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BioShock Infinite is 'horrendous', claims indie dev - but why?

OPINION: When did indie gaming become the Vox Populi? There'll be no celebration if interesting AAA games die, argues Dan Dawkins

"BioShock Infinite is so flawed, so horrendous, so, damaging, yet sits at 94% on Metacritic," wrote indie dev, Kris Piotrowski on twitter this week. "Bioshock Infinite isn't the answer to our problems. It is the best example of them."

It almost reads like a joke, but Piotrowski's disaffection is serious - and his views far from isolated. "BioShock Infinite wants to be taken seriously so, so hard it hurts", tweets Ex-Goldeneye developer Martin Hollis.

It seems farcical to suggest that one of the generation's most critically acclaimed games is the 'best example' of gaming's problems, but it hints at wider industry issues about the difficulty of being 'taken seriously', and the increasing polarity between AAA and indie development.

Piotrowski's disaffection, it seems, isn't just for the game, but the press. Or rather, how the initial reviews were so universally positive when - in Piotrowski's view - there is so much to criticise.

"I am worried that there was almost ZERO critical discussion of the game, when the game is so charged with problematic content," he wrote on twitter. "You should have heard a lot more about what is wrong with it. A lot more."

Piotrowski hasn't written at length about why BioShock is 'so horrendous', but does link to an article on ABC arts by Daniel Golding.

Golding's argument is complex, but he summarises it thus: "BioShock Infinite uses racism for no other reason than to make itself seem clever. Worse, it uses racism and real events in an incredibly superficial way."

Are the key themes of BioShock merely cosmetic?

Goulding suggests BioShock's comment on racism reduces to a binary moral view: would you like to be in the Ku Kux Klan or would you like to be Abraham Lincoln? He also berates BioShock's treatment of the Wounded Knee Massacre, and how it uses history as a backdrop to create faux-intellectualism.

The broader argument is about the disconnection between serious themes and your ability to fireball waves of goons in the face.

Goulding's argument has some merit, even if I broadly disagree. It's too prohibitively complex to dissect each point here. In fact, you'd do better just to read the comments on his article, where multiple, articulate, posters take him to task. You might even agree.

Piotrowski's comments on an uncritical press raise a number of questions, specifically: Are we all spineless buffoons?

I'd like to think not, although rapid reviews next to tight embargoes do come with their inherent dangers, as do press review events - from where a number of early BioShock reviews were composed. To be fair, it was hardly possible to discuss BioShock's deeper themes at review stage for fear of heinous spoilers.

Is Piotrowski berating the *entire* press because their views did not co-incide with his own? It's quite possible that at least someone in the press thought about what Piotrowski - or Goulding - argues, but simply didn't, or doesn't, agree. Well, that, or they didn't consider alternative angles.

Some indie games are so disproportionately praised, you're made to feel like a porridge-chugging simpleton for even half-enjoying Warhammer 40k: Space Marine

What's really interesting is how Piotrowski's comments - albeit inadvertently - highlight the widening chasm between some AAA and indie games developer. It often feels like a subset of journalists and forum posters take glee in the latest major financial disaster, or enforced CEO departures.

Conversely, some indie games are so disproportionately praised, you're made to feel like a porridge-chugging simpleton for even half-enjoying Warhammer 40k: Space Marine.

As insane as it sounds, among the twitter-sphere of self-annointed game journalist cognocenti, you're often made to feel guilty for *not* writing 5000 words of political metaphors about Super Polygon Shooter, or Mr Wibble Cloud, the abstract iOS indie game.

We should be clear to separate this from Piotrowski's comments, but some swipes at AAA games by indie devs smack of barely veiled jealousy; or rather, frustration. It's very simple to view the mainstream gaming press - as absurd as that definition is in the internet age - as obsessed with AAA console games, dedicating little editorial to lesser-known indie games.

Let's avoid extremism

On what can we agree? How can indie learn from AAA, and vice-versa? One is not entirely evil, nor the other entirely virtuous.

Amid all the showboating "No, *I'm* more disappointed than you" responses to PS4, was a company trying its best to adapt and face the challenges of the modern world.

Gamers want interesting indies. They want AAAs. They don't like loading times. They don't want to pay £40 for anything less than the very best. Sony is at least tackling these pressing issues.

Extreme statements such as describing something as 'so flawed, so horrendous, so damaging', run the risk of being interpreted as zealotry - and falling into the trap of that which you're angrily railing against. Indie gaming - or rather, the complex mass of individuals who compromise it - shouldn't want extreme voices to misrepresent their entire 'movement' as some kind of Vox Populi, any more than AAA gaming should be viewed as Comstock.

Mega-budget console games might be bloated, expensive and flawed, but like Columbia, there'll be little beauty in watching AAA burn, with no hope of return.

This isn't meant to be an incendiary polemic, or a gross generalisation of our complex, evolving industry. Just the start of a debate. And, yeah, for the record: I thought BioShock Infinite was amazing. Like, *of course*.