Gather ’round the campfire for a tale of a father’s woeful misdeeds with Bioshock Infinite.
I regularly review a lot of games and gaming products, and I’m also a busy father of two sons with a full-time day job and a busy schedule. I have to steal slivers of time for my “jobby” when I can.
My kids (2 boys, ages 7 and 9 at the time of this tale) were engaged in the nightly Getting-Ready-For-Bed ritual, so I decided to fire up the review copy of Bioshock Infinite I had just received. I just wanted to play through the tutorial quickly, get to the ‘meat’ of the game, and then quit and save for when the kids were in bed.
I was perfectly aware that Bioshock Infinite was rated M for Mature, mainly because it’s a First Person Shooter and has mature themes in it.
Bioshock Infinite starts innocuously enough as you make your way down a long corridor and stroll through the majestic, floating city of Columbia—a shiny Steampunk city in the sky, circa 1920. At this point, I was just exploring more or less ‘on the rails’ while admiring the graphics.
Occasionally one of my kids wanders in, curious about what dad is doing. I let them watch brief tidbits before sending them off with new marching orders to brush their teeth or change into jammies, at which point they pry their curious eyes away from what Dad is doing and trundle off, undoubtedly hurrying through their tasks so they can return.
Eventually, I arrive at the stage where a seemingly festive mob has gathered. I’m not sure what is happening yet or what to expect at this point, but my ‘gamer-sense’ tells me this is just before all hell is going to break loose.
I take a baseball with a number on it.
The stage announcer (predictably) cheerily announces I have the winning number!
Here comes the son
And it was about this time my youngest son (7yo) marched into my office—teeth brushed, pajamas on, and ready for bed. He asks what I’m playing. We chat a little. I am distracted and only half-paying attention to what is happening on screen.
A white male and black female are on stage, bound in ropes. My “prize” is throwing the baseball at the couple—basically a public stoning for a mixed-race couple.
You can choose to throw the baseball at the couple on the stage, or throw it at the announcer. Throwing the ball at the couple is morally reprehensible. Throwing it at the announcer is sure to have repercussions.
It would have been great if I could turn this moment into a profound lesson about history, racism, or nearly any topic other than what was about to happen.
I should add at this point that although I did, in fact, try to explain to my son what was going on and why it was bad, I didn’t know what was about to happen. I was still distracted and just kind of clicking through things. I lost track of what was going on in the game. I figured that I could always pause the game in the event of an emergency.
And if you’re familiar with Bioshock Infinite, you know what’s coming.
Regardless of whether you choose to throw the baseball at the couple or the announcer, 2 guards grab you before you can make the throw.
One holds your arm. The other brandishes a skyhook—a spinning, blade-like wheel used to traverse the rails that run throughout the floating city of New Columbia. You’ve been “made” as the “false prophet” (i.e. spy, interloper, protagonist, whatever you want to call it).
As this is still the scripted prologue, your only option is to press the keys and do what the game tells you—which results in you tossing the ball in the air, grabbing guard A, and thrusting his face into the menacing sky hook brandished by Guard B.
will be is a whole hell of a lot of blood
Face meets spinning blade. Guard screams. A volcanic geyser of gore and blood erupts.
In the few seconds it takes all this to happen, I thrust my hand up to try and block the screen—a useless effort for a 27” monitor. “Uh, don’t look! No, wait, go to bed!” I tell him frantically.
Too late. My son is already captivated by the on-screen action, but covering his eyes with his hand while peering between a crack in his fingers.
“Oh my god! Oh my god! Oh my god!” he yells. The lone eye peeping out from behind his wall of fingers is twice its normal size.
I frantically scramble to hit the ESC key and pause the game, hoping to shield my son from the violence with a pause menu. Despite years of PC gaming experience, I lose composure and scramble frantically for the ESC key. (I feel like Khan in Star Trek II. “The override! The override! Where is the override?!”)
It’s over in the span of about 5 seconds. Guard A and B are both quickly dispatched. The game is finally paused.
I quietly tilt my head to the side on my fingertips, trying to figure out what to tell my son. The manual for child-rearing doesn’t quite cover this specific scenario aside from an appendix of phone numbers for good therapists.
I look at my son, who is staring at the screen wide-eyed, his hands lowered but still over his mouth. Before I can order him to bed, he finally speaks.
he exclaims excitedly.
“Can I see it again?”