- "Why would he send his savior unto us, if we will not raise a finger for our own salvation? And though we deserved not his mercy, he has led us to this New Eden, a last chance for redemption. And the Prophet shall lead the people to the New Eden."
- ―Church of Comstock
Columbia is a massive floating city in the sky, commissioned by the United States government and founded by Zachary Hale Comstock as a symbol of American political and religious ideals. The city, capable of flight due to the scientific discoveries of physicist Rosalind Lutece, was completed in 1893, and seceded from the United States in 1901. It is the primary setting of BioShock Infinite.
Columbia floats above the American continent and is comprised of neoclassical buildings similar to cities in the American Northeast (such as Boston) which were pivotal in the eventual formation of the United States. While reactors, propellers and balloons are present throughout the city, its ability to float is due to the utilization of quantum fields which allow objects within them to be suspended indefinitely. The city is also designed with "rain-catchers" that collect water from precipitation in the clouds and fallen water from the city to keep the vegetation and populace supplied with water.
The city was designed with docking stations and propulsion devices to allow buildings to move about. It was also constructed for greater travel, allowing for national and international tours. The city maintains a regular route across the United States with periodic stops near major cities, connecting to relay stations which contain transport rockets. These rockets function as the only means of entry into Columbia, accessible via coded signal. Columbia's internal means of transportation include zeppelins, hovercrafts, gondolas, and Sky-Lines. Bridges are also automated to connect with different moving portions of the city at various stations, scheduled like any other transportation system.
Zachary Comstock named his city after an angel, he claims, to have shown him a vision of a city in the air, and asserts that she chose him to lead people to a "New Eden." This vision signified him being a prophet. After meeting Rosalind Lutece and learning of her Lutece Field, he used his position in Congress to propose the construction of the city, in which he would eventually play the role of the Prophet and leader.
The U.S. government believed Columbia to potentially be an example of American exceptionalism, and the city was launched to great fanfare in 1893, and dispatched to distant shores. However, what began as an endeavor of achievement and hope went drastically wrong. In 1901, during the Boxer Rebellion, Columbia fired on Chinese civilians who had taken American hostages. This event revealed the floating city being a heavily armed aerial battleship, capable of unleashing devastating force across the world. A rift swiftly emerged between leadership in Columbia and Washington and, in response, Columbia seceded from the Union and disappeared into the clouds.This alleged utopia had its flaws. Institutionalized racism and elitism were widespread in Columbia, with Anglo-Saxon supremacy widely asserted by the upper classes. People of minority races were subjugated in Columbia, with some (such as eventual Vox Populi leader Daisy Fitzroy) brought in to serve as slaves or indentured servants. Racial segregation was heavily enforced within the city, to the point where interracial couples faced the risk of a public stoning. As a result of this seperation, minorities were largely relegated to menial labor with no opportunity for upward mobility. The hard labor workforce at Fink Manufacturing (well-known for mistreating its workers) was chiefly composed of the city's minority population.
Such policies are widely accepted by the majority of the upper and middle class, though some exceptions existed. Torture and murder of minorities is ignored by the main political party in Columbia, The Founders, along with the Columbian police authorities. Control was covertly enforced brutally by a white supremacist group, the Fraternal Order of the Raven.
Columbia is a militantly pseudo-Christian society, based upon the cult of Father Comstock as a divine prophetic figure. Deviation from this state-imposed dogma was considered unacceptable. The Founders, led by Comstock, were the prevailing political faction in Columbia, retaining exclusive control over the city's society, government and business infrastructure. They enforced Comstock's religious and social vision, and in turn benefited from it as part of the privileged social strata.
Religious Beliefs and PhilosophiesEdit
Major beliefs held by citizens in Columbia:
- The Founders - The majority of Columbia's citizens worshiped Father Comstock, following his word blindly and trusting wholly in his prophecies. As a result, they stood by his decision to intervene in the Boxer Rebellion, and Columbia's subsequent secession. The people of the city also worshiped Elizabeth as the Lamb of Columbia, believing she would fulfill Comstock's prophecies in years to come. The Founders' also worshipped the Founding Fathers--particularly George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and Benjamin Franklin--as religious icons. Each of the three was associated with a different symbol, according to what they gave to mankind: Franklin was associated with the key, a symbol of knowledge; Jefferson was associated with the scroll, a symbol of law and order; and Washington was associated with the sword, a symbol of power and justice.
- Fraternal Order of the Raven - The Order was an even more radical branch of the Founders, tasking itself with the brutal enforcement of white supremacist policies and the assassination of Vox Populi figures, chief among them Daisy Fitzroy. They revered John Wilkes Booth as their central figure and demonized Abraham Lincoln as a corrupt figure of evil. They also revered Lady Comstock, and worshiped the sword, the raven, and the coffin in her memory.
