BioShock designer clarifies quotes about realistic violence

Ken Levine clarifies original comments, saying one of the responsibilities for art as a whole is to demonstrate a genuine depiction of reality, but no specific piece needs to fulfill an agenda.

BioShock designer and industry veteran Ken Levine has clarified his recent quote where he said art--including video games--should not hide the gory reality of violence.

Writing on his Facebook page, Levine said the way in which his point was demonstrated was not made "as eloquently or comprehensively as it should have been."

To that end, he explained today that "no individual piece of art has any particular responsibility to fulfill a particular agenda." Levine originally said that the mainstream media has a way of hiding the bloody reality of violence and war, and art--including games--should not follow suit.

"What I was trying to say is that art, as a whole, has a number of responsibilities: to entertain, to educate, inspire, to question the status quo, to infuriate, to challenge, to make people want to bang their heads, or just to make things kinda awesome," he said. "The list goes on and on."

Levine further explained that art should show things as they are, though he tempered that statement by saying he means art as an industry, not every specific example.

"One of those responsibilities (for art as a whole, not for every example of every art ever produced), should be to show things as they are," he said. "For every Rom Com, there are devastating movies about the pain of love, whether that's Eternal Sunshine or Amour. For every movie that portrays valor in war (Saving Private Ryan), there are movies that focus on its most dehumanizing elements (Full Metal Jacket)."

"I wasn't trying to imply violence should always be realistic in art. I was primarily questioning the notion that ultra-violent images have NO place in art," he added. "As I've always thought, not all art is or should be the same. But I don't believe any topic should be off limits to art as a whole."

Written By

Eddie Makuch is a news editor at GameSpot, and would like to see the Whalers return to Hartford.

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59 comments
Dredcrumb9
Dredcrumb9

He shouldn't have to elaborate. All M rated shooters/killing games should have proper carnage. I am offended more when a shooting/killing game doesn't show realistic carnage. Games like Uncharted and Modern warfare make gun violence look like fun childs play. All shooting/war/killing games should show realistic carnage. Games like COD W@W, RDR, and MaxPayne 3 do a good job at showing guns are not toys.

jenovaschilld
jenovaschilld

That makes alot more sense then what he said earlier. And I actually believe him. 


Like I posted earlier - there is no game that requires violence to be a game or even an awesome game. There are violent games that do not need to show violence to get a point across, all it has to do is be a damn good game. If that last sentence seems contradictory - then ponder it some more. 

But most importantly the amount of violence is determined by its developer, author, creator, or whatever the art needs. There should never be a set amount of violence (or any content) that needs to be reached or surpassed for art.  


Now do not get me wrong, if a game is set in 1980's Boston gritty crime scene I would not be stunned if there were violence, foul language, sex, racism, and bad taste in clothing. And Levine's Bioshock series is by far one of my favorite trilogies ever, but I do not expect or could care less the amount of violence. The games carried themselves, and Levine you do not need to apologize or justify whatever violent content you use or do not - the game will stand for itself. If there is violence for violence sake and it brings down the quality of the game - then your fans will quickly let you know by sales. 


jenovaschilld
jenovaschilld

That makes alot more sense then what he said earlier. And I actually believe him. 

MAGIC-KINECT
MAGIC-KINECT

If the gun/knife/whatever battles were all realistic, the games would last about 1-4 minutes until your character was being carried out by ambulance to the emergency room. Or the triage unit in battle games. Or to the funeral home and then to a cemetery. Game over. That sounds like a lot of "fun". Then start a new game with a new character who gets shot in the head and dies. Repeat. Yahooooooooooo!

souldomain1984
souldomain1984

"I wasn't trying to imply violence should always be realistic in art. I was primarily questioning the notion that ultra-violent images have NO place in art,"


What makes you think this notion does exist in games? What kind of games are you actually playing? o.0


“Levine further explained that art should show things as they are, though he tempered that statement by saying he means art as an industry, not every specific example.”

For a game? Why? To waste developing time and resources to add something to a game that doesn't necessarily improve fun?


