BioShock Infinite's religious themes led dev to consider quitting

Irrational Games developer so offended by scene in upcoming action game he wrote resignation letter (but did not quit); situation was a breakthrough for Ken Levine.

One Irrational Games developer was so offended by the religious themes of a certain scene in BioShock Infinite that he sought to quit the company immediately after completing his playthrough of the level.

"There was a scene in the game at the end where there's a gentleman here--one of our artists--who got to a point in the game, played it, turned off BioShock, opened up his computer, opened Microsoft Word, and wrote a resignation letter; it had offended him so much," Levine told GameSpot in a new video interview.

After it was brought to his attention, Levine spoke with this developer. His discussion with this "extremely religious guy" helped Levine better understand how to write the game's Comstock character, something he had struggled with for a long time.

"And I ended up having a conversation with him; my first impulse was I don't want this guy to go because he was a good guy and a talented guy," Levine said. "And we actually ended up having a long talk; he was an extremely religious guy and when we started talking, I realized that something I could connect to was a notion of forgiveness and what an important part that is of the New Testament and why Christ was such a revolutionary figure."

"I realized that something I could connect to was a notion of forgiveness and what an important part that is of the New Testament and why Christ was such a revolutionary figure."

"And thinking about how I would incorporate the power of that notion to Comstock into his world was, to me, the key. Because who hasn't done things that they don't want to be forgiven for?"

This developer did not end up quitting Irrational Games.

This was a breakthrough for Levine. He explained that writing Comstock, the religious, ultranationalist antagonist of BioShock Infinite, had been a long and difficult struggle due to his lack of personal religious knowledge.

"[Comstock] was one of the toughest characters for me to write because I don't have a religious background, let alone the darker side of his beliefs; the racist side of his beliefs. So I really had a lot of trouble writing him for a long time," Levine explained.

"And it occurred to me I had to figure out why do people follow him? That was the key to his character. Why do people follow him? What does he provide to them? And I struggled with that for a long time because obviously an ecstatic religious experience is something that a religious leader provides but I don't have a connection to as a writer," he added. "And it's always hard when you're trying to write something that you have never felt. And that would feel dishonest to me."

BioShock Infinite is due out on the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, and PC on March 26. For more, check out GameSpot's previous coverage.

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Eddie Makuch

Eddie Makuch is a news editor at GameSpot, and would like to see the Whalers return to Hartford.
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1766 comments
kpchrism
kpchrism

nothing is more offensive than murder, basically 70% of the game...and the fact that it took him to see the ending to draft his resignation shows that his religious view is selective.

mister_dan
mister_dan

A Christian, a Jew and a Muslim walk in to a pub...

...they have a good evening and finish with a greater understanding of each other's religions.

Shielder7
Shielder7

So in other words a religious idiot threatened to quit because he "was offended and his feelings were hurt" so you pussed out, caved and changed it to make the poor hypocritical stupid redneck Christians feel better?


Hang your head in shame Ken Levine you're no artiest.

Szeiden
Szeiden

I'm afraid to see what kind of idiotic comments are down here so I won't read them. Just wanted to say that I'm religious and loved Bioshock. Sure, there are always radicals in whatever belief system you have, atheism and agnosticism too. There are also modern "religions" that are completely bogus like Scientology. Even if you believe all of the old religions are false too, at least they have some kind of historical credibility whereas a cult like Scientology was created by a man who once said that the most profitable enterprise was religion. Guess what? He later went and made his own "religion". Talk about transparent. =P So yea, those charismatic guys that pop up in today's world and pretend they are some kind of Messiah or prophet without any way to back it up? Please don't believe that drivel. They just want power, money, and/or fame. Just wanted to share my 2 cents. Not worth arguing about religion on the internet so I won't be revisiting this. Instead... back to my second playthrough of Bioshock! =)

Paoksis
Paoksis

in the original concept,Jesus was the final boss

Defenseman13
Defenseman13

Let that idiot leave then.


