AN EXCLUSIVE LOOK AT THE LITTLE SISTERS OF RAPTURE

Little Sisters are perhaps the most important citizens of Rapture, but little is known about them. Who are they? Where did they come from? And most importantly, how can the player interact with the Little Sister during his time in this underwater city?

I sat down with Ken Levine, Creative Director at Irrational Games, and asked him the tough questions many in the media, and on the forums, have been posing about the Little Sisters in BioShock. In this exclusive podcast, Ken and I talk about what the Little Sister is, and why Irrational chose to use the form of a child in this upcoming shooter. We also discuss what Harvesting and Rescuing really means, the moral ramifications of having the Little Sister in the game, and even if Irrational changed the Little Sister, and your interactions with her, due to public (or publisher) pressure.

Anyone interested in BioShock, or who has heard about these iconic Little Sisters of Rapture, will find this podcast a worthwhile listen. It answers some of the most crucial questions about the Little Sisters, and will serve for a great jumping off point to fuel more discussions about the game in the months leading up to its release.

Enjoy.

Download the podcast


NOTE: I have included a written synopsis at the bottom of my conversation with Ken, taking out mentions of specific characters and their roles with the Little Sisters that could be considered spoilers. If you want to keep all of the origins of the Little Sisters a secret, or don't feel like listening to a podcast, you can find the heart of the interview written below.

THE EVOLUTION OF THE LITTLE SISTER


The Little Sister of Rapture actually started out as a kind of sea slug, and over the months, morphed from a slimy creature to the small child that is such an iconic figure of BioShock. Here, we show you just a handful of the many sketches that molded the Little Sister, from her bug-like roots to her smiling, round face that you see today.


       

LITTLE SISTER PODCAST SYNOPSIS

Tell me more about the Little Sisters. What was their original concept and how did they change into being what they are today?

Whatís interesting is that they were always there conceptually as a design but not story standpoint. First notion we had in creating BioShock was to have a different AI. We had just done cool AI in SWAT 4 and we didnít want to do it again the same way, so we thought about what was new in AI and non-standard in shooters. One thing that struck me watching a nature show one night was the relationship between the hunter and the hunted, and I started thinking about AIs that had this kind of relationship in the game. And then we took it one step further and thought about the soldier ant that protected the defenseless resource gatherer. And it went from there. Then, we wanted to have more than a utilitarian relationship, but also have an emotional relationship, which had never been done in a shooter. And the most visual and understandable relationship was a twisted father-daughter, parent-child relationship. So we needed something that appeared to be childlike and then the hyper-realized father figure, that was the Big Daddy.


What exactly are the Little Sisters? Are they human?

Thatís a question the game is going to answer, and Iím not going to answer.


Children in danger is a subject that brings up a very emotional response from people, and having only Little Sisters in the forefront of danger in the game, are you trying to push peopleís buttons and make a controversy? Whatís your reasoning behind using Little Sisters as opposed to boys or something else?

Itís not more controversial to have someone who may or may not be a Little Sister rather than a Little Brother in the environment. The real question is: were we seeking controversy by creating a world where you have very mixed feelings about what is going on in this world rather than a world where there is the terrorist and the soldier or the empire and the rebellionÖ a world where the rights and wrongs are not so clearÖ Where your guides are telling you different things, and you have to decide who to trust and who to listen to. But you need the ADAM from these Little Sisters to survive, and you have to decide what to do in that situation. And any time you have a game of this moral complexity itís going to push peopleís buttons because thatís what drives controversial decisions, is morality. In order for games to make people think and not be certain about what they are doing, you have to ask people to make moral judgments.


Youíve been using the word morality a lot, and you also mentioned that the Little Sister didnít originate as a Little Sister, are you trying to make a connection between the player and Little Sister in her form?

Well, yeah, the relationship between the Big Daddy and the Little Sister is immediately clear to the player, that he protects her, and in the testing weíve done no one had any problems see that, even though he doesnít speak, everyone understands this relationship. You see her get tired and he sort of goes ďRRR!Ē and tells her comes along. They have a relationship. When he dies, she mourns, or appears to mourn, his death. I would say this is maybe the only believable emotional relationship ever made in a first person shooter. And once we had that gameplay element I said, we canít stop there, we have to ask the next question: what does it mean to harm this Little Sister? If she were an insect, there would be no question, ďis she human, does she have a right not to be harmed?Ē What usually causes people to do things that are morally questionable is need, or perceived need, and what we are saying to the player is that you come to this dark, horrible world, and what are you going to do when you are backed against the wall, when your life is on the line? What moral choices will you make? Games, like any artistic medium, need to ask these questions, I think, and have more than just the white hats and the black hats, the terrorists and the marines, to challenge people to ask questions.


