Anyone who knows me knows that the original BioShock is my favorite game of all time. I doubt I need to explain its appeal, but let’s just say it’s the perfect combination of story and gameplay that I’ve ever seen and it has one of the best, if not the best, stories in a game. If you haven’t played it you should. Like, right now.
One of the things that was always striking to me about the game was the elements of the Little Sisters and their Big Daddy protectors. I’ve long been a lover of creepy-cute anything. so the Little Sisters were right up my alley. I even dressed up as one for Halloween one year, complete with Adam extractor that my husband and I hand-made. We broke up a bunch of those neon glow bracelets and put them is a small jar. In hindsight, that was probably not a completely non-toxic thing to do, but, hey. It looked cool.
So needless to say, when I heard about the BioShock Collection, which includes remastered versions of all of the games and their single-player DLC, I was ecstatic. I couldn’t wait to go back to that fascinating place called Rapture. As I started up the game and went through the opening sequence, I was literally bouncing with excitement. You know how some older things don’t quite hold up when you see them later? BioShock wasn’t like that. I had the same experience of excitement and then awe as Andrew Ryan’s speech ended to reveal the first images of Rapture.
I took my time and slowly explored through the first area of the game leading up to the introduction of the Little Sisters. I remembered this part because it was one of the coolest moments in a game full of cool moments. The first time I played the game years ago, I watched in fascination as the little girl repeatedly stabbed a corpse to extract the Adam. My reaction this time around was different and not really what I was expecting.
Just like with everything else in the world, I was now looking at this display through a mom lens. And not only a mom, but a mom of a little girl who is now about the same age as the Little Sisters look to be in the game. I wanted to run to her and pick her up and tell her how what she was doing was wrong. I was physically in distress. I think only mothers can know what this means, but when your child cries, you are physically uncomfortable. It feels like your arms and chest are going to jump right out of your body. But the distress only got worse.
WARNING – The video below shows some graphic gameplay from BioShock. It illustrates the action of saving a Little Sister.
I couldn’t run to the girl like I wanted and needed to because the game makes you watch a sequence where someone hits the girl and then she screams to summon her Big Daddy. It was hard to sit there and watch helplessly as the scene played out. For the first time, I felt a huge amount of empathy for the faceless hulking beast that is a Big Daddy. If anyone were to hit my daughter I too would want to bang them up against a wall and stab them through the stomach with a huge arm drill.
Later, when the game introduces you to the gameplay element of rescuing or harvesting the Little Sisters, there was no question what would happen. Even before I was a mom, I couldn’t bring myself to harvest them, even when I was attempting a second playthrough to get the alternate ending. In this part as well, the game kept me from responding the way I would have liked. As the little girl cowered in the corner, I didn’t want to go up to her and grab her. I wanted to bend my knee, hold out my hand and tell her it was going to be ok. But, regardless of your intentions, you roughly pick up the girl. Seeing her push against my hand and say, “No! No! No no!” was another moment that hit hard. Anyone with a preschooler hears that a lot. Hearing it in a little girl’s voice made it all the worse.
But then the stress finally stops. You can rub her face and head and she turns into a normal little girl who thanks you for saving her. That part of the gameplay always touched me, but this time around, everything was turned up a notch. I haven’t yet made it to the Little Sister Orphanage, but now I know I probably need to expect some new reactions there as well. The seeds of anger toward Dr. Tenenbaum for doing this to little girls have already been planted. I know I have to act as an ally to her later in the game, and I’m not sure how that’s going to play out in my brain.
But does all of this change my love of this game? Not at all. If anything I love it more. It’s managed to stir up such visceral emotions, and no game or movie or any other type of media has ever come close to doing that for me in the same way. Even after all of these years, BioShock continues to surprise me and I think that’s a testament to just how good of a game it is.