At the start of the first Bioshock game you crash land in the Atlantic, not properly knowing who you are or why you've crashed. You know you're not quite a 'faceless protagonist' though - you see family photos, you're a smoker. You are meant to be a fixed 'somebody' not just 'anybody'.
Similarly, in Bioshock Infinite, you are somebody. you can even see your own reflection early on.
In both cases, you are invited to enter a lighthouse. Why?
That's not strictly true. In Bioshock 1 you crash land near to a lighthouse. There's fire and metal around you and it's gloomy and dark.
Here's the thing:
If you stay in the Atlantic or sit on the steps of the lighthouse, put your controller down and leave, nothing happens. That is both the content of your story and the ending of your story when you finally switch your machine off if you don't wish it to overheat.
You might say all games are like that.
But this is different isn't it.
Unless you had no curiousity at all as to what Bioshock was, unless the front cover gave you no clue to the fact that this might be a 'harrowing experience', then you knew that going in the lighthouse would be a BIG MISTAKE. It wasn't likely to easily end up with you gleefully diving in a big pool of coins Scrooge McDuck-like.
So why do it?
This particular version of the Atlantic carries no noticeable sharks nor risk of hypothermia as far as my swimming around in it for a while suggested.
It is early on apparent that this lighthouse is not, like most lighthouses, actually anywhere near land. But even sitting in the steps outside of the lighthouse - or, ok- in the foyer- to wait for daylight and look out for whichever vessels tend to notice the lighthouse...
What would be wrong with doing that?
But Irrational (apt name considering this circumstance) makes it wrong don't they? You didn't pay £40 to sit in the foyer of a lighthouse waiting for a dawn that probably never even comes.
You have to push on to get your money's worth- to see the HORROR. To get your ticket on the ghost train. Because that's what it is and what Ken Levine has admitted. It is a haunted house attraction. That you WILLINGLY enter, that you WILLINGLY press on knowing the kinds of horrors to come.
That makes you a fool.
And from the very first time that the Irishman's voice came in to my ears I though 'Oh no..' It's in this game to make people think 'He's friendly isn't he? Aw bless him. Maybe there'll be a nice point of Guinness and a pot of gold waiting at the end of this psychopathic rainbow' and I saw through it right away.
Basically, no matter what you do now you are a fool. Not just as a character but, worse, your real self. You either lose out on £39 of experience or you risk dying horribly. You earn no brownie points for forseeing disaster.
You may say that many games do this but the circumstances here are different. 'Should you choose to accept this mission', you're going along with the instructions from a mere voice. But if you're clever enough not to do it, you're stupid enough not to experience the game. You can't win.
Bioshock Infinite makes this thing that nagged at me so much at the start of the original game the very crux of the entire Infinite game.
Another lighthouse 'there's always a lighthouse'. Light and lighthouse are usually a symbol of safety, 'the right way' without question. There's also the implied religious metaphor of light as truth in Infinite. The games are not anti-religious and certainly not anti 'do the right thing' (for OTHER people) but they show how messages can be used for any end.
Both games show that they can be the exact opposite. Help is not always help. Light is not always 'good' truth. (The games are not 'Beyond Good and Evil'- they still operate on moral linear lines like the museum ghost trains they are).
The Lucretia Twins at least give you a reason to spur on in to the lighthouse in Infinite. They make out what a terrible place it would be to be left at if there was nothing for you to do.
Right from the start Irrational are having a laugh at your lack of choice and the 'choices' throughout the entire game keep on having this in-joke at you. Infinite is as scripted as any theme park ride - it revels in it. Even the skylines, which once looked so free in early trailers, are rendered as mere combat tools in the final game. This game doesn't want you to make your own story. It wants to tell you a story.
It all seems so peculiar. The original Bioshock was made out to be about choices. But all that comes down to is which way you kill a baddy and whether you end the game a complete saint or a complete monster.
Basically, Bioshock is 'Alice in Blunderland'. Curiousity killed the cat. It's only your own curiousity which means you ever had to enter the lighthouse. You follow the white rabbit of an Irish voice. Your physical form is altered. You're surrounded by countless 'mad' hatters (kind of, allow me this strain at a metaphor)- the splicers. There's even a scene later on in the game which looks like the Mad Hatters Tea Party. I know this is a easy to use metaphor - the nature of the Alice tale lends itself to many videogames.
But it's still like each Bioshock game is a nightmare that you can only escape from by scaring yourself to death until you wake up from it. Like any dream or nightmare, you can never know in 1 run through whether your 'choices' have any meaning or whether they are your consciousness always being lead to one outcome- or whether there is any good reason why you are experiencing any of it in the first place.
Thanks for reading.