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I guess I just like liking things

A friend of mine writes poetry and sends it to me now and again for me to respond to.  Honestly, I don’t generally understand poetry. I can appreciate imagery and word use, but I don’t get allusions and hidden meanings at all.  I would be the worst detective. Often I’ll enjoy the poem, but won’t really know why and certainly can’t explain it to him.  One day, though, I hit on the word “evocative,” and that’s become my go-to word. I doubt it’s particularly helpful to him, but it does the best job at conveying what I mean: it moved me, but I can’t explain how or why exactly.

Elizabeth doesn't really need you to take care of her, but you'll want to anyway.

Elizabeth doesn’t really need you to take care of her, but you’ll want to anyway.

I finished BioShock Infinite yesterday, and had basically the same reaction. Don’t worry, I won’t spoil anything for you – for once I’m glad I went into this one unspoiled myself. Hidden among the violence and shooting and bludgeoning and fire and falling and everything else was a compelling story I really wanted to uncover. Sure, there’s plenty of looting and buying upgrades and finding your way around and all the normal stuff you have in games, but the gamemakers did a fantastic job of making me want to know “What in the world is going on around here?” Now, I’m sure at least a part of that comes from having played the first BioShock game, so I was expecting something more than the usual business, but most of it was the presentation of the mystery.

By the end of it, once the mystery was as unraveled as it was going to get, I just sat there, mulling it over. There were a couple of things I wasn’t sure I really got completely, but for the most part I was all right. I really enjoyed the story and the way it was told, and I’ve said to a couple of people, “I think I loved it.”

I don’t read books near as much as I used to. As much as it would pain any English teacher I’ve ever had, movies and games have become a type of literature for me. I would still call books the superior form, certainly, but a movie or game that tells its story particularly well can have much the same effect on a person. (This is, of course, the part where I disagree with Roger Ebert’s “games can’t be art” argument, but I’m not going to get into that today.) Even games I find out that I don’t particularly enjoy once I’m into it a ways are things I feel compelled to finish, just so I can see how it ends up. The most recent example for me is Hitman: Absolution. I didn’t really know much about the series going into it, I was more interested in the gameplay mechanics of sneaking around and using “any means necessary” to get the job done. Somewhere along the way, the gameplay got really old and frustrating for me, but by that time I really wanted to see how the story played out. And that’s for characters who have a couple of other games as backstories already but were new to me. Throw a Lara Croft in my direction and I’m even more interested in the story because I have a strong connection to the character already.

A good story does so much more than entertain. I have gained countless perspectives from stories that I would never have gotten any other way: this is the power of stories, whether they be fiction or non-fiction. I can learn a point of view from a biography on Martin Luther King, Jr., and I can also learn from the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, just, you know, probably not the same things. The more well-read you are, the better informed you can be and the better prepared you can be for dealing with your neighbor, your coworker, and Random Guy at the store. I would change “well-read” to “well-storied,” I think, to more accurately describe what I mean, but the outcome can be the same.

The beauty of storytelling is that different people will react in different ways to the exact same story. You might play BioShock Infinite and hate it. You might like parts of it and not other parts. You might come away from it with different feelings about organized religion than you had before you played, or your beliefs will remain the same, or you might not even care about that aspect.  That last part was me, by the way. Sure, the game goes a long way to couch the goings-on in religion and prophecy, but for me the story took on its own life outside of that, and that’s a perspective you’re likely to find weird once you’ve played the game. For me the story was Booker and Elizabeth, the journey they’re on together, thrown together for reasons we don’t exactly know. I came to care very much about what happened to both of them, whether it was together or separate.

At the end of it, this is a game that will stick with me. I’ll read articles and theories about it, and I’m sure that will help shape my ultimate opinion on it. But for right now there’s a kind of lovely mist surrounding it, where I’m pretty sure I loved it even if I can’t exactly explain why.


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