It’s Game of the Year season again, and Bioshock: Infinite looks primed to come away with a number of awards. This is, of course, a horrifying statement about race and the videogames community at large. The cultural influence of Infinite has yet to produce anything positive, and instead empowered racists in their agendas.
As one of the few people who has actually bothered to critically look at racism in Bioshock: Infinite, and continued to cover the issues and bigotry surrounding and following it, it’s horrifying to me that we now live in an age where unironic outwardly racist groups are using promo art from Bioshock: Infinite as propaganda postings online.
EDIT: I am mistaken in the above paragraph. In my fervor I forgot a good amount of pieces critically looking at race in Bioshock: Infinite, and am including some links provided to me by Elizabeth Simins. They’re all must-reads, of course.
Which isn’t as “ironic” as it sounds considering Bioshock: Infinite is just as racist as the National Liberty Foundation, they just, well, know how to hide it better. They know how to wrap it in fancy art and pseudo-intellectual sci-fi bullshit, the assumed authority as a “creator” declaring that revolutionaries resisting their oppressors are simply Nat Turners waiting to happen, and that “the truth is in the middle” somehow. To quote Robert Moore:
The truth is in the middle, whispers Kevin Levine as he pens this script. After watching such situations of racism and oppression, he pulls back the sheet as he’s done in other games on the big, halfway twist. I’ve played all of Levine’s games, I’ve seen it. I expected the leader of this revolution, this Fitzroy woman, to be wicked and corrupt, our SHODAN or Fountaine. But he continues and makes a more sweeping reveal - the people of columbia feared all these individuals to be savages and monsters and lo’ and behold, they are.
Was there anybody non-white on staff to shake their head at this? They really couldn’t find someone on the street to say "whoa dude, this is getting kinda racist?"
If a person of color wants to be respected and liberated, they have to go down the whitewashed history of Ghandi and Martin Luther King, Jr., not the “savages” like Malcom X who dared to take arms and defend his community. Even then, that’s not true if you actually listen to PoC activists like Suey Park recount the bullshit they have had to put up with over the years from supposed “white allies” who only seek to prove their own goodness in the world.
In modern society, racism to white people is simply dressing up in white hoods and lynching black folk in public. It’s a costume, a hilarious caricature of evil to us that we feel ever so distant to, that we would never possibly make that mistake again, right? As long as I’m not *that,* I can’t possibly be racist! Of course, thousands upon thousands of pages written by people who have actually suffered under racism and numerous personal accounts as well as statistics and endless studies have proven that America is still a very racist, and a very un-free country for a great number of people. Even with all that, many if not most white people will deny they even benefit from modern racism, which is a factually based reality people of color have to deal with on a daily basis.
So of course, having an entirely white led creative team, Bioshock: Infinite was a racist piece of trash that will most likely go on to win numerous Game of the Year awards and go down in the history books as “true art” by the games scholars of the Western world. It’s not like other spheres of the art world have a long history of white supremacy, games are no different. Simply more embarrassing with the endless mountains of actually anti-racist material written and produced nowadays, especially at an entry level format.
Upon my discovering of the National Liberty Foundation’s appropriation of the supposedly “satirical” artwork of Ken Levine’s brainchild, I proceeded to ask him if he was proud of himself for giving ammo to such horrific people.
"Village idiot," he calls me. Not caring about the victims of racism, not attacking the racists using his material to forward their views… it’s me, daring to criticize him, the supposedly "enlightened" creative genius. I’m the idiot, too many hours reading bell hooks and Malcolm X to be able to possibly think for myself. How dare I, little well-read blogger man, speak against a captain of industry like himself?
You see, the “it takes a village” comment is what tickles my funny bone. Ken Levine’s been in the industry a rather long time, dating back to System Shock 2. Of course, it’s indisputable fact the games industry is primarily staffed with straight white males, if not according to the IGDA (http://archives.igda.org/diversity/IGDA_DeveloperDemographics_Oct05.pdf) then the endless hate speech from “gamers” using slurs “ironically.” If white people with awful views surround themselves with other white folk who share those views, it’s an endless pinball machine of back and forth bullshit where one’s racism is simply reinforced and grows bolder.
Of course, with a smash hit like Bioshock in 2008 and a games criticism community too infantile and centered around the simple storylines and mechanics of AAA, Levine was hailed as an intellectual and creative genius, creating a (heavily-scripted) world of (not that intellectual at all) wonder.
Not too long ago, intellectual giant and rap artist Kanye West asks us in the 2010 masterpiece My Dark Twisted Fantasy, “you got the power to let power go?”
Levine didn’t. He let it go right to his head, and decided his magnum opus would tackle the harsh issues of racism and time travel. Actually, he decided to make it about being a strong white angry dad man-shooter, protecting a precious innocent white girl (who brutally murders a Nat Turner inspired caricature of a black resistance leader) with time travel and racism being window dressing. Time travel’s one thing, but a entirely white head creative team using anti-black racism as a backdrop for a pile of bodies a strong angry white man stands atop of?
This is the problem with Irrational Games and Ken Levine’s attempt at “anti-racist satire,” if you’re just generating and presenting “ironically” racist content that is indistinguishable from actually racist content, and you end up equating historically accurate violent oppression to completely imagined and irrelevant violent resistance so the player can brutally slaughter hundreds of black people for your finale, you’re not being satirical at all.
