Bioshock Infinite - A Story Limited by Genre?

I've heard quite a few articles coming out lately that dig into what does and doesn't work with Bioshock, and the common one in the weakness section is the violent shooter gameplay.

The points many of these make do I think touch on the game being a bit too exaggerated with its violence, with rather unnecessary gore. I think early on when you see the first time a skyhook hurts somebody, that's actually quite an effective moment, because it presents a tonal shift in your experience in the world, but used in repetition it diminishes the effect.

The point that I really want to tackle is that articles like Kotaku's Kirk Hamilton and Polygon's own Chris Plante argue that Bioshock being a shooter limits it versus if it were other genre game, or people commenting on those articles try to make that point. 2 of the typical responses go towards making it either a full on RPG or Adventure game. Through the use of adventure game puzzles, Bioshock wouldn't need to rely on violent actions, and instead focus more on narrative. The RPG reasoning I see for people that like the focus of storytelling RPGs present, and I'm sure some points of view point towards games that let you effect the narrative with moral choices. To me, both opinions do NOTHING to solve the problems or limitations of Bioshock Infinite, but instead simply exchange them.

See, my view on why so many video games struggle to handle stories, isn't just to do with the quality of the writing or performance of the characters, but the core to how they're told to the audience. I'd like to quickly dispense with the obvious storytelling methods games use often, and that is the cutscene or QTEs. Video games are inherently an interactive medium, which in my view always limits how well a linear narrative can be told, because a linear narrative relies on being authored at a viewer, not a player. A player naturally has to "play" the game, not stop to view something with no control, so a natural story for the medium is going to need to be non-linear. QTEs are a bandaid to this idea, by providing the player with the most minimal mechanism of interaction, to make you feel like you're interacting with what is just a slightly less rigid cutscene. The degree of non-linearity to tell a story in a video game I think is up to the game maker, and can vary depending on the story...because choice in the real world isn't limitless.

The limitation to storytelling in Bioshock Infinite I do think is tied to it being just a shooter, but that is an issue I think games of ANY and EVERY genre suffer from. To me, the telling of an interactive narrative requires a diverse set of interaction possibilties to replicate how we as humans interact with the world around us. Trouble is, no particular genre do I see have enough mechanical or systematic variation to sell that experience. Adventure games may have increased focus on narrative, but the actual story is largely linear, with mostly puzzles and exploration being how you play...and the genre has a notorious habit of odd puzzle logic. RPGs I think provide the most set of tools conducive to telling an interactive narrative, but the Japanese variety largely tell linear cutscene driven stories with just as much combat as an action game. The western variety of RPGs hold closer to you playing the actual role, allowing you to decide how you communicate with other characters, some in the past even letting you decide how you navigated a level, but the available actions are based more on numeric progression that player controlled 1:1 actions.

The answer to Bioshock Infinite's limitations, as well as any games, involves melding different genres together. If I'm a character in a game world, the base interactions I should have would need to involve basic communications with others, some methods to traverse a space that aren't artificially linear-pathed, and controllable actions for me that player that can involve guns, fists, stealth, wounding, stealing, intimidation, etc. The mechanical diversity of multiple genres I think solves all the basic interactions we would expect controlling a humanoid character. Instead of being forced to loop through a specific few methods of interaction, which at some point likely will stray from what I would do as a average flawed but still compassionate human being...I could be given the non-linear communication of RPGs, the varied controllable actions of the action genre, and the investigation/exploration aspects of an adventure game.


The closest game I've seen come to providing me this has been the original Deus Ex. Deus Ex isn't the perfect game with the perfect story, but I think it skirts the limitations of not enough mechanical variation or not providing player agency. Its limitations were that the mechanics weren't executed well enough, communication options should've been expanded, and yeah the writing/character performances could've been better. I'm awaiting another game to really push the next step of video game storytelling, but I think game devs focus too much on perfecting a small suite of mechanics/systems (usually within one maybe two genres), or simply push awkwardly again and again with linear narrative.

This is my conclusion to storytelling in video games, what do you all think or would add to this?

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