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.

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"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.

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