Media - Video Game - Bioshock Infinite & DLC Burial At Sea Part II
Bioshock Infinite explores not just the concept of trauma, but the cyclical nature of long standing trauma. Elizabeth, one of the game's protagonists, has been locked away in a tower in the floating city of Columbia after being sold off by her father. Both Elizabeth and the game's playable character, Booker, are from a different timeline, and the game ultimate culminates in Elizabeth learning that Booker is the father that sold her off to pay off his gambling debts. At the last second before the deal was made, Booker tried to renege on the deal and pull her back to his side of a parallel universe, but failed, accidentally cutting off the tip of her finger in the process.
Through a series of events that it would take too long to go into, it turns out that her adoptive father, Comstock, is revealed to be the parallel universe version of Booker, but rendered impotent by experiments in inter-dimentional travel. On finding out that the man who has been helping her escape the abusive situation is actually the same man who sold her off, Elizabeth becomes enraged, unable to forgive him. As a result of the severing of her pinky in the reality tear as a baby, Elizabeth has the power to jump between realities, and as a result she is able to bring together her many iterations, which appear at the end of the game to kill off the player at the point in time where Booker would have chosen to become Comstock.
However, the game is not solely about Elizabeth's long term, multidimensional trauma; it is implied throughout the game that Booker is a war veteran who suffers from a long standing and unspoken shame about his actions fighting in the Wounded Knee Massacre (The game takes place in 1915, roughly 25 years after these events). The game, which pulls no punches as it explores an overtly racist society, forces Booker (and by extension the player) to stare directly in the face of what Booker has done, as he is sworn to be the most prolific killer during the massacre. Between this overwhelming guilt he does not talk about to anyone (and especially not Elizabeth when she questions his involvement) and the fact that he has no memory of the day Elizabeth was taken away, it is clear that Booker is suffering from some sort of PTSD. Another aspect of this has to do with the implied cyclical nature of the game itself. A major musical theme of the game has to do with breaking the circle, or the cycle of trauma, and through various mechanics, the game implies that Booker, who goes into the game only knowing that he "must find the girl" has lived through this scenario countless times. He inevitably makes the same exact choices, and the result continues to perpetuate trauma: the "constants and variables" as the game would call it.
Elizabeth does not end the game, and particularly not the DLC epilogues, Burial at Sea, free from the cycle. Elizabeth believes in the initial ending that by gathering the pieces of herself scattered across different timelines and together putting an end to Booker before he is allowed to make the choice to become Comstock, she can end the cycle. The fragmented variations of her (representative of Dissociative Identity Disorder, in my opinion) drown Booker in the river where he would have been born again into Comstock. However, all this does is set traumatized Elizabeth off on a revenge quest where the cycle continues to repeat.
This is where the DLC, Burial at Sea comes in. In part 1 you once again play as Booker, this time in the setting of Rapture, and underwater hyper-capitalist society from the unrelated first game in the series. Booker, working now as a Private Detective, does not recognize Elizabeth when she comes to ask him for help in locating a missing girl who may have been taken for experimentation (again, relating to the events surrounding the first game). Booker agrees to help, and the two once again work together to find and free Sally from the clutches of a villainous figure. After a long series of events, Booker saves Sally, only to learn that Sally was taken by Elizabeth herself to be used as a pawn in order to make the final Booker/Comstock suffer before his death. Comstock tries to apologize one final time for his actions and asks Elizabeth the question of why she also had to use a child to fuel her agenda, but Elizabeth ignores this. Instead, she has Comstock killed violently and walks away, finally feeling free of her past. However, she, too is promptly killed by the monster she brought in to kill Comstock.
This leads in to part II of the DLC, in which the player finally plays as Elizabeth herself. Elizabeth starts off in a nightmare sequence, as the streets of Paris, the city she has longed to visit, decay and turn into guilt over her actions in using Sally for her own gains. the shame over her actions here take her back into Rapture, just moments after the multiverse version of herself has died - Only this time, she has no powers and she is the only Elizabeth left.
The opening scene of this section plays out in an extremely interesting way: Elizabeth now comes face to face with watching Sally be taken away from her once again to be used as fodder in a brewing war over Rapture. Elizabeth is about to be killed by the drug lord of the ocean when She hears Booker talking to her in her head and sees him in the space, out of place and playing the guitar.
This is not the Booker that she has been killing, and also not his ghost either. This Booker is a representative of her fight or flight response, telling her what to do to stay alive. She clearly sees and hears him at times, but he is only real to her. Elizabeth grapples with complicated feelings, sometimes even wistful of the brief time they spent together before she knew about the things he had done that set her over the edge. This mental Booker has to remind her multiple times that he is not there, and is only a figment of her imagination. The effect is poignant. By the end of the narrative, he begins to physically lead Elizabeth towards what she knows will be her end in order to save Sally. Unlike my plans for Austin, he never gets mean towards her, simply staying emotionless and allowing her to read any feelings she wishes onto his neutral characterization.
Obviously there is a lot here for me to grapple with in terms of my own project plans. In some ways, you could say that Burial At Sea part 2, and the use of a mental version of Booker helped me come up with Austin in the first place, though I did not initially make that connection. I am intrigued by some of the ways the game went about this: I really liked Mental Booker's acknowledgement that he did not exist. There was something to that mentality that you can have these trauma related parts of yourself that seem real while also knowing they are not. You don't always see that in media - a depiction of someone hallucinating something while knowing it legitimately is not real. I also appreciated the depictions of complicated emotions surrounding Elizabeth's feelings towards Booker. I think it did a good job of using dialogue and narrative to capture the player's own mixed feelings about Booker, in the aftermath of learning about everything he did. I wonder if there is a way I can impart in the dialogue something similar, as Sam grapples both with Austin as a trauma response part of herself that can be cruel and vindictive, but also with the part that at one point liked the real version of him.