This is the second part at my look at fatherhood in video games. For my discussion of The Walking Dead, click here.
In this part I’ll be discussing BioShock 2. Again, there will be spoilers.
Like The Walking Dead, BioShock 2 also emphasizes player choice in determining the psychological fate of the daughter-figure. Eleanor Lamb is a former Little Sister – genetically-altered little girls who exist to gather a substance called ADAM from corpses, which can grant supernatural abilities – in the underwater city of Rapture. The player-character, Subject Delta, is a Big Daddy: a monstrous, genetically altered human being who has been physically and mentally conditioned to protect a Little Sister at all costs.
Although the player’s avatar is Subject Delta, the young woman he had been created to protect, Eleanor Lamb, is the real protagonist of this game. Eleanor kick-starts the game’s plot by resurrecting Delta ten years after he had been forced to commit suicide by her mother and the game’s antagonist, Sofia Lamb. Eleanor revives Delta so that he can rescue her from her mother, who is holding her captive. Delta is irresistibly drawn to Eleanor through the Big Daddy-Little Sister bond they share, and although it is clear that Eleanor loves her “father,” she is also using him as a tool for her escape.
BioShock 2 asks the player to make the ethical choice of “harvesting” (killing) or “adopting” (saving) Little Sisters, though the player is rewarded regardless of his or her choices. The player must also choose whether to spare or murder various antagonistic and treacherous characters throughout the game, and the choices he or she makes will calibrate Eleanor’s own moral compass. If Delta adopts all the Little Sisters and spares all of the game’s antagonists, the tone of the ending is hopeful: Eleanor saves her mother from drowning and refers to her father as her conscience. If Delta harvests the Little Sisters and murders his enemies, Eleanor leaves her mother to drown and prepares to conquer the world, citing her father’s survival instincts as her inspiration. In both cases Delta dies physically but his essence is absorbed by Eleanor as she tells him that “you’ll always be with me now father, your memories, your drives, and when I need you, you’ll be there on my shoulder, whispering” (2K Marin, 2010). These endings can be read as the father figure sacrificing himself to save his daughter, a theme that will return in BioShock Infinite, but in this case Delta’s death was not a choice. Just as Sofia Lamb caused Delta’s suicide ten years earlier, she again attempts to destroy the bond he and Eleanor share by temporarily stopping her daughter’s heart. The plan succeeds, and although Eleanor survives, Delta begins to slowly die, unable to survive without the bond that joins him to his Little Sister.
Even when the daughter-figure is strong, capable, and independent, it is the father who has primarily shaped her development. Jennifer K. Stuller (2010) observes that:
“A consistent theme in stories about the female super, or action, hero is that she is reared or mentored by a man rather than a woman. Some of the strongest, most complex, and independent superwomen in modern mythology are raised by a single father, while their mother is almost always physically absent, and at least emotionally unavailable.” (p. 105)
In video games, the most obvious and influential example of this is the Tomb Raider series’ Lara Croft. In the latest installment, Rise of the Tomb Raider (2015), Lara is depicted as having been profoundly shaped by her late father and obsessed with completing his work and following in his footsteps. BioShock 2 also presents a driven and capable young heroine who is desperately obsessed with her “father,” while her mother, rather than being absent, is presented as the villain of the game. Sofia Lamb is one of the most monstrous mothers ever portrayed in a video game: fixated on spreading her collectivist vision, Sofia psychologically manipulated the vulnerable citizens of Rapture into joining her cult-like “Rapture family.” Obsessed with creating a perfectly selfless and unerringly good being, Sofia plotted to inject her own daughter with the memories of every person in Rapture, thereby eliminating her sense of self-identity and turning her into “the First Utopian” or “the Peoples’ Daughter.” In her desperation to stop Delta, she sends armies of her faithful followers to kill him and even floods an entire neighbourhood, drowning all the inhabitants.
Sofia’s worst crime as a mother, however, is attempting to destroy the sanctity of the family by murdering the father and keeping the daughter to herself. Her attachment to her daughter is not a loving one, however, as she refers to herself as being, “above all, her intellectual progenitor” who had minimal involvement in her birth, preferring to be “unhindered by nature’s crude bias.” The meaning behind these statements is vague, yet they seem to suggest that Sofia prefers to think of Eleanor in objective, distanced terms – ensuring her ability to “selflessly” turn her daughter into an embodiment of her utopian dream.
Eleanor’s reliance on Delta is therefore understandable, as he is the only person she has ever been able to depend on, the only one she knows will not try to use or betray her. She is, however, far from helpless: Eleanor has various powers granted to her through excessive exposure to ADAM and is willing to get her own hands dirty. After being rescued by Delta, Eleanor dons Big Sister armour and fights alongside her father. Unfortunately, the agency granted to her at this point is spoiled by the fact that she can be summoned and sent away by Delta at any point – used like a weapon. Still, Eleanor can be said to have significantly more agency than most video game damsels (or daughters)-in-distress, as she saves Delta at least as many times as he saves her: from resurrecting him at the beginning, to injecting his dying essence into herself to let him live on inside her.
But it’ll get worse as we go on in the series… Part 3
Stuller, J. (2010). Who’s your daddy?: On fathers and their superdaughters. In Ink-stained amazons and cinematic warriors: Superwomen in modern mythology. I. B. Tauris.