Some people just want to shoot down dudes, and not to paint everything red. They simply want to show that they are better. So that they can feel good about that they are dominating the other player, or NPC for that matter. And ultra-violence wouldn't change anything about that. Ultra-violence is only for sick bastards like you and me! Don't try to make it mainstream. :)

tightwad34
tightwad34

Appears this sort of got out of hand. I don't care about video games being art and how they depict reality because that will get better over time so I don't worry about that, at least the reality part will, as for the art stuff I couldn't care less. All I care about is if I'm thoroughly entertained.

divinejester
divinejester

Really the US and west in particular are taboo about Nudity and sexuality, but they don't seem to have any problem with violence, at least not in my eyes. Now gender and sexuality on the other hand. You  have a woman in your game you are sexist. If dont your are sexist. If she fat you are sexist. If she skinny, you are sexist. And lord forbid you show anything. Violence to me is not really an issue with games in the west, at least not to anybody who doesn't have some soap box agenda to attend to.

Zloth2
Zloth2

Ah, OK, much better when he explains more completely.

xKnees
xKnees

I think this is a complete misunderstanding and that ken Levine should continue what he does best which is make great games.

DomZeal
DomZeal

Burial at Sea sucks.

VenkmanPHD
VenkmanPHD

Once again Levine, you are the smartest person in game development.

Frankly, I didn't like Bioshock. It was highly over-rated. However, you GET IT, and that's what matters.

shreddyz
shreddyz

What an ARTIST! cough not really. just keep making your cartoony vg's and stfu.

bassjunkee
bassjunkee

Shut up and entertain me, Ken.  

xbr85
xbr85

Wow, he sure did use the word "art" a lot in that "art"icle.

Argent-de-C
Argent-de-C

he shouldnt have to explain himself

games Need parity with movies, tv, novels etc. its time

Rennik_Repotsir
Rennik_Repotsir

If  "art should show things as they are", why is it often over-exaggerated? In order to properly portray reality, you have to experience that reality. I'm sure Mr. Levine has the experience to back up his "gory reality of violence."

hornspiller
hornspiller

However games are not art. They are entertainment. Art can be entertaining, but entertainment is seldom art.

prats93
prats93

Too much ludonarrative dissonance in Levine's comments.

souldomain1984
souldomain1984

@Dredcrumb9  

So, if that's what Ken Levine meant. Why didn't he just say so? Is plain simple English so difficult for him? o.0



And I do disagree. This would ruin all the fun by turning each and everybody into a sick bastard. Guns in games, are indeed toys. Because actually even games, are toys themselves. But I hardly think that one person is really so stupid and can't comprehend that in reality they ain't. Mature people don't need lots of blood and gore to understand the consequence of death!


So, I really don't understand why you would want to take the fun from the people? And actually. I see it this way. If people see not much of blood in games. They rather play games than to kill each other in real life. Unless you are saying that exactly that unreality makes people to kill each other. But this, is yet to be proven. And actually, partially at least, science has already proven that games don't make violent. 

I'm just trying to make sense here. And discover the reason why you are feeling offended by lack of violence?


But I guess. That Ken Levine really forgot the concept of games. And that's why BioShock Infinite: Burial at Sea - Episode One, just sucked. ><

platinumking320
platinumking320

The man had to, while National Public Radio's "On Point" for an interview, rationalize constantly with the show host that violence could be considered 'nature of the format' to FPS, just the way singing is to musicals. This recent comment was addressed to others but I think that's where Levine is probably coming from.

And then there are the other scholarly and PAX videos, and some of us here suggesting Infinite's violence seemed fillery, without enough context as Bioshock.

If it were some of us in the director's chair, maybe we would've made  the cops a little more 'psycho murderous' religious zealot amongst their own citizenry, and prisoners in order to balance it out a bit, and get some context fueled in there but how much difference would it make?


There are probably so many 'PG' works out there (games,films, albums and books) whose original scripts and conception were Hard M' 'adults only'. Such is probably the nature of producing creative works.

joeboosauce
joeboosauce

Wow, I've never seen so much effort to act like you contribute some great analysis yet be completely vacuous. You clearly did not understand his second explanation! Or art! Amazing...

West123
West123

@divinejester well Europeans love them some nudity...boobies are all over tv and shops and what not  

Draken_Domingo
Draken_Domingo

@xKnees Great games? That boat set sail long ago for Levine, Infinite confirmed that sadly.

SerOlmy
SerOlmy

@shreddyz Oh go f*** yourself.  You people who are still butthurt about Infinite and down-voting it on every major sight.  90% of the people who hate Infinite fit into 2 categories - bandwagon jumpers who want to to look cool by hating on stuff, and stupid people who don't get the narrative (ie the same people who hate Inception).

