It's not Booker that particularly intrigues me, or Elizabeth, or even the enemy types they face. And while Columbia looks very cool and I look forward to exploring the implausible architecture, that's not what has me sold either.
The moment I knew I wanted to play BioShock Infinite was when I first saw this mural, in the opening of that first gameplay video. This, I realized, was a game that was actually going to comment on the most difficult issues in American culture and history, even if only glancingly. BioShock Infinite was actually going to take on race and bigotry.
The mural that hangs in Columbia stands as a who's-who gallery of ugly, nasty racial and ethnic stereotypes straight from the pages of our history books. In the image that so transfixed me, a greedy Jew, a drunken Irishman, a porcine Mexican, and two offensive iterations each of the Chinese and Native Americans, along with others, stand grasping at the feet of a thoroughly deified George Washington, come down from Mount Sinai with the Ten Commandments in one holy hand and the Liberty Bell in the other.
For thirty seconds, the game camera lingers on this one image, forcing viewers to take it in one abhorrent caricature at a time. Another nine minutes of video follow, but this is the first image we see of Columbia, the image that lays out our setting and hands us the rules of our world.
It's an image with no small amount of power. Without any character saying a single word, we know what drives this culture, and we know that it is a culture predicated on the idea of the perfectly white, entirely Christian America that never was.
The late 19th and early 20th centuries were a time of remarkable innovation. Industrialization had well and truly taken hold in the United States and the era was marked by seemingly never-ending waves of invention that changed society and the world in major ways. In under a hundred years, the internal combustion engine, the photograph, the telegraph, the motion picture, electricity, the automobile, and even flight all came tumbling one after another.
But with rapid change comes fear. And in an era of imperialism and immigration, fear and hatred of the Other took firm hold. Slavery ended with the Civil War, but Jim Crow laws followed in its wake. Chinese immigrants coming to California were as foreign as foreign could be, and Jewish communities coming from central and eastern Europe and Russia weren't welcomed much more on the East coast. Anti-Catholic sentiment was waved like a club against wave after wave of Irish and Italian immigrants.
American society reached an extraordinary number of achievements and innovations by the early 20th century. But the undercurrent of racism and fear was never far below the surface of the shiny new technology. Nor has it ever been. To see a game that not only looks into culture at the dawn of the 20th century, but also acknowledges that race is a problem in Columbia, just as it is in America, is a game I want to play.