BioShock Creator Ken Levine On Violence In Games

There's so much violence in games because "it's relatively easy to simulate" and there's an "easily perceivable market for it," he says.

Why is there so much violence in video games? According to Ken Levine, creator of the decidedly violent BioShock series, it's because violence is technically simple to create and it's what people want.

"One of the reasons there's been a lot of violence in video games is because it's relatively easy to simulate," Levine told NPR. "And generally it's been … like action movies, there's an easily perceivable market for it. I think the reaction to the violence is more an expression of people building confidence in the industry's ability to express itself in more diverse fashions."

Levine's most recent project was 2013's BioShock Infinite, which was a critically celebrated first-person shooter with lots of violence. Interestingly, Levine said he was asked "a lot" if he could have made the game--which has shipped over 6 million copies--without violence.

He said this was an "interesting" question to be asked, but explained that he wouldn't really know how to make the version of BioShock Infinite that he had in mind without violence.

"I like games myself, and I've always liked game-y things, so I wasn't terribly interested in telling … making a game that didn't have a game component," Levine said. "When you have non-violent components, it would have been odd."

Looking ahead, Levine said he's optimistic that in the future, the rise in digital distribution will allow developers to make more unique games.

"I assumed people were coming for the shooting when we made [BioShock] originally. I think now we have a little more confidence, especially when you don't have to appeal to 8 or 10 million people if you can just digitally distribute things like you can now. You can do that because you don't need to spend the money to put it on trucks to get it to a store and deal with retailers and shippers and all that. So you can really try to have a 1:1 interaction with a smaller, more dedicated fanbase and give them the thing they want. You couldn't do that 20 years ago when I started."

He said we've already seen this trend with TV, which started off with only a handful of networks that offered broad programming. Now, there are more niche shows, like The Sopranos or Mad Men, that branched out and struck a new chord--finding success along the way.

"I think that's what you're seeing in games now is we realize we can experiment more because we don't have to hit such a broad common denominator," Levine said.

After BioShock creator Irrational Games effectively shut down earlier this year, Levine and a handful of others stayed on board to work a "smaller, more entrepreneurial" effort for Take-Two. We still don't know what Levine and his team are working on, but it sure sounds like it won't be a big-budget AAA game in the vein of BioShock. In addition to this project, Levine is writing the script for the Logan's Run reboot at Warner Bros.

2K Marin is handling the BioShock series going forward. According to Take-Two CEO Strauss Zelnick, the BioShock franchise is "beloved," and it may not have reached its potential yet.

"I think there's a lot of upside in that franchise," Zelnick said in May about BioShock. "It hasn't necessarily been realized yet. And the question for the future, assuming we decide to answer the question, would be 'How do you stay true to that creatively?'; 'How do you do something exciting?'; and 'How do you do expand the market?'. That would be the natural drill. We're starting from a good point on it. And certainly it's been a great piece of business for us; it's been a profitable piece of business."

Eddie Makuch is a news editor at GameSpot, and you can follow him on Twitter @EddieMakuch
Got a news tip or want to contact us directly? Email news@gamespot.com

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Discussion

106 comments
grenadehh
grenadehh

That went without saying - it's much easier to make violence the mode of interactivity in games than it is anything else.

Stepn2myworld
Stepn2myworld

Violence is a part of life. Since we are all held to social standards, video games is one way of legally breaking the expected behavioral standards. Witness the mayhem of playing Grand Theft Auto or Saints Row. 

Dark_Rage
Dark_Rage

All Ken Levine does is whine about games. Yes you made a super fantastic storyline in a game like Bioshock Infinite. Thank you. What now?.

Hurvl
Hurvl

"I think that's what you're seeing in games now is we realize we can experiment more because we don't have to hit such a broad common denominator" Even though I very much enjoy traditional games, I like that you instead of a common denominator can now focus on an unusual denominatorand still make it work financially. More variety is always a good thing.

wheres_my_phone
wheres_my_phone

Most games have violence, even Mario, Zelda, and Mario Kart. Violence makes games fun in the same way it makes sports fun. The whole idea that violence is evil is silly. It depends how it's used, much like water which can drown you or be a source of life.

hitomo
hitomo

Violence is an expression of power.


no, its the opposite ... I call that the secret of life ...

