Finishing Bioshock Infinite and loving on narrative-driven games.

Last night I finished Bioshock Infinite. I have to thank the folks I know who played it long before I did and opted not to spoil it for me. The last 25-30% of the game totally won me over and I went from feeling somewhat ambivalent about the game to absolutely loving it. I’m so glad I played through it.

I’m going to continue the not-spoiling tradition, so that’s all I’m going to say about Bioshock Infinite for now. But as I sat there — kind of slack-jawed — watching the credits roll, it got me thinking about the different reasons people play games.

In my social networking circles, single player games have fallen out of favor. Most of the people I associate with don’t play them, or if they do they never finish them. They get bored without having other people around. I’m very much the opposite: when I’m playing a good single player game I just lose myself in it and escape to another world. I can’t really do that when I’m also talking to other people. Maybe there’s some deeper meaning there about my level of happiness with ‘real life’ and why I’m so drawn to escaping it for awhile, but we’ll leave that question for the next time I’m on Dr. Phil.

When talking about narrative-driven games in particular (my favorite kind of single player game) there’s a faction of gamers who off-handedly dismiss them by saying something like “If I want a movie I’ll watch a movie.” Most narrative-driven games are fairly linear; it’s really hard to give the player many significant choices and still keep a strong narrative going.

I can understand that push-back; I like sandbox games because they let you generate your own narrative. But there’s something about a strong narrative-driven game (think Red Dead Redemption, think The Last of Us, and yeah, think Bioshock Infinite) that just enthralls me in a way that few movies really can. I think it has to do with having to “work” to push the story forward. I’m sure there’s some psychological term for how we appreciate things more when we work for them, but I don’t know what it is. Suffice to say that few movies have the kind of impact on me that a strong narrative-driven single player game can.

And speaking of working (while running down a tangent), I really didn’t like the first part of Bioshock Infinite. I didn’t hate it, but I found aspects of it pretty annoying (you can read my post from last week for a recap of why). I’m now really glad I stuck it out, which in turn makes me think of all the times I’ve said, or friends have said, or journalists have said “If a game doesn’t grab me in the first 10 minutes I just move on.”

I wonder how many wonderful experiences we cheat ourselves out of by not being a little more patient and giving the designers some time to set the stage.

If you haven’t, and if you like narrative-driven games at all, I suggest you play Bioshock Infinite. I played it at the ‘normal’ setting and it wasn’t very hard at all (and I’m not a very skilled gamer). On easy mode it must be a complete cake-walk (to the point of not being enjoyable, I suspect…there’s a point where a lack of difficulty turns gameplay into a repetitive chore) and if you play games for their challenge definitely play it on hard.

I hope this post is somewhat cohesive; I shouldn’t start writing stuff like this when I only have 15 minutes before work starts!