Levine: Violence has always been part of the storyteller's toolkit

BioShock designer Ken Levine says for better or worse, violence as a story device has been used since "the dawn of narrative."

In the wake of the December Newtown, Connecticut, shooting that left 20 children and six adults dead, Ken Levine has responded to the ongoing violence in games discussion. Speaking with NPR's On Point radio program, Levine said violence being used as a narrative device is nothing new.

"Violence, for better or for worse, is…going back to the dawn of narrative, is a part of the storyteller's toolkit," Levine said.

Levine then brought up an example of his childhood, explaining that he had a tough time making friends growing up and so he spent a lot of time playing Dungeons & Dragons. At the time, this game was linked to murders and suicides, though Levine said it did not have a negative effect on him.

"I think there's a couple questions here. I remember when I was a kid; I was not a very popular kid. I was a nerdy, little kid. And I didn't have friends because I wasn't very good at socializing," Levine said. "And I found Dungeons & Dragons and if you remember, back in the '70s there was this big human cry about Dungeons & Dragons; kids were going off and killing themselves and disappearing into caves. And that happened with comic books and that happened with rock and roll music."

Interviewer Tom Ashbrook then interjected, pointing out that in the case of the Sandy Hook shooting, the loss of life was immediate and overwhelming to the world at large. Levine responded to this, saying for him, games were a shield, in a way, from violence.

"My point is, for me personally, games were a way around being 'that kid.' I'm not speaking as a scientist here; we can argue the science, but I'm…not the best guy to do that," Levine said.

"I think the other point is they call them first-person shooters; F-P-S. There's the F-P, the first-person aspect of being, inhabiting a character's role," he added. "And then there's the S part, which is the shooter part. And I'm not sure that they're necessarily one in the same."

Levine's latest body of work is BioShock Infinite, which was released last week to rapt reviews.

Written By

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

Want the latest news about BioShock Infinite?

BioShock Infinite

BioShock Infinite

Follow

Discussion

82 comments
wizardboyus
wizardboyus

whatever it's his damn game, let him make it however he wants. if you want some good narrative without violence, then play journey or some shit...or better yet make your own game! idiots...

polishfish
polishfish

i play starcraft, and I've never infested a terran

PlatinumPaladin
PlatinumPaladin

Supposed complaints about his treatment of employees aside (and let's face it, if he's always had difficulties socialising, you'd have to expect it) the man knows his sh!t and can lead with an intelligent argument.

God bless the man.

The_Cous18
The_Cous18

Violence is not right in the real world, however, he is right about story telling I feel. Just most great serious games or movies I have seen/played use violence to help develop the story more and make you become more involved.  

franzito
franzito

Everybody has opinions about violence. It doesn't mean they are right or wrong, it's just their opinion, their right.

tightwad34
tightwad34

Kind of like how violence has been here since the beginning of time, or at least Earth.

el_swanno
el_swanno

I'd like to commend Mr Levine for bringing up D&D. When I was at school there was a shooting blamed on D&D which resulted in the game being banned at my school. I was extremely unimpressed and petitioned my school principal (unsuccessfully) to have the ban lifted.

Over the last 3 decades I have watched everything I love blamed for all of society's ills. Heavy Metal music, horror movies, D&D, video games, everything has been a target. If there's one thing this has taught me is this: don't lose heart. It's just a fad. Video games are the latest scapegoat and eventually this phase will pass.

Killer6b9
Killer6b9

"Violence, for better or for worse, is…going back to the dawn of narrative, is a part of the storyteller's toolkit," Levine said.  

....DUH...

jsmoke03
jsmoke03

this subject is really pointless at this point. if anyone else kills someone and they play video games, then the media, government, and scientist will try to find every evidence that video games it the number one or biggest factor and everything else takes a backseat

forgetclosure
forgetclosure

I believe if they do "succeed" in _trying_ to censor games (keyword is trying here) there will be an insane backlash from the indie community somewhat like some bands did with the music community, like Anthrax where they wrote a song with every curse word in it imaginable - there will be violent games just for the pure sake of protest, which I think will be awesome. The sad part is I'm not sure kids can really access these M rated games readily. I've been carded, and seen young kids carded, buying M rated games, so it really falls on the parents to do the job they signed up for and keep this out of their hands until they stop imitating what they see in movies, like starting fights and hitting people when they see Superman or Iron Man. I've even seen a very naive parent buying Black Ops for their ~10 year old kid and the clerk describing the game to the parent, essentially saying 'are you sure this is what you want?' I'm not in doubt that kids are sensitive to these things, and I also do not doubt kids who can't really dissociate what they see in media from reality should not play these games (not a scientist here). Although, that being said, playing these games is not indicative of a violent person with psycho-social issues resulting in mass killings. It just isn't, and this was figured out with Doom and Columbyne in the 90s.. Or at least it should've been settled and done with.

badwedgie00
badwedgie00

Of course it has. Every interesting story has always had a villain, because you cannot have a hero if there is nothing to struggle against. The first villain was Lucifer, and there have been many, many more since then. 

gufberg
gufberg

This was taken completely out of context from a 45 minute Podcast Tom Ashbrook did with Ken Levine. Just FYI. 

Gamespot is practically quoting him mid-sentence.