Regardless of what Levine says the fact that EVERY SINGLE THREAD on Infinite/Irrational games turns into one of these troll-fests is getting beyond annoying.

VenkmanPHD
VenkmanPHD

@Argent-de-C He shouldn't however the fact that people were too stupid to get it the first time is a sad truth.

VenkmanPHD
VenkmanPHD

@Rennik_Repotsir He's not speaking out against the over-the top aspects of art.

He's saying that the presence of the reality art is almost non-existant. The two versions, and many others can co-exist.

GamerLegend10
GamerLegend10

@Rennik_RepotsirNot true at all, you dont need to experience it yourself to be able to give a somewhat realistic interpretation, i think as adults we all have a good idea about what is real and what isn't, and when developers try to make such scenes in their games they will do a huge amount of research and if needed will sometimes get outside help on board such as experienced soldiers to advise them, of course first hand experience cant be beaten but i hardly think it is necessary for Ken to go out and murder someone in order to create realistic violent content.

and to answer your question he puts it quite clearly "I wasn't trying to imply violence should always be realistic in art. I was primarily questioning the notion that ultra-violent images have NO place in art," he added. "As I've always thought, not all art is or should be the same. But I don't believe any topic should be off limits to art as a whole."  so yeah if you read the article he's not talking about individual games but the responsibility of the industry as a whole. He doesn't say that games cant ever be exaggerated, he just thinks developers shouldn't shy away from the true horror of violence and gore (basically we're not kids, we dont need reality hidden from us), so some games can still be over the top carnage but other games should give a more mature and to some extent realistic portrayal of such things, attempting to show the real emotions tied with violence to make more meaningful experiences for the player.

zeca04
zeca04

@Rennik_Repotsir I wouldn't say experience it. But you cant be an ignorant on such matter either.

VenkmanPHD
VenkmanPHD

@hornspiller Games are art, to say they are not is ridiculous.

You may not like the art, it may not inspire you, it may bore you even.

That doesn't change the fact it is a visual interpretation of ones ideas, albeit one that is experienced interactively.

Games are without  a  doubt art.

hornspiller
hornspiller

Although it was not with the purpose of trolling, it seems to cause a similar reaction. 

@WiredSternum283   I could retort and point out that if you consider video games art, no matter how well they are made, then mayhap you yourself are ignorant and have not experienced the fantastic apotheosis you can get from real art. 

The problem may well be today that average young people do not know what the arts have to offer.

Concerning your comment about operas, musicals etc. I would argue that the Opera in particular, although including the elements you correctly point out, focuses mainly on the music, the libretto and the abstract. Here the story mainly supports the music and the imagery where in the entertainment it is more the reverse that is the case. The music, imagery supports the story.


hornspiller
hornspiller

Including a piece of Miles Davies or a Concerto by Mozart in a video game or movie does not make it art. It could, if used in a clever context, improve the entertainment but arguing that by including music, paintings etc in a video game makes it art is a weak argument.

Art supports itself standing alone leading to association of feelings and imagery in the mind. For instance listening to a piece of music, regarding a piece of picturesque art.

Entertainment on the other hand is a mix of many effects taking you by the hand and leading you through the sitting with a well defined story or plot. The music, imagery etc. in the entertainment is only there to enhance the effect for the user.

zeca04
zeca04

@hornspiller If so, so aren't music and painting and stories and art designs and movies. Since games use them all.

WiredSternum283
WiredSternum283

I have to disagree with you on one point: I love the original Bioshock and Infinite (story-wise, at least) was also fantastic.  But Inception was nothing but pretty visuals.  The story and writing was awful.  In my opinion.  That's all. :)

tightwad34
tightwad34

@SerOlmy I'm not interested in Infinite because I don't like the setting at all and I'm not keen on first person only games. So I guess I'm the 10%? Damn, only 9 more percentages to get rid of then I'm rich.

shreddyz
shreddyz

@SerOlmy @shreddyz You misunderstand me. I don't give a fuck what internet stranger thinks if I 'look cool' or not. I couldn't help but notice your post was clearly high on the "butthurt' scale.

hornspiller
hornspiller

@VenkmanPHD @hornspiller I like games. Or I would not comment on a gaming website. I do not consider it art however. Even though artistic design is involved in the creative process.

I don't consider advertising art either which your reasoning would suggest.

