It's no secret that in terms of first person shooters the BioShock series is right up there on the finest list. The horror elements overlaying philosophic themes lead to the first installation in the series being heralded as one of the greatest video games of all time, and the follow ups have failed to disappoint thus far.
Many elements come together to make BioShock the pants wetting-ly beautiful experience that it is, and if you've somehow managed to go nearly a full decade since the first game's release what are you doing here? Get on that.
Played it now? Know what we're talking about? Good. So the main threats in the game (Big Daddies aside) are the genetic mutants known as Splicers. These pheromone controlled little bastards are plasmid enhanced soldiers created by antagonist Andrew Ryan — the creator of Rapture — to act as his own personal army, and they're a constant threat lurking in the background throughout.
Beyond the gameplay and themes, one of the greatest triumphs of the BioShock series is the aesthetic both of the surroundings and character design. The Splicers in particular are pretty disturbing — divided into "types" by certain distinguishing characteristics and wearing masks to hide their disfigured faces.
But did you know that some of the Splicer designs were actually taken from images of disabled and disfigured war veterans from World War I? Yeah, now there's an ethically muddy point if we ever saw one.
A study conducted by Suzannah Biernoff — who researches "representations of the injured body and face" in the media and the ethical considerations of said representations — found parallels between the "sub-human monstrosities" and portraits and images of disfigured soldiers and sailors from WWI.
In the above example, we see Henry Lumley and the Splicer model Toasty. Lumely was a World War I pilot who was an important patient in the history of facial reconstruction. He was badly burned in a plane crash during his graduation, ultimately losing most of the skin on his face, along with his lips, eyebrows, and left eye.
There are clear parallels between the Lumely and the Splicer model here; the latter even has an eyepatch and bandage over the empty left eye socket. But really? They called him Toasty? Seems like literally adding insult to injury if you ask me. Especially considering that Lumely died of heart failure resulting from a skin patch rejection in March 1918. He was 26.
Another example, taken from Cracked, is of Walter Yeo (above); a WWI sailor who suffered facial injuries during the Battle of Jutland, leading to a mask shaped skin flap reconstruction of his face, including new eyelids. On a slightly happier note, Yeo survived the surgeries, going on to marry and have two daughters, dying at the age of 70.
Now compare his appearance to that of Splicer model Wader, which sounds suspiciously like Walter. Wader features the same skin-like mask over his eyes, but does have more severe disfigurement to his lower face.
While many video games draw from historical elements and figures for inspiration, this seems a little on the unethical side, but at least BioShock's studio — Irrational Games — has owned up to it. Well, sort of.
Irrational Games's technical artist, Nate Wells, claims on Making of BioShock that images taken from Project Façade (a website which explores and catalogues the history of facial reconstructive surgery) were used as inspiration for the Splicer designs; and he also admits that it was a "disturbing" process.
'Disturbing' is definitely a word we'd use to describe BioShock, but now that we've learned the stories of the people behind the designs — well, let's just say that's enough nightmare fuel for now.