Lessons in Companionship

I’ve been playing BioShock: Infinite since it came out last Tuesday, and it is phenomenal. It is beautiful, challenging, has a great story, excellent mechanics, and pretty much makes me want to spend all my time there.

For non-gamers, BioShock Infinite is the third in a series of dystopian first-person shooter (or FPS) games, where you play as the shooter–basically, you are the main character. (Here’s my quick explanation from before the game came out). In this story, you are a mysterious guy sent to retrieve a girl, Elizabeth, from a sky-city. It’s 1912 and everything has a bit of a steampunk vibe. You get guns to shoot bad guys with and superpowers to help you interact with this city.

I’m only about halfway through, so I’m not sure how it’s going to end, but this game is already standing out for me, all because of Elizabeth.

Elizabeth is a sassy character who is NOT afraid to beat you over the head with a heavy physics book.

She is hands-down the BEST companion I have ever seen in a video game. And maybe in a TV show. And she’s one of the best I’ve ever seen in a book, too, (excepting maybe The Lord of the Rings, because hobbits).

Compared to the other media, video games have a few extra challenges with their companions: they have to not get killed in combat; they have to have a bunch of replies/interactions depending on what the player does; and they have to be able to keep up (any gamer can tell you horror stories about glitches where they have “lost” a companion character because the game warped them ahead or behind, and they had to go back and start from a save point to try to recover them. It’s not fun).

Not only does Elizabeth manage to do all of these things well, she’s got serious personality. And she’s genuinely helpful. And, above all, she is not a damsel in distress (though she does start out locked in a tower and you have to rescue her). Check out that video if you want to see the problems with ladies trapped in towers: it can get ugly.

But no; though you do start out as Elizabeth’s rescuer, she later chooses to stay with you. (She might later choose to stab the player in the back, for all I know. We’ll find out!) This completely changes the dynamic! Now she’s not just a helpless girl following her big, heavily armed hero around because she has to: she made a choice.

Woah.

And then here’s where she really starts to be cooler than many TV companion characters (I’m looking at you, Doctor Who)–she’s not helpless. She has at least three sets of abilities that help you BOTH get through the game. Unlike other games where the companion character is really just something for the character to lug around from place to place (*ahem* Rose Tyler***; *ahem*Princess Peach; *ahem* 007 Goldeneye’s Natalya), you could not survive this game without Elizabeth.

Sure, she needs you; but you need her, too.

I’m not going to go too much into her powers (because, spoilers!), but Elizabeth provides a potent lesson for other game designers and writers in general: your supporting characters need to be fully developed characters in their own right.

Things I can tell you about Elizabeth:

  • She has three extremely helpful abilities.
  • She’s missing part of her little finger on her right hand. (Mysterious!)
  • She wants to go to Paris, France.
  • She enjoys painting and reading.
  • She was locked in a tower for most of her life.
  • She has a joie de vive about her, but can be a little naive.
  • She’s certainly intelligent, like, quantum physics intelligent.
  • She can fight back.
  • If you leave her alone, she’ll explore and interact with her environment, showcasing her creativity.
  • She doesn’t very much approve of your character’s morality, but she’s willing to go along with you if it’ll benefit her.

Wow. I’m only maybe halfway through the game! There’s a lot more I can learn, plus some of her abilities are growing to change with the flow of the game. I think I know more about Elizabeth than I know about my playable character.

She’s incredible. Props to 2K for creating such a fantastic character.

Other people: Be more like this. It makes me more interested in the story and more invested in your creation.

***I’ve only watched about half of the Rose Tyler episodes. Yes, I know, I’m behind. So I admit she might get better, but so far? She doesn’t really contribute much.

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4 Comments

Filed under Feminism, video games

4 responses to “Lessons in Companionship

  1. Elizabeth gets only more awesome as you go.

    The helpless companion thing in Doctor Who gets fixed, I think. But I don’t remember if it happens during Rose’s tenure or not. I don’t much care for rose, and never felt compelled to rewatch anything she was in.

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