- Buddhism - The belief of awakened enlightenment, followed mostly by the Chinese immigrants in Columbia. This belief was regarded with hostility within Columbia, and was practiced in secret. Chen Lin and his wife were followers of Buddhism when Booker and Elizabeth first encountered them; however, in an alternate reality, Mrs. Lin was white and followed the Founders.
- Social Darwinism - Darwinism as a scientific theory did not feature prominently in Columbia, but was known and marked as taboo--on the shores of Battleship Bay, a citizen can be heard attempting to discussing Darwinism and is hastily hushed by his companion. In spite of this, Columbian society employed warped Darwinian concepts as justification for their bigotry.
Fink Manufacturing was the largest business in Columbia, as well as its largest employer and manufacturer. Due to a high demand for Vigors in Columbia, Fink Manufacturing bottled and distributed Vigors produced by independent, contracted businesses, such as Marlowe for Murder of Crows. The work floor at Fink Manufacturing showed its dominance in various markets--one floor, for example, was devoted to automated turrets, while the one above focused on children's toys.
Smaller businesses produced various items for the people of Columbia, the Founders, and the Vox. However, most of these companies were quickly bought out by Fink's business empire, leaving him the sole distributor for goods in the city. There were some exceptions, such as the Duke & Dimwit Company, which produced propaganda pieces via books, toys and machines.
Despite these business opportunities, 50% of every Silver Eagle earned went directly to Comstock, which deeply affected the laborers of Columbia. Furthermore, Fink's price gouging and heavy-handed exploitation of his workers forced them into poverty, frequently leading to starvation and disease. This, in turn, further exacerbated the rise of the Vox Populi.
Science and TechnologyEdit
Comstock believed that scientific knowledge was the blueprint of "God's work," and that it could therefore be practiced and controlled in the name of God. Almost every advancement in Columbia was the direct product of the mind of Rosalind Lutece, a quantum physicist and one of the most prominent scientists of her time. Her work led to the discovery of the Lutece Field, a field capable of manipulating the properties of subatomic particles. One such application was the suspension of particles in space, facilitating the creation of airborne machinery and, by extension, the city of Columbia.
Following her work on the Lutece Field, Rosalind Lutece made an even more ground-breaking discovery: the device she created allowed her to interact with parallel realities, leading her to contact her duplicate from another universe, Robert Lutece. Through their joint effort, they developed machinery capable of creating contingencies in the space-time continuum, or Tears, allowing Robert to travel to Rosalind's reality (albeit at a great physical cost).
Father Comstock interpreted these Tears as revelatory visions of the future, precipitating his delusions of grandeur. Through use of these Tears he orchestrated the transfer of Anna DeWitt, rechristened as Elizabeth, to Columbia as his successor, unknowingly giving birth to her reality-bending powers by splitting her form across multiple realities. In an attempt to control her powers, he had the Luteces engineer several Siphons, devices capable of feeding off of her energy. Their experiments nonetheless led to the spontaneous formation of Tears around Columbia.
While most citizens regarded these Tears as a mere curiosity, individuals such as Jeremiah and Albert Fink exploited the insight they offered into parallel technologies. Whereas Albert simply used Tears as a means of trans-dimensional artistic theft, Jeremiah copied the designs of other researchers (some of them hinted to be from Rapture) in order to create radically new technologies, such as Vigors, Voxophones and Motorized Patriots. Based on the blueprints of an armored suit, he engineered the development of the Songbird Defense System.
Beginning of the EndEdit
As Zachary Comstock observed the Tears engineered by the Lutece twins, he became convinced that the glimpses of potential futures were in fact prophetic visions. Styling himself as the Prophet, he envisioned a future in which Columbia would bring forth a cleansing apocalypse across the world below, reshaping it in the city's image. However, repeated exposure to the device left him sterile, prematurely aged and terminally ill. In search of an heir, he used the Luteces' device to travel to an alternate universe in 1893 and purchase the daughter of his counterpart, Booker DeWitt. He rechristened her Elizabeth, and established her birth as the result of a miraculous seven-day pregnancy. The transfer also granted Elizabeth the power to create Tears when one closed on her little finger, causing her to exist in multiple realities.
