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Hyper Mode: Elizabeth Comstock's Last Hurrah

February 26, 2014  |  8:00am
Hyper Mode: Elizabeth Comstock's Last Hurrah

Last week, a porn parody game of BioShock Infinite came out: it’s called (of course) BioCock Intimate. Its creator, who goes by Zone-sama, has been making flash games that parody mainstream videogames for years now, and BioCock is just one of many. If you know about Zone’s games, most of which have free demos on Newgrounds (including BioCock), then it won’t surprise you to hear that this game is surprisingly well-executed. Zone’s porn parodies of the Skullgirls franchise were so good that they led to an actual job on the Skullgirls development team.

Zone games are known for their distinctive art style and woman-centric premises; the female characters, in addition to being beautifully drawn, often have a low-lit, spooky, wide-eyed glare that seems like it would fit better in a horror game than a pornographic one. That characteristic grin lends a something’s-not-right-here atmosphere, which seems fitting for a parody, but which also makes these games seem funny and unnerving rather than straightforwardly sexy. (That said, BioCock in particular portrays a very vanilla depiction of sex, but more on that later.) Zone also uses modified audio from the original games; instead of tracking down a voice actress willing to do a dead-on Elizabeth Comstock impression, BioCock simply does what best it can with the real thing. This makes Elizabeth’s lines all the funnier for players who remember their original context in BioShock.

A few things have made the recent release of BioCock more notable. One is BioShock creator Ken Levine’s admonishment to fans last October that they stop making so much Elizabeth porn. The other is Irrational Games’ recent announcement that it would be closing its doors, that the BioShock franchise would likely come to an end with the second half of Infinite’s Burial At Sea DLC, and that Ken Levine would be working on other projects that would not at all resemble BioShock in terms of genre, style or development.

We can only assume that the release of BioCock made Levine so infuriated that he shut down his entire game studio. After all, he told everyone to stop making Elizabeth porn, and in response, the most notable porn parody game creator of the day made the best possible Elizabeth porn ever. Should we be surprised that Ken Levine snapped?

biocock intimate 3.jpg

I’m joking, of course—the timing of BioCock’s release (I want you all to know that I’m snickering like a middle-schooler every time I type that phrase) and Irrational’s closing is merely an unusual and tragic coincidence. Speaking as someone who was famously disappointed with the portrayal of Elizabeth in BioShock Infinite, which I discussed at length in my column about “the daddification of games”, I admit that while I was sad to hear about a studio closing from a financial perspective, I wasn’t sad to hear that I probably wouldn’t get to play another BioShock game. In addition to BioShock Infinite’s unsettling and unrealistic depictions of racial strife, I also felt disappointed by Elizabeth’s depiction in particular. I hated that I, as a player, was expected to feel fatherly and protective towards her.

I don’t entirely relate to Elizabeth; she’s as painfully naive as I’d expect of a woman who’s grown up encased in an externally imposed ivory tower with nothing but Les Miserables and a handful of skeevy scientists to keep her company. The key to Liz’s cage does eventually pass from one paternal figure to another, but that does not endear BioShock Infinite to me. I kept wanting Elizabeth to escape...but I knew it could never happen, not with her overprotective father Ken Levine calling the shots. To use his own words, regarding porn of Elizabeth: “It’s like coming across a picture of your daughter. I die a little inside with every page view.”

Now? It’s time for Elizabeth to grow up and get away from dear old dad.

