Warning: This article contains spoilers for Bioshock and Bioshock 2, if you have not played these games I really suggest you do before reading this.
Bioshock is certainly an interesting franchise, the stories stem into incredibly deep areas and discuss many interesting themes. One of the strongest themes, or ideas explored through the stories weaved into these games is the idea of morality, morality is simply the choices we make and how we look at things, how we are forced to make the tough choices and live to a certain code. The thing with this idea is how no two people share the same moral code, where I may see the world in one way and make a decision based upon my own code, another may make a completely different choice.
The Bioshock franchise asks you to look at what you are going to do at certain moments, it holds a mirror up to you and asks do I see a man or do I see a monster? These moments for moral choice are not things that sit front and centre in the games but at the right moment they ask you the tough questions, the thing is what choice do you make? What is your moral code?
The original Bioshock is what I consider an appetizer to a greater theme, from my experience with the game morality only ever acted as a small idea, it was a simple one step approach focused strictly on whether or not you would let a little girl die for power. Sure, it was a great choice and truly showed if you were man or monster but the moral choices never really extended beyond this very point. Even the games ending, which initially seemed like a major step of morality is nothing more than a choice either made through your actions or by a singular decision.
This is a particular step where Bioshock 2 improved upon its predecessor, sure one of the biggest moral choices was do I kill a little girl for the power, or do I save them to be the hero and rest my own moral responsibility much like the previous game. I will be the first to admit I could never go through with ending the life of a little girl to satisfy the taste for power, why should I end the life of someone who is clearly suffering and lost just to be the stronger man. But the big thing is the choices made went beyond this trivial point, the game constantly forced you to look at yourself in the mirror and answer the question, “am I a man or am I a monster?
On many occasions the game outright points this out to you, in Bioshock 2 you play as what are considered monsters the Big Daddies, and constantly you will be heckled and proclaimed to be a monster. This is one of the game’s most recurring statements by the antagonist that you are a monster, and sure it is easy to give in and go along what you are being told, acting in spite just to satisfy someone who holds a grudge against you, but the key thing to remember is that it is your choice are you a man or are you a monster?
It is easy to act on revenge or act out of spite, but it is harder to forgive and walk away or realize the misguided mistakes made by others. This statement is very true to Bioshock 2, and on a handful of occasions the game asks what you want to do, are you a decent human who can do the right thing being the thinking man and truly considering whether you are doing the right thing, or are you the person who favours evil actions. Through the game we encounter three characters who each force us to ask the tough question these being Grace Holloway, Stanley Poole and Gil Alexander, all three of these characters have their own deep back story and different ways that they affect our main character Delta. The big thing with the game is putting ourselves in the shoes of Delta and really playing him as if we were ourselves and reflecting on each character and their problems to bring up many tough circumstances and reasons to make the decision.
In this game, I think Grace is the best example towards the power of morality and making the right choice, again the right choice is in the hands of the player but it is a tough question of morality. Grace is a misguided woman who trusts the games antagonist Susan Lamb with all her being, during certain events in the game she came to be the adoptive mother of Susan’s daughter Eleanor but also lost her leading to the events of the game. Eleanor became a little sister tied to our protagonist, and Grace following the words of Susan grew a resentment towards Delta proclaiming that he stole Eleanor from the Rapture family and that Delta was a monster. Now again, it goes back to how the player deems themselves as to whether you are a monster or a thinking man, but it is all a matter of the moral choices and the game presents quite a strong one. When we meet Grace in the game she is ready to allow us to strike her down and prove you are a monster, but the question is will you. Sure it is easy to strike down an unarmed women but should you, looking at all the facts presented there is a lot to consider, a lot that really beckons the sheer hardship of the decision. Bioshock 2 asks the tough question and deals with the moral question beckoning the facts, throughout the level Grace had been a thorn in your side, spouting her beliefs, following a false idol (depending on how you play) and of course she is simply doing what she thinks is right. Grace is no less then evil then you and I, she is simply misguided and your actions reflect strongly on the moral focus the game presents. It stands as your choice but it comes down to a true matter of man vs monster and how you feel about the choices, which side you weigh closer to and taking in the true facts does she really deserve to die for her actions.
On many other occasions the game offers similar moral choices through other characters, each with their own story, their own problems, and their own negative impact on ourselves. Stanley is at heart nothing but a coward, a man who would sooner sell out his own mother for stealing a loaf of bread then deal with the consequences of his actions. His moral side is clearly pointed in the wrong direction afraid to deal with what he has done and cover it up at all costs. The story reveals his wrongdoings and in a way that directly affected Delta and Eleanor, the whole story of the game was directly related to his actions, his own cowardice which set the gears in motion. We are given all the facts and left to our own decision, left to decide how much his actions have affected us, Stanley presents one of the strongest moral conflictions leaving it difficult to make the right decision, further providing us with one of the toughest decisions. It is easy to let the knowledge affect us and go through with the deed and in some books that is morality its own rights having someone pay for their dues, but on the opposite side of the scale Bioshock 2 really asks you if your moral scale places you as the better man. It is easy to get carried away and do the deed, but the true strength and a true showing of morality, of common decency is to take the harder road and walk away, and forgive.
Morality is a tough thing, we all share our own vision of the world and how our moral compass points us to act in certain ways and Bioshock 2 is about this, seeing how you would act when put in a tough spot, seeing if you can forgive or realize the mistakes of others. Are you a man or are you a monster? A man thinks a monster acts not caring about anyone else, it is the variety of morality and the capability of us as people.
Sometimes it is even our own values in our moral duties that washes onto others, that shapes them, that defines who another person becomes. We never know who is watching, who is seeing the choices we make, who is learning and adapting from our choices. In life our choices define us, they shape who we become and often who others become, it is a case of thinking before we act so we don’t present the wrong idea to somebody else, unless you are trying to shape somebody to be like you. Again this is something Bioshock 2 places you with, the regret of the moral choices you have made as you shape Eleanor in your own image with each major decision, until the end we don’t know this but she learns and in the end it is the person she becomes, it is the tough questions of morality that decide the man and the monster, that decide how a person is formed.
Bioshock 2 provides so much thought into morality and how exactly we should and whether we truly did the right thing in our choices.