Big Daddies and Little Sisters, an Example of Stereotypes in Gaming
Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety.— Benjamin Franklin
Big Daddies exist to protect Little Sisters
The Bioshock Series of Games Have Well Known Endings
The Bioshock series of games is very well known for having a story-line with a twist at the end. I doubt there is a gamer around who hasn't heard about the end of Bioshock Infinite, and why it either works or does not. The whole stories are actually very well thought out and lend themselves to the twist endings quite well. They also tend to make a bit of a statement about society along the way. In the first Bioshock game the emphasis was more on showing the relationship between Little Sisters and Big Daddies to show the player why he (or she) needed to kill the Big Daddies in order to save the Little Sisters, or do anything with them at all. The relationship between the two was explained to be necessary as the Big Daddies were there to protect the Little Sisters, who were created to produce the Adam the residents of Rapture had become so dependent on.
The question I am posing here is, why did they choose this configuration of monsters for the first game? What exactly did they want you, the player, to feel from this set up of antagonist creature? And why are we programmed or conditioned to feel this way? First let us examine each of these creatures individually.
If you haven't played the game, it is well worth your time.
Big Daddies, the hard and terrible guardian with a soft heart
Anyone familiar with the Disney version of Aladdin is familiar with the term "diamond in the rough." Maybe this is a bit glorified of an idea to attach to the Big Daddies, but considering the reason for their entire existence I think it isn't too extraordinary of a claim. Maybe it would be closer to say that they are more of a former diamond that has been ground down into dust. Diamond dust is still useful for many things, but it will never be a diamond again.
According to the BioShock Wikia, Big Daddies were originally created from criminals and dissidents to Rapture in order to maintain the city from outside the domes. After being grafted and spliced into their suites, and altered to withstand the pressure they were sent on the way to support the city structure, inside and out. After the creation of the Little Sisters, which will be discussed next, the Big Daddies were altered to attach to the Little Sisters, acting as a guardian and savior to them. The story of how the Big Daddies become attached to the Little Sisters is available as DLC from Irrational Games, I won't go into it much here. Long story short, most if not all of the humanity was stripped from these men in pursuit of finding bodies to do the work that was needed, and no comment will be made here about how unwilling workers were altered to do the work to support people who moved to Rapture so that they would be able to "keep the sweat of their own brow," so to speak.
Yeah... That's Not Creepy
Little Sister, innocent, vulnerable, hiding an expensive secret
When it was discovered that the sea slugs Adam was harvested from was able to be produced in volume if it was embedded in the stomach of a host body. Since no one stepped up to volunteer to become the host they did the next logical thing, they choose little orphan girls to have the slugs embedded in their stomachs. This did two things; it gave the orphanage another purpose, and it allowed people to harvest Adam relatively easily.
The problem was that little girls, while not really able to fight against this happening to them, were all together way to vulnerable to poachers when people found out they could get the Adam they craved by attacking these little girls. Even though the slugs in the children's stomachs gave them immediate healing abilities, this was no defense against people wishing to gather the Adam the slugs produced. The girls needed no protection from injury or harm, but were very vulnerable to greedy splicers and other Adam hazards. This is why they were paired with the Big Daddies.
So What is the Point?
The whole reason I started this article was to point out how odd it was that the creators of the game chose those particular types of creatures to fulfill those roles. Why did they need two monsters where one could do, and why those particular genders and approximate ages? For example, they did not need to choose to make all the orphans be little girls, boys would have worked just as well and I hope have a similar impact on the player. Or would it have made less of an impression on some? This is what I hope to discuss a bit here.
"Only This Little Girl Understands Me"
The idea with the Big Daddies is the picture they represent. Disposable men, men who may have challenged the status quo, made waves, tried to change things. Rapture was made in the imagination of Andrew Ryan, according to the backstory of the games. He wanted to create a place where the worker was able to keep what he created, not the government through taxes, not the church through demanded donations, and so on. In the end this city he created from his own ideas, with the sweat off his brow and everyone he recruited to help him, threatened in various ways to leave his control. The threats were from contrary ideas from citizens of Rapture, and outside influences from being found by another government.
These challenges were dealt with in the manner many government powers use to control threats against the powers that be, they were imprisoned until a method to deal with them was found. In this case that method was to alter these men to the point where they were monsters that literally could not survive in any other city. They had no choice but to help Rapture survive.
Once these men were altered into monsters they were cut off from all of society and any interpersonal relationships. Until, that is, a method was found to imprint these men onto the Little Sisters. After that the only form of human contact allowed to them was in the relationship between themselves, and a monster of a child.
The end result here is a big, hulking brute of a former man who definitely looks like he can protect a Little Sister. Even from the protagonist.
Why Little Girls?
When it comes to the Little Sisters the thing I have always wondered is why only girls? I think the real answer is the reaction it causes in the viewer to see what has happened to these vulnerable little girls, and what they have been used for. It is a very primal, instinctive reaction that most people feel when they first see these little girls. I'm not entirely certain the same reaction would be felt if there were little boys who were being used in this way, but I would dearly love the chance to find out.
The twist to this whole thing is if you look closely at the world it is entirely within the attitudes of the residents of Rapture to value their boy children more than the girl children, as men, contrary to the lesson given by the Big Daddy (or maybe even because of it) have more value in Rapture's society than women. The orphanage had many little girls in it, I think we are supposed to guess that little boys who have lost their parents have been claimed by other people, or have found some other support, but girls have no other way to find a family or a way to support themselves. It still seems a bit of a stretch for me personally. I am a bit disappointed in the lack of "Little Brothers" along with the Little Sisters, or some hand wave explanation of why boys were not appropriate, or could not be found to be part of the system.
Bioshock pulls some string
Would "Little Brothers" have triggered your sympathy in a similar way the Little Sisters did?
The basic ideas for each of these characters is actually well written. They tug at your heart strings, and poke at your inner fear in the case of the Big Daddies, just the way they are supposed to do. The problem, at least to me, is that the reasons they choose these particular forms for each of these monster/characters does not necessarily hold up when scrutinized carefully. The Big Daddy certainly works well even up close, but isn't strictly necessary as we learn in further expansions on the story where the little girls have grown and become their own protectors.
The Little Sisters though does not hold up on close inspection. Yes it is far more likely they would have unclaimed little girls at the orphanage, but that does not mean they would have no boys. Maybe girls were better hosts for the sea slugs, but I personally saw no evidence supporting this idea. The only thing I can see that it comes down to is that the girls were seen as more disposable, and easier to use.
So that is why I thought this was interesting enough to comment on. I'd love to hear from you, how did you feel when you saw your first Big Daddy? Does this trope pair work for you in the context of the game?