Have not completed the game, don’t spoil it for me. May not even visit this comment thread again, in fact.
That being said, I’d argue that if the violence in Infinite bothered you, it did exactly what it was supposed to do. As with the racism, the oppression, the religious zealotry, and all the rest of it, the violence is there to reinforce not just that Columbia is a false paradise, but that there is no real paradise anywhere as long as humans are who they are. Paradise never comes of denying one’s nature, and yet Columbia is a city full of excuses.
Where I think the disconnect comes in is that most violent games are just, well, violent. There are almost no moments where you “stop to smell the roses” in Halo or Half-Life 2, because there’s no point to that. You get the narrative moments in between the violent moments, but they’re always about justifying the next violent moment.
The narrative portions of Infinite, by contrast, are all about the false promise of escape from violence and its consequences. Columbia itself is a monument to that principle; “If we live in the sky, away from the Sodom Below, we can live in peace.” That’s the dream Comstock sells his flock on, even as he himself floated up into the sky to escape the consequences of razing Peking. Booker’s the same way; he’s running from himself and his past, but he can’t deny his nature.
Elizabeth is the lynchpin of the game because she’s something of a tabula rasa. Things have been done TO her by people following their natures, but she has no nature she’s aware of. All she has is a “nurture,” if you like. She’s innocent. I don’t know what happens to her over the course of the game; I’ve only just gotten her. But it seems to me as though the reason everyone covets her so is because her powers represent escape to them. If she can tear open reality, they can escape theirs. So, paradoxically, she is denied escape from their desire for escape.
But just as everywhere Booker goes, violence follows, so too does violence follow us as players. And we enjoy it, because it is in our nature to enjoy it. We claim over and over again to want to escape it, but we whine and say something “isn’t a game” if we can’t do violence to something, because we want challenges. What’s being detected by players who want less violence is, to me, not ludonarrative dissonance within Bioshock Infinite, but our cognitive dissonance when we play other games. We write it off as, “Well, I can’t do anything else.” But put a gun in our hand, give us melee assassination prompts, whatever, and we will become the monsters we say we aren’t simply to overcome the latest obstacle.
By putting players in the shoes of a violent man who denies his nature, Irrational has said, “Recognize him?” And we do, and we don’t like what we see, so we complain that Bioshock Infinite has too much violence, because that’s easier than admitting that we have become too accustomed to it.
That’s what I think, anyway.
BTW, I do want to say one other thing: whether or not you agree with me or anyone else on this page, doesn’t it feel great to have a genuine adult discussion about a video game for once? The reactions to Infinite’s violence that I’ve seen, whether I’ve agreed with them or not, have all felt to me like reactions to a great and provocative film or book. And I don’t mean that in a bad way; I’m not saying we’re looking at it as a movie with game bits grafted on, or whatever. I’m saying that we’re not comparing it to other media at all, but using the developing vocabulary of the medium to talk about the game’s place in that medium.
Compare that to just a few years ago, when reviews of GTA IV unabashedly praised or damned the game in filmic terms. For all the growing the medium still needs to do, it’s lovely to be talking about games as an equivalent to films or books rather than a descendent of them, you know?