Constants and Variables: Unraveling BioShock Infinite’s Ending

BioShock Infinite


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Readers who have yet to finish BioShock Infinite should not read this feature. We discuss the entire game, including numerous spoilers about the ending.

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Video game endings don’t often inspire intelligent and thoughtful discussion – more often than not they result in disappointment and outrage (who can forget Mass Effect 3). But BioShock Infinite‘s ending is the kind that blows players’ minds and fosters enlightening debates about the game’s true meaning and central themes. The GamerNode staff recently discussed BioShock Infinite and its mind-bending conclusion.


Mike Murphy

Oh man. Where do I begin? I guess I can thank my fascination with the Science Channel and – more specifically – “Through the Wormhole with Morgan Freeman” for helping me gain a basic understanding of quantum mechanics before I ever played the game. It helped me formulate theories for just about everything in that ending.

I think it’s clear to everyone that when Booker DeWitt baptized himself – the decision, of course, causing a splitting of realities – he was born again and took the name of Zachary Hale Comstock. In order for Booker and Elizabeth, a.k.a. Anna, to stop any and all Comstocks from taking Anna and destroying all worlds in the infinite – and now the name of the game becomes clear – multiverse, Booker had to die before the baptism takes place. Save the world by killing the hero and erasing the heroine’s existence. Or did it?

This is where I offer my theory on that final scene that occurs after the credits. As Elizabeth has said numerous times in the game, she’s never sure when she opens a tear if she’s accessing another universe or creating one. My belief is that it’s both. If there are an infinite number of universes out there, then surely one exists as Elizabeth imagines it. This is why when she summons Lady Comstock, she summons the one from the universe that embodies everything she imagines her to be like. So, what exactly does this have to do with the final scene? Well, here’s my belief:

As her father lay before her in the water dead and her other selves were vanishing away, Elizabeth/Anna willed into creation – or perhaps transferred her father’s consciousness into – a universe where the only possibility for the baptism was for Booker to reject it (or never even contemplate/go to the baptism at all). As a master of quantum mechanics upon the destruction of the siphon, this could be an easy feat for Elizabeth/Anna. This way, Booker would never forget what happened, while at the same time, he and Anna could live a peaceful life as father and daughter that they always wanted. That or we’re just shown a glimpse of that universe to begin with.

I also have some non-story-centric thoughts on the scene in Rapture and the ones following, with the lighthouses. Elizabeth says that in the BioShock multiverse, there are constants. A man, a lighthouse, a city. It’s practically a commentary on the two games themselves and can also be used to define other series, other genres, or even other mediums. There are constants and variables in games, just like there are a different set of constants and variables in first-person shooters, just like there are constants and variables in BioShock and BioShock Infinite, and just like there are constants and variables in the differing versions of Columbia within the game itself.

Finally, while traversing the lighthouses with the different Bookers and Elizabeths/Annas, Elizabeth/Anna mentions when Booker states no one can choose for him that everything has already happened. Not only does this stand as a basic philosophy for quantum mechanics, but it’s another commentary on the illusion of choice in games. You’re given two paths in both lighthouse sequences, but it doesn’t matter which you choose as they both lead to the same result. The same can be said for any way a player approaches combat in the game. It doesn’t matter how you kill your enemies, just that you defeat them so the narrative can move along in its predetermined fashion. Also, any choice you make in a game – by design – has already been thought of, planned for, and programmed for the player by the developers. Everything you choose to do can be done, has been done, and will be done by yourself and/or others.

I’ll stop here before I get way too carried away – like explaining my Booker is also Songbird theory. I could probably write a novel on all the thoughts running through my brain about this ending. It’s the sign of a magnificent game, and for that, I tip my hat graciously to Irrational Games.

BioShock Infinite

Anthony LaBella

Mike’s explanation that Elizabeth/Anna willed a whole new universe into existence in which the only option for Booker is to reject the baptism makes sense, but it deviates a bit from my view of those final moments in the water. Once Songbird destroys the siphon, Elizabeth/Anna attains a level of omniscience and omnipotence that approaches god-like levels. At this point she is capable of seeing all universes at once, but it also appears she can take Booker back to the point of origin.

So I believe that Elizabeth/Anna found that point of divergence that exists outside of a single universe and changed the baptism storyline. We’re now faced with two possible outcomes for Booker: he rejects the baptism, or he accepts it and dies. His death eliminates the possibility of his transformation into Comstock, but all of the universes in which he rejects the baptism do not disappear or coalesce into a single world. The final scene following the credits provides us a window into one of the universes in which Booker rejects the baptism and hopes to find Anna still in her crib.

