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.

Written By

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

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1831 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.

WolfThis
WolfThis

@Szeiden Incorrect.. atheism isn't a belief system so do not lump atheists in with religious belief. Just to educate you a little bit, to be an atheist you only have to meet one criteria, which is to reject the proposition of a God. So to reject a belief system is not a belief system in itself.. essentially what you are saying is that not playing football is a sport. So really Atheism is the default position, the lack of belief, the people who are yet to be convinced by the claims made by the religious, from there there are different races, nationalities, cultures, sexualities genders, ages etc etc so really there is no such thing as an atheist extremist.. so just to clear that up.. enjoy your second play through!

dbene
dbene

@Paoksis 

I'm assuming that is sarcasm but i would love to know what the scene was.

spacepirate58
spacepirate58

@Defenseman13 Levine wanted to tell the story as realistically as possible. What self-respecting artist would begin to paint a masterpiece without first understanding what the colors do? Same goes for understanding what a religious character would act like by talking with a religious person.

petez34
petez34

@Hellh0und I'm guessing this story was manufactured to create interest in the game and that's all. GASP- dev's and publishers don't lie about their products! So, it never happened. It's cheap pr is all. 

Shanks_D_Chop
Shanks_D_Chop

@Emb3r You tell me. What was the thing that the artist got offended over? We don't actually know. Don't judge. Just observe.

Nemesis4747
Nemesis4747

@bannermanner 

wow! because of you i look at the world in a whole new light! praise be to the bannermanner, omniscient gamespotter

Charles_Phipps
Charles_Phipps

@Scorpion1813 I point out that during the 20th century religious people were murdered just as often as non-religious people were in previous centuries, possibly as many given the larger human population. Religious folk aren't any more rational than non-religion (which is to say non-religious folk can be just as kooky).

PurelyHypnotic
PurelyHypnotic

@Scorpion1813 But people need to realise he was working on the game himself, if he felt it contradicts his beliefs which obviously would be taken personally then he has the right to leave if he wants to. You could care less about the guy either way

Midnight_Twelve
Midnight_Twelve

@darkcloud3346  I find your comment silly since not only did he not resign but this was implied to happened earlier in the game's development. The thing is, it's important to iterate on games you don't want to leave something bad as is. I hope it changes as much as possible between now and then since they have less and less time to get rid of bugs or fix a balancing issue.

DoubleNinjaDork
DoubleNinjaDork

@Fernin-Ker I know what you mean; it's incredibly irritating when people start making wild accusations about the accuracy/worth of something and aren't brave/informed enough to actually back it up with facts, logic, or both.

DoubleNinjaDork
DoubleNinjaDork

@sieg6529 Do you ever get pissed at politicians saying stupid shit on television?  Ever been angry at that one arrogant prick in school who repeatedly screws up but never admits it?  Ever been angry at something similar to these two situations?


If so, then you really have no basis for your criticism.

I think it's a glorious thing that this developer felt strongly enough about his religion to stand up and say/do something about it.  I think it's awesome that Ken Levine was wise enough to listen to his complaints.  I think it's almost a miracle that both of them were able to sit down and resolve the issue in a way that not only left both of them content (if not happy), but also brought about changes in the game that will almost certainly make it a better product.

True zeal and reason are incredibly rare things in today's world, and to find them both residing within two men of such differing viewpoints is something that should give us hope, instead of inspiring sloppy antagonism.

MugenAkagi
MugenAkagi

@WolfThis @Szeiden You(Atheists) BELIEVE their is no God....

Infinity_Gauntl
Infinity_Gauntl

The bible is a complete myth... It was created by man to be the words of god....fools.

bannermanner
bannermanner

@Nemesis4747  I apologize for the redundancy of the statement, but too many people on this board obviously do not know this.

Scorpion1813
Scorpion1813

@PurelyHypnotic

If he had a problem with it he should talk to his supervisor / boss.

People are praising him for standing up for his beliefs, when, in fact, he isn't. Standing up for them would be, like I said, to voice your problems and hope something can be done - not washing your hands of something and ignoring it like it never happened.

Smosh150
Smosh150

@WolfThis @Shielder7 @MugenAkagi Glad to see there is at least someone in the comments that shows a sense of respect even if you do not share the beliefs of others who may believe in a god of some kind. There are those who seem to seem to criticize those who do believe in a deity of some kind like they are unintelligent animals who do not deserve any respect in the least. 

On another note though, I don't believe they should have changed it up just for this one individual, one must realize this is a video game and as long as they know that they are not intending or are committing blasphemy of some kind as this is not real, it shouldn't be an issue. 

WolfThis
WolfThis

@Shielder7 @MugenAkagi Guys, it is very important when discussing issues like this that you do not leap to insults. You have to remember that evidence and reason is on our side, the only way we can convince people to challenge their beliefs, is to remain calm and respectful.. I know it is tough, I have slipped every now and again but the majority of religious people are good people like you and I but have yet to reach that key moment where they ask themselves.. "what is more likely?"

Shielder7
Shielder7

@MugenAkagi You believe in something not only without evidence but despite the evidence.  Now go look up the definition of a fool.

WolfThis
WolfThis

@MugenAkagi Hmm how can I put this simply.. Do you believe the tooth fairy doesn't exist? or do you just lack the belief of the tooth fairy proposition?

WolfThis
WolfThis

@MugenAkagi No.. I don't believe there is a god.. you can't believe in the non-existence of something.. that is nonsensical. 

WolfThis
WolfThis

@emitsomla @Infinity_Gauntl The Bible was compiled by commity, if you don't know about the Council of Trent then you haven't looked at history yourself. As a text it is man made which has been meticulously proven, not only that but it has been altered multiple times, for example, the titles Matthew, Mark, Luke, John etc etc were all names given in the middle of the Medieval era, or do you think that 2000 years ago in the middle east people were actually called Mark and John etc? comon man, just by saying everyone else is wrong and your not you only show your own ignorance and inferior education.Also the very notion that a being created you sick, demanded you to be well, then sent his son, which is him, to be sacrificed to himself, to save you from himself and the 'original sin' he created you with is the essence of Sadomasochism..

sieg6529
sieg6529

@Shanks_D_Chop No, it was a rant mistaking a superstition-based overreaction for some sort of noble passion.  Comparing bullying, the lies of charlatans, and the inanity of modern television to a zealot's irrational heartburn over video game content is poor reasoning and not worthy of respect.