Rescue or Harvest?
Harvest or Rescue?
In the end, it doesn't matter which choice you make. Rescue the Little Sisters and lead them out into the world to live, and learn, and love; or harvest them for their Adam and use it to make Rapture a nuclear power. Either way in order to reach that final confrontation with Fontaine that will decide the fate of Rapture, you have to be a bastard.
The real moral choice in BioShock was never about the Little Sisters at all, it was all about the Big Daddies, and in hindsight how could it have been any other way. Lumbering, difficult to communicate with, yet extremely protective the Big Daddies are not merely a refreshingly concept in their own right, but also an interesting representation of a father as seen through the eyes of a little girl. But more than any of that, they are the only inhabitants of Rapture with the ability but not the desire to do you harm.
Relentless in their defence of the Little Sisters, a Big Daddy on their own can be walked right past without incident. They are only a threat if you threaten them or their charge. Yet, it's not possible to escape Rapture without resorting to cold blooded murder, for that's what it is. Regardless of your choice to Rescue or Harvest the Little Sisters you always have to attack and kill the otherwise harmless Big Daddies. That a rather unpleasant concept. Other shooters, for all their preoccupation with violence, don't explicitly require you to kill something that is not a direct threat to you in order to progress; it’s occasionally an option but never a requirement.
The more I think about this the more I wondered if that really is the case, after all you can obtain some Adam from the first Little Sister you encounter, and there are at least three Plasmids and several Gene Tonics to be found in the world without requiring any expenditure of Adam. What if it is possible to not kill any of the Big Daddies?
The game would be a lot more difficult without the Adam from the Little Sisters, but on closer examination it actually seems like it's certain feasible to not murder a single Big Daddy. There's an exception here which is the final Big Daddy you encounter at the end of the Proving Grounds, however that Big Daddy is always enraged and therefore it's possibly to make the case that his death is acceptable as an act of self defence; which in itself is a morally grey argument.
The first time you freely meet a Little Sister and Big Daddy, at the end of the Medical Pavilion, it's strongly implied that you need to defeat the Big Daddy in order to move on, but what if you don't? That's something I intend to find out when I next get a chance.
There is one location in which it is implied that you do need to murder a Big Daddy, and it's not even with the potential excuse that "I needed the Adam". Near the end of Hephaestus you need to complete a device designed to overload the power to Ryan's office security systems to grant you access to Rapture's Central Control and Ryan himself. In order to create this device you need four R-34 wires, which can only be found on the corpses of Big Daddies.
You therefore have to murder four Big Daddies for nothing more than a single wire; or do you? There are at least two Big Daddies already to be found dead in Hephaestus, and if you are willing to backtrack to the Medical Pavilion there's another corpse there (Where you first encountered a Little Sister), and one at the very start of Port Neptune. If the game recognises that you can recover the R-34 wire from them then it's potentially possible to complete BioShock without ever killing a single Big Daddy, and thus not ever killing anything that isn't trying to kill you.
If that is the case then BioShock actually manages to provide a moral choice that's more subtle than what you decide to do with the Little Sisters. Even if it's not, maybe that's part of what BioShock is trying to say: in a world of enlightened self-interest, maybe even cold blooded murder is acceptable if it benefits you. Maybe you really do have to be a bastard in order to survive.