Wot I Read – BioShock Infinite: Mind In Revolt

By Alec Meer on February 13th, 2013 at 4:00 pm.

Matters are rather different for the third BioShock game than they were for the first. While Irrational’s original had to grab attention from a machinegun-crazed mass audience, their next one comes with built-in renown, potentially affording the studio more opportunity and freedom to indulge themselves in other aspects of the game. Where BioShock’s undersea city of Rapture was, in hindsight, much more of a concept than a functioning place, BioShock Infinite’s floating metropolis Columbia seems to be striving harder to have an explicable and finely-sketched society.

Reflecting this is newly-released ebook novella Mind In Revolt, by Irrational’s Joe Fielder with assistance from Ken Levine, which could technically be described as a prequel but seems more designed to flesh out the social pressures bubbling under Columbia’s utopian surface in the way that the rollercoaster ride of an action videogame might not.

Approximately 30 pages long and requiring 20 minutes to read, it’s appropriately if perhaps slightly excessively-priced at a couple of quid – but is it useful and/or rewarding? Or is it hype-fluff with unnecessarily grand aspirations?

Bit of both, I’d say. The most impressive aspect of Joe Fielder’s short story is that it is relatively self-contained and could function as a standalone tale. There’s no science fiction or anything fantastical in there, aside from an alteration of historical events. Columbia’s sky-borne nature isn’t even mentioned, if I recall correctly. Mind in Revolt does require a small amount of familiarity with BioShock: Infinite’s concept, but that can be summarised as ‘a city seceded from the United States of America at the start of the 20th Century, and its people both are ruled by and worship a man who preaches religion, purity and racial intolerance.’ That this might evoke certain parts and mindsets of present-day America is unlikely to be an accident.

The book could be said to concern the battle between science and religion, with diversions into fanaticism, American slavery and the darker aspects of psychology. It also serves to set the scene for the civil war which grips Columbia, between the authoritarian forces of outwardly benevolent ruler/’prophet’ Father Comstock and ‘anarchist’ rebel faction the Vox Populi.

As I understand it, both these groups intermittently act as enemies to the player in the game proper, but Mind in Revolt affords greater understanding of why they’re at war: the brainwashed singlemindedness of the former and the vengeful, distorted social justice of the latter. By the end of the slim tone, it’s hard to call either side heroes, with the book consciously playing to Liberal predispositions only to later subvert them for dramatic effect.

It’s also a engrossing cold war of conversation, as central character and Comstock loyalist Dr Pinchot attempts to interrogate captured Vox Populi leader Daisy Fitzroy. Pinchot calls himself a scientist, but is blinded by religion, devotion and deep-set prejudice (an intelligence test of his own devising presupposes that only white males can score above a certain threshold). His weak-mindness and tendency towards supplication means “small-framed negro” Fitzroy, despite being under threat of torture and lobotomy, proves to be the one truly in control of their battle of wills and beliefs. (Incidentally, for the spoiler averse, the outcome of their slow encounter is openly revealed within the first two paragraphs of the novella – it’s document of how a man’s beliefs were taken apart rather than if they would be).

The book stumbles slightly in that a major event, of sorts, happens somewhat off-camera, requiring something of leap of faith on the reader’s part, plus there’s that niggling sense of simply reading an extended version one of the game’s audio-diaries and thus why need it be a standalone book? But it whet my appetite, it gave me greater understanding of the game’s primary factions and it caused a certain chill as it put me in mind of modern horrors such as the Westboro Baptist Church, Scientology and cult-of-personality regimes such as Syria and North Korea.

Mind In Revolt is fascinating, morally gruesome stuff, written from the perspective of an ignorant, prideful man who makes utterances such as “even as every man knows innately how to pray to God – even one born with a bone though his nose – it is sad truth that we all know how to sin, as well.” If the book’s central purpose is to establish that Columbia is so much more than a cool place to shoot dudes in, it absolutely succeeds. Written in character, with no visible author and with careful observance of the distorted language of a society governed by an extreme, fabricated morality, it’s a smart and compelling read, over all too soon.

eBook BioShock Infinite: Mind in Revolt is out now, so far only via Amazon. Or you get it for free if you pre-order the game via those ubiquitous tax-dodgers.

