BioShock designer: Games shouldn't hide the gory reality of violence

[UPDATE] Ken Levine clarifies original quotes.

[UPDATE] Levine has since clarified his original quotes, saying art as a whole should show things as they are, but not every piece has the responsibility to do so.

The original story is below.

Mainstream media have a way of hiding the gory reality of violence and war, and it is up to art--including video games--to provide an uncensored look at what news outlets won't show.

That's according to BioShock designer Ken Levine, who told Boston Magazine that video games should not shy away from depicting the reality of violence, however harsh it may be.

"One of the responsibilities of art is to actually show this is what it looks like when someone gets shot, because it’s really obfuscated" in media reports about war and violence, Levine said. "War is about sending pieces of metal very fast at people and tearing them to bits on the most primal level."

This is not the first time Levine has spoken about the role violence plays in video games. In the wake of the December 2012 Sandy Hook school shooting that left 20 children and six adults dead, Levine said, "Violence, for better or for worse, is…going back to the dawn of narrative, is a part of the storyteller's toolkit."

Levine has worked on many projects could be generally thought of as "violent," including the M-rated BioShock series and System Shock 2 before that. Levine is currently writing the script for the Logan's Run remake for Warner Bros. That story depicts a dystopian society set in 2116 wherein all people must agree to be executed at age 21 in an effort to control population.

Beyond the two-part Burial at Sea expansion for BioShock Infinite, Irrational Games has no announced projects. Levine said in March that, "I don't even have a thought for our next game."

Written By

Eddie Makuch is a news editor at GameSpot, and is a big UCONN athletics fan.

Want the latest news about BioShock Infinite?

BioShock Infinite

BioShock Infinite

Discussion

184 comments
swyg
swyg

Even more important though is when violence is actually effective in a story.  Showing mountains of gore isn't all that effective in a story for the more important characters.    The effect of violence can be much scarier if used more subtly like through sounds to let your mind wander and imagine what is happening to a person, animal, or whatever.  This technique doesn't only have to be used in the horror genre either.  Another fine example would be to see a person who committed the act of violence on an important character covered in blood (after the violence), but then never actually see (at least not fully) the said important character themselves before they die.  


*spoilers* 


----



Does anybody remember that MGS3 scene where Volgin kills Sokolov?  You only hear him dying, and the sounds and conversation really made the death much more brutal while our minds were wandering.

PlatinumPaladin
PlatinumPaladin

Fair play to the man for saying it. Even carefully worded it's comments like these that could be turned against him.

If you want to create a good story, sometimes you've just got to include the less pleasant aspects in order for the whole experience to be immersive.

ballsy7777
ballsy7777

sucks bioschock infinite didnt turn out like what they showed at e3 2011 1 is still a better overall game

catsimboy
catsimboy

They really wanted to show you doing extensive pointless kill moves with your skyhook in the middle of combat too. If it were any more over the top you'd rip their heart out and do a touchdown dance. If they wanted to show realism they would make DeWitt kill enemies coldly and efficiently, not do God of War style antics with the skyhook.

Grim_Jackal
Grim_Jackal

Don't care, just wanna fap to Elizabeth Rule 34.

resorber
resorber

Yeah this trend, most apparent in the US is quite frankly sickening. Violence if fucking everywhere but for some fucking reason it all washed out and diluted. It's ok to show people being massacred in movies and in games AS LONG AS THERE IS NO BLOOD. If some red fluid is missing then it's A OK for children but as soon as we see some blood it's suddenly NOT OK to show that to kids? WTF? And don't get me started on sex. 

I just fucking don't understand this world sometimes and especially the people who make this retarded rules and decisions. Shielding anyone is a bad idea. If children see sex that doesn't make them turn into crazed sluts or something, but at least there you get some realism, minus the having sex with the bra on like we see in many movies and TV shows. With violence it is somehow OK to show it as long there is no gore, but that turns violence into meaningless unrealistic and unimpactfull garbage. It's like a fucking joke.

