Alright, so I beat BioShock Infinite on Hard mode over this weekend (~15 hours, give or take 3 hours), and it left my mind both numb and abuzz, at 06:30AM.
Yes, it was a 10:00PM to 06:30AM marathon. Completed about 60% of gameplay within that time.
Anyway… from this point on will be MASSIVE SPOILERS. Proceed at your own risk, and I would highly advise only proceeding forward if you’ve beaten the game at least once.
Not-so-quick-but-best-I-can-do overview of the parameters: So, let’s get this over with. Booker DeWitt and Zachary Hale Comstock are one and the same person, the big “holy -expletive-” moment in the game. Booker DeWitt had a daughter named Anna DeWitt (emblazoned AD on the back of his right hand), who he sold on 1892 to Robert Lutece in order to get rid of his gambling debt. Robert Lutece was in employed by Zachary Comstock, and both were from a parallel dimension. Booker, who immediately realized that selling his daughter was a mistake, tries to stop them from leaving but fails to do so, with only Anna’s pinky as a reminder, cut off by the closing dimensional portal. Booker falls into depression, drinks himself into stupor for 20 years, until he’s contacted by the Lutece siblings (Robert and Rosalind Luteces, one and the same), who offered Booker a chance to be with Anna once again. And so begins the tale of BioShock Infinite, playing as Booker DeWitt who lost his memories during dimensional transfer (which is why the quote at the start of the game is immensely relevant) to a reality where Elizabeth (renamed from Anna) is locked up in a giant statue of an angel, mistakenly believing the lie his mind made up for the most of the game. Elizabeth/Anna, due to having her pinky exist across parallel dimensions, gained an unparalleled ability to open and travel through different dimensions through rips in space-time continuum called “Tears”. She is also the destined harbinger of death and destruction across the world below, given that she takes Zachary Comstock’s place as the new prophetess of Columbia. This is the future that the Luteces are trying to fix, and why Booker is needed at all.
Baptism->Become Comstock->fund parallel dimension technology->gets Anna->New York burns.
The game logic to this conflict resolution is that because they are the same person, Booker DeWitt must die for all other possibilities of Zachary Hale Comstock ever existing. To prevent the realities in which Elizabeth becomes the harbinger of fire and death, to prevent all the realities in which Elizabeth suffers under Zachary Comstock, Zachary Hale Comstock must not exist. And the branch off point is the baptism ceremony, in which if Booker accepts the baptism, he takes on the name of Zachary Comstock and founds his Columbia.
So, the Elizabeths of all different possibilities (Anna DeWitt with her pinky intact notwithstanding) proceed to drown Booker, and he accepts his fate. He drowns, and thereby destroying all possible realities that stems from the question of Baptism, and thereby eliminating all Booker DeWitts, Zachary Comstocks, and of course, Elizabeth/Anna of the future realities from this question. Naturally, the BioShock Infinite basically never happened, and everything is as it should be.
And that, was my natural interpretation, until the post-credit epilogue scene came along and threw a metaphorical monkey wrench into my nicely ordered world.
The end scene depicts 1893, October 8th – Booker DeWitt opens the door that leads to Anna’s crib, while calling out for her name.
In other words, a possibility of Booker DeWitt with Anna as his daughter still exists.
Now why is this a big deal? Can’t we just call it a happy ending and move on? Clearly, Booker and Anna got a happy ending in a reality where Anna was never sold, a reality where Booker never went through a baptism. It’s a perfect ending!
You see, this is where the premise screws that particular happy place. The idea of an infinite universes within the infinite possibilities mean exactly that – there exists an untold, unfathomable number of realities created by every movement of time forward, infinitely created at infinite moments. For the sake of simplicity however, I will only focus on the fact that the epilogue exists. By existing, this particular epilogue allows the counterpart of reality in which Booker DeWitt sold his daughter, to exist. A scenario in which, demands Zachary Comstock to exist, and therefore Elizabeth, and therefore the burning New York. But of course, let’s look at the relevant evidences.
