BioShock Creator Ken Levine On Violence In Games

There's so much violence in games because "it's relatively easy to simulate" and there's an "easily perceivable market for it," he says.

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Why is there so much violence in video games? According to Ken Levine, creator of the decidedly violent BioShock series, it's because violence is technically simple to create and it's what people want.

"One of the reasons there's been a lot of violence in video games is because it's relatively easy to simulate," Levine told NPR. "And generally it's been … like action movies, there's an easily perceivable market for it. I think the reaction to the violence is more an expression of people building confidence in the industry's ability to express itself in more diverse fashions."

Levine's most recent project was 2013's BioShock Infinite, which was a critically celebrated first-person shooter with lots of violence. Interestingly, Levine said he was asked "a lot" if he could have made the game--which has shipped over 6 million copies--without violence.

He said this was an "interesting" question to be asked, but explained that he wouldn't really know how to make the version of BioShock Infinite that he had in mind without violence.

"I like games myself, and I've always liked game-y things, so I wasn't terribly interested in telling … making a game that didn't have a game component," Levine said. "When you have non-violent components, it would have been odd."

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Looking ahead, Levine said he's optimistic that in the future, the rise in digital distribution will allow developers to make more unique games.

"I assumed people were coming for the shooting when we made [BioShock] originally. I think now we have a little more confidence, especially when you don't have to appeal to 8 or 10 million people if you can just digitally distribute things like you can now. You can do that because you don't need to spend the money to put it on trucks to get it to a store and deal with retailers and shippers and all that. So you can really try to have a 1:1 interaction with a smaller, more dedicated fanbase and give them the thing they want. You couldn't do that 20 years ago when I started."

He said we've already seen this trend with TV, which started off with only a handful of networks that offered broad programming. Now, there are more niche shows, like The Sopranos or Mad Men, that branched out and struck a new chord--finding success along the way.

"I think that's what you're seeing in games now is we realize we can experiment more because we don't have to hit such a broad common denominator," Levine said.

After BioShock creator Irrational Games effectively shut down earlier this year, Levine and a handful of others stayed on board to work a "smaller, more entrepreneurial" effort for Take-Two. We still don't know what Levine and his team are working on, but it sure sounds like it won't be a big-budget AAA game in the vein of BioShock. In addition to this project, Levine is writing the script for the Logan's Run reboot at Warner Bros.

2K Marin is handling the BioShock series going forward. According to Take-Two CEO Strauss Zelnick, the BioShock franchise is "beloved," and it may not have reached its potential yet.

"I think there's a lot of upside in that franchise," Zelnick said in May about BioShock. "It hasn't necessarily been realized yet. And the question for the future, assuming we decide to answer the question, would be 'How do you stay true to that creatively?'; 'How do you do something exciting?'; and 'How do you do expand the market?'. That would be the natural drill. We're starting from a good point on it. And certainly it's been a great piece of business for us; it's been a profitable piece of business."

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