A few weeks ago I made my return to Rapture, the underwater dystopia of the BioShock series. This time around 2K Games throws the player into the suit of a Big Daddy, the groaning golems of the deep. BioShock 2 explores the plight of a lone Big Daddy called Subject Delta, and in doing so recreates the feel of an old myth accompanied by a psychosexual dynamic perhaps not intended by the developers.
Antiquity and then some.
In both games, the name dropping of Greek and Roman gods is prevalent. A number of the districts in Rapture are named after these gods. Usually they have something thematically tied to the god they are named after. The god Dionysus is associated with wine and debauch revelry, and as such his district in Rapture includes a brothel.
Subject Delta’s story does not relate to any of these gods, but there are parallels with a Greek tragedy concerning mortals. The murder King Agamemnon has been told a number of times in Greek plays. The premise always revolves around a king murdered by his wife and her lover. His daughter Electra plots to avenge him by keeping her brother Orestes safe until he is old enough to take action. Clearly Delta is no king, but the introductory portion of the game depicts him as having a bond with a Little Sister name Eleanor. All seems well until her biological mother, Doctor Sofia Lamb, shows up and orders Delta to shoot himself in the head. Eleanor manages to subtly use her powers to help preserve Delta’s life, thus allowing the game to begin.
In a sense, the father is killed in the beginning, much like Agamemnon. Orestes is not present, but Electra in the form of Eleanor makes sure to preserve and guide Delta until he is strong enough to take down the queen. Instead of growing up, Delta merely abides by the game mechanics and acquires ADAM and plasmids to return to maturity.
Did you say something about sex?
Yes, you heard me right. I used the word “psychosexual.” However, it might not be as exciting as you would think. This term refers to theories about psychological development in a person’s early years. Psychosexual development was coined by Sigmund Freud, who is probably most famous for seeing sex in everything. While most of his theories are difficult to prove or disprove as they can’t really be measured in tangible ways, they are at the very least useful in interpreting certain dynamics. Carl Jung coined a female counterpart to Freud’s Oedipal complex. This was named after Electra, and according to Jung the complex revolves around the idea that a young girl sees the mother as competition for the only male figure in her life, the father. It sounds a bit on the icky side, but certainly pertains to the platonic love triangle presented in BioShock 2.
While we are certain the relationship between the maturing Elanor and Subject Delta is purely platonic, there were little hints in the presentation that made me ponder that the developers may have wanted to steer the story in a more intimate route. A great deal of the story involves Eleanor blossoming into a young woman. Whenever there’s blossoming, there’s sure to be something awkward abound. For me this was in the manner that Eleanor assists you from early on in the game. Periodically she will leave a present as you progress, usually in the form of supplies. She also contacts you telepathically. In doing so the screen takes an odd pink blossoming effect. In some instances you can see her eyes staring back at you, almost with a “come hither” glance.
Of course as I was playing I didn’t want my brain to go down that road. Eleanor is after all only in her early teens while Delta is a giant pile of flesh and metal. Yet, when the screen suddenly looks like a painting by Georgia O’keefe, and when the bond between Big Daddy’s and Little Sisters revolves around pheromones, I can’t help but have one of those “then again” moments.
Subject Delta, Subject to Change
Bare in mind that the dynamic revolving around the daughter, mother, and father in this story is subject to change. The game employs as moral choice system. Depending on how nice you are in sparing lives, the ending of the game will change. How ruthless or altruistic Eleanor becomes depends on what kind of example you make. She may become more forgiving than Electra, or just as opportunistic as her mother.
BioShock 2 caters to the sympathy for the Big Daddy built from the previous game. Although mechanically it is more of the same with some polished improvements, the bizarre adaptation of the Greek character Electra is what keeps the flow engaging. Perhaps the developers never intended a psychosexual interpretation, but it does make the suggestion that a biological parent may not be always be the best suited parent. In Eleanor’s case, Subject Delta was her true father, Sofia Lamb was merely an obstacle between the two of them. It is a tiny step in a trend for games to include unconventional relationships.
You can still pick up BioShock 2 on Steam and possibly in a bargain bin somewhere.