One imagines Ken Levine has had more time than usual for reflection lately - on his former company, Irrational, and career in PC games. Easing that process along are journalists, who keep asking him reflective questions: namely about the skyhook-to-the-head violence on show in BioShock Infinite.
By way of an answer, Levine makes an astute point: while Infinite isn’t especially more violent than its predecessors, the debate about violence in games has matured like good cheese since the Shock games were first conceived.
“I think the conversation in the games space has changed a little bit,” Levine told NPR’s All Tech Considered. “I think people used Infinite as a launching point to talk about the changing nature of games, and [ask if] you can make successful games that don’t have violence.”
In defence of violence, Levine said that man-shooting was relatively easy to simulate - and appealed to a clear market.
“A shooter answers a lot of questions for you: the main mechanic is you have this gun, you have weapons, you have enemies, you have conflict coming at you,” he explained.
If there was a way to tell Infinite’s story of early 20th century idealism to a large audience without recourse to guns, then Levine simply wasn’t the man to tell it.
“I wouldn’t have known how to make a game like Mario,” he said. “I wouldn’t have known how to take this kind of story and turn it into a game about jumping on blocks.”
Levine believes public reaction to Infinite’s violence is an expression of building confidence in the games industry, and its ability to “express itself in more diverse fashions”.
“I think now, we have a little more confidence that, especially when you don’t have to appeal to eight or ten million people, when you can just digitally distribute, you can really try to have a 1:1 interaction with a smaller, more dedicated fan base and give them the thing they want,” he said. “You couldn’t do that 20 years ago when I started.”
Violence at its ugliest is a part of the Shock series’ identity, and I’m not sure I’d like to see it taken away entirely. How about a few more non-violent games that have learned its lessons, though, eh? Like that Gone Home?