BioShock Infinite and The Power of Recovery

Credit: BioShock Infinite. Screenshot by me. A strictly forbidden shrine in the fictional city of Columbia, where the game takes place.

I am just beginning another playthrough of the third installment in the BioShock series, 2013’s BioShock Infinite. I reviewed this game along with the two others last September, when I got the remastered collection on Nintendo Switch. Check out those reviews if you haven’t already. And stop reading now if you are concerned about spoilers. Anyway, I cannot stop thinking about this game. Rarely do I give a game another go after beating it, to be honest, but this game keeps me coming back for more.

Not only is Infinite incredible fun, with excellent gunplay and amazing powers, but equally important is the plot. Infinite follows Booker Dewitt, in the year 1912 going to a secessionist city in the sky where a woman is being held captive. The information you’re given at the beginning: “Bring us the girl, wipe away the debt.” Not the most inspiring orders or backstories, but just fine for Booker, who is a memorable roguish type. The protagonist even having a voice is something for a first-person shooter.

I was diagnosed schizophrenic at the age of 23, following a nervous breakdown from overwhelming stress and critical lack of self care. I was in and out of the hospital three different times over the next four years as we struggled to find suitable medication. I’m happy to say I have been incident free since starting my current medication about six years ago. It is a miracle medicine I take as an injection once every three months, never missing a dose this way. During the dark period, I experienced psychosis extensively. Some of these delusions were playful in nature, others were darker, even disturbing. I found myself becoming something I couldn’t identify.

In one universe, Booker goes through with his baptism and becomes the evil Zachary Comstock, in another he doesn’t go through with the baptism. Comstock discovers Booker destitute with his baby daughter after using interdimensional travel, and convinces Booker to sell Comstock his baby daughter. You eventually discover the “debt” owed by Booker was his way of repressing the memory of selling his daughter away, and focusing on rescuing her from her prison.

Credit: BioShock Infinite. Screenshot by me. The city of Columbia, where Comstock has monuments to himself.

I believe the meaning of the end is Booker is delivered to a universe where he accepts baptism, but this Booker drowns in the process. This prevents any universe with Comstock founding his fascist city in the clouds, but not any universe where Booker still exists. Comstock, I think, is meant to be a monument to sin. Something Booker is no stranger to, but the point is there are levels of sin. And you can make choices that prevent future issues. Basically everything you see in the city of Columbia is some kind of abomination. Whether a demented museum exhibit dedicated to his exploits at the Boxer Rebellion and Wounded Knee, to a segment of the game that is literally a horror game with ghosts, to scientific abominations like the quantum particles that keep the city afloat, portaling between universes or tonics that give you super powers.

Elizabeth, your daughter, spent her whole life locked up in a small tower. Constantly being watched, unbeknownst to her. No contact with the outside world besides books, and the ability to open portals to other universes that kept her under lock and key. From the beginning, her understanding is that her ability is some form of wish fulfillment. When you are low on health, she opens a portal to some medkits, when you cannot possibly complete the story objective, she takes you to a universe where you can. She eventually has the barriers holding back her power destroyed, and finds she is actually omniscient. Able to see into any reality.

These barriers coming down is how diagnosis felt to me. Even though it was a long road ahead, sitting there and hearing those words meant coming home from a war of uncertainty I had been fighting my whole life. I have always remembered having mental health issues that have manifested themselves in diverse ways. Difficult to diagnose. There are infinite universes of possibility with how your mental illness will affect you specifically. The solution, as Elizabeth knows, is staying away from universes where you become a version of yourself you hate. For me, this means regular check-ins with both my psychiatrist and therapist, as well as taking my medication regularly. On top of other general self care things.

Credit: BioShock Infinite. Screenshot by me. Regular exercise may surprise you by improving overall health, including mental.

At one point, Booker asks Elizabeth, “Do you really think a dip in the water is going to change the things I have done?” As if to say, of course it will not. The key is to foster universes that can live with those things. Booker spoke something similar to Elizabeth earlier when she asked him how he deals with everything he has been through, to which he replies he does not, he just learns to live with it.

This struggle is the story of recovery. There’s no magic river that is going to wipe away what you’ve experienced, or what you are, but you can fight for a universe that you can accept. It may not always feel like the universe accepts you, but I think of diagnosis as a medal on my uniform and treatment my shield. When Booker and Elizabeth enter a particular universe, they find that in this one, Booker died a martyr in the anti-Columbia/Comstock revolution. Your Booker is so puzzled to find the posters saying he is martyr, because he would never lay his life on the line for anybody.

Sometimes I look back on my journey see amazing progress. I have been very depressed, anxious, paranoid, and overwhelmed by feelings that are hard express. Nowadays I am pretty chill. I find enjoyment in every day, I surround myself with things that are positive, and I am always staying in treatment to keep healthy. It might have all been for my own gain ultimately, but that doesn’t defeat the sacrifice I have made. Much like the “revolutionary” Booker Dewitt. I identify with Booker Dewitt, as we both see our history as the debt I have to pay to myself for knowing how it feels to be truly lost.

Mental health analysis of video games is my number one passion. I intend to do this frequently on Twitch as soon as I can afford a decent setup. My old Mixer setup just doesn’t cut it anymore. I love sharing my story, and the little bit of knowledge I gained studying psychology on the side at university. There’s still so much more I could say about this game; it resonated deeply with me. Please leave a comment to tell me how you feel, go check out my reviews of the BioShock collection, and play it for yourself if you haven’t.

Credit: BioShock Infinite. Screenshot by me. The initial baptism at the entrance to Columbia, in which Booker goes through the motions to gain entry.

One thought on “BioShock Infinite and The Power of Recovery

  1. This was so incredibly interesting. I feel like you put some of my feelings into beautiful words that I could never explain on my own. I found myself rereading some of these sentences so I could keep them with me. Reading about your journey is inspiring. Also now I really really want to play this game.

    Liked by 1 person

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