Ken Levine and the defenders of BioShock Infinite are what I might as well call the “softcore gamer” demographic. They’re seriously invested in promoting gaming as a medium and wouldn’t dream of abandoning it, because that would mean allowing the damned “hardcore” community to influence everything. Hardcore gamers are too angry, too vocal, too picky, and too sensitive. They demand too much, and don’t give enough in return. They’re a small, hard-to-please, arrogant, entitled group of elitists who want publishers, developers, and the gaming press to listen to them exclusively, no matter what potential customers might be excluded in the process. Meanwhile, the softcore gamer is a friendlier, lazier, and more sociable group; and this is different from being “casual”, which is not even identifying as a gamer or following the industry.
BioShock Infinite is an accomplishment in the field of softcore gaming.
The ultimate goal of the softcore gamer is not to create, play, or report on the “best” games, which push the actual limits of the medium, but to create a big welcome mat that hits all the key points needed to sound impressive on paper to critics and outsiders. But make no mistake, they’ve found a use for hardcore gamers too. By targeting hardcore gamers with the right marketing, press releases, and interviews, they can manipulate the hardcore into producing an enormous amount of hype for the products, then betray them when the money is in the bank and the product is in the mainstream spotlight for a moment. The truth is they want to eliminate the hardcore community and elope with the editor of The New York Times, not live as a slave to opinionated nerds. What they end up delivering is therefore a mediocre, deeply flawed, misleading, disappointing, but Very Important landmark in interactive entertainment.
(Here I’ll preempt the question of my own stance. Personally I feel the hardcore community is infected with too many diseases to be healthy, while the softcore community is too dishonest and lazy. Casual gamers are impossible to fault, but would never spur the creation of truly innovative products or hold anyone accountable. Perhaps that makes me a hygienic hardcore gamer. (Can we make these terms any more unattractive?))
The softcore will praise BioShock Infinite even though they know it doesn’t do anything that hasn’t been done better before, has its head up its own ass, and could never live up to the hype. They’re the people who wanted the hardcore to stop bashing the Mass Effect 3 ending. Anything that jeopardizes the image of gaming as the ultimate expression of art is counter-productive, you see. We need to all band together and pretend this is a satisfying step towards the Promised Land of full-Matrix virtual reality and fantasy fulfillment empowerment. If we want to earn respect, we need to stick together.
United we stand. Divided we fuel yet another season of The Big Bang Theory.
The Unfinished Swan Dive
Below are a series of oddities, glitches, and examples of things that irked me in my travels through Columbia. Not a complete list.
I kept a running account of my observations on my Twitter account, and I’ve barely dipped into them for this review. There’s the example of a big battle preceding a rail car ride, in which I you have to kill everyone before you can go the next area; everyone, including one guy that I apparently didn’t notice in my haste to survive. As I stood on the rail car trying to operate the controls, it kept telling me that I hadn’t killed the enemy yet. It took me 5 minutes to track back far enough to find the guy and shoot him in the face. God knows what would have happened if we had tried to leave before that guy was dead.
Then there was the example of jumping onto an area the game didn’t expect me to be yet. I was chasing Elizabeth and thought I would be clever, but it turns out that area wasn’t supposed to be used yet, so it was just a ghost town. I couldn’t go anywhere or do anything, and needed to rely on the big green arrow that flies along the ground when you hit the “N” button to show me where to go. Whoops. I barely managed to return to where I was thanks to tireless positioning and pixel-perfect aim to get onto the stupid magnetic rails.
And how about the elevator chap who you can’t shoot, but can melee strike infinitely? Thanks to the pair of pants I was wearing, my attacks had a 70% chance to ignite people when I hit them, so I was free to set him ablaze for as long as I wanted to. He screamed in pain and I heard his flesh sizzle, but he never died. Things like this are expected in a huge, systems-driven game like Skyrim or Grand Theft Auto, but BioShock Infinite is tiny and linear in comparison. You could easily fix these problems by playtesting them.