If that’s the case, I’m left wondering the fate of that final Elizabeth who accompanied us through much of the game. All the other versions of Elizabeth disappear because Comstock and Columbia will no longer exist, but what about the main one? Can she still exist and travel across universes, much like the Luteces? Or does she also disappear? You’ll notice that when the final piano note plays, the screen cuts to black in a rather jarring manner. It didn’t quite match up with how the other versions of Elizabeth disappear with each piano note. Could Elizabeth still be out there in the multiverse?

Dan Crabtree

Just super briefly – Elizabeth can’t have powers without Comstock, because it was his idea to steal her (as Anna the baby) from Dewitt, which caused her to lose her pinky, which gave her the powers. Rosalind posits that case for how she got her powers in a voxophone on Monument Island:

Rosalind Lutece – The Source of Her Power

“What makes the girl different? I suspect it has less to do with what she is, and rather more with what she is not. A small part of her remains from where she came. It would seem the universe does not like its peas mixed with its porridge.”

I see that ending, though, a lot like the ending of Inception, where the creator is intentionally leaving open the possibility of her disappearing or continuing to exist. I’m sure there’s a reason for that, though I’ve yet to nail it down.

BioShock Infinite

Eddie Inzauto

I definitely dig the commentary on game design during the lighthouse section. With all the discussion of choice and free will in gaming, Irrational is always keen to remind us: a designer chooses, a player obeys. Fitting that we hear this conversation immediately after revisiting Rapture, which kindly told us that we were never in control in the first place.

Which brings me to Comstock and DeWitt. And the Luteces. And motivations. A question that ran through my head throughout much of the game was: Why did they need the baby? Was it just Comstock’s desire to keep her in his new life? But then why imprison her? Why bring her there at all? Clearly he was fully aware that his old self would return for her, and aimed to thwart this, using the False Shepherd prophecy to turn the entire Columbian population against DeWitt when he did arrive. Who knows how many times Booker ventured through that lighthouse door and was killed upon his arrival to the floating city…

The note on the door reads: “DeWitt – Bring us the girl and wipe away the debt. THIS IS YOUR LAST CHANCE.”

How many “last chances” did he have? An Infinite number… until he was drowned at the point of divergence – the original baptism.

Dan Crabtree

Like in the original BioShock, procreation is a powerful motivator, maybe even the most powerful. Constock is sterile from exposure to Rosalind’s equipment, so he has the Luteces go to a version of himself in another dimension to get a child that is, essentially, his. At least in the sense that they were the same person up until the baptism. Fatherhood is mad important in the world of BioShock.

Eddie Inzauto

Ah, yes, and particularly among the devoutly religious. We see that very prominently in the real world; members of various sects are strongly encouraged to bear as many children as possible and raise more members of the flock.

I did come across that voxophone: the one in which Rosalind explains Comstock’s sterility. Of course the leader needs his successor. Sterility would be a devastating quality to reveal to his followers, as has been evident throughout history. Kings who can’t father children (or usually the perfectly healthy queens who take the blame) are scorned and rejected… or killed.

Dan Crabtree

And if he knows that he’s going to die before bringing justice to the Sodom below, then he’ll need a seed to sit the throne and drown in flames the mountains of man.

BioShock Infinite

Eddie Inzauto

So then one hypothesis could be that he foresaw destroying himself in all forms, no doubt with the help of the Luteces’ technology. The final, original baptism drowning was planned, then, all along? The debt we speak of throughout the game, then, is simply his transmigration into the new vessel, Comstock, and the Luteces are helping him wipe away his own existence, leaving Elizabeth to wipe away the Sodom of man. Or the debt is the world below, itself, but that’s really the same concept, isn’t it?

Booker, and by extension, Comstock, represents the filth and evil of man that still exists below. Following this line of thought, Comstock, even after his baptism, cannot forgive himself of his sins as Booker throughout his life, particularly at Wounded Knee, where he slaughtered women and children (if you’re unfamiliar with Wounded Knee, it is essential that you read up on it). He even went so far in his new existence as Comstock to glorify this behavior, citing it as holy work in this new religion founded upon American patriotism. Despite that facade, however, the only forgiveness that is strong enough to suit this new holy man, Comstock, is his own destruction… and a baptism by fire (a literal interpretation of the phrase derived from a soldier’s first experience at war) on Earth.