WiredSternum283
WiredSternum283

I am a young person (28) and I've been a season ticket holder to the Lyric Opera in Chicago for three years.  I go to the Art Institute in Chicago at least once a year, and I don't just hit the highlights.  I've given tours of the US Capitol, including the dome's The Apotheosis of Washington, and I've been to every Smithsonian on the National Mall.  I've visited the British Museum in London, the Prado in Madrid, and the Louvre in Paris.  I've seen Placido Domingo conduct the National Symphony Orchestra at the Kennedy Center, and I've been to numerous jazz clubs in Chicago for a more intimate musical experience.  I've taken art history classes and been moved to tears by art, music, and theater.  Is that enough of an apotheosis for you?

Certainly there are video games that are nothing more than entertainment.  But if the story and plot being central is what makes something entertainment over art, how can Flow, Flower, or Journey be anything but art?  Those games have barely any story, with no written or spoken words.  They rely upon visual imagery and music to provoke deep, profound feelings withing the user (I won't say player, because they're hardly traditional games).  Video games most certainly have the potential to be art.

WiredSternum283
WiredSternum283

@hornspiller Go get yourself a PS3 and buy or download ThatGameCompany's trilogy of games: Flow, Flower, and Journey.  Play through them.  Now tell me that games are not art.  Is Call of Duty art? No.  Is the Arkham series art? Probably not.  Is the videogame industry an art?  Absolutely.  Not every game has to rise to the level of a Warhol or Monet, but to say that games are never art is quite simply ignorant.

s3as3a
s3as3a

@zeca04 @hornspiller Programming is an art too! :D

BuBsay
BuBsay

Claims to not care what people think about him.

Posts controversial opinions specifically where people will disagree with him in order to get attention.


Excuse me sir, your hypocrisy is showing.

zachoon
zachoon

@shreddyz @VenkmanPHD @SerOlmy You know, I'd like to disagree. Bioshock is quite the art piece, it delivers some controversial ideas, and pokes around with things that most developers shy away from. The first Bioshock even broke the 4th wall in a subtle way about how gamer's are usually forced into a linear path. However, I do have to say, as a gameplay experience, Bioshock is definitely not my favorite, and I didn't really appreciate the gameplay in Infinite especially. But they are still great games, with quite interesting and provoking stories. Don't forget video games are also a medium for story-telling. So I think it'd be wrong to say otherwise.

shreddyz
shreddyz

@VenkmanPHD @shreddyz @SerOlmy I know what art is. I just don't consider what bioshock is as art. I'm not the one hurling insults at others with differing opinions now am I? grow up and have a civil tongue. KL seems to look as if he's the artsy type but let's face it, he's only one spoke in the Irrational wheel. 

VenkmanPHD
VenkmanPHD

@shreddyz @SerOlmy regardless of SerOlmy's comment.

STFU and please go politely screw yourself. You clearly don't understand the concept of art, and therefor your comment is nothing but drivel.

hornspiller
hornspiller

@joeboosauce No. Look at my earlier comment about young peoples shallow definition and experience of art today. I actually love games and it is my favorite form of entertainment. I just dispute it being art.

joeboosauce
joeboosauce

Are you having an issue between games beyond art vs consumer products? They can be both. I think to argue about what it's this "art" thing is pointless because it is completely subjective. I for one think infinite is great art while being a consumer product.

WiredSternum283
WiredSternum283

I understand your point, and I agree that they aren't traditional games.  However, I would argue that they are sold on the same shelves as Call of Duty and played on a video game console, and therefore should be considered video games.  And beyond just those 3, there are plenty of games where the emotional stimuli are just as important as gameplay features.  I won't deny that the majority of games today do not reach a level that could be considered true art, but I think that there are some games that rise above the average to become art.  I would argue that Bioshock 1 and Infinite both do this, with their Randian or religious themes, social commentary, and evocation of extreme emotion within the player.

And hey, if nothing else at least they have spurred a discussion about the possibility of games as art, which is probably a good thing!

hornspiller
hornspiller

@WiredSternum283 I am glad you are more experienced within the arts than the average person in your country. Maybe the point is the mentioned "games" for a lack of better word are not videogames in the traditional sense - but more like an interactive video installation.

WiredSternum283
WiredSternum283

@hornspiller Also, what about musical theater?  Or any theater, for that matter.  I go watch a play, or a musical, or an opera, and I am guided by the hand through a few hours of well-defined story and plot.  So I guess that's not art, right?