Video games are canvases for imagination, storytelling, and fantasy... actually, just like the Bible, honestly.  But still, if someone's imaginary friends and superstitions (whatever his myth was) are going to hold him back from making original, compelling (and sometimes offensive and mentally challenging) games, then I say kick rocks and good riddance.

Let someone unburdened by religion hold a creative position.

novak2k6
novak2k6

Heh.. well after all they're Irrational.. but really, how does this offended dev live with himself because unless he has the largest Viva Pinata or Petz video game collection, he's condoning a lot of violence in its creation. The box art itself has a guy toting a shotgun..

I think maybe he should look for a new line of work... like in the comics section. Because this won't be the only time a development roadblock will occur with the way games are designed with mature audience in mind. Makes you wonder how many games he actually played through

Hellh0und
Hellh0und

The only thing we can do at the moment is speculate. The main question is, why was he offended? And then again, Levine solved the problem, he is happy, the religous guy is happy so I don' t know what the fuzz is all about. because at the end we play the final product without that " deleted" scene.

Shanks_D_Chop
Shanks_D_Chop

I'll say it again... so many people, ON BOTH SIDES, quick to judge an involved party based on an article that outlines the issue but provides little detail. If you weren't party to the discussion Levine had with the artist then don't call one thin skinned or the other ignorant. That's jumping to conclusions, a knee jerk reaction.

Emb3r
Emb3r

What is it with our culture and getting offended over every little thing? 

bannermanner
bannermanner

So much ignorance.

Are there bad religious people?  Yes.  Are there bad atheists?  Yes.  Are there good religious people?  Yes.  Are there good atheists?  Yes.

The end.

jerryatricrejec
jerryatricrejec

Bioshock was the first game I felt really bad about playing through as "Evil" I can believe some people would get offended or upset. The point is not that the guy nearly quit, the point is the game is causing people to feel real emotion, a mark of a great game...hopefully...

Scorpion1813
Scorpion1813

So a religious guy didn't like the fact there was an anti-religious character in the game? Maybe the character desecrated a religious symbol (that's the only thing I can think of that would be offensive enough). Even then, I find it to be irrational to be so offended, when religions are renowned for forcing their beliefs on people and torturing/killing the "infidel" non-believers.

It can be argued that this one guy might not force his beliefs upon others, but considering they are knowns to be "extremely" religious by their co-workers, and they were willing to quit over a work of fiction, it gives the impression they would be offended by even the mildest things. By being offended, they are taking it personally, which is just ridiculous and irrational.

People need to learn to live-and-let-live. To understand others are going to have different ideals and beliefs. To get over the fact you, or anyone else, are not going to be able to change that. And most importantly, to realise that fiction is fiction - even if it is based on reality. The games industry needs to grow up, and we need to start embracing maturity in both fiction and non-fiction.

Fryboy101
Fryboy101

This is why i love Ken Levine so much. He takes situations and uses them to better benefit game development. The fact that through all this, he was able to keep an employee AND further improve the narrative in his game is a sign of his genius

darkcloud3346
darkcloud3346

dont care if he resign this game better not be changed.,.3-26-13 i will be taking that day off

Fernin-Ker
Fernin-Ker

Still blows my mind people are so bent out of shape about historical fiction. And I'm not talking about the videogame.

sieg6529
sieg6529

Almost quitting over video game content?  Lighten up.

Gravity_Slave
Gravity_Slave

If you're a religious nut and easily offended...you shouldn't be making video games.  Go work for intel or Cisco crunching politically correct numbers

NewFnShow
NewFnShow

They're just using Jesus to sell video games, not that there's anything wrong with that. Praise Christ

RAGEofSTUNTS
RAGEofSTUNTS

Sure looks like any thread involving religion in Off Topic here.

Trident001
Trident001

The one and only truth about religious people is this: They are right and you are wrong. Period. Doesn't matter the religion, or the persons involved, one is always right and the other is always wrong. Hence a history full of bullshit wars. Don't preach your bullshit to me and I won't punch you in the face! Deal?

DanCastells
DanCastells

I see a religious fundamentalist between us...and he will not stop trying to convince us that we are all wrong...boring and egocentric...go to bed.

