker that finally broke the cycle, but more importantly, how does it make sense? The Luteces’ chalkboard tally and dialogue about Booker never rowing suggests that they recruited all their Bookers linearly. When one failed, they went to another universe and tried again. But since our Booker succeeded, when and why would they have recruited another Booker who also succeeded?
Was this Booker recruited by one of the mysteriously absent alternate versions of the Lutece twins? Are there an infinite number of Bookers who destroyed the Siphon and an infinite number of Bookers who failed? If so, shouldn’t Future Elizabeth’s woeful assertion that “Songbird always stops you” really have been “Songbird only stops you about 50 percent of the time”?
5. Who drowns Booker?
Who is the lead Elizabeth who drowns Booker at the end of the game? Her character model is the same as our Elizabeth, but she’s missing the pendant that’s remained the same in every scene up until Booker enters the final lighthouse. This in itself could be a simple coding oversight, but Booker seems to confirm that she isn’t who she appears to be: “I remember—wait. You’re not . . . you’re not . . . who are you?”
If she’s not our Elizabeth, why does the game seem to give her special significance, having her remain after all the other alternate Elizabeths have faded away and leaving it ambiguous as to whether she also fades? More importantly, where is our Elizabeth and why didn’t she enter the last lighthouse with Booker? If she is our Elizabeth, where is her pendant, and why does Booker seem to think she’s someone else?
Who are you supposed to be?
To me, these issues are all much more befuddling than any ambiguity over the twist ending. That said, none of them really ruins or even significantly damages the game. These kinds of problems and contradictions come up in every story that involves time travel or parallel worlds. In BioShock Infinite, at least, you have to put in a good deal of thought before you realize that not everything completely adds up. Compare this to something like Looper, which is highly enjoyable as a movie but the time travel mechanics of which make absolutely no sense and continually distract from the story being told.
Then again, maybe these aren’t even really plot holes or inconsistencies at all. Maybe they are intentional gaps in the narrative left to be filled by the player’s own imagination. I can see no other explanation for the post-credits scene, for instance, than the explanation you invent for yourself. No matter how many times you play it, BioShock Infinite will likely always be a game that raises more questions than it answers. Given the hand-holding we can expect from most major media titles, maybe that isn’t such a bad thing after all.
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