But the Luteces are still the most intriguing aspect of this story to me, and I’ve come to a different conclusion. Even after the thoughts above, I can’t help but wonder if they are working toward their own agenda, and if this entire loop with DeWitt is a betrayal rather than cooperation. Perhaps Comstock has no issues with forgiveness, and simply sees himself dying naturally before destroying the Sodom below. Elizabeth would be the one to do this, and if she were to drown DeWitt at the point of divergence, it’s doubtful she would then follow through with setting those flames.

The Luteces found Booker and offered the deal… so then they are seemingly the true saviors of Earth. They did it all just to stop Comstock’s plan, no?

And we’ve referred to the Luteces in the plural, but their foremost goal, at the beginning, was being united. Why? Maybe I missed voxophones, but I have some ideas surrounding these two.

We overhear them talking about finishing each other’s sentences. One asks if that’s strange. The other says that it would be strange if they didn’t. And in one voxophone recording, Rosalind mentions that but a single chromosome separate her from her brother. These two are the same person, born in one universe as a female, and another as a male. Rosalind (and maybe Robert, as well) discovered the time/space tearing through studies of quantum physics, and realized that these two versions both existed. A genius mind such as Lutece’s can’t reconcile such knowledge and just let it be. He/she needed to clean things up and reunite these two versions of her/himself.

And the same may go for other matters in the world. Like Anthony says, Anna’s power is so great in the end that she can take Booker back to the point of divergence, thus eliminating Comstock, Columbia, and the infinite loop of this story, leaving the universe in which the baptism is rejected as the only option remaining (because Booker has learned – only by the end of this game – that his sins can never be washed away, and he must live with his past). After the credits, Booker remains with his daughter, and Lutece never comes for her, because Columbia will never have existed, never exists, never existed, never will exist…

Anthony LaBella

Eddie brings up a good question about the motivations of the Luteces. I’m left thinking that Robert Lutece feels guilty to some extent about his part in the whole debt storyline and the separation of Booker from his daughter. This transcript from one of Rosalind Lutece’s voxophones helps highlight that I think:

Rosalind Lutece – An Ultimatum

“My brother has presented me with an ultimatum… If we do not send the girl back from where we brought her, he and I must part. Where he sees an empty page, I see King Lear. But he is my brother, so I shall play my part, knowing it shall all end in tears.”

I see this as Robert Lutece wanting to right his wrongs so to speak. The use of the word “ultimatum” emphasizes his seriousness on the matter – unless things change this time, he will have to part with his sister. Rosalind, on the other hand, does not appear to have a guilty conscience.

BioShock Infinite

Aled Morgan

Comstock was allegedly visited by the archangel Columbia, who showed him a vision of ‘a city lighter than air’ (Zachary Comstock – Underserving) This angelic vision forms the backbone of Comstock’s own personal fiction. It helps him construct the ‘Father Comstock’ cult of personality; it made him wealthy, and famous, and allowed him to spread his own zealous, nationalistic form of Christianity to tens of thousands. His vision was also completely genuine, at least to him.

In answer to Eddie about Comstock’s reasons for wanting Anna in particular, he needed the baby because he truly did believe in the prophecy the archangel delivered to him. An audio diary found in the Bank of the Prophet suggests that Comstock really was visited by the archangel, or at least that he truly believed that he was. Here’s the diary:

Zachary Comstock – A Broken Circle

“The archangel tells me that Columbia will only survive so long as my line sits the throne. Yet Lady Comstock produces no child. I have done what a man can do, yet there is no child! I have asked Lutece about the matter, but even she refuses to help.”

Comstock is obviously agitated when he records these words. He sounds concerned, impatient, and even frightened. To me, it’s clear that Comstock truly believed in his vision. It would have been simple to find a child and pass it off as is own, had Comstock simply wanted to fool the populace of Columbia, but he knows he needs a child of ‘his own line’ to satisfy a prophecy that he himself believes in. Naturally, due to his sterility, the only option available to him is to take a child of his own from an alternate timeline. Comstock took Anna not because he had an ulterior motive, not because he had a plan, but because he sincerely believed in the prophecy, and in the archangel Columbia.

For me, this answers why Comstock wanted Anna – she was the only way to fulfill a prophecy that he himself believed in. The interesting part is in the prophecy itself, and how it was delivered. Forgive me if my lax knowledge of time travel and quantum thingymathings betrays me here.