Bellum_Sacrum
Bellum_Sacrum

Someone needs to tell dumb Levine that video games ARE mainstream media.

aeterna789
aeterna789

Ken Levine should work on Manhunt 3.

moonlightwolf01
moonlightwolf01

It all depends on the story, some stories need gratuitous levels of violence ti hammer home the points their making others can afford to be more subtle. He's certainly right that mainstream media regularly hide the the unpleasant realities of violence but at the same time realism must not get in the way of the story's message. If the majority of of your audience is unable to reach the end because they are put off by the levels of violence then the story will fail. Still its been awhile since i saw a game where the violence was truly realistic or disturbing.

kozakon
kozakon

what I'm hearing here is that we shouldn't censored our reality, because like it or not some people do live in a reality of violence on a daily bases and censoring is just another way of ignoring the problem.

gamerno66666
gamerno66666

Kind of disappointed that no one mentioned spec ops the line.

prats93
prats93

Oh Ken, your excuses never cease to amaze. You see, the best "art" that depicts violence is also able to contextualise it and not make it seem gratuitous and over the top. This isnt the case with Bioshock Infinite, 1000 bodies later and any message you're trying to convey has lost all credibility with silly childish violence. Oh, but i forget that this is the AAA space, and every game must have guns and violence in it.

pyro1245
pyro1245

More sex and violence pls

Stebsis
Stebsis

But apparently games should hide sex that is very natural part of life, but somehow the worst sin imaginable that could be put in a game.

Zloth2
Zloth2

I don't know, this one is a REALLY tough call for me.

On the one hand, Levine is right.  A great way to get folks into your military is by telling glorious stories about glorious battles - and almost no mention of how horrible the deaths can be, never mind the diseases and starvation involved.  Telling stories like that is irresponsible propaganda.

On the other hand, these are games.  That has two big implications.  First, if you make it too gory then your game will not be even remotely entertaining and it will fail completely.  Second, you're basically labeling this thing as "fun."  People are being told by developers over and over that lopping off heads with chainsaws is fun.

(That's the academic side of this argument, anyway.  In reality, BioShock's violence is pretty clearly there to sell games not to make a statement about the horrors of war.  A quick check of the game's achievements proves that.)

ColdFirewmj
ColdFirewmj

Perhaps some history must be forgot.

American kill thousands of Indians ,of course ,none want to remember it

scottp61
scottp61

Games shouldn't hide the gory reality of life and the human condition...

Baelath
Baelath

I interpreted his point as one where we cannot make violence a casual, obscure or "hush hush" sort of deal, like media does. Violence in video games should not be "real" per se, but rather visceral, gruesome and cringe-worthy. 

Violence should be approached in a way that may make gamers second-guess what they're doing. Spec Ops: The Line did this wonderfully.

Levine's point isn't about "realism realism realism" but rather, "making violence carry weight, meaning and some actual truth to it"

canuckbiker
canuckbiker

I think it's important to show the consequences of violence by realism. Too many times I've seen someone getting stabbed or shot with no blood in some sugar coated pointless censorship. Violence should be displayed for just how ugly and brutal it actually is. Kids should know that these actions should not be imitated or glorified in real life. However, I'm not saying there should be a bloody splat when Mario jumps on a mushroom, but taking blood out of a violent act that would create a lot of blood does no one any favours.

sortajan
sortajan

reality shouldn't be a word that ever enters into discussions about video games


stop giving anti-gaming politicians reasons to hate us

Saketume
Saketume

No, games don't have any obligation to be realistic. They're meant to be entertaining.

No need to try and aim to give people post traumatic stress after playing war games.

Pierce_Sparrow
Pierce_Sparrow

Game violence on a realistic level is only good if it sticks to that realism. You can't show violence and then make someone a superman or something similar. I am all for violence in gaming. It's cathartic and can be fun and challenging. But I don't like the attitude of defending violence for the sake of it. In fact, I kind of wish a few more games existed that made violence a serious, horrific thing. When given the option in a game, I tend to go for the most stealthy, peaceful manner because I find it more fun and challenging, and I like when the use of violence in a game is challenged, when there's a moral question there. It gives a game more meaning when the violence isn't simply there, when it actually has a deeper significance and consequence.