__________________

« | »

, , , , .

41 Comments »

  1. Eukatheude says:

    What does this have to do with games? More and more like Kotaku every day.

    • Ian says:

      Still, at least you made a point of coming in to comment on this article you didn’t want. That’s the important thing.

      • Eukatheude says:

        Whoosh

        • AndrewC says:

          If you are going to do funnies, you have to make your comment a bit different from the comments the idiots would actually post for real. Remember: you’re up against some *real* dummies on this here Internet, so you’re going to have to work double hard to mock them. Good luck!

          • Eukatheude says:

            That comment has been on the site name(or whatever it’s called. I mean the name that’s on your browser window. Like, now it’s “RPS: A lot more math and exploding meat”) for a while.

        • Ian says:

          Yeah, sorry, I just thought you were moaning.

      • DickSocrates says:

        I think he’s joking. Rather, I hope he’s joking.

      • f1x says:

        KOTAKUFACE!

        (That should help stablish the proper tone)

      • db1331 says:

        How did this garbage even get past my Alec Meer filter?

    • drewski says:

      The problem with satire on the internet is that it’s basically impossible to present a position so absurd that it cannot be interpreted as genuine.

  2. surv1vor says:

    Well this is a pleasant surprise. Isn’t this also a pre-order bonus for the game with Amazon?

  3. Ian says:

    Hmm. Is it joystick compatible?

  4. Penguin_Factory says:

    By the end of the slim tone, it’s hard to call either side heroes, with the book consciously playing to Liberal predispositions only to later subvert them for dramatic effect.

    If this is indicative of the direction the game is going to take it’s somewhat worrying. A lot of fiction dealing with a two-sided ideological conflict (particularly one based on real life ideologies, or meant to comment on them) takes this sort of even handed approach. I think that’s a good thing- I’m not interested in reading the author’s political screed dressed up as a story, even if I agree with their views- but it can lead to a situation where the writer is so determined not to take sides that they end up not really saying anything interesting.

    In one of Ken Levine’s recent interviews this came up as well, when he talked about some of the founding fathers’ more negative views that are often glossed over. It was interesting, but amounted to little more than calling them “complex”.

    Bioshock Infinite represents a chance to really hit home at some of the negative attitudes and ideologies of America, both current and historical; the game’s apparently unflinching portrayal of racism is commendable but I’m worried its treatment of more controversial topics will just be a lot of vague waffling and “well, I guess both sides are right, sort of”. For example, it’s telling that they decided to go with a fictional religion to explore fanatacism with rather than Christianity.

    • Juan Carlo says:

      That’s what pissed me off about “Bioshock,” actually. I think people were so impressed that a game was trying to deal with political and philosophical ideas at all in an overt way that they failed to notice how little the game actually says about anything and how completely shallow its engagement with its ideas is. I mean, Objectivism was basically just window dressing in that game. I’m not a fan of objectivism, but I’m not demanding any sort of objectivist take down or anything. I was just hoping that since the game bothered to invoke the subject at all it would at least engage it in some interesting way and say something, anything, about it—good or bad. But At the end of the day, it really didn’t say anything about “objectivism” at all….to the point that I kind of wondered why they bothered even using objectivism (apart from maybe just informing the game’s aesthetic world) as they basically could have substituted any political philosophy and the game would be no different. The ultimate message of the game is basically just “fanatacism/extremism = bad” which is all well and good, I guess, but it’s a really trite message.

      Bioshock is a weird game as it goes out of its way to invoke a bunch of controversial political topics, but whether the designers weren’t smart enough to follow through on their ideas or they were just too terrified of offending anyone by taking any sort of position on anything (beyond the most trite and obvious ones), as political commentary it’s entirely shallow and defanged. Which doesn’t give me much hope for the treatment of politics and religion in “Bioshock Infinite.”

