Critical Play: Mysteries

Bioshock Infinite is a game that incorporates many elements of mystery. You begin mid-conflict rowing up to a lighthouse with no concept of the character’s past. The character you are playing as also has amnesia, making the game’s narrative a mystery being uncovered both by the player character and the player in tandem. This is an element I see a lot in mystery games that really helps to suck the player in. Having a character in the game who is just as clueless as the player helps to ground the experience, and make it feel ok to not know all the answers. Otherwise, the player may feel utterly clueless and not sure about what they are supposed to understand versus what the game is trying to keep a mystery.

Following the intro sequence, the main character Booker DeWit finds themself in an alternate universe flying pre-civil war southern society. The character and player must explore the world and learn more throughout the game about the secrets and inner workings of the world to recover the lost information about their past. The fact that Booker is from another world more like the one we inhabit mirrors our curiosity and repulsion at seeing the wonders as well as inequalities and racism of the alternate world.

For much of the game, pacing is slow. As the player and character are prompted to move and shoot through unique environment to environment, they slowly learn more about the world, their past, and the powers of the female protagonist, Emily. As the game progresses, however, pacing for revealing the world and uncovering mysteries varies widely. At the end of the game, many secrets and plot points are quickly revealed in rapid cutscenes that take the fun out of uncovering mysteries. This was likely done to save development time as gameplay took priority to the mystery and narrative. It would have been interesting to see what Bioshock Infinite would have been like as a mystery game if they had more control over the pacing of their story.

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