Why is BioShock Trying to be Sexy?

Why is cleavage so prevalent in BioShock Infinite?

Erik Norrisby Erik Norris


I have a concern with a certain design decision made for the game BioShock Infinite.  With all of the care spent designing cool weaponry, thrilling Skylines, and majestic architecture, why did the developer choose to emphasize the ample bosom of the game’s central female character?  Don’t get me wrong, I’m not trying to be prude or a moralist intent on infringing my worldview on everyone else.  I believe that sex and sexuality have an important place in gaming and game design.  Nevertheless, with BioShock Infinite lining up as one of the marquee releases of 2012, what was the thought process behind this decision and why do I feel that it is unnecessary?

What do we know about Elizabeth so far?

The character that has me all hot and bothered is known as Elizabeth.  Or, as designer Ken Levine likes to refer top her, Liz.  She’s a powerful young woman who has been locked up in a tower just like Rapunzel.  She’s kept in her place by a mad robot known as Songbird who makes sure that this young women cannot escape her confines.  

Liz has been under lock and key for twelve years and, apparently, she’s still wearing the corset she was wearing when she was nine. I know this because she’s almost 100% all boobs. I don’t mean to be crude, but, literally, the first thing that popped out at me when I saw Elizabeth was here chest.  I don’t typically aim to sexualize my women video game characters; but, this was pretty ridiculous.  Not much is explained about why she’s locked up.  However, unless she’s a prostitute in training, there really is no logical explanation for her overt sexuality.   

What does Ken Levine have to say about design and relationships?

In case you don’t know, Ken Levine is the Creative Director of Irrational Games and BioShock Infinite.  He’s seen as the brains behind this game and has done pretty extensive interviews to promote the title.  With that said, as it is with movies, video games are almost never made just by one person. There are tens, if not hundred of hands that help to make a game.  So, the design and creation of BioShock Infinite is not 100% in Levine’s hands.  However, at the end of the day, he does have the final say and surely approved Liz’s ridiculous melons.

In an interview Mr. Levine did with GameTrailers.com, one of the topics discussed was what makes relationships blossom, and how do we, as people, fall in love. This idea is something Levine wanted to explore in BioShock Infinite.

“If you just tell them that they’re falling in love with her… that’s not what its about.  So, I spent my time thinking ‘How do we fall in love with people? How do we build relationships with people?,’” explained Levine. “What enhances relationships?  What makes them come together more quickly? And, what makes them more solid and real?  Not just based upon superficial things. How do fast relationships form that aren’t based on attractiveness?”

While I feel that Levine is making some interesting points in his interview, I’m not at all convinced that this is a justification for Liz’s ridiculous dimensions.  In fact, I think that they contradict what he has said.  While relationships and love can be founded on mutual sacrifice, that’s not the first impression here.  What appears first here is just a set of boobs meant to suck in 12 year-old boys (and girls).  If building relationships (romantic or otherwise) weren’t about just attractiveness then why make here dimensions so prominent.  Several well respected games have shown that female characters can be love interests without exaggerating the sex appeal.  

But that’s not really at the core of what Levine and company are doing here.  I think they’re over dosing on sex appeal to sell copies.  Whether it’s management or stock holders worried about sales or some perverted sex fantasy, there has to be someone pushing for more T & A and less post-pubescent restraint.

Why bother with selling sex when the last two games have made a ton of money without it?

This is where I get a bit puzzled.  If Liz is being made excessively sexual for financial gain, wouldn’t the sales of BioShock be in the basement.  I mean, this game has one of the highest review scores of this generation and sold boatloads of copies on release, right?  Actually, when looking at the software sales on vgchartz.biz, BioShock sold a bit lighter than you might have thought.  Coming in at 2.5 million copies worldwide (on the Xbox 360), BioShock is a top seller but one that still lags behind the real big hitters.  Plus, the release of BioShock 2, which should have shown positive growth in sales, showed that just because a game is set in the same universe does not guarantee sales.

My theory is that somewhere at Take-Two is a person in charge of pushing for balloon boobs to hedge their bets on the success of this game.  While he may already fully expect adult fans and reviewers of BioShock to be sold on this game, he wants to make sure that every 12-year-old boy is rubbing his pockets to get his mitts on Liz.  Gross to hear, but just like putting Justin Bieber on a backpack sells like hot cakes to tween girls, so does a set of knockers in a video game.

Did women really dress like this in 1890s?

Before launching into my rant on this matter, I wanted to make sure I wasn’t completely making this up.  Because I am definitely not an expert on the attire and fashion of 1890s era women, I did a pretty solid search on the subject.  At first glance, I found nothing but well-covered women that weren’t lascivious in the least and hid their girdles well beneath their attire.  However, being the consummate researcher that I am, I did a search for 1890s prostitutes and found pictures that resembled Liz quite a bit.  Does this revelation change my opinion? Of course not.

If Levine’s intent is to make Liz a prostitute or a woman of loose morals then I’m throwing my hands up in disgust.  For a game with such smart ideas and innovative design elements, to just lower the story with yet another sex robot is flat out disappointing.  That tactic screams of desperation, laziness, and immaturity.  It’s something Cliffy B. would do; not our glorified wunderkind, Ken Levine.

Why do I feel it is unnecessary?

In the long run I recognize that this op-ed won’t change anything.  Am I going to get Liz’s bra size shrunk? Nope.  Do I even want it shrunk? Not particularly.  What I hope is that gamers and developers stop going for the easy out and the simple answers.  Sure a set of ginormous boobs might sell some games.  But couldn’t strong character development do much of the same?  Why else would gamers still be talking about the legendary Alyx from Half-Life?  It wasn’t because of her insane chest, that’s for sure.  In the case of Liz, I think the decision is too blatant for Levine and the property’s pedigree and wish that they’d stuck with a more mature approach rather than to traverse the lowest common denominator.  But that’s just me.