Representations of the Oppressed in Bioshock Infinite
I recently finished Bioshock Infinite, the first FPS I’ve ever played. Alexius’s excellent post covers most of my qualms and criticisms with the game, so I thought I’d dig a little deeper into how the game presents oppressed minorities.
Infinite‘s first section is its strongest, letting you explore the quaint Americana that is the floating city of Columbia. Like the first Bioshock game, it too is a secluded, enclosed city built around complete devotion to some form of ideological extremism. Whereas Objectivism was the first game’s target, Infinite has a swill of ideas percolating within its domain, from religious devotion to America’s founding fathers and prophet Zachary Comstock, to the black and Irish workers trapped in the ghetto of Finkton, the industrial zone that is their center of exploitation and home.
The player sees the rampant racism flowing through Columbia firsthand, understanding the darkness that runs underneath the pristine whiteness of the city. The game plays sympathetic to these oppressed people, as it displays their plight. The white citizens of Columbia are happy ‘undesirables’ aren’t intruding their beach property. The industrialist Fink pays them in currency only good for his factories own products (incidentally, Walmart made a similar attempt at this a few months ago.) Propaganda is everywhere in the city, warning of the evils of the Vox Populi, a resistance group emerging form the ghettos, led by Daisy Fitzroy.
Unfortunately, by the time the Vox are introduced, the game undoes its critique of Columbia’s utopia through abstract, limp moralizing. Midway through the game the Vox revolt and launch an armed attack against their oppressors, and our protagonist jerkface (who by now has slaughtered a lot of people) poo-poos their efforts to liberate themselves from tyranny. Suddenly the people the game held sympathy for become our new enemies, a new wave of people to kill. Fitzroy, whose barely been in the game, is abruptly villianized, killing Fink. Planning to kill his son next*, she is in turn killed by Elizabeth. With Fitzroy gone, the Vox lose their last strand of identity before becoming merely faceless enemies, just another heap of obstacles to clear.
In conversations between Elizabeth and Booker, the game implies a basic “all violence is bad,” despite our white male protagonist continuing to maim everyone in sight. It negatively frames the Vox’s actions and treads over everything the game has worked for in sympathizing with the oppressed. In all irony, the game ends up portraying these revolutionaries just like the white supremacist propaganda of Columbia.
*This DLC Burial at Sea 2 elucidates this, where’s it’s revealed the Lutece’s told Fitzroy that Elizabeth must have the mindset to kill, and thus Fitzroy must threaten Fink’s son to shake Elizabeth to do so. That’s one hell of a retcon.