My thoughts on the “tragi-ludic” in Bioshock Infinite have continued to percolate in the back of my mind. You’ll recall I pinned Binfinite’s innovation in this regard on making the protagonist decidedly not the player.
The results are mixed: the ending is both appropriate and not appropriate, in that we can see Booker DeWitt being destroyed by the system that encapsulates him, and yet we find ourselves for various reasons cut off from the event, in at least the affective way tragedy would require.
“I realized I can’t think of a tragic videogame,” a friend said to me after he read that piece. “Videogames are all about accomplishment.”
I have been pondering this. Is the so-called catharsis at the end of tragedy itself a type of accomplishment, and if so, how would we create a game that makes this a goal while remaining appropriately tragic?
In other words, is it possible that a game could, while not necessarily distancing the player from the avatar, spring upon them the moment of anagnorisis where not only is the encroaching catatrosphic failure inevitable, ordained, and perhaps for some arcane reason deserved, but in fact make the player desire their own failure?
I think Porpentine’s Cyberqueen, which deconstructs the videogame power fantasy, moves in this direction. But is the game tragic? Perhaps not. It is definitely horrific, but I would actually say the tone of its ending arguably triumphant.
But we move now into a fuzzy, and from a certain perspective, kinky territory: how to recognize the failure we crave when, in our grasp, it feels appropriate, earned, an accomplishment? The fact that the player is being mind-controlled by a homocidal dominatrix AI at the end of Cyberqueen perhaps speaks to this issue in an unexpectedly meta way.