Ironically, BioCock comes (haha) a lot closer to offering me the version of Elizabeth that I wanted to see than BioShock did. The game takes place from the perspective of a person who has a penis, but it’s not clear whether that person is Booker—and I don’t think it really matters. The protagonist spends the entire game in a completely passive position, lying on the floor while Elizabeth speaks, moans and calls the sexual shots. The player can choose to move forward or backward with Elizabeth, but clicking the “advance” button does not allow the protagonist to move—instead, it’s Elizabeth who moves or changes her position. The result was that I, as a player, ended up feeling like I was actually inhabiting and playing as Elizabeth, not the random phantom dick up front.

biocock intimate 2.jpg

Of course, the depiction of sexual congress between two slender, toned white bodies, one with a dick and one with a vagina, is about as vanilla as it gets when it comes to pornography (sidebar: “biocock” is occasionally used to refer to transwomen’s genitals, but there’s nothing in the game that leads me to believe that reference is intentional). The sole illicit aspect of BioCock is the knowledge that Ken Levine would hate it. Or maybe that was only fun for me—that’s fine, I’ll cop to that.

The knowledge that Elizabeth is engaging in consensual sex, which in the context of BioCock is implied to be voyeuristic in some way, heightens the stakes. Elizabeth wonders out loud whether anyone will “find us” and catch them in the act, and in context, this seems like an exciting possibility to her. This emphasizes the fact that Elizabeth the fictional character is partaking in an act that she knows isn’t sanctioned, not in canonical BioShock terms, nor by her Daddy Levine…but she’s not a child, she’s well into her twenties and it’s ludicrous to expect that she wouldn’t be having exciting sexy times with somebody, fictional though she may be. I admit that I hope the phantom dick in question doesn’t belong to Booker (for any number of spoiler-related reasons), but, honestly? I’m willing to be open-minded about that particular possibility, if only because BioCock portrays a version of Elizabeth who seems like she actually wants to be there.

Speaking of Elizabeth-centric games that I enjoyed for different reasons than everybody else, the first episode of Burial At Sea also made me feel like I was finally seeing the adult, self-reclaiming Elizabeth that I knew was hiding in there somewhere, waiting to bust out and throw off the shackles. Unlike BioCock’s Elizabeth, though, Burial At Sea’s Liz is actually canonical, and so she’s back to being unhappy about the world she’s stuck in…although, in Burial At Sea, Elizabeth is also a post-Infinite version of herself who has thus grown up a bit and learned Booker is a paternalist jerk who can’t be trusted (is that even a spoiler?) She’s got a much more mature outfit on to prove the change, too: no more girlish swirling skirts and petticoats, she’s sticking with a pencil skirt. Oh, and she smokes now (lay off, Dad). Elizabeth was a bit overdue for this rebellious phase, but better late than never; I was thrilled to see her tell off Booker for his many mistakes at the end of Burial At Sea. Even though the gameplay of Burial was a bit thin and repetitious, I just felt so relieved to see Elizabeth’s narrative arc shaping up to be more realistic. Plus, the second episode of Burial At Sea will be told from Elizabeth’s perspective. This will be the first time that’s happened, ever…although I maintain that BioCock came closer than Infinite (or even the first Burial At Sea) ever did to making Elizabeth seem like she had agency.

It seems odd that the final title from Irrational Games would be a few-hours-long DLC tale told from the perspective of Elizabeth, rather than yet another story told from the perspective of a failed patriarch foiled by his own ill-considered aspirations. It may be odd, but that doesn’t make it bad. If anything, it’s tragic that this sharp left turn towards Elizabeth finally reclaiming her own life will be the last story Irrational gets to tell.

I’m not sure whether Levine spends much time on directing these DLC packs, although I do know he had a tight hand on Infinite. I’m also not sure how much he’ll bother to interfere with the last Burial At Sea, now that he’s halfway out the door. To be honest, I’m not-so-secretly hoping Levine has checked out and that whoever is working on Burial will give Elizabeth the send-off she deserves—a perspective that could only be provided by someone who doesn’t see her as a daughter, but who sees her as an adult woman, a human who can make her own choices. Is it too late to hire Zone-sama?

Hyper Mode is an occasional column by Paste’s assistant games editor Maddy Myers. Her work has also appeared in the Boston Phoenix, Kill Screen and at the Border House. She also blogs at her personal website Metroidpolitan and tweets @samusclone.

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