BARRICADE_28
BARRICADE_28

I would only agree with Ken when it comes to games that depict real-world situations.  For instance, Call of Duty 2 recreated historical battles from WWII, and it is totally disgusting and disrespectful to the soldiers that fought and died in that war to have a game like that where you can get shot a few times in a row with no repercussion except a red flashing screen, then you go hide for 5 seconds until the screen stops flashing, then continue with shooting up Nazis like nothing ever happened.  Making an unrealistic arcadey shooter about the most horrible events in human history is disgusting IMO, as is having fun playing it.  All it ends up doing is glorifying these wars and serving as patriotic propaganda that's completely removed from reality.

souldomain1984
souldomain1984

@resorber  

It's not a fucking joke. It's the intention to crate a better world because children are our future. I do agree though that true shielding is bad. Because they might get a wrong impression of the world. But who is going to decided what and when they should learn about particular realities? You? Me? A fucking Christian? It is kind of difficult you know. But if it does comfort you. You can teach or show your own children what ever you want. :)

aeterna789
aeterna789

@gamerno66666 Spec Ops The Line was more about morality and sanity rather than violence. That's how I saw the game anyway.

souldomain1984
souldomain1984

@Stebsis  

Since when is it natural, if you have a girlfriend, that you do watch another chick fuck? I wouldn't say that's fair towards your girlfriend.

DawnBlue
DawnBlue

@Stebsis I think they just don't want every single game to be rated M / 18+ and have that rating enforced by everywhere.

Pyrosa
Pyrosa

@ColdFirewmj Did you PLAY the game?!?   They VERY specifically cover that ["Native American" history], along with an entire "revisionist history" aspect.  It's pretty scathing on multiple levels, including era-appropriate racism commentary.

canuckbiker
canuckbiker

Not to mention all the children in japan they dropped nukes on after the war was over. If we don't remember history the worst if it will be repeated.

Ladiesman17
Ladiesman17

@grey_tiger

I think people too much abusing violence as kind of merchandise. (you know, something that make profit.)

DarckArchon
DarckArchon

@Baelath True but then again some people want to play some games to escape the cruel reality at-least for an hour per day. Tell me if in a Shooter or RPG a random nobody enemy who tried to kill you, you kill him instead, and then later on in game a random women comes to you screaming and crying for killing her husband and losing they're only income to the family, again a random enemy you had no option to talk to him or avoid a fight with him, and you end up with this. Its not fair for the Player to be bashed for something he had no idea or had no way to avoid. 

canuckbiker
canuckbiker

Stop trying to censor art like an asshole rightwing politician.

canuckbiker
canuckbiker

Does the same apply to movies? Their meant to be entertaining, yet my favourites like the godfather are full of realistic violence.

canuckbiker
canuckbiker

That really reminds me of how I played dishonoured.

prats93
prats93

Really? I thought it was about shooting people in the face, and then the game trying to make you feel guilty about it afterwards. A rather mediocre shooter that masqueraded as some clever commentary on modern military shooters, when in reality it was just pretentious, navel gazing trash.

Stebsis
Stebsis

@souldomain1984 @Stebsis Umm... sex isn't only about the girl, you know that right? You'll see man having sex too. If you have girlfriend who plays that same game, he will see a man fuck, is that fair to you? Of course it is, it's just a game.

sortajan
sortajan

@canuckbiker have you ever heard of meeting people halfway? it's one of the best way to end and otherwise endless, decades or centuries-old argument.

souldomain1984
souldomain1984

@resorber 

Well, I just read you comment again. And you said: “Violence if fucking everywhere but for some fucking reason it all washed out and diluted ”

My point was that, that it is washed out for a good reason. And that they minimize violence by removing blood to make it harmless. To protect the children. But I also agreed that this might give a wrong impression. Especially to children. However, who should decide when a particular child should see the full spectrum of violence? The parents maybe should have more trust in children that they can handle it. I might agree to that, though.

But I think the trend goes towards: Better save than sorry. And that's why you should decide for your own children whats best because you know them better. :)

souldomain1984
souldomain1984

@Stebsis

Well, have your own way. But not everybody likes that. I don't watch other girls when I have a girlfriend myself. I couldn't care less about about other girls in such a case. No matter whether in a game or movie or even reality. And I want my girlfriend to think the same thing about men. It is being called loyalty and THAT is natural. At least it matters to me. And I think many others think simply the same way. So don't need that.

kozakon
kozakon

would you tell any other kind of artist to compromise his work just because some people wont like it? i don't think so.

canuckbiker
canuckbiker

When it comes to the oppression of censorship there is no half way. Crazy religious nut jobs have oppressed the progress and enlightenment of mankind for far too long.