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Goodnight Irene: How a second playthrough changed my opinion of Bioshock Infinite

We aren't just playing games when we sit down with our favorite franchises, the games that resonate with us can have a deep and lasting impact.
This article is over 10 years old and may contain outdated information

BioShock Infinite is without a doubt the most polarizing entry in its revered series. Many people who played and loved the first Bioshock were greatly disappointed by the change in pace the team at Irrational introduced with their last game. Some of my friends went so far as to call it Call of Duty with plasmids. Even I must admit that on my first playthrough it left me feeling numb. It was too much action all the time, and why was Elizabeth constantly feeding me items to keep me going? The guns never changed in appearance as you upgraded them, Handymen were the worst boss character of all time, and the story didn’t make any sense!

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I was angry after playing through Infinite. I had finished the game in one sitting waiting for it to change and get better but it never did. Once the credits finished rolling I took the game out and put it on my shelf, disappointed with what one of my favorite franchises had become. Another action-based shooter where you go from room to room clearing out enemies until no more spawn.

I waited roughly a year before I put the game back in my PS3 to give it another chance.

My opinion of Infinite would change dramatically after playing through it a second time.

The major difference was that this time I knew what to expect, this wasn’t going to be an exact sequel to BioShock 1, this would be a different experience all together.

With this mindset in tow I began my journey through Columbia. I had only ever played the game once, so I had forgotten a lot of what had happened, making this playthrough feel like the first one. The beginning parts of Infinite were thrilling, riding the rocket to Columbia and exploring the Church of Comstock that welcomes you in to the city were great experiences, but what really sealed the deal for me (and made the game one of my favorites of all time) happened very early on.

As you walk around the beginning parts of Columbia you are free to explore as you see fit. You can play carnival games, look out at the city and listen to people talking as they walk by going on about their lives. I was enthralled with the portrayal of a city in the clouds and was even beginning to buy Comstock’s lie, that this was heaven on earth. Drawing closer to the festival where the raffle was going on I could hear a crowd of people singing, it was a little hard to make out at first, but when I listened harder I realized they were singing “Goodnight Irene”. The song brought tears to my eyes.

Just last year I had lost some one I loved, his name was Paul Linerode. Paul had served on the front lines of the Korean War and was the bravest man I’ve ever known. He had carried a picture of his wife into battle with him and had lost it during a firefight only to be reunited with it several weeks later when it was found on an enemy soldier. Paul and his wife Donna have both passed on, Donna from a disease that ate away at her memory and Paul from the heartbreak of having to carry on without her.

What does that have to do with BioShock Infinite?

In that moment I wasn’t simply playing a video game, I was in Columbia experiencing something that would leave a lasting impression on me for the rest of my life. 

Paul said something to me that I’ll always remember, right before Donna passed away, he sang to her their song, “Goodnight Irene” and in that moment she remembered him and remembered that it was their song. I couldn’t believe that song was in the game, I’ll never forget walking towards it and hoping it would never stop.

In that moment I wasn’t simply playing a video game, I was in Columbia experiencing something that would leave a lasting impression on me for the rest of my life. At its core, this small moment I had is the reason we play games in the first place. We want to experience the impossible and visit strange new worlds that couldn’t exist in our own.

I played through the rest of Infinite and fell in love with the story behind it.

Once I let go of the fact that it wasn’t a direct copy of the first game I came to love the mechanics behind it too, but what I love most about it is that any time I want I can put that game back in my PS3 and be transported to Columbia where there is always a beautiful chorus of people singing, “Goodnight Irene”.

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Image of Rocky Linderman
Rocky Linderman
I’m a freelance camera assistant by trade, but I also love video games. I run a weekly podcast called Video Game Wundercast.