Parallel Timelines: The History of BioShock Infinite
Katy Goodman explores the parallel timelines of BioShock Infinite and the reality it’s based upon.
I knew the moment I entered the world of BioShock Infinite that I was being ushered into a parallel version of United States history. In only five minutes of gameplay, I faced grand statues of three of the nation's founding fathers — Washington, Jefferson, and Franklin. After ten, I felt as though I were exploring early 20th century America.
It's not hard to find American history while wandering the virtual streets of Columbia. Flapper jazz plays through the streets. Families spend their leisure time at ice cream parlors. Women are dressed in hobble skirts, the men in suits and coats. This is how our ever-so-idealistic minds romanticize the early 20th century–a time of high fashion, parties, and jazz, like The Great Gatsby minus all the drama.
But as I became comfortable with this city in the sky, BioShock Infinite was kind enough to burst my idealistic bubble. The Order of Ravens and the lumbering statue of John Wilkes Boothe served as reminders of the assassination of Lincoln and the tyranny of the Ku Klux Klan. As I was first introduced to Jeremiah Fink, the robber barrons of the era (as well as John D. Rockefeller, who Fink strongly resembles) came to mind. War, oppression, racism, white supremacy, and propaganda: all of it is showcased within the game, and all of it has a place in America's history.
Let's examine some of the key plot points in Infinite and discuss their place in history books as well as the game.
The Battle of Wounded Knee – 1890
The Battle of Wounded Knee, a conflict named for where it occurred, took place on December 29th of 1890. During this time tensions between the Natives and the Americans were high. Many tribes, including the Sioux, were confined to reservations. Distressed at the destruction of the plains and the subsequent loss of buffalo (one of their primary food sources), many of the Native Americans began to perform spiritual ghost dances, which they believed would aid them in achieving freedom. Upon seeing these dances performed, the American agents of the reservations claimed the natives needed to be pacified and troops were called in to make arrests. What was initially meant to be a series of arrests led to a massacre. On December 29th, The 7th Cavalry (of which Booker DeWitt is a member) surrounded a camp of Sioux Indians attempting to flee to safety. What triggered the massacre is still a matter of debate among scholars, but a total of 300 Sioux were killed, including families and children.
The Battle of Wounded Knee is referenced frequently throughout Bioshock Infinite, and is an especially noteworthy detail given Booker DeWitt's own background. Booker is a rather successful member of the 7th Calvary, but will only say he has obvious regrets about what occurred there. As a member of the Calvary, Booker undoubtedly had to burn homes and kill innocent people, perhaps even children. At a later point in the game we discover that the battle, and Booker's actions during it, set in motion the events of Bioshock Infinite by providing the emotional baggage necessary to call for his rebirth through baptism. Despite the game's lack of details on the actual event, Booker's own reaction to it confirms that his experience was probably an historically accurate one.