CLOCKWORKIAN
CLOCKWORKIAN

I recently watched a youtube video that gave thoughts as to why video games have used violence as often as they have. I thought it was quite fascinating. Also, I recommend anyone that likes to look at video game commentary should give this fellow's youtube channel a look; it has some of the most thoughtful and intellectual commentaries on video games that I have yet seen.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wSBn77_h_6Q

Jyakotu
Jyakotu

Why this topic is still being brought up, I have no freaking clue. Well before video games, there has been violence in history. I play tons of violent video games, but never once has it made me want to shoot up a school! And there are many TV shows, movies, books, etc., that are just as or even MORE violent that video games! This is ridiculous.

commando1992
commando1992

People were killing people before video games, it just got easier when any random mentally deranged schmuck can buy an automatic weapon from Wal-mart. 

Kravyn81
Kravyn81

I'm so tired of reading and hearing about this topic. Millions of people play games and millions of people have played games in the past. So one whacko shoots up a school and we're supposed to believe it's games all along???

Piss off. This is nothing but an agenda and propaganda bullshit that they tried to pull with rock music and comic books. The same old song just a different tune. What people need to do is think for themselves and stop being brainwashed by Mainstream media.

Scorpion1813
Scorpion1813

Humans are violent anyway, and video games are an outlet, just as sports are, for that violence.
It may not be enough for some people, and that's why they act out. But it is not the games fault the person is violent.

lukka_chaves
lukka_chaves

I really dont see why peaple relate violence in stories as a catalist to violence in real life every story has violence cuz the real world has violence.For a history to be convincing it must have violence in some degree.That is valid to movies,books and games alike.Saying that violent stories causes violence in real life is like saying that you are ugly cuz you look ugly in the mirror but the mirror just creates a reflection of what you are.

LukeWesty
LukeWesty

I didn't find the storyline gripping at all untill the end when the mindless generic shooting stopped for a short while. Gameplay was shit aswell.

Levine you are shit at making games, give up.

Trev9421
Trev9421

Statistically, we live in the safest time in human history. But bad news sells, so you hear reports everyday of murders across the world. The world has gotten better, but media makes people think it's worse.

NeonNinja
NeonNinja

I'm going through Infinite right now and I can't help but feel that it might have been better had it been a non-combat game.  The sense of discovery and wonder is spectacular and I think they should have played more to that.

Errorcutive
Errorcutive

Jezz im 14 and i dont care about game rating stuff if the game is good i enjoy it and nowadays all good is m rated and the only one that make game for kid now is nintendo which is just lame cause they use the same titles with only some gameplay change but now most gamers arent liking that so game like bioshock,deus ex,metal gear solid,thief,dishonored are the stuff we need even they have violence these game are as challenging as the game that made for kid.

cuddlyfuzzle
cuddlyfuzzle

Since the Sandy Hook elementary shooting there have been something like 1200+ more murders in the US.

PlatinumPaladin
PlatinumPaladin

@tightwad34 I don't expect the Big Bang was a calm, relaxing day out. I'm sure someone would've at least grazed a knee had they been around.

Celiria_Rose
Celiria_Rose

@el_swanno yep. Radio, television, the internet, and every other medium has had its turn in the spotlight as the thing that will "ruin society." It just happens to be games turn and eventually a new medium will come out and the criticism will move on to that.

Welcome to the cycle of stupidity that will continue until people come to the realization they might actually have to blame themselves for things in their life going south. Then again the chances of parents admitting that little Johnny acted out because they didn't do a good enough job parenting is about as likely as me sprouting wings so I guess the cycle will continue forever.

petez34
petez34

@gufberg yep another cut and paste feature from e.m. Not a big surprise. How he is an editor, however, is!

NJ248
NJ248

@commando1992 You can't buy an automatic weapon from Walmart. An AR is not an automatic weapon.

golakers08
golakers08

*yawn* Gotta love video game snobs...

s-s-s
s-s-s

@LukeWesty basically a democrate person would tell you that's your opinion and your entitled to it.......

however, i live in the middle east and i don't believe in democracy so i can tell you to shove your opinion up your A$$.

see ? being a fundamentalist and a crazy-headed extremist has it's advantages  !!!

kingcole225
kingcole225

@cuddlyfuzzle What are you trying to say? That that means anything? I'm sure just as many gun deaths happen each year, despite whether or not a man decides to shoot up a school.

legolas506
legolas506

@cuddlyfuzzle How about we count all the deaths ever? Just because there has been 1200 + murders in the US doesn't mean there wasn't murder before. Violence has been since the dawn of man. Until they foresee murder like in Minority Report, there will always be murders, its unfortunate, but mankind is simply a violent race.

franzito
franzito

@Egotte Not only morality. It's a shameful implict mea culpa on their part.

LukeWesty
LukeWesty

@legolas506

Yeah, always murders, much more in Amurica than most other places tho.

NJ248
NJ248

@Suikogaiden @NJ248 @commando1992 To be clear, it is legal if one passes the extensive government checks and pays very expensive fees for the tax stamps. However, one cannot simply go buy an automatic weapon off the shelf, even with a passing background check.

Stonecutters908
Stonecutters908

@JayQproductions @LukeWesty Yes, there sure are places in the world that are worse than us with gun violence and they should TOTALLY be the bar that we set for ourselves. Not Western Europe, or Japan, or Canada, or any other developed country where gun violence is a fraction of a fraction of what we have here  in the "greatest country on earth!"

JayQproductions
JayQproductions

@LukeWestywrong, the most Murders in the USA are in New Orleans which is #17 on the list of most murders per year. 39 of the top 50 cities on that list are in Latin America. San Pedro Sula is and has been the murder capitol of the world for 2 years straight now.