The curl of a corpse

(Spoilers for BioShock Infinite follow.)

The one thing I liked in Bioshock Infinite lay in the curl of a corpse. The only thing I liked about that game, actually, the sole cause of any worth that now becomes a nagging thought at the back of my mind, delaying me from writing it off altogether. It’s the one part that has stood out in my memory and actually stuck with me as something worth remembering when nearly everything else has faded. So I recall this bit from memory alone, knowing there are blank spots where I’ve forgotten a detail. No doubt there are faults in my recalling but I find myself unable to care. I won’t research it to present you with a more full description of this one valuable moment, nor to pretty up my retelling of it. I speak from memory knowing I’m wrong, knowing I’m embellishing it or filling in the gaps myself, because this as I remember it is the only survivor of a disaster, and I’d like to present it as I remember it for it is only this way it has worth to me.

In the curl of a dead body lies an audiolog. I’m in the slums of Colombia, the poor part where all my potential allies live and fester in misery. I’ve just come back from another part of town, a prettier part of town, where some arseways plot beat happened and Elizabeth tore open a door between dimensions through which we hopped. Chaos has spread through the slums, posters or graffiti loom all about me, giving colour to the streets’ gloominess. Voices blare over megaphones, urging on the revolution. Fitzroy says something banal and out of character, based on information she couldn’t possibly know. I remember thinking, was I expected to pause the game and write up some fanfiction to fill in the holes and give this story sense?

Down the street and up the stairs and I swing to the right, in which direction I know sits a short street to a pub, where a group has gathered. The rest of the slums’ denizens stare up at a zeppelin with a big monitor attached as Fitzroy tells them the same now-tired summary of what they can see with their eyes. But around the corner, here in the street outside the pub… ah but first.

Not too long before, I had been flung out of a blimp into a sunlight-bathed docks, assigned with some silly task to complete in the area. Around me were warehouses and offices, crates and bags, and workers stuck in animations, ignoring the sudden unexplained presence of a criminal of such fame that earlier had hounded me. Maybe this was a prison, but I don’t remember any jailbreak so I think it was just the industrial district.

Amid all these poverty-stricken workers and their foremen, jammed between some crates was an audiolog. Here was a woman with a distinct voice made for poetry and singing, lamenting the life of her husband, a factory worker who got mangled by machinery. He survived the accident very badly injured, and the cost of mending his body was beyond the salary of this husband and wife. So some men came to her, or she went to them, and to save his life they turned him into a Handyman, granting him steady work as an enforcer and with new arms and legs and a torso that will keep him alive, but in such pain as would make life unbearable and his mind malleable. And perhaps her forgotten. To keep her love alive, this woman gave him up to the city to turn into a monster. Her voice cracks as she speaks. She was sorry, but though he was now a man changed, so long as they both lived they still had each other.

Then the revolution began, and in the initial barrage of the poor and the Vox against their oppressors, the sky lit up with zeppelins aflame and state soldiers littered the streets having failed to keep the people at bay. In the slums, on the street outside a pub, a group gathered for a photograph, posing around a mountainous corpse as if it were a prize fish, laughing and congratulating one another over the memorable kill. And in the curl of the splayed Handyman, spilled out onto the street beneath his belly lay an audiolog. As the group cheer and the camera flashes over and over, I listen to a woman with a distinct voice saying farewell to her husband. She knows what the revolution means and that he’ll be standing on the front line. Their lives haven’t done the best to them of late, their relationship bent to breaking under the weight of his new body and his fleeing mind. I wonder if he can talk to her anymore, or if her letters are all that remain of their marriage. But she still loves him, and he is hers and always will be. And though he must now go to the front line, to fulfil the obligation born when he was given back to her, they were together and will be together again. Her voice thickens as she tells him again she loves him, and she says goodbye.

Under the heels of the cheering group, mocking their kill with the measured energy of people detached, lies the blood and flesh of a person of a foregone life. Whose love had even before the battle counted him among the dead. All his life remained in the curl of a corpse, that used to be the body of a man before they made him into a monster. A brother of the men now gloating over him, who could have been a comrade had his body not been twisted by machinery. A victim as they are victims of the same system, and they so triumph in his death they miss the audiolog that tells he was once a man. Where with a soul beyond the power of Booker and Elizabeth and Colombia and Levine, a wife mourns her love and the life they once had.

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3 thoughts on “The curl of a corpse

  1. I don’t even remember that part. I remember the posing around the corpse like it was a sailfish or something, but I don’t remember the audiologs.

    The moment–the exact moment I knew Bioshock Infinite was not going to say anything meaningful and was going to jerk me around with cheap moments that took away player agency–came near the beginning. The carnival and the degradation of the interracial couple.

    The game gives you the baseball and gives you a binary choice: throw it at the couple or at the person running the event on stage.

    Now the game had literally just spent moments impressing upon me that I needed to stay incognito, to not cause a scene. I figured, “If I choose the “throw at the couple” option there’s no way the game would actually have me hit them with this ball. Maybe if I choose that option, Booker can throw it at them gently or just barely miss or something–just enough to give the crowd a show but not cause any additional harm to the couple.”

    It was already a manipulative decision–a tawdry one. “If you throw the ball at the couple look how racist you are!” the game seemed to taunt me.

    It didn’t matter. My choice was meaningless. And seconds later after a cutscene where Booker grinds a man’s face into bloody pulp I was in the middle of a firefight. So much for staying inconspicuous. So much for choice.

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