DarkSaber2k
DarkSaber2k

Rewriting a game so as not to offend ONE incredibly thin skinned religious person? That. is. bullshit.

JunglemanchiId
JunglemanchiId

Religious person was offended?  The day continues and no shits were given :)

blackothh
blackothh

my question is, what ended up changing about the game to make the guy keep working there? because if nothing ended up happening then this article had no purpose to having  been written.

powerdesignkid
powerdesignkid

So... How far along into production was the game before the major villain's story/character fleshed out?

so_hai
so_hai

Thou Shalt Not Rage At Artistic Expression.

Nodashi
Nodashi

I hope that doesn't mean they'll chicken out of controversial topics...

7Days13Nights
7Days13Nights

 the dev is extremely religious yet he's working on a shooter. he must not be THAT religious to be working on an M rated title.

Dradeeus
Dradeeus

Get over it. Everyone has to be associated with groups/people/ideals they don't like. They don't quit when they encounter them.

Angelsoft717
Angelsoft717

Unless done in extreme distaste(just constant bashing for no artistic reasoning what so ever) if it fits the story i don't see the problem with it. If the story is a story about an obnoxious atheist, you're not exactly going to be respecting of any deity. However he learned from this experience, so i guess it's all copacetic.

LE5LO
LE5LO

Levine: "I...DRINK...YOUR...MILKSHAKE!"

Dev: "Don't bully me, Ken!"

moncealyo
moncealyo

Why do you guys hire someone to develop a character that has characteristics he can't relate to?  Makes me think that the character develop is going to be poor.  I'll wait for a significant price drop for this one after all. 

Atragon
Atragon

Meh. We've seen what happens with "No Gods, Only Men". The answer is Bioshock : P Not such a great outcome, is it? 

Prats1993
Prats1993

This is awesome news. I hope this offends the shit out of religious fundamentalists. Its been a while since we have had mainstream games approaching controversial topics, im hoping Bioshock serves as a scathing indictment of religeous doctrines and political structures.

petez34
petez34

PLEASE no more articles that touch on religion or politics...K?

matrixman2k
matrixman2k

I have no issues with religions; true religious people are rather rational and very selfless, and will go the extra extent that others may not; in helping people and voluntary work. Most charities are run by religious individuals. Having said this, there are the black sheeps of the community: pedophile priests in churches, Terrorists in mosques and extremist Jews in Cinegogs and Buddhist Monks that Ethnic cleanse rohingya Muslims in Burma and others as such that are too many to list. I feel that Levine did a right thing for trying to work things out with the developer, it shows that he wasn't of those who agree with individualisation and self determination, while when the time comes, they couldn't be more stereotypical. The developer  should have been a little more tolerant and talkative over his religious issues, he should have also taken a deep breath and tried Yoga. Other religious people are very intolerant and emotional, they should be made aware that we are all individuals and will come to our own conclusions, even if that led us to the grave. The subject of God is very subjective and no one can approve or disapprove God. Regardless of what the general consensus is, 200 years ago, that consensus was "keeping slaves are a good thing", so much for consensus. For those who nonsensically talk about Charles Robert Darwin's "Theory" of Evolution, I Project a dilemma, How on earth did a theory ever pass of as a fact?! If we came from Primates, why didn't all primates become homosapians? Why just that lucky one? Why the need to evolve, while the un-evolved version still survived? Why have primates and gorillas since ever being recorded in journals and depictions or since records of gorillas began not changed at all? "There are 2 infinite things, Human Stupidity and stars" (Albert Eintein). Why did Darwin say in his book "Why if species have descended from other species by insensibly fine gradations do we not everywhere see innumerable transitional forms? Why is not all nature in confusion instead of the species being, as we see them, well defined?" "The theory that birds evolved from Quaderpeds will be the 20th century's worst disgrace in the field of Paleontology"  (A. Feduccia) New scientist, 1 October  1997. p 28. To conclude, there is sufficient evidence to prove that there is much work needed in the theory of evolution, and that it is not as clear cut as some Agnostics, Atheists, Materialists would like to think. Think for yourself, don't let others make your decisions. "The Theory of Evolution is a racist, discriminatory outdated ideology that brings more harm than good" Harun Yahya. Do your research fellows. Just Google Harun Yahya I believe he is some sort of Evolutionist Scientist.

