Mutual Distress and Damsels

| Wednesday, June 12, 2013
A conversation with Syl of MMO Gypsy has gotten me thinking again about Bioshock Infinite.  I'd claimed that Elizabeth was not a mere useful damsel.  She was instead a character with her own motivations and goals rather than a useful object that sometimes threw other useful objects to the player.

In part this was based on my view that she and Booker experienced mutual distress.  She'd need rescuing, but he would as well, making it something more like a partnership than a male-dominated rescue fantasy.  It could still be slightly tilted one way or another, but with how games generally go, having a female character who ever saves the male character is something significant (though not necessarily sufficient)  I'm not to aiming for mathematical parity here.

This should actually be pretty easy to evaluate.  I'll start with a basic standard: does Elizabeth save Booker?  The answer is pretty obviously, yes.  The incident that first comes to mind is when Songbird has them cornered and is just about to crush Booker into goo when she yells at him to stop.  She agrees to return with Songbird if she leaves Booker alone.

Okay then, she's saved Booker.  Done.

Or did she?  Well yes, but how?  Merely keeping him from dying hardly makes her a mutual protector or means that he's mutually distressed.

Notice how she saves him.  She doesn't use a tear.  She doesn't run away to draw his attention.  She doesn't poke a weak spot.  She gives up.  She surrenders.  She puts herself right back into a situation of needing saving.  In effect, she hasn't saved Booker, she's just reset the story back to the point where Booker is wandering a hostile city looking for her.

Resetting is her true power.  In the end, which the phrasing of which should indicate that spoilers follow, she resets Booker.  She doesn't actually fix him or fix history.  She's just hitting a reset button and if we're lucky, Booker won't be as evil this time, but since I think he was evil all along...

When I first started discussing this with Syl I didn't mind that she hid a lot.  Look at her.  She's never been in combat.  She doesn't know how to fight.  She doesn't have a shield tonic.  One bullet at the game is over.  Yet as I tried to argue this I realized something: she never changes.  She never gets used to the fighting.  She's always startled, terrified, at everything.  She never develops a sense of confidence in herself or even in Booker.  If they changed her sound, to make her a little less scared all the time, I think that would make a big difference.

But when can't she fight?  She's been learning so much in all her books.  Surely she's read a few about combat.  She could have even read too many that make combat seem glorious and exciting.  The books are such a convenient thing for the writers, like the uploads in the Matrix.  She could learn anything, with every book and all the time in the world.  We're not given the sense that her knowledge was restricted; her lockpicking skills are evidence that she learned things that people locking her up might not have wanted her to know.

I'm not suggesting that she should have been a good fighter.  In fact, I think it would have been great if in the first fight she was utterly worthless.  Make her terrified at the sound of the gun, having never heard it before.  Make the recoil knock her off an airship, saved by a tear, just as she does for Booker.  This could be comical or dramatic, depending on how they portray it.  But then she learns, slowly getting used to the weapons, learning to use them.  And yes, she'd kill a few people.  Would that ruin her purity?  No!  Purity is a silly concept and besides, is it pure to leave someone else to do all the killing while you throw them more guns?  Let her feel bad about killing, but don't pretend that she's not allowed to do it.  Even with no change to the overall story, making Elizabeth more directly active would have made her less of a damsel and more of a person.

After this it's just baseless speculation.  Maybe Fitroy's an Elizabeth from a different universe.  She made a tear and pulled in another self.  She told that self how to start a revolution.  With the revolution and the fall of Comstock's regime, Elizabeth would be free.  She would break herself out using herself and her power.  Suddenly she's not a damsel being rescued.  Booker walked into her story, and while he did a lot, it was Elizabeth who was running the show.  She saw that Booker was useful and when her alternate self threatened to get out of control she disposed of it.  Wouldn't you react somewhat poorly if you had to stab yourself?


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