Columbian Nightmare: Narrative, History, and Nationalism in BioShock Infinite

Stefan Schubert (Leipzig University)

This article analyzes the video game BioShock Infinite for how its world, the history of the city it is set in, and its narrative events are suffused with questions of nationalism and imperialism. As an alternate-history first-person shooter, the game does not deal with imperialist or colonialist topics in a direct narrative manner or explicitly through its gameplay, but it does depict a world whose society is characterized by nationalism, discrimination, and racial oppression. Accordingly, in a close reading of the game’s narrative and discursive elements, I work towards uncovering the ‘narrative background’ of the world that BioShock Infinite lets players explore by analyzing the way it presents its setting to players, its use of history, and its narrative complications. I thus argue that these aspects are used particularly to criticize the nationalist elements of Columbia’s society, to complicate simplistic portrayals of binary oppositions, and to point to the constructedness of narrative and history.

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