The important thing is to understand life, each living individuality, not as a form, or a development of form, but as a complex relation between differential velocities, between deceleration and acceleration of particles. A composition of speeds and slowness on a plane of immanence. In the same way, a musical form will depend on a complex relation between speeds and slowness of sound particles. It is not just a matter of music but of how to live: it is by speed and slowness that one slips in among things, that one connects with something else. One never commences; one never has a tabula rasa; one slips in, enters in the middle; one takes up or lays down rhythms.
—  Gilles Deleuze, ‘Spinoza: Practical Philosophy’
Why BioShock Infinite is the best pt.1: Questioning the ‘authentic’ gamer with cosplays of Elizabeth

Here’s the paper I recently presented at the Digital Games Research Association Australia (DiGRAA) conference. It’s my attempt at mashing philosophy and game studies together to try and make an argument against ‘authenticity’ based hierarchical structures held in subcultures (i.e. real gamer/real punk/etc.). I get that people really care about being “authentic”, so I’ve just straight up tried to see if logic helps at least challenge the investment in authenticity. Because, like, sexism is pretty lame, and it’s sucks that women have to prove that they’re ’real gamers’ before they’re even allowed to speak about gaming. BioShock Infinite *spoiler warning* but if you haven’t played it yet you should probably rethink your priorities buddy.

I want begin by mentioning this phenomenon: feeling guilty about not playing enough videogames. I am constantly feeling guilty about not playing enough games or the right types of games. Especially since – as a woman – for some people, the idea that ‘I may lack a strong commitment to videogames’ will be because of my gender. If I don’t play enough games, I could potentially be accused of being a fake gamer girl, and not a real gamer. There are plenty of good arguments for why the idea of the ‘fake gamer girl’ or hating ‘casual gamers’ is shit. But, since those arguments have not convinced everyone, here I will be using a close case study of the character, Elizabeth, from BioShock Infinite (Irrational Games, 2013), to illuminate the logical fallacy of ‘authenticity’, which underpins the notions of being a ‘real gamer’.

I will argue that ‘authenticity’ is built on the assumption of a false premise: that there is a pure original to begin with. This is slightly different from what the ‘No True Scotsman’ Fallacy which warns against: when someone appeals to purity as a means to avoid criticism. Instead: what I am arguing is that there is no such thing as purity; and therefore, nothing to be ‘authentic’ with.

My paper has been inspired by cosplays of Elizabeth and the succeeding reactions from the gaming and cosplay community, declaring “Don’t you know you’re cosplaying a cosplayer?” In BioShock Infinite, Elizabeth is your escorting companion. The character was notably modelled after a cosplayer, Anna Moleva, for her accurate cosplay of Elizabeth. And so, a version of the classic ‘Chicken or The Egg’ causality dilemma occurs when a sense of the ‘original’ Elizabeth becomes dissolved in character production.

This gets interesting, since the narrative of BioShock Infinite deals heavily with multiverse theory. Within media studies, there is a tradition that assumes media specificity, which an aspect of the aesthetics of a medium marks it unique. By addressing themes of multiverse theory, the game becomes self-reflective and begins to discuss its’ own nature as a videogame. If there are multiple versions and lives of Elizabeth, the game itself seems to play with the question, ‘Who is the original?’ Furthermore, the cosplayer, Anna Moleva, is given homage: as the version of Elizabeth’s parallel reality is named Anna.

In the BioShock universe, there are “constants and variables”. The constants, as explained by the repeated line, “There’s always a lighthouse. There’s always a man. There’s always a city.” emphasise the parallels between the two settings of Rapture (from the original BioShock, 2007) and Columbia (from BioShock Infinite). Spotted throughout BioShock Infinite are references to various similarities between each world.

Of note, to this case study, is the allusion between Elizabeth and the Little Sisters of Rapture. Both characters are initially portrayed as the ‘damsel in distress’ trope, held in a Stockholm syndrome captive state by the part-mechanical monstrosity: either Songbird for Elizabeth or the Big Daddy for the Little Sisters. The lines drawn between Elizabeth and Little Sisters become further apparent in observing their shared wardrobe palate of blue and white colours. Elizabeth’s design is copied from the Little Sisters, for she is meant to be another version of them.

A particularly memorable scene from BioShock Infinite is when you are given a decision to choose between two designs of a necklace. The necklace you choose is worn by Elizabeth for the rest of the game. Holding up each design, she asks “The Bird or the Cage?” BioShock is known as a seminal work for the players’ choices affecting the outcome of the game. But, for the only choice given in BioShock Infinite, there is no narrative impact from which necklace you choose. What transpires is a sense of David Lewis’ ‘counterfactuals’ – to raise the contemplation of “if” worlds: If I did not pick ‘the Bird’, Elizabeth would wear ‘the Cage’. There are Elizabeths who wear ‘the Bird’; there are Elizabeths who wear ‘the Cage’. Across the world, sitting in front of their own computers and television screens, there are other players who have also been given the same choice between ‘the Bird’ and ‘the Cage’. Your choice has not been a singularity. And, therefore, in a way, it does not matter if you choose ‘the Bird’ or ‘the Cage’; since, across various games of BioShock Infinite, Elizabeth wears both. And, of course, a forced choice is no choice at all, and so it does not matter.

