With Burial at Sea DLC heading to BioShock Infinite, gamers have been tantalized with the lure back to Rapture, the setting of the first two games in the BioShock franchise. Though there’s been little to go off of, we know that we finally get a chance to play as the ammo-tossing, rift-tearing Elizabeth…at least in the second half of Burial at Sea. BioShock creator Ken Levine suggests a change of pace in the followup, as seeing the world through Elizabeth’s eyes will grant a perspective that is “more towards a survival horror game”. The contrast is drawn between the heavy combat focus of Booker DeWitt and Elizabeth’s more precautionary and observant approach to the environment. Level designer Amanda Jeffrey claims, “Elizabeth has to take things more from the side view…She needs to be kind of thinking in a roundabout way of how to deal with her enemies. And, sometimes, that might mean completely bypassing the enemy entirely, because she doesn’t need to. It may mean, in another situation, using the enemy’s strength against them. There’s all of these different kinds of ways of being more thoughtful, and – I hesitate to say it – almost more feminine way of approaching a problem, where there’s all of these people and, to be very brutally honest about it, they have the advantage in strength. But Elizabeth has the advantage in smarts. So, how that pans out and how that plays in the environment, I’m awfully excited to do. It’ll be fantastic.”
Irrational Games has made a point of distinguishing the characters of Booker and Elizabeth, not only intrinsically with personality but extrinsically with playstyle. Whereas Booker implemented Vigors to augment his arsenal of firearms, Elizabeth’s accompaniment will take the form of Tears. While Tears of time and space can certainly break games, Irrational suggests that, as in BioShock Infinite’s campaign, there are certain parameters that will allow for Tears. Liz doesn’t seem to have the capacity to just open wormholes all throughout Rapture…specific situations during gameplay will dictate when and where she can use this awesome ability.
Introducing Elizabeth as a playable character can bring about challenges in design and controversy in reception. Jeffrey stated that they didn’t want to “just put Booker in a dress”, as that would break the character of Elizabeth that we have come to know. As such, we should expect to rely much more heavily upon the context of the environment than we did when we were shouting and pointing for Elizabeth to open a health kit Tear in BioShock Infinite. Since females as playable characters is still a hotbed of upheaval with many gamers, how can Irrational Games make this work? Levine reported to IGN that, “Joss Whedon actually did a really interesting interview about Buffy, and he said, you know, ‘How do you make people care about Buffy? She’s a superhero, she’s all-powerful…You don’t put her in physical danger, you put her in emotional danger…because you care about the character and you want things for her.'”
While Buffy the Vampire Slayer and BioShock Infinite’s Elizabeth are certainly both powerful characters, Buffy is a bit more combat-oriented by nature than Elizabeth. Even so, Whedon’s suggestion for “making people care” about the female protagonist is to play upon her emotional vulnerabilities. That Levine seems to have taken this to heart in regards to character-building for Elizabeth rather perpetuates the stereotype that women must be cared for, it appears. Even before BioShock Infinite’s release, Elizabeth was thrust into a struggle as gamers shot down the establishment of the female protagonist. Does Irrational Games’ latest approach do well to build up Elizabeth and get gamers more involved in her story, or does it worry too much about its reception and in turn fall into the same traps it wanted to avoid?