Lady Comstock, the Prophet's wife, did not take kindly to this fraud. Unwilling to listen to Rosalind Lutece's explanation, she accused her and Comstock of having an affair, and threatened to reveal Elizabeth's true nature to the public. Desperate to maintain the myth surrounding the Lamb of Columbia, Father Comstock orchestrated Lady Comstock's murder and framed her scullery maid, Daisy Fitzroy, for the crime. However, Daisy escaped custody and went on to lead the Vox Populi as revenge against the Founders. In order to preserve secrecy, he also engineered the sabotage of the Lutece Twins' device in an attempt to murder them and cover up their deaths. Unbeknownst to him, the accident actually scattered them across the space-time continuum, allowing them to travel freely across all realities. Determined to set things right, they contacted Booker DeWitt and arranged his journey to Columbia.
Events of BioShock InfiniteEdit
Upon transfer to Comstock's reality, Booker's memories are rewritten: rather than setting out to find his daughter, he believes he has been tasked with retrieving Elizabeth in order to wipe away his debt.
Booker arrives in Columbia and is directed to find Monument Island. Travelling through to the 1912 Raffle and Fair, he is found out to be the False Shepherd, an evil figure prophecized to lead the Lamb of Columbia astray. Immediately, he is hunted down by Comstock's forces, and must fight his way through to Monument Island. There, he meets Elizabeth and is beset upon by Songbird, her giant mechanized jailer. He chases the two down, destroying large portions of the city and part of the Monument in the process, before they escape to Battleship Bay. Later on, the two gain access to The First Lady, an airship capable of taking them to the mainland. However, the two get separated, and Booker finds himself forced to work for Daisy Fitzroy: in order to regain the airship, he must find Chen Lin, an arms manufacturer sympathetic to the Vox Populi's cause, so that they may lead an armed revolution against the Founders.
Booker and Elizabeth reunite in Finkton, and travel inside to find that Chen Lin has been murdered by Jeremiah Fink's men. Elizabeth then creates a Tear to a parallel reality in which Chen Lin is still alive, albeit with his tools confiscated. Setting out to Shantytown to find his tools, the two travel through to another Tear in which Columbia is in the middle of an uprising. In this reality, Booker DeWitt was a martyr of the Vox who died for their cause. Fighting their way back to Finkton, the two are discovered by Daisy Fitzroy who orders their execution. At the summit of Fink Manufacturing, Elizabeth kills Daisy after she murders Fink to prevent her from killing a young boy in cold blood. Though the two manage to come back on board the First Lady, they are attacked by Songbird, who crashes the airship into Emporia.
Set upon by both the Founders and the Vox, who are rapidly putting the city to ruin, Booker and Elizabeth attempt to gain access to Comstock House. To do so, they must collect a hand from Lady Comstock to bypass a lock. However, Father Comstock activates a Siphon at her grave and resurrects his dead wife as the Siren. Confused and angry, this new entity attacks Booker, using her powers to send armies of dead soldiers against him. Through three Tears, the two discover that Elizabeth is not in fact Comstock's daughter, and that the latter had Lady Comstock and the Lutece twins murdered to keep her origins a secret. In a final battle, Elizabeth finally manages to appease the Siren, who blasts open the door to Comstock House.
As soon as they enter, Songbird appears, captures Elizabeth and brings her to Comstock House. In hot pursuit, Booker sets out to rescue her. Instead, he finds that he was too late, and that Elizabeth had been indoctrinated to become Comstock's successor. Fighting his way through Comstock House, he is greeted by an elderly Elizabeth, who explains to him that she felt remorse for her actions and brought him through a Tear to prevent her from turning into a monster. He then witnesses the destruction of New York in 1984, an event he had seen before in a recurring dream. Elizabeth then gives him a note for him to pass down to her younger self, and sends him back to the previous timeline.
Inside another part of Comstock House, Booker manages to rescue Elizabeth from torture. Together they board the Hand of the Prophet, Comstock's flagship. Elizabeth meets face-to-face with Comstock and demands he explain her true nature. He can only utter a cryptic response before Booker, in a fit of rage, beats him and drowns him in his own baptismal font. Determined to find answers, Elizabeth uses her older self's note to take control of Songbird and sets course for Monument Island, which houses the primary Siphon that had been limiting her powers all this time.
After fighting off waves of Vox Populi, Booker orders the destruction of the Siphon, unlocking Elizabeth's near-godlike powers. She effortlessly transports herself, Booker and Songbird to Rapture, crushing her guardian under the ocean's pressure and leaving Columbia for good. Through a series of Tears, Elizabeth reveals to Booker that Columbia and Rapture are connected via key elements, and are in fact the same city across different realities.
