Father Knows Best – Bioshock 2

NB: This article is going to spoil Bioshock 2 for you, if you care. If you haven’t already read the first part, why not? I’ll wait.

When I left off last time, a little girl was crying over the corpse of her dead father in a ruined underwater city as a menacing figure advanced on her in search of precious ADAM.

me and mah daddy ❤

A little under three years later, Bioshock 2 was released. A lot of people (self included) thought, “Well, this is the sequel that need not exist. The Big Bads from the first are dead and dead. The city’s been all but completely abandoned. What the hell is left to do there?” The only additional feature was the ability to use both a Plasmid (magick powers) and your gun at the same time.

And you played as a Big Daddy. That’s right, no longer are you a Mystery Man dropped into the middle of the crumbled building – instead you’re one of those big hulking things you spent so much time figuring out how to kill. Yawn. I’m already big and slow in real life – I don’t want to play a video game that reminds me of that. It’s the same reason video game protagonists don’t have to stop to catch their breath after climbing a flight of stairs.

I figured, even though I did enjoy the first Bioshock, I could let this one go. Aside from what sounded like a dumb single player experience, it seemed like half of the game’s development had been devoted to multiplayer. I’ve yet to be really impressed with an online multiplayer game lately, since I don’t find much fun in a bunch of teenagers calling me a “gay faggot” as they beat me over and over. Also, I’m terrible at them.

Finally, though, I was convinced by the good reviews and the fact that it came with a shiny foil box to pick up a copy. I took it home, unwrapped it and popped the disc in.
“This… this is good,” I thought.

If you want a list of the reasons being a Big Daddy was cool as hell, read a review. That’s not what this is about.

A brief story summary (if you’re interested, the unabridged can be found on Wikipedia): You’re the first Big Daddy. In 1958, before all hell breaks loose in Rapture, you’re escorting your Little Sister about. Shit happens, you end up in a coma for ten years so you miss all the excitement of the first Bioshock. When you awake from your Big Daddy coma, you realize your Little Sister has been abducted and raised by Sofia Lamb, collectivist psychologist. If you don’t get her back, you will die due to some wonky psychic connection.

So, there we go. A father needs to get his daughter back from her abductors. Think of it like an underwater art deco Taken, and you’re a big badass Liam Neeson with a drill for an arm and a rivet gun.

In the original Bioshock, you very rarely interacted with a person face to face. It was either radio communication or an audiodiary. The few times you actually met in person, it was a safe bet that one of you was going to not walk out of the room. In the sequel, though, you’ll come face to face with a variety of people, each of whom had some part in stealing away your daughter. Each one will take the time to taunt you over the radio, to let you know just what they did and how they aren’t afraid of some big tin can man coming along. They did it for the good of The Family, Lamb’s little group, and fuck you if you hate.

Each time you come across one of these characters, you get the choice to dish out some vengeance or just walk away. Unlike in the first game, there’s no real reward to be gained by being “good”. Sure, sometimes you might get an extra bit of ammo or what-not, but that’s not the same as a boost of ADAM. It’s just a choice that you can make. Sure, there’s a moral basis to it, but it can be different for each player. I may not see the point in striking down the old cabaret singer for crimes she committed nearly a decade ago, but another player may think it necessary. Yes, of course there will be budding sociopaths who kill everything in their way, but they’re the same people who’re pissed off that you can no longer murder children in computer games. If you want to take them seriously, by all means, go ahead. The rest of us will be over here.

I'm not even kidding. There are people pissed off that you can't do this to a child's head. The screams of "Censorship!" ring through the night.

The Little Sisters are back, too. Yes, you’re still going to have to kill their Big Daddy to get at them. Yes, it’s kinda weird that you’re murdering one of your own for their child. Once you pick up a Sister, though, you’re presented with two options: “Adopt” and “Harvest”. Harvest is, as always, the Bad Choice where you rip out their sea slug innards and I guess absorb them through your diving suit. It’s not very clear. Adopt is much, much more interesting.

When you choose adopt, you place the Little Sister up on your shoulder. She’ll sit there and make little comments, just as she does when wandering around with her original Big Daddy. At this point, you can have her harvest ADAM from certain corpses in the area, and while she does that, your job is to protect her. Once she’s harvested all she can, you either save her and send her off to safety, or you can harvest her at that point.

Those times when you’re defending her against an onslaught of crazies are interesting, and I bet that each player has a slightly different interpretation of the goal. Am I protecting her because it’s the right thing to do? Am I protecting her because she’s just a tool, and if a tool breaks, it’s not useful to me anymore? How about when she is of no more use? Do I let her go, or squeeze every little drop out of her that I can?

It’s by no means a “deep moral choice”, but it’s cool. You’ll start to develop a sort of affection for these little girls who ride on your shoulder and point out angels. Who cheer you on in battle. Who deliver a little “thank you” before scooting up into their escape tunnels.

And that’s cool, and you’re trucking along, and then all of a sudden it’s time for the Big Climactic Showdown. You’re at the top of the undersea world, and you can see your daughter lying in a chamber behind unbreakable glass. Shit transpires, you free her, and now all of a sudden she’s not a Little Sister anymore. She’s a Big Sister, the female equivalent of the Big Daddy. And she kicks just as much ass as you do.

The Big Sister outfit. Just like a video game to sex up a female character's costume.

And that’s when I realized something about this game, which may make me a lame-o: I’m proud to see my daughter grow up. Well, not my daughter, my Big Daddy’s daughter. And not even really his daughter. But, still. Something in this resonated with a part of me where I thought, “That’s my girl.” And soon, all of the decisions you made over the course of the game – did you kill out of vengeance? Did you show mercy to those who pleaded for it? Were you a protector or a tormentor to the Little Sisters? – flash on the screen. And you realize that your daughter has been watching the whole time, learning from what you’ve done.

For me, that was a hell of a moment, completely different from the “Fuck yeah!” fistpumping I’d done whenever a particularly difficult section was behind me. It gave me a little smile.

In the end, you need a shitload of ADAM to lift a bathysphere or something fuck it’s not important. Your Big Daughter volunteers to collect the ADAM from the dormitories of the Little Sisters. You have no agency in this act beyond clearing the rooms. You cannot interact with the sleeping Little Sisters – you can only watch as your daughter acts as you have instructed her.

For me, a Goody Goody Two Shoes, she saved each of them, and united them in order to escape. It was the payoff to all of those decisions, to realize that my choices, even in a small way, mattered. That’s what a moral choice should be about, not a mindless “Do I get a Good Ending or an Evil Ending?” black/white like the original Bioshock.
Then you escape, blah blah, everyone’s happy, the end. Sure, that’s the conclusion, but the real climax of the story came when your daughter suits up and puts into action everything you’ve taught her, no matter how unaware you were.

Tune in next time for a discussion of fatherhood in Nier, a game starring a father, a floating book, a skeleton and a lingerie-clad hermaphrodite.

"See you next time!"

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