Thursday, February 7, 2013

Character Design: Or what makes Splicers and Little Sisters so Creepy

In case you haven't figured it out, Bioshock is one of my favorite games.  My love started after reading an article about how Bioshock started as a look at Objectivism and Ayn Rynd in a self contained area.  Starting off in such an analytical way, we can then look at the rest of the game through both that lens and others.

Like, what exactly makes the Little Sisters and the Splicers so creepy.

 The answer is very simple:

Because while they are obviously no longer human, they are still very human.  When we listen to the splicers ramble, we can hear how they are scared.  How they want fame, or money.  We see them wearing clothes, trying not to be killed, and being honestly worried about how they and everyone else are living.  Little Sisters skip around, play, and recite nursery rhymes as they pull ADAM from corpses.

In other words, they are non visual invocations of the Uncanny Valley. 

What is the Uncanny Valley, you may ask?

Basically, the closer something non realistic gets to being realistic, the more unintentionally creepy it will turn out to be.  Our faces and bodies make so many little movements that we subconciously pick up on, when something looks very human but lacks the little movements, we regard it (mentally) as being creepy and wrong.   This is why Pixar usually uses inhuman creatures for their storytelling, and when they do use humans it's very stylized.  They need to keep from invoking the uncanny valley.

Data on Star Trek, is another deliberate invocation, but he was played by a human.  Tom Hanks in "the Polar Express" is a non deliberate invocation.  C3P0 deliberately misses the valley entirely. 

(I can't find anything on C-3P0)

 While the Splicers and the Little Sisters do not look very human (especially the Splicers) they do ACT like very aggresive humans or very innocent humans.

As humans, we can see ourselves  and our friends in the splicers and we can see siblings, cousins, the children of friends, etc. in the Little Sisters.

And this is what invokes a behavioral and vocal uncanny valley.  The Little Sisters act just like our own little ones.  They hold on tight, they sing, they play, it's just the fact that they drain blood from corpses while they have glowing yellow eyes that mark them as inhuman.

We can see how much of it is accurate.  We can hear our screaming matches with family and friends, we see our greediness, our vanity, when we're terrified.  We just can't shoot fire, and their outside is as ugly as our inside can be.

And THAT is Bioshock's uncanny valley.  It's not the lack of breathing, or the fish that accidentally swim through the ceiling.

It's how the player knows that they are being stalked by their internal demons, and maybe kill their inner child. 

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