Bioshock Infinite is a game that seeks to expose its players to malicious and problematic American ideologies through the scope of its narrative. The game takes place in a pseudo-United States setting that is a floating city in the sky named, Columbia. Because Bioshock is a video game, the player unknowingly experiences American ideologies with no […]
Bioshock Infinite is a game that seeks to expose its players to malicious and problematic American ideologies through the scope of its narrative. The game takes place in a pseudo-United States setting that is a floating city in the sky named, Columbia. Because Bioshock is a video game, the player unknowingly experiences American ideologies with no subjective or biased reservations, because they are framed as Columbian ideologies and social norms. The player does not (immediately) realize they are exposed to a hyperbolic America. This allows for an initial open-minded and analytical approach to the game, as opposed to if the setting took place directly in the United States, which would cause an average American player to transport the ideals of patriotism, righteousness, and all the other problematic American ideals, into the game world.
Here I will focus on one major aspect of American ideology that Bioshock aims to criticize: Religion. The heavy saturation of religion is extant throughout the entirety of American history, let alone 1914 (the time setting of Bioshock Infinite). Entering the lighthouse at the beginning of the game, the song Old Time Religion plays over an old radio. This diegetic tune is a classic American southern gospel song has roots in black spiritual music and African-American work songs. Christianity was a vital medicine for the ailment and maintenance of black oppression and slavery in the 19th century. It provided a means of hope for slaves, in that their suffering on earth was merely temporary and would grant access to great salvation. At the same time, the bible granted justification, on the part of whites, for the oppression of blacks by using it as a weapon for oppression. Old Time Religion sings of a pining for Christianity and the belief that it will grant salvation and cleanse the soul. As Karl Marx states, religion is the opium of the masses. This gospel tune is the epitome of Marx’s statement. This tune asserts that the “Old time religion… Makes me love everybody… it has saved our fathers” and can “take us all to heaven”. Old Time Religion asserts that a life saturated with religion and a steady faith in God will grant an individual true happiness.
Upon ascension to Columbia, a simple and direct adaption of Will the Circle Be Unbroken? plays. While it plays, Booker gazes in astonishment at the giant bronze female statue of the angel Columbia floating in front of him. This is an obvious reference to Ellis Island’s statue of liberty: Lady Liberty being the fist sight of American immigrants and symbolizing American ideals of freedom, equality, and the opportunity to obtain the American dream.
The Christian hymn of Will the Circle Be Unbroken? questions whether or not a heaven exists, further adding to the heavy saturation of religion we have gotten from Columbia thus far. As a line in the song questions, “Is there a better home awaiting, in the sky, O’ in the sky?” This double entendre equates heaven with (pseudo-America) Columbia, the floating city in the sky. After rocketing into the city in the sky from the lighthouse, you land in what appears to be, a church with ankle-deep water flooding the ground. You approach a mass of individuals singing along to Will the Circle Be Unbroken? while a pastor gives a sermon in front of a bright tunnel. As you approach the tunnel, the pastor tells you that the only way to gain entrance to the city is through “the sweet waters of baptism”. After accepting this, which the player must do to advance, the pastor attempts to drown you. As you lose consciousness and float downstream out of the tunnel and towards the light, you are birthed into Columbia.
There is much symbolism in this ascension and rebirth scene alone. I believe the lighthouse is to be understood as a phallic object, especially with the protagonist in rocket pod being shot up and out into the heavens to Columbia. Upon reaching your destination, you set foot in this enormous, flooded, dark church, which I believe, is the womb of Columbia from which the player will be birthed out and into their New World. As an infant being birthed out of a mother’s vagina, you approach the pastor in front of a long, dark tunnel, with a light shining bright at the very end. This is a sight not too different from what an infant would see during birth. As you float downstream and draw closer to the light, you are being rebirthed, both through the waters of baptism as well as out of the darkness and into the light of Columbia.
 McCann, Hymns & History: An Annotated Survey of Sources (Abilene, TX: ACU Press, 1997)
 Habershon, Ada R., and Gabriel, Charles H. (1907) [2nd. Pub. 1910]. “Will the Circle Be Unbroken”. In Alexander, Charles M. comp. Alexander’s Gospel Songs No. 2. Fleming H. Revell Company, New York