Technically, BioShock Infinite has no multiplayer mode; you can only play the single-player story. But let's look beyond how we traditionally understand multiplayer games for a moment. If we do, what we find is that just because a game doesn't come packaged with a multiplayer mode doesn't mean it can't become a multiplayer experience. Multiplayer games are just games played by multiple people, right?
At one point during BioShock Infinite's development, traditional multiplayer was in the works, yes. We reported about two different multiplayer modes that were eventually axed: one that put players in an old-timey arcade machine, and one that was similar to the Spec-Ops mode in Call of Duty. According to our report, the idea was that multiplayer should be included as a means to deter people from trading Infinite in to used game stores, as multiplayer can prolong how much time people spend playing a game.
And while in November Ken Levine confirmed that there would be no multiplayer, I'm pretty sure the game I've been playing lately is a multiplayer Infinite. Spoilers follow!
Friend of mine said the other day "The multiplayer of Infinite is really in the debates and speculation online."— Cliff Bleszinski (@therealcliffyb) April 13, 2013
I suspect that many of us—after sitting there stunned, wondering what the hell just happened—did the same thing after finishing BioShock Infinite. Part of it is that some of us filter a lot of our experience through social media and feel a compulsion to share our opinion on the Internet. Part of it is that, well, Infinite is a mindf*ck.
Infinite's story is mysteriously constructed in that there's little a player can say with confidence about the world. Much of what we walk away with necessitates speculation, inference and deduction.
- What exactly happened at the end?
- If we set off a paradox, did anything we do in the game actually happen?
- How did it take Booker so long to find Elizabeth, by that point an old wrinkly woman?
- To what degree can we draw parallels between Rapture and Columbia?
- Why do we need to kill Booker to allegedly end his tragic paths if there are infinite universes? Doesn't that make them finite?
There are, to be hyperbolic, a million questions. And you might have theories; I've spent a good deal of time going online and reading the crazy, sometimes awesome, and always intriguing musings on what happened in BioShock. But many of the questions that Infinite raises don't have a definitive answer—not until/if Ken Levine sets the record straight, anyway. That's part of the fun.
In backslashdance's video, we can see an attempt to share with the world a parsing of everything that happened in Infinite, particularly when it comes to the stuff that makes little sense.
And so after BioShock ended, I'm sure that many of us raced online to see what others were saying about the game; we rushed to talk to people about what we had just experienced. We felt the need to make sense of it all, and the best way to do it was to make a game that isn't 'social' in the traditional sense of the word into a shared experience. I feel as if much of my understanding of the game has been crowdsourced.
The arguments, debates and obsession to figure Infinite out strikes me as a multiplayer mystery game that starts when you finish the main BioShock story. And this is that we're barely a few weeks into BioShock's release! I can only image what people will draw out from the game after they have more time to dig into it, or after Irrational releases additional content for the game. The ambiguity is key to the experience here; without it, BioShock Infinite would merely be a big game that lots of people talk about, as they are wont to do.
My hope is that other developers take note and think about which ways they can make games into social experiences outside of the game itself—and outside of what can obviously be monetized and controlled by the developer. It might save us from games where multiplayer feels shoehorned in. It might also create experiences that are way more interesting than your run-of-the-mill team deathmatch—or heck, more compelling than the main game itself.
Infinite has no multiplayer mode, and yet it's the best multiplayer game I've played in a while.
The Multiplayer is a weekly column that looks at how people crash into each other while playing games. It runs every Monday at 6PM ET.