Coco_pierrot
Coco_pierrot

Hard to trust this guy when Bioshock was supposed to be mind blowing and all that. In reallity it was a boring shooter with a caracter that throw you too many things at the wrong time.

advocacy
advocacy

Looking forward to Levin's vision for "Logan's Run."

gamer112696
gamer112696

Why does this topic feel familiar? Oh well...anyway I hope that 2K can still make a good Bioshock game now that they don't have Levine working on them anymore. But I guess we'll know eventually.

alpha_unit97
alpha_unit97

There is so much violence in video games because people want to live out their action hero fantasies. No ones going to play a cow milking simulator or August Osage County the video game.

SUNDRAGONJ
SUNDRAGONJ

Violence is a gamey component! When I play a game I want to do stuff that I normally can't do in real life! In real life I can't just kill people for the fun of it, without consequences, but in a game I can kill everyone and nobody can stop me! Violence is appealing to people because it is also viewed as power, some like the violence because they themselves have no power, and the game is an outlet for that frustration. 

cjimrun
cjimrun

"So you can really try to have a 1:1 interaction with a smaller, more dedicated fanbase and give them the thing they want. You couldn't do that 20 years ago when I started."  20 years ago was the SNES/Genesis era and I swear every dev was giving me exactly what I wanted...it's today that I find they more often fall short.  Industry was much less violent too.

Pewbert
Pewbert

Humans are inherently violent creatures. It's an animal instinct in us.

dussan2
dussan2

Another violence in media conversation.


We are a violent species.  We evolve through conflict, and the ones that stand after that conflict are the ones that set the course for the future.  This isn't human nature, its nature period.  We use violence as a conflict resolution every day.  


So video games can be violent.  Big deal.


On topic.  I think Levine doesnt' understand his audience.  Everytime I hear from him nowadays he sounds like a whiny hipster.  Niche shows like the Sopranos and Mad Men?  There is nothing niche about them.  They both deal in two things that are focal to the human nature.  Sex and power.  With strong alpha male protagonist that project the ideal image that most men and women adminre.  Strong, confident, charming, sexual and powerful in their own right.  


Violence is an expression of power.  


I'm talking in circles. Violence is what it is.  

jeremy-
jeremy-

When people talk about violence in games I just roll my eyes. 


The question shouldnt be why is there violence in games. It should be violence in society. Why are most of the action blockbusters form the last 10 years all action flicks with fighting and violence, and in recent times ultra-stylized and ultra-violent. 


Case and point, just look at the turn the DC films made. It went form a chirpy batman with slapstick comedy to dark as hell. Even Marvel sees that the audience wants adult themes in movies so the last 2 xmen have been fairly adult too. These are like 90% of the movies grossing 300m +.


If you ask me, people against violence in games are either writing to sell ad space or they are fully delusional that game violence is any less significant than that depicted in other medias.




timeformime
timeformime

He's right - humans crave conflict and video game violence is a great source of it in our otherwise mostly sedate and straightforward lives. Nothing wrong with that. And I'm not sure why some of you guys are commenting about real life violence as a result of video games, because that's not been mentioned anywhere here, and frankly that horse has been beaten to death many times over.

Kinguard73
Kinguard73

I dunno. I like the violence in something silly like GTAO but not as much as in GTA V itself. Violence when it moves the sotry is fine but for it's own sake feeds only OCD/ADHD crowds and the mentally ill.

bearfan15
bearfan15

Here is something ive been saying ever since the politicians and media hopped on the video game hate train for the 10th time: Violent video games don't cause violence, Violence causes violent video games.

kimjong-un
kimjong-un

A world without violence is really lame - Kim

mkdms14
mkdms14

Its like fast food it bad for you but easy to sell and many people want it.

nazgoroth
nazgoroth

I will use the same argument i always use...

