Dies, Died, Will Die: An Analysis of BioShock Infinite
Posted on Tuesday, April 9 @ 17:00:00 PST by Nicholas Tan
Shame on me for not playing BioShock Infinite until this past weekend. I can blame the game for releasing on the same week as GDC 2013, but I must admit that I've been caught in a replay of Final Fantasy VII... which in hindsight is serendipitously about the mind filling in the gaps with false memories. Is Cloud Strife simply Booker DeWitt in the multiverse of possibilities?Yes, those are the kind of analytical questions I posed after finishing BioShock Infinite. (My mind goes into mysterious places.)
At least I have revealed the self-deception of why I didn't pick up BioShock Infinite until this past wee... wait, no, I've done this before. I must be stuck in a time loop. That's what I get for spending the whole day analyzing BioShock Infinite and then spending the whole night spitting it out in pages of words that I now shall reveal. A lot better than using hundreds of Voxophones, I bet.
Also check out Daniel Bischoff's review of BioShock Infiniteand the BioShock Roundtable podcast with Daniel, Alex Osborn, and Jonathan Leack!
What The Hell Just Happened?
Long story short, Bioshock Infinite's story revolves around the creation of a time paradox. Once Elizabeth gains the ability to see across the entire probability spectrum, after Booker directs Songbird to destroy the giant siphon hidden inside the gigantic angel statue, she realizes that the only way to eliminate Zachary Hale Comstock is to remove him not just from their timeline, but from all timelines.
This is tricky, however, since Comstock is merely Booker DeWitt if he had accepted the baptism more than twenty years ago. Eliminating Comstock by shooting him the face in every time-space one by one in the infinite set of possibilities where he exists would not be feasible.
To truly eliminate him from existence and break the cage of fatalism with her newfound power of free will, Elizabeth must use her power to go back in time to the point before Booker approaches the priest for the baptism and ensure that there's no chance that he would accept it. Thus, Elizabeth (and all instances of Elizabeth across the probability spectrum) drowns Booker, who willingly accepts this solution, so that he would never become Comstock.
This creates a time paradox, because Elizabeth can only exist if Comstock exists, as he is the one who purchases Elizabeth/Anna from Booker. But if all instances of Comstock are removed, then how can Elizabeth exist in the first place and murder Booker in the past? The fabric of time cannot exist with this paradox, naturally causing it to reset and choose the path of least resistance in which all timelines can run smoothly. This is done by turning the baptism from a variable ("accept" or "refuse") into a constant with only a single option ("refuse").
Since Booker now always refuses the baptism, Comstock is never born, Columbia never exists, Booker never gives Anna away, and Elizabeth never exists, which is why the instances of Elizabeth disappear one by one after she drowns Booker in the water. Nonetheless, Anna probably still exists as we see that Booker awakens in the post-credit scene on October 8, 1893, the date when she was most likely given away. This is inferred from various Voxophones timestamped October 15, 1893 by the Lutece twins and the fact that Lady Comstock falsely gives birth to Elizabeth in only seven days.
What happens after the post-credits ending scene is completely up to the imagination of the player.
The Lutece "Twins"
Of course, there are more characters who are central to the twisted layers of the story, and none are as important as the Lutece twins, Rosalind and Robert. Some might argue that they might be more pivotal to the story than Booker and Elizabeth, since they are the ones attempting to restore the balance of time. Well, at least Robert does, because as Rosalind says in a Voxophone, he feels guilty purchasing the baby from Booker in the alternate timeline and wishes to set things right. Rosalind is a fatalist too, who in the rowboat objects "to the entire thought experiment." While Robert is a nihilist ("...where he see a blank page, [Rosalind] sees King Lear"), he believes his cause is just and he thankfully follows through.
Eventually, Rosalind comes around to her sibling's side after Fink sabotages their contraption and scatters the pair across the possibility spectrum. They attempt to nudge the possibilities like a Groundhog Day experiment, as much as they can at least since their power is faint compared to Elizabeth's eventual godlike sight and since their involvement might alert Comstock to their presence, to work out all of the variables that lead Booker and Elizabeth to the time paradox explained earlier.
During one cutscene in which the pair has Booker flip a coin (heads or tails), which explains the concept of a constant across time-space, it can be noted that the chalkboard Robert wears already has 122 marks on it (there are 100 marks on the other side). This implies that this is their 123rd attempt to set things right and that the Booker the player controls is the 123rd instance of Booker they've tried. In the rowboat, Robert responds to Rosalind's "He doesn't row?!" with "No, he doesn't row," implying that he's tried the scenario where Booker rows the boat and it ends in failure.
Indeed, Robert's redemption rests on guiding Booker through his own journey of redemption, and it's likely that the Lutece twins killed the lighthouse guard ("The Only Obstacle" is written on a picture on a desk inside the lighthouse) in this effort. Curiously, Booker must also ring 1-2-2 at the lighthouse in the opening cutscene to unlock the rocket that leads him to Columbia. If we count from 0-0-0, 1-2-2 would be the 123rd number in the series. I don't believe this is mere coincidence.
It must also be remarked that Rosalind Lutece is sacrificing herself, perhaps begrudgingly, and that Robert Lutece is sacrificing Rosalind. Somehow, Booker accepting the baptism always makes the Lutece sibling Rosalind (or is it the other way around in "the chicken or the egg" kind of way?) while him rejecting the baptism makes the Lutece sibling Robert. So if the time paradox works as intended, all instances of Rosalind must also perish since Booker would then always reject the baptism. But perhaps she is already content with this fate as she feels complete with Robert at her side. Then again, this is entirely conjecture considering that we do not know what happens to the twins after the credits roll.
(Quick aside: If the twins do it, would it simply be masturbation? Hmm...)
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