madgame23
madgame23

Man what a world we live in today, had to rephrase this comment several times due to how I want to say this.  Religion is a strange subject.  Religion is one man's salvation and another man's burden or death.  It gives a man strength and hope in bad and dangerous times, and it is the salvation for a human on their death bed.  Again I had to redo sections of this to better say what I should say.  A good story based on religion will be a good one.   AAH, sheesh Ill stop right here!

TTDog
TTDog

Much as I despise religion and the fact that regardless of which branch of idiocy you follow the words are always distorted to mean whatever the protagonist wants them to mean... it's an easy way of creating conflict for a game.


More lives have been lost through religious wars than any other over the course of history, and even though there is not one hint of evidence to prove the existence of any God it will continue to do so.

Femto513
Femto513

But then the developer said "wait a second, I've got bills to pay." Then he closed Microsoft Word and got back to work.

ZOD777
ZOD777

@fireandcarnage "erm it's kinda a given that if a religion would tell you the other religion is wrong because if it wasn't wrong they why would you follow said religion, you'd follow ther other instead, it's kinda like science you can't agree on two contradicting hypotheses and if they don't contradict there isn't a point in having two"

First of all, bravo on getting through almost 1400 comments before getting to me.  Second, religion is nothing like science, and in fact, they are practically diametrically opposed to one another.  Third, I said nothing about following a religion, but was only pointing out that if there are 100 religions all believing that they are the only true religion, the other 99 are dead wrong (assuming one of them is in fact spot on).  Chances are stacked in favor of a religion being false.  That is the point I was making, not whether or not religions should denounce, or discredit the other.

Kal-El-
Kal-El-

I think they are just rising a hype for the game. Otherwise, the guy is just freaking moron and there is nothing more further we could comment about it. Just a waste of the fresh air and space......

Thanatos2k
Thanatos2k

Offends the extremely religious?  Sounds like my kind of game then.

Lame that this guy threatening to quit caused the writer to cave though.

Mamamf
Mamamf

Without more details about the scene and why it offended him, i think it's wrong to make any kind of judgements. The interview got me more curious about the game I hope the themes are deeply explored in the game and not just a paintjob.

philMcCrevis
philMcCrevis

what a freaking loser.  i cannot stand people that take offense at every conceivable opportunity.  be religios but respect others more casual inclinations and perspectives towards religion.  if you cannot find humor and appreciate others views on your religion, go find a cave to live in.


Personally, i believe religion is a very valuable tool as a crutch for week people to lean on as they stumble through life with no idea how to be a good person.  and I've spent 40 years listening patiently while these fools tell me i'm going to hell for not believing the same things as them.  But as soon as I share my personal feelings about religion and god, they get offended.


If Levine were not such a public, high profile leader in the gaming world, i assure you - hed tell this moron to take a hike.  but he has to take a different road as he cannot afford someone to make a PR mess out of it. 

$50 says the employee is muslim.  They have no problem stoning women to death in the streets for having the audacity to be a rape victim... but god forbid a game offend them.

clockworkengine
clockworkengine

I can imagine Levine having an introverted epiphany, nodding and oblivious as he stared into the eyes of his venting employee. "You're not fired because I'm a genius."

frylock616
frylock616

Im not trying to sound like that guy but...I would have just let him quit. I can bring anyone else in to take that guys place. He has no problem creating a game where you just kill a bunch of people but something religious offended him? I don't care if people worship whatever or choose to be hypocritical CHristians, Catholics Atheist or whatever. Just dont bring that shit into the workplace or onto other people who usually don't talk about that shit socially anyway. Its dumb and it pretty much messes up the vibe of the whole team. 

darkvaper
darkvaper

The highest form of ignorance is when you reject something you don't know anything about ...