Levine’s insult towards me is pretty telling - it was retweeted and favorited dozens of times, and I got plenty of hate mentions sent my way. But you know what’s funny?
(note: Jonathan Ore is not white, and has asked me to let you know he mostly agrees with what I’m saying. Which is totally a-okay! My bad for including him in this, and I apologize.)
Just how could that be? How could that possibly be?! I thought Levine had made “true art,” a real intellectual masterpiece! One that would cross racial boundaries and unite us all in wonder and racial harmony! Yet, all I see are a bunch of white pasty nerds flooding my mentions with everything from accusing me of “logical fallacies” to trying to compare the Vox Populi to the Jews during the Holocaust and the atrocities of Israel’s government following it, in hilariously inept leaps of logic.
Consider how fucking white the games industry is and how fucking long Ken Levine has been in it, dating back to System Shock 2 in 1997, it makes one wonder if he’s ever even talked to a black person. Does he even have one black friend? You know, the one that proves we’re not racist, when LBJ passed the My Black Friend law after MLK was assassinated. All us white people have to have at least one black friend to prove racism is over, if you didn’t know.
You see, white people like Ken Levine and Robinson Meyer of The Atlantic, that’s satire; not your half assed attempts spouting “ironically” racist bullshit. Satire is actually tearing down a bad thing - not just showing it at face value and going “ha ha ain’t it great we’re not literally shooting blacks in the street anymore, right guys? That Kanye West so crazy thinking Bush don’t care about black people!”
Except, uh, wait.
Black men are killed by police, security guards, and vigilantes once every 36 hours in America. Instead of shutting the fuck up and listening to what Dave Chappelle was actually saying, especially about the difference between outspoken and cloaked racism, white people were sitting around shitting themselves laughing “fuck your couch n*****” around the office water cooler back in ‘04. Ashamed, Dave abandoned fame and the comedy world lost a great man. He attempted to return, and when the white members of the audience heckled him to repeat Chappelle’s Show skits, he stormed off once again, rightly so.
At the end of the day, we white folk learned that outspoken racism wasn’t acceptable anymore, but instead we can get away with subtle racism in public, as long as it’s cloaked appropriately. We can get away with “forgetting” all the horrible shit done to get people of color out of Oregon after the civil war and laugh at goofy Portlandia segments. Shows like “Friends” or “Girls” can take place in New York City, one of the most supposedly intermixed melting pots of America, yet feature entirely white people as the main characters. Infinite demands it sets the terms for black liberation, without an ounce of input from them.
At the end of Bioshock: Infinite, the player character has a bodycount in the hundreds at his feet, initially the white racists of Columbia soon followed by the black and Irish bodies of the resistance, based not on actual black resistance to white oppression during 1912, but completely unrelated Russian and French Revolutions, with a little Nat Turner thrown in. Levine imagines himself a thought leader, bravely declaring South Park level bullshit that the truth is somewhere in the middle. To quote Tumblr user starburp:
do you know why you did this? because the black people in this storyline aren’t fucking people. they’re props. literally. they are props. and that’s what i find so fucking offensive about bioshock infinite, is that it makes black people props in a storyline in which white people get to revise white history through all kinds of fanciful sci fi wizardry in order to make themselves feel better while STILL excluding and marginalizing black people, and we’re supposed to be happy about it. okay. thank you. thank you so much for being so concerned about faithfully depicting black life in 1912 in a floating white supremacist city in the clouds in which people can travel between space and time that you forgot to depict any other aspect of historical reality or even to give the black people in the game fucking brains
no, actually what you did is create a whole fantasy 1912 in which you relegated blacks to symbolically representing the demon of overt historical white racism because that is the only demon white people are willing to fight (because it’s already obsolete, so there’s no real challenge there), forget how you just fucking perpetuated racism with your stupid fucking game
white people present this reality to the exclusion and marginalization of all other realities, and then they give themselves a pat on the back for kind of thinking about racism for like a couple of days, and then they turn viciously defensive when poc confront their stupid inane inaccurate version of reality, even though the fact that poc feel excluded and marginalized by it should be the only fucking evidence white people need to understand that they fucked up
Emphasis again mine.
Yet with all this supposed intellectualism, a white ubermensch of slaughter reigns supreme at the end of Bioshock: Infinite, and that in the end says more about Levine’s internalized racism and the state of race in videogames in 2013 than any witty Twitter comeback. You know, I bet it drives Levine nuts, the popularity Kanye West has. The fact that a man who proclaims “put that pussy in a sarcophagus” has far more to say about the world than Levine ever will.
Instead Ken stands atop his money and fame profiteering off of exploiting black history, amongst a village of white, racist idiots, he being the biggest of them all with nothing of worth to say.
It certainly takes a village, Ken. You just happened to immerse yourself in one of the absolute worst. When your village consists of almost entirely white people, you’re probably in no place to speak about the histories of people of color, and Bioshock: Infinite’s lasting testament is tantamount proof of this fact. That is your legacy, Ken - one of continuing the long legacy of white supremacy in games, and nothing more.