You have talked a lot about the choice to either Harvest or Rescue the Little Sisters, but from your description are you concerned about allowing a player to Harvest, and thusly harm, a Little Sister? Do you think thatís appropriate for a video game?

I think itís like asking someone, ďyou have this character in this movie that does this horrible thing.Ē I believe that movies are vicarious experiences. If you never have ever been excited by an action film or brought to tears by a drama or had your heart beat because of a romance, you know there is a certain amount of projection that happens in movies. And if you asked a filmmaker, why do you have characters doing terrible things in your movies? Any time that a person does a morally unsavory act in a movie, you understand itís part of the story and you have a vicarious relationship with it. Games just take that vicarious relationship and take it a little more literally with the player actually making those choices rather than experiencing the emotion of those choices. I think what will be striking to the player is that they have to live with those choices. They are not predetermined like they are in a movie. Now, I think we have a responsibility to do it tastefully, to not exploit the elements of the moral choice that donít matter. For example, in BioShock, you cannot harm the little Sister in any wayÖ you cannot use your weapons against a Little sister, or set her on fire, or send your swarm of insects after her like you can the other AIs in the world. All we allow the players to do is to make the moral choice of harvesting the Adam from them, a process they will not survive, thatís true, or to save them, to turn them back into what appears to be normal little children. And that choice is not graphically shown in any way. It is really sort of suggested. It just shows the player enough so they know the consequences on his choice. We went back and forth a lot on this choice to make sure we were handling it with the respect and seriousness necessary for a game that takes on these issues.


This is the first time you have really talked in-depth about the choice the player has with the Little Sisters. There has been some speculation among media and on forums that you can just go around shooting Little Sisters indiscriminately. Are you worried that people will dismiss this game as ďthat FPS where you can kill Little SistersĒ or on the flip side, that people will be disappointed in how you actually interact with Little Sisters in the game?

Well, you can only negatively impact the Little Sister with the Harvest choice. You canít shoot them, you cannot harm them in any way outside of the Harvest choice. To us, we werenít interested in exploring those other elements because it wouldn't further the moral choice we wanted the player to have to make. And anything that would provide a prurient experience to the Little Sisters we thought was inappropriate and not what we were interested in doing, because thatís not what this game is about. We spent a lot of time soul searching on this to make sure we were presenting things responsibly. Thatís the key to me. Not that a game maker should not present these choices, but that they should present it in an informed and sensitive manner and mostly important, that enough of the challenging material should be told in a way that supports the story and the moral choices we are talking about and nothing beyond that. In terms of people being disappointed, I donít think itís disappointed not to have those things. I'm interested in shooting monsters, and I'm not sure why someone would be interested in [shooting Little Sisters]. . Itís not about pointing a gun at something that appears to be a child, itís about a larger moral choice, and asking that question. All that other stuff had no part in that question.


In the X06 Trailer, you see a player approach a Little Sister with a wrench, which gave a lot of people the impression you could harm the Little Sister with that wrench. Did something change in the production of this game, either with the publisher or because of public pressure, that made you tone down how you interact with the Little Sister?

One thing thatís great about the relationship with the publisher is how supportive theyíve been of this. When we first came up with the concept of course it raised some eyebrows, naturally it would. But when we talked about what we were trying to do. When I talked to Greg Gobbi, the executive there, he immediately understood how important this was to telling this moral story and the world of Rapture. You are talking about a world where the economic reigns are off. And the questions you want to ask is when you remove the economic constraints on a society, how does that impact the moral constraints? And this is not a polemic. We donít come down on one side of the issue. We put the player in the shoes of the actors in the world and ask ďwhat would you do?Ē And whatís interesting in the X06 trailer, and you look at that character, and the clothes he is wearing, that is not necessarily the player, and never was. Thatís potentially one of the Splicers, because he has these 1940s clothes, and the game takes place in the 1960s. Again, Iím not saying ďoh, thatís not the player, donít worry about it,Ē but Iím saying thereís not a clear interpretation of exactly who it is. And frankly, and as the writer of the thing, Iím not exactly sure who that is. Because all the people in Rapture have that choice to make, and when you come to Rapture, you inherit that very dark choice. There are obviously people who have made their choices regarding that decision, and the X06 trailer may be illustrating that.


So my final question will end on a bit of a lighter note. How about you tell us about the vents that the Little Sisters go in and out of? Why is this the Little Sisterís home?

Well, itís not clear that it is their home. Maybe thereís a place that the Little Sisters go to from the vents. Maybe itís a place that you encounter in the game. Maybe there are some mysteries that BioShock is keeping back from the PR coverage until people can actually play the game and experience these things for themselves.

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