Exhibit A: Coin analogy. Lives, lived, will live. Dies, died, will die. Different sides of the different coin, all a matter of perspective. This analogy is used heavily throughout the course of the game (by the Luteces), and heavily supports the duality/dichotomy theme of this entire game. Baptism ceremony as a divergence point (What happens to the sinner in the water?), parallel universes (although at this point you’re going to have to call it a shape with infinite sides, a sphere), and of course the logic of erasing Booker DeWitt’s existence prior to divergence point, there by having the question never even considered in the first place. But this also means that if a possibility exists, then its counterpart possibility must also exist, in some space-time continuum. Epilogue, by existing, renders the whole conflict resolution moot, by allowing its counterpart reality to exist.
Exhibit B: Two extremely relevant statements from the game, made by Rosalind Lutece:
“My brother has presented me with an ultimatum: if we do not send the girl back from where we brought her, he and I must part. Where he sees an empty page, I see “King Lear.” But he is my brother, so I shall play my part, knowing it shall all end in tears.”
“Our contraption shows us the girl is the flame that shall ignite the world. My brother says we must undo what we have done. But time is more an ocean than a river. Why try to bring in a tide that will only again go out?”
Rosalind Lutece’s cryptic Voxaphone monologues stayed with me throughout the ending sequence, looming in the back of my head for unknown purposes. It ultimately led to delivering me from a happy-this-is-closure mindset to oh-no-this-is-BAD-ENDING ragefest. The two monologue works in tandem, letting us know that not all is as it seems. Essentially, Rosalind states that time and reality is not so easily manipulated, and that what they are attempting will not work. That whatever happened at the end of the game, essentially did not work. But why listen to her? Who gave her the authority?
Well, we have a case of an extremely unreliable narrator, and I consider Rosalind Lutece as the closest thing to a reliable informational source in this game. Reason being, she is the source of most, if not all technology regarding ‘physics’ in BioShock Infinite. She is also one who pioneered the technology to see and interact with the infinite parallel universes (not her brother, Robert Lutece, because she actually summoned him from a parallel universe), and she provided explanations and conjectures regarding various different phenomenons in this game (origin of Elizabeth’s powers, Zacharie Comstock’s advanced aging, the status of their current existence). And here, she is expressing her opinions with certainty – that whatever they are attempting, will not work. Which leads to…
Exhibit C) The coin tosses. If you recall, the Luteces ask you at the beginning of the game, “Heads, or tales?” And if you do recall this scene, try to remember the number of heads vs number of tails.
Well, you were the 123rd heads. Or rather, 123rd Booker DeWitt, as it is implied. So for some reason or another, at least 122 Booker DeWitts have failed in some unmentioned way. Chances are, you probably failed also. But more importantly, you weren’t the only one.
Exhibit D) And finally, the biggest, most damning of all evidences: we never see the final Elizabeth disappear. At the river, screen cuts to black in a way not dissimilar to the ending of Inception, before we are certain of her fate. We are left to ponder, on the fate of that final Elizabeth (who has reached Godlike powers at this point, showcasing omniscience, omnipotence, and omnipresence). Still, the logical conundrum exists: if Elizabeth exists on that river, then she must have access to her godlike powers -> if so, then she must have lost her pinky -> if so, she must have had been sold to Comstock -> if so, Comstock has funded the Luteces and gained access to dimensional interference device -> if so, Booker DeWitt has become Comstock, after the baptism.
Of course, there is room for debate – we are left with an uncertain premise, with an uncertain narrator, with an uncertain ending. Interpretations are welcomed, and debate is encouraged – and I have said my piece. The listed evidence, with the over-arching theme of “choices you make, in the end do not matter” (said by Ken Levine, Irrational Games Co-founder), leads me to this inevitable conclusion that BioShock Infinite was indeed a King Lear, and not an empty page.