Video games can be violent, can lead to violence... maybe.
But then how do you explain every war / murder before the 1970's? We've been killing eachother for a very VERY long time.

Bellum_Sacrum
Bellum_Sacrum

Ken Levine on "How to be a groveling sell-out."

nyran125tk
nyran125tk

 Life itself, IS violent, unless you come from a nice home, with nice well balanced parents. Then you might not experience it, but most people im pretty sure, especially males experience violence in their life without video games or movies at some point in their lives. Either bullying or a school fight or something. If you are a male and have never been in a violent situation, you are either lucky or have been home schooled or something. Doesnt matter what school you come from. 


That being said, im not sure if kids under 13 should be watching the new Batman movies, they arent kids movies, they are fully adult movies. The first scene is a violent bank robbery, with a complete murdering psychopath at the start of the film. The new joker isnt a comic character, hes a crazy deranged psychopath, that cuts up his face and is a sick freak that murders people in cold blood, thats why many murderers today are emulating the new Joker so much. But then theres the good argument that is still relavant. I watched violent stuff before i was 13 and i didnt go round killing anyone (Even though sometimes i thought SOME people deserved death lol)


 But without the new age extreme violence we are seeing in movies now (Theres WAY more violence in movies and TV series's than games by far, theres way more violence in cartoons than games, like by MILES) i dont it think getting rid of it, would change violence in society, it hasnt before.

Thanatos2k
Thanatos2k

In summary: "Giving the people what they want"

oflow
oflow

There a lot of violence because a lot of developers are not creative and/or lazy.

nickronin9
nickronin9

there is violence in video games because there is violence in the real world. at least in the video world, everyone playing the game goes home alive after the console is turned off. the nightly news is violent because no one would watch otherwise. this is nothing more than the 'rock music is the root of all evil' nonsense. the only people who can't see it is only a game are the ones not playing.

catsimboy
catsimboy

Infinite had tons of violence that was completely unnecessary like the Skyhook melee executions. They were so gratuitous and non-sensical. Why would Booker stop in the middle of a battle to jam the skyhook into a guys ribcage and launch him in the air while he's being shot at by other guys?

BARRICADE_28
BARRICADE_28

Games are so violent because the biggest target demographic is young males, who fantasize about violence. 

Gitano
Gitano

Levine is brilliant.

futureops
futureops

Violence is a reason for which I play games. I don't have infinity lives in real life but in games, I have. Doing violent stuff gets me jailed, but in games,it free!

Argle
Argle

games, and especially ones like Bioshock, tell stories.  stories tend to need conflict and twists to stay interesting.  conflict usually entails violence of some kind.  

spacecadet25
spacecadet25

Yeah, we need more games where you don't do anything fun, like Heavy Rain.

BelaidKL
BelaidKL

Games just tend to come with some kind of violence.. My 4 recently played games are FIFA, Civilisation, Pokemon and Valiant Hearts... All very different games, all contain violence (FIFA slide tackles count?)...

Suaron_x
Suaron_x

At some point I see Bioshock, in a setting similar to Dan Simmons' Ilium/Olympos series.  In a nutshell, there was a floating city structure above earth that served as a human regeneration station (for the small batch of humans still living on Earth).  On board the station was a monster (Caliban/based upon Shakespeare's Tempest character) that was destroying the regeneration machines to feed.  Anyways, Dan Simmons story seems to provide a pretext for a space city setting similar to Rapture.  

StHapns247
StHapns247

Bioshock Infinite was one of the most wantonly violent video games I've played in a while. Usually first person shooters are violent and I expect that, but within the context of that game it felt way out of place when I sawed someone with my Sky-Hook.

uncompetative
uncompetative

Developers are lazy. Gamers are obsessed with presentation. Let's invert both of those and see what our medium could be like... Gamers obsessed with gameplay. Sound better? Developers always working? Good for gamers, but good for developers? Well, yes actually as they would go from crunch to being sacked as soon as their services weren't needed, to a more consistent work load in a studio that was geared to produce whole seasons of episodic content. Narratives would become less padded, individual episodes would cost the same as a movie rental and last about 4 hours, tops. A whole story would require twenty six episodes to work itself out. You'd play as one of multiple characters as it would be unnatural for something interesting to be happening to one character continuously throughout over a hundred hours of gametime. This isn't a crazy idea at all as GTA V already lets you switch between its three protagonists as if directing a TV series. Just a little more persuasion through conversation, or even brutal interrogation would be preferable to a continuation of at-a-distance depersonalised mass murder, as less is more.