Before Booker and Elizabeth departed Columbia for the Sea of Doors, the city is in ruins, devastated by the Vox Populi who burnt its districts to the ground. However, Elizabeth and Booker are determined to find the truth about her and to stop Comstock from ever harming her. When Booker discovers he is an alternate version of Comstock, he allows Elizabeth to drown him so that he is never able to make the choice that leads to Comstock's birth. With the elimination of Comstock across the timeline, many versions of Columbia's existence are also erased, and the events that occurred over the past twenty years vanish with it.
However, within the possibility space - Comstock's existence is still present in the multiverse, albeit in fewer numbers as Booker's drowning in the alternate reality erased a magnitude number of Comstocks within the multiverse. Comstock is still possible as is Columbia in a few other universes. In one reality, Zachary Comstock resides in Columbia and attempts to steal Anna from Booker like his alternate forms. However, the version of Elizabeth that drowned Booker distracted Comstock and telling him to stop trying to take the infant from Booker, resulting in Comstock accidentally decapitating Anna as the Tear closed, resulting in him reverting back to his former identity, Booker DeWitt, and abandons Columbia to live in the city of Rapture.
Columbia is composed of several distinct districts:
- Monument Island
- Monument Island Gateway
- Monument Tower
- Soldier's Field
- Welcome Center
Columbian Propaganda PostersEdit
Behind the ScenesEdit
- The name Columbia refers to the female personification of the United States used in various forms of patriotic symbolism in the 19th century.
- Columbia is supposedly the angel that visited Comstock, inspiring him to build Columbia (his own ark). This can be heard at the celebrations at the start of the game when the floats pass by.
- Early in development, Columbia was meant to be much darker than it currently is. Ken Levine mentioned at a press conference that the concept looked like "Rapture in the sky."
- The process of entering Columbia is a mirror to that of entering Rapture: both journeys start at a lighthouse, but whereas the journey to Rapture is a descent into the ocean, travel to Columbia involves ascension in an airborne capsule. When a whale comes into view when the player descends into Rapture, a zeppelin comes into view when the player is launched to Columbia. Furthering these opposing parallels, Jack rides an airplane to the lighthouse in BioShock and Booker takes a boat in Infinite. A final parallel in decor is also present, as Bioshock opens with a sign declaring Rapture's atheism, whereas the lighthouse at the start of Infinite has signs alluding to Columbia's heavily religious society.
- The events of BioShock Infinite begin on July 6, 1912, the anniversary of Columbia's secession from the United States.
- Columbia appears in PlayStation All-Stars Battle Royale. It makes two appearances: once, in the background of the Uncharted stage, Stowaways, and again as its very own stage, which is invaded by the Twisted Metal character, Dollface (as Iron Maiden).
- Columbia is shown attacking New York City on December 31st, 1983/January 1st, 1984 in one reality.
- According to the automated recording heard in the transport capsule Booker DeWitt rides to Columbia, the city resides at an altitude of approximately 15,000 ft (4572 meters). This altitude would have a serious effect on the health of Columbia's residents. The lower air pressure and oxygen can affect judgement and instill a sense of euphoria, tunnel vision, and hypoxia (insufficient oxygen supply to the body or parts of the body) within moments. Prolonged exposure can also result in altitude sickness and high altitude pulmonary edema or a fatal cerebral edema.
- It has been opined that constant motions of the floating parts of Columbia would render it untenable due to chronic airsickness of the population.
- The lighthouse at the start of the game has a schedule for Columbia's visits to U.S cities. Cities on Columbia's route include Washington, New York, Chicago, Raleigh, St. Louis, Colorado Springs, Flagstaff, Savannah, Portland and Rochester. How exactly Columbia visits these cities in light of its secession from the United States is unclear. It is possible that Columbia still accepts new visitors on a regular basis--this state directly contrasts Rapture, which not only stopped accepting new people, but completely forbade contact with the outside world. Also, during the game the city does not take this route, and instead flies over the Atlantic.
- The map in the lighthouse (next to the schedule mentioned above) shows that Columbia normally did not fly over the Atlantic, and instead traveled in a loop on a regular tour across the U.S.
- The map of Columbia's path around the United States mentioned above is not correct. At the time of BioShock Infinite's start (July 6th, 1912) both New Mexico and Arizona had not become major population centers and it is unlikely that Columbia would stop in these states that had been admitted less than 5 months before the start of this game. (January and February respectively) Especially because it is mentioned that Columbia has been touring for more than a decade previous to Booker's ascent. It is likely that if Columbia were to visit population centers west of Texas, it would stop in San Francisco, California or more highly religious regions of the United States.
- Unlike the high standards and goal of "the best and the brightest" desired for the population of Rapture, Comstock's Columbia appears to have no such mandate; anyone is allowed to enter, so long as they subscribe to the city's extreme variation of American exceptionalism.