Object to protect: Elizabeth in Bioshock Infinite

Illustration of Bioshock Infinite's Elizabeth. PHOTO COURTESY OF BIOSHOCK INFINITE WEBSITE

By Alexander Leach

We’ve all seen the Bioshock Infinite trailers; the series is coming out of the sea and objectivism and into the sky with American exceptionalism. Most interestingly, the main character, Booker DeWitt, isn’t the standard silent protagonist of the Bioshock (and System Shock) games; he talks, to those around him, and to his companion and ward, Elizabeth.

Elizabeth is the one I want to talk about today. Namely, her characterization.

Some person with a lot more time and a much larger grasp of feminist theory than I should write a long, detailed thesis on this character. I can’t help but feel that I, with my laissez-faire attitude to gender roles, am not quite providing all the discussion possible. So when something does jump out at me, it’s got to be pretty significant.

In an interview, Ken Levine, creative director for Bioshock Infinite, says she looks like “nobody else in the world”. Her appearance certainly is distinct, even among the other characters in the game.

Elizabeth is, to put it bluntly, excessively fetishized. She has large, deep eyes, and a very prominent corset (along with a diminutive figure, which confuses her age). But her personality is also exemplified to some degree. Demos and trailers depict her as a determined but broken girl, constantly fearful and sad at the crumbling world around her. It’s exaggerated, which is a good term for her as a whole.

I think the musical trailer, sung by the voice actor, sums up the character’s emotional theme quite well. Other trailers show her as being a source of great power, but one that she can’t use safely in the least. Scenes like her trying to heal a wounded horse by shifting reality drive the point into our heads like it was dropped off of a skyline and reaches terminal velocity as it hits our skull.

Elizabeth is abducted by her obsessive jailer, the mechanical Songbird. PHOTO COURTESY OF BIOSHOCK INFINITE WEBSITE

It’s not like the half-helpless non-playable character is a new thing (Cheryl in Silent Hill, the titular Amy and the President’s daughter in Resident Evil 4), but I think they might have gone a bit overboard with his one. She’s just too cute and too helpless – and I don’t think it’s unintentional. Irrational Games wants players to feel protective of the character; her role is as a McGuffin, an object to be acquired and rescued. And to that end, they’ve made her an object of attraction and of pathos.

I’m not even going to go into if this is a bad thing in and of itself. I think they push it a bit too much, however, to the point where the character is eclipsing the rest of the game’s death-defying, chill-inducing milieu. If they can avoid that, I can leave this article at this, about a character who was engineered to invoke protective feelings and was striking because of it.

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4 Comments

  1. Nice write-up; I can’t wait to get a look at this game, I’ve only really seen a couple of trailers, if nothing else the concept designers did a great job :)

    Reply
  2. Salem Alaton

     /  February 16, 2012

    A deft analysis with a most atypical focal point here. Very welcome. Even to a complete outsider to the genre, the illustrations here make the observations about the character really pop.

    Reply
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