      • amateurviking says:

        I dunno I thought it was a pretty strong rejection of objectivism and laissez faire capitalism given that the society based on those ideals tore itself apart and it’s main proponent (spoilers!) chose to die as a result of a reducto ad absurdum of those principles.

        Just my take though, I think it’s great that we can have this kind of conversation. Games are a potentially very powerful medium for exploring themes and ideas, although ‘mainstream’ games really don’t leverage that very often. Bioshock being a notable example to the contrary.

      • benkc says:

        The first Bioshock struck me as a pretty strong rejection of Objectivism, too.

    • Hazz-JB says:

      I agree there’s too much of a tendency to create a false equivalence between 2 positions (eg. fundamentalist religion and atheism.) In story telling this usually boils down to the “good” side losing sight of their ideals or doing bad deeds in the name of those ideals without actually abiding by them. This alone is fine and believable, but to imply that this makes that faction/army/political movement etc. as bad as the other side at a fundamental level is just arbitrary and dishonest.

    • Alec Meer says:

      Without wanting to say too much, it’s more that one side is morally correct by any stretch of the imagination but they’re still unpleasant about how they achieve their goals, rather than the game avoiding socio-political preference. Though I’ve only played a fraction of the game, so God only knows how it plays out.

      • FhnuZoag says:

        My impression seems to be that there’s a strong Revolutionary France aesthetic?

        • iucounu says:

          The founding of the USA had a strong Revolutionary France aesthetic.

          • frozenfisherman says:

            Actually, if you look at the dates, the French Revolution was influenced by the US revolution.

            Though the French aided the US revolutionaries/colonists, they were very much a Monarchy.

            *History Nerd Hat off*

          • cowardly says:

            Yup, so much so that Benjamin Franklin even inspired a French revolutionary song : http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/%C3%87a_Ira

            And some participated in both revolutions, contributing to them both practically and ideologically, like Thomas Paine (who even became and elected member of the French Convention Nationale).

            *Tips History Nerd hat back*

    • Eddy9000 says:

      ” I’m not interested in reading the author’s political screed dressed up as a story”

      Every story represents a political screed, some are just less overt than others but arguably it’s the less overtly political narratives that have the more insidious effect. At least bioshock was obvious enough that you could agree or disagree with it rather than have it worm into you unconsciously.

  5. DickSocrates says:

    They should have released this for free. It’s promotional material for the actual product.

    • Eukatheude says:

      I agree, it strikes me as fan milking.

    • soco says:

      Yeah, this could have been part of a collector’s edition of the game or a pre-order bonus or something along those lines.

      Charging for this on its own seems out of place.

  6. Eddy9000 says:

    “an intelligence test of his own devising presupposes that only white males can score above a certain threshold”

    Lovely attention to detail, the history of IQ testing and IQ as a concept is a really interesting one, driven by the desire to create a way of dividing people into positions of power or servitude. (Interestingly the notion of a single score IQ measuring general ability was strongly rejected by Binet, the creator of the first IQ test) . Of course tests designed by white western men will always be more difficult for people from other cultures, leading to the rascist discourse of black people being less intelligent and paving the way for Jensen’s made up data around brain size to be believed by the scientific community at the time. IQ test have really screwed BME communities.

    Interestingly to amend this situation Williams (1972) created an IQ test that was more representative of Afro-Carribean culture; called the “Black Intelligence Test of Cultural Homogeneity 100″ it had a rather unfortunate acronym and never achieved mainstream popularity.

    • jrodman says:

      After a bit of googling, I give up. What’s a BME community?

      • Eddy9000 says:

        Sorry, “Black and Minority Ethnic”, its a UK term.

        • Diziet Sma says:

          I’m glad you clarified that, I’m in the UK and I’ve not heard it before. BME always stands for Body Modification Ezine for me.

  7. zbmott says:

    I just want to say that the first time I tried to load this story, I got an HTTP Error 503: Service Temporarily Unavailable, and that Horace’s server error page is the greatest thing in the world.

    • Synesthesia says:

      Ha, it is! Though i can never get very far, somebody drop the walkthrough!

  8. BruceFnLee says:

    Please continue doing wot I read.