In the finale of BioShock Infinite, for the DLC Burial at Sea: Episode 2 (2014), Elizabeth shifts from the role of your companion character into your avatar. In Episode 2, you return to the ‘other version’ of Columbia, from the original BioShock: the underwater, Art Deco city of Rapture. Early on in the episode, you push aside debris to discover your own corpse. You are face-to-face with another copy of yourself. The concept of respawning is one of the interesting occurances in videogames. The ability to look at your own corpse is not really found in any other medium. BioShock Infinite is particularly aware of the phenemenon of respawning as a game mechanic and makes use of it in the multiverse narrative: when you die, your respawn is you, but from a different parallel universe. You do not revive from death; but instead, you become a copy of yourself.

Obviously, there was more than the digital scanning of Anna Moleva’s face in the process of designing Elizabeth. In the ‘BioShock Infinite - Creating Elizabeth’ YouTube video, we are shown interviews with the various women who were a part of creating Elizabeth. The video presents: an account of the attention to detail in programming her AI, from the level designer, Amander Jeffrey; clips of her bauble covered motion capture artist, Heather Gordon; and the passionate performance of her voice actress, Courtnee Draper. When researching the design process of how Elizabeth was created, it dawns on us that Elizabeth had never existed as an isolated being. Behind-the-scenes, we collapse the gap between the concept of a virtual Elizabeth and the invisible labour of a team who had brought her to life. Elizabeth is not just Anna Moleva’s face, but she is also the collaboration of multiple people.

This is the Rabbit-Duck Illusion, made famous by Wittgenstein. From one viewing you can see it as a duck, or you can come to realise that it is also a rabbit (or vice versa). Like the ambiguous Rabbit-Duck, I propose that the multiple versions of ‘Elizabeth’ and ‘Anna’ (Anna: both the other name of Elizabeth in-game, and the cosplayer Anna Moleva) are two sides of the same coin. There is no original, since Elizabeth is a copy without a sourceshe is an Elizabeth-Anna Illusion.

The argument I have proposed is an illustration of Baudrillard’s Simulacra (Simulacres et Simulation, 1981). Simulacra are representations without origin. We inhabit a hyperreality – a “desert of the real” – where all things are simulacra. Instead of theories of mimeses (Plato/Aristotle) or anti-mimeses (Oscar Wilde ‘The Decay of Lying’, in Intentions, 1891), which argue that either art imitates life, or that life imitates art, what we have is an elliptical relationship. The image of Elizabeth is not traceable to an origin: Elizabeth is a simulacrum of Anna Moleva’s cosplay and Anna Moleva’s cosplay is a simulacrum of Elizabeth.

Here, I have used Elizabeth to challenge our notion of authenticity, which I see as fuelling the false belief in the idea of a real gamer. ‘Authenticity’ is also sometimes used with the meaning of “sincerity”, but sincereness does not have anything to do with how things are. I know there are great investments in authenticity; people care a lot about authenticity and it often helps carve out a sense of identity. But an investment in ‘authenticity’ is problematic, since it creates hierarchical structures, which control who are and are not allowed a voice in the gaming community, and encourages nerd-credential elitism and exclusion. If all things are simulacra, then there is no such thing as a real gamer, because – as my Elizabeth-Anna Illusion illustrated – there is no pure original, and if there is no pure original, then there is nothing for authenticity to try to achieve.
Hermann Hesse on What Trees Teach Us About Belonging and Life
"When we have learned how to listen to trees, then the brevity and the quickness and the childlike hastiness of our thoughts achieve an inco

I woke up this morning to discover a tiny birch tree rising amidst my city quasi-garden, having overcome unthinkable odds to float its seed over heaps of concrete and glass, and begin a life in a meager oasis of soil. And I thought, my god*, what a miracle. What magic. What a reminder that life does not await permission to be lived.

This little wonder reminded me of a beautiful passage, perhaps one of the most beautiful passages I’ve ever read, from Hermann Hesse’s Bäume: Betrachtungen und Gedichte [Trees: Reflections and Poems] originally published in 1984, that touches on some of life’s most essential livingness — home and belonging, truth and beauty, happiness.

For me, trees have always been the most penetrating preachers. I revere them when they live in tribes and families, in forests and groves. And even more I revere them when they stand alone. They are like lonely persons. Not like hermits who have stolen away out of some weakness, but like great, solitary men, like Beethoven and Nietzsche. In their highest boughs the world rustles, their roots rest in infinity; but they do not lose themselves there, they struggle with all the force of their lives for one thing only: to fulfill themselves according to their own laws, to build up their own form, to represent themselves. Nothing is holier, nothing is more exemplary than a beautiful, strong tree.

(excerpt - click the link for the complete article)