Religions (May 2018)

Critique with Limits—The Construction of American Religion in BioShock: Infinite

  • Jan Wysocki

Journal volume & issue
Vol. 9, no. 5
p. 150


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Released in 2013, BioShock: Infinite is a blockbuster first-person shooter which explores topics of American nationalism and religion. This article examines how religion is represented within the game and how motifs from American religious history are used to construct its game world. After an overview of the game’s production process and a literature review, several specific religious and historical motifs are discussed. Through a dissection of the aesthetic and narrative dimensions of the game, the article analyzes elements of religious history from which the developers of Infinite drew their inspiration, such as the biblical motif of Exodus or the still-popular concept of millennialism. The analysis shows how the game uses familiar but simultaneously transformed American imagery, such as a religiously legitimated American Exceptionalism in which George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and Benjamin Franklin are worshiped as saintly figures. Infinite plays with popular notions of evangelical religion, mixed with themes related to so-called dangerous cults and sects. In this construction, Infinite strangely vacillates between a biting liberal caricature of religiously fueled nationalism and a nod to widespread moderate mainstream values in which unusual religious movements are negatively portrayed. The article argues that a critique of a mainstream religious movement such as evangelical Christianity is not possible for a multi-billion-dollar industry which is wary of critical topics that may potentially estrange its broad consumer base. In such instances, critique can only be applied to forms of religion that are already viewed as strange by the popular discourse.