Recently, the box art for Irrational’s Bioshock Infinite was released, and the internet was set ablaze with the roar of ire towards what is a seemingly uninspired piece of art. My own opinion is that I don’t like it. The reasons are numerous, and some of them match the general sense of disappointment that was triggered by the image. For example, we have a good looking white male protagonist, who looks mean and holds a gun purposefully. So far, so very Call of Duty.
It is woefully generic. The character in question is Booker De Witt, whose shoes the player will be stepping into throughout the game. But where is Elizabeth, the player’s constant companion? Where is the image of Columbia which, like Rapture before it , will almost certainly be a character in and of itself. More importantly, where is the lofty intellectual idea of American Exceptionalism, if they are not heavily encoded within the all-American image of DeWitt, guns and the burning American Flag (which may be the only concession to the questioning of the values and morals on which the USA was founded)? It could be argued that the box art is slavishly following that other pillar of American philosophy; Capitalism.
In an interview with Wired, Irrrational’s Ken Levine explained the reasoning behind the choice of cover art. What feels most concerning about his choices is that they seem to be mostly commercial, and whilst it is perfectly valid for a developer to want to expose as many people as possible to their work, does this mean, that these decisions have crept into the game also?
To be fair, Bioshock games have shooting mechanics at their heart. You point the crosshair at a target and shoot a weapon. Is reducing it to this simplistic level in the name of commercial viability enough though? Bioshock is one of the most well crafted and intelligent games this generation, and all the previews and early talk suggest Infinite will be no different, tackling subjects such as racism and the power of cult and religion. There is no suggestion of this on the box art. How can this be done? And was there any suggestion of Ayn Rand’s Objectivism on the front cover of Bioshock?
The reason for the outrage is almost as interesting as the original decision. Bioshock feels like a gamer’s game, one that is consistently put forward as ‘art’, so to have the series sullied in the name of pandering to as many people as possible has angered a lot of people. Like a fan bemoaning their favourite band’s increasing popularity, there is a sense of ownership being lost, and a concern that the game be going down a populist route.
At the end of the day, does it really matter how the game is packaged, if the content matches up the expectations? How important is cover art to your experience of playing the game? The decision seem pragmatic, but hopefully enough artistry and passion has gone into the game, that come March 26 2013, no-one will be even talking about the cover.