This post contains spoilers about BioShock: Infinite and the Zero Escape series (Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Lives; Virtue’s Last Reward). If you have not played those games and don’t want to be spoiled, please stop reading now.
I have finally completed BioShock: Infinite and unlike many gamers out there, I am not surprised at the ending at all. That’s because I have played the Zero Escape series before finishing Infinite, and both games use very similar methods of storytelling: the concept of altering a reality by changing or experiencing the events of a different universe. From the moment we discover that Elizabeth is able to rip open the fabric of space and time, I was already able to guess what direction the story would take. My 40+ hours of playing the Zero Escape series had given me ample preparation for Infinite’s mindfucking moments.
These are the types of stories that would only work in a videogame, because the traditional text-only format of a novel would be quite limited in explaining and showing the viewer the concept of multiverses. Multiverses are very common in comic books, and the ability to show graphics goes a long way in explaining parallel realities. But videogames clearly have the advantage here, because they are far more immersive. The greatest trick of Nine Hours was its ingenious use of the dual screens of the NDS. Virtue’s Last Reward gave players a timeline map of all the possible alternate realities, allowing you to jump into any point of the story at any time.
Infinite just simply forces you to replay the game all over again. Everything takes on a whole new meaning once you understand the game’s revelation, and it’s also an uncanny way for the game to break the fourth wall: your subsequent playthroughs, and how you technically cannot die in the game, could all be interpreted as alternate realities where DeWitt is replaying his actions and taking a different path.
It’s very dangerous to use multiverses as the core concept of a story, because it opens up the possibilities for lazy writing and narrative bullshit (just look at how DC Comics handled their Final Crisis arc). However, if you can pull it off, it leaves a lasting impression and will always stay memorable for the consumer. Infinite just barely does it right, and Zero Escape is a good example of how to push the phenomenon to the extreme. It’s a good time to invest yourself in unique story-driven games, and I hope that more developers and writers will continue this promising trend.