Tuesday, 2 July 2013

Bioshock Infinite Makes Me Learn

As I made my way through interactive historical marvels, walked along marble floors listening to voxophones and stopped occasionally at the nearest kinetoscope to delve into the rich history of Columbia, I realised that Bioshock Infinite is the best museum experience I have ever had. I was learning, and it was fun – something was horribly wrong with me.

I’ve been to museums before, but this was something completely different. There were no droning lectures - no gentle, defeated murmurs coming from the hungover employees; there wasn't even a single stegosaurus in sight. I was being led through the long halls of a fictional, historical knowledge and was surprised at how much I was enjoying myself.

I found myself stopping at every building, display and carnival game with a puppy-like eagerness. I’d unabashedly run into the middle of people’s conversations in order to hear what they had to say; their cued dialogue was like pressing the start button on an informative animatronic display. Everything was a new piece of information about this new and exciting place – I had discovered a new world and tried to cram my brain with as much knowledge as possible.

Damnit, my teachers were right, I did enjoy the excitement of learning. When I came to the Hall of Heroes, the comparison was starting to become a little too literal. Now I was inside a museum, and it was made explicitly aware that I was learning. I thought this would detract from my knowledge-lust, but as I made my way through the museum’s red, white, blue and slightly racist hallways, I found my interest still hung like a lead weight around my neck, dragging me down to every plaque and poster I stumbled across.

Voxophones were like my headset guide, revealing tiny nuggets of revelation that were tucked away in my ore of knowledge. They grounded the fantastical Columbia into the dark, harsh reality of everyday life; with comparisons to slavery, xenophobia and class warfare the voxophones tore away the fluffy clouds and replaced them with dark, ominous thunderclouds. My fascinations began to grow deeper and darker as this farcical history juxtaposed our own morbid reality.

The kinetoscopes achieved the very opposite, they fanned the sails of Columbia and its people, promoting the peace, placidity and pompous segregation that built this wondrous city. It was like reading two differing accounts, by two different authors on the same historical event, you couldn't discount one until you had read the full recount of the other. I was becoming confused, something I was used to when my brain tried to reject new knowledge coming in. Not because it was confronting, or difficult to grasp, just because it doesn't particularly like going to the effort.

Thankfully the gift store was close by – in fact, it was all around me. Desks, drawers and bedside cabinets were full of a veritable cartload of goodies. Salts, eagles, apples and oranges spilled from casks, barrels and boxes and straight into my grubby little fingers. I was content to scrounge - each history lesson broken up by a sneaky glance in a forgotten purse or a misplaced wallet.

Bioshock Infinite brings the tedium of monotonous lectures into the open arms of its players by creating an interactive mix of museum and house of horrors that encourages learning. Now, if we could get Irrational Games into the schooling board... 

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