RC-Sev
RC-Sev

We like violence. What else is there to say?

homey_d_clown
homey_d_clown

I rather see violence in video games, movies, and television then in reality.

So bring it!

AzureBonds76
AzureBonds76

The 3 stooges proved that simulated violence is ruining our society.

pikachudude860
pikachudude860

"One of the reasons there's been a lot of violence in video games is because it's relatively easy to simulate." "There's an easily perceivable market for it." it's what people want." 

THIS is what is wrong with the gaming industry today. We see so many violent games because the violent content is easy to produce. We see all of the "Mature" "Dudebro" FPS shooters, GTA clones and interactive movies because that's what they THINK we want. It's not entirely their fault...It's our fault too.

All the time you see people arguing about graphic graphics graphics. And complain about other games being "Kiddy" and "Cartoony" and they say "I'm a hardcore gamer, I only play hardcore games." "I'm too hardcore for Pokemon." "Sonic the hedgehog isn't hardcore" That's why 3rd party devs think we only want those ultra realistic violent kind of games. 

They can't afford for the big budget games to fail, so they stick to what they think we want. That is why we see games like COD, Battlefield, Assassin's Creed, etc, etc, year after year. Now, I'm not against violent games. I love Mortal Kombat and Bioshock as much as the next guy. I'm just sick of seeing those same kind of games every year.

The last big 3rd party game that we got that wasn't focoused on graphics or being "Matrure", was Rayman Legends.

I really wish we had more...Diversity, in games these days. Use all of that "Next Gen" tech to make some really beautiful stuff. Just look at Mario Kart 8. The violent kind of games are fine I guess, but we those along with other kind of games like "collect-a-thon" games like Banjo Kazooie, platformers like Crash Bandicoot and action adventure games like the old Spyro games. We'll probably never see good games like those ever again, because of the industry's current "Hardcore" mindset. 


It's not just 3rd parties fault. It's OUR fault. That's just the way it is. 

grenadehh
grenadehh

@Coco_pierrot ....then  you were way too stupid to even understand the storyline. In any of the games. Not to mention that Bioshock suffefred from diminishing returns. System Shock 1 and 2 were the best, then BS1, 2, and Infinite came out.

grenadehh
grenadehh

@cjimrun Lol no it wasn't. Ninja Gaiden, Street Fighter, Mortal Kombat, Custer's Revenge, Doom, Wolfenstein, Duke Nukem, Battletoads, Jurassic Park, even Mario and Zelda, none of those games weren't violent.

hystavito
hystavito

@dussan2 Heh yeah, I totally agree those shows are not really niche at all.

Kinguard73
Kinguard73

@nyran125tk  I came from a nice home then. I grew up relatively (in the US that is) poor with three other siblings (one died graduation night) and despite the ups and downs I hardly ever seen ANY violence.


I wish more kids could have grown up as I did but With Obama spoon feeding the delinquencies of adults these days it ends up being more welfare for everyone!!! Just keep popping those 'worthless' children and we will support you with the money stolen from the working class! YIPEE!

AzureBonds76
AzureBonds76

@homey_d_clown  Funny thing is the journalists and people that so loudly proclaim pixelated violence is ruining society meanwhile are grilling burgers, eating stir friend rice /w pork, etc. Out of sight, out of mind.

Divisionbell
Divisionbell

Thank goodness. "Hardcore games" are the way to go.

pikachudude860
pikachudude860

@Divisionbell Well, that's your opnion. lol. While I'm fine with "Hardcore games", they're pretty much a dime a dozen.