Was Comstock really visited by an angel in Infinite’s fiction, or was it simply delusion? Could it have been a mere delusion – a feverish, zealous dream – that led to the construction of Columbia? For me, Comstock was little more knowledgeable a player in Infinite’s plot than Booker, and the only ones who seemed to be pulling any strings behind the scenes were the Luteces. It’s almost too much madness to think, but could Zachary Comstock’s vision of Columbia have been shown to him on purpose, by none other than Rosalin Lutece?

Oh, the speculation!

Eddie Inzauto

Good citation! Certainly continues to refute my abandoned initial suggestion, making Comstock even less of a mastermind and his actions less of a grand deception. Certainly Lutece is the puppeteer here. Either she fabricated that prophecy or Comstock’s troubled mind conjured the delusion after – or during – his original baptism and “rebirth.”

Interesting that Lutece was apparently the only one allowed to see Elizabeth on monument island, too. Total control.

Constance Field – For I Am Lonely, Too

“Madame Lutece – I have read all of your books on the sciences. Mama says, “its not a fit occupation for a lady,” but I think she’s jealous of our cleverness. Is it true that the only you are allowed to visit the girl in the tower? If the Lamb is lonely too, I should like to meet her, as we would have much in common. – Warmest regards, Constance”

BioShock Infinite

Mike Murphy

Aled raises a good point. This is something I contemplated during the entire ending. I’m not entirely sure if it was Lutece who visited Comstock, though. If you remember, Comstock kills her. Why would she want to help someone who killed her and recreate the circumstances in which she is killed, even if it allows her to move about freely in space-time?

I think it may have been Elizabeth herself, after her brainwashing was complete and she had taken over control of Columbia from Comstock after his death. A brainwashed, power-hungry Elizabeth hell-bent on seeing through to her “father’s” wishes could have realized – thanks to her powers – that she needed to be the one to tell Comstock to build Columbia. Since she knew how everything played out, she then would know to tell Comstock that he needed an heir in his line to complete the final part of the prophecy: The seed of the prophet shall sit the throne, and drown in flame the mountains of man. Essentially, instead of Elizabeth preventing Comstock from ever existing, this evil alternate version of herself ensures that he builds Columbia.

As for the debt that Eddie is curious about: I think it’s simply intended to mean all of Booker and Comstock’s sins, including Booker giving away Anna. That’s Booker’s own, internal, debt of guilt. If he retrieves the girl and rescues Elizabeth/Anna from Comstock and the hell he inadvertently put her in, then his debt would be wiped away and he’d once again have a clean conscience. Since the Luteces know this from being there and watching Booker torment himself for years over what he’s done, they’re aware of what Booker’s true “debt” is.

I’m also going to pose something here based on Eddie’s mention of “how many last chances did Booker have?” I honestly believe that the Songbird was, in fact, a twisted version of yet another Booker DeWitt. Though it’s mostly machine, that didn’t stop Handymen from still having their own hearts and a mind, though seemingly brainwashed. What if Fink, after seeing the Big Daddies and drawing up the design for Songbird, went to Comstock with the designs and Comstock himself told Fink that he had someone in mind to be/pilot the flying beast?

Comstock could have had another Booker that either failed in wiping away his debt, or – what I find to be more likely – used the Luteces and their technology to go into another timeline and capture another Booker. This is still possible after Elizabeth was brought over, as Comstock didn’t have the Luteces “killed” for another 10 years. Once put into Songbird, Comstock and gang were likely able to brainwash Booker and strip him of most of his personality, leaving only his deep desire to protect his daughter from anyone and everyone who would take her away from him again.

One thing that still bugs me, however, is what the player sees right before confronting and killing Comstock. Right before you go into his room, there are two plaques that feature three images each, which depict scenes from the game. The last one is of Comstock in his room and his death, which takes place after elderly Elizabeth sends Booker back. Does this mean Comstock knew of his death and the final attempt to ruin his prophecy? Was it because of his “visions” or was he warned by the Luteces or “the archangel”? If he knew The False Prophet would kill him and have the lamb in the end, was he counting on Songbird or the Vox Populi to kill Booker and fulfull the prophecy that the seed of the prophet shall sit the throne, and drown in flames the mountains of man? Maybe it’s because of what defined his character all along: he had faith. Perhaps his faith was so strong that he believed “the archangel’s” prophecy wholeheartedly and trusted that after his death Booker would die and/or Elizabeth would turn on him after knowing the truth. It certainly fits everything we’ve come to know of the man.


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Author: GamerNode Staff View all posts by

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