How Ken Levine inserts politics in his games

How do you make a fun game with political subjects? Ken Levine, creator of BioShock series explains it.

"I’ve chosen characters whose solutions tend to be political." Ken Levine

I'm a big fan of Ken Levine and I’ve been lucky to be in contact with him for some time now. For me, one of the amazing factors about his games is the way he speaks about politics. So how do you make such a game? how do you insert a bold idea into the universe of your game?

Ken Levine: "I think in the best case you are working with character, you know, if you look at Andrew Ryan, you can’t separate Andrew Ryan as a person from Andrew Ryan the political figure, his response to pain, it’s political, right? I’m going to create a society that is going to protect me from that pain and I think that’s what most people trying to do in politics, you get into politics as a respond to something that is distressing or upsetting you and you know we are wrestling with different kinds of demons. You know, the expression of wrestling for me is art work and the expression of wrestling for other people is going to politics, so I tend to write about… I have no interest in being in politics, I like making politics in games because I can sort of have a lot of control in the games. I can forget about the lack of control I have in the real world politics because it’s not a world that I’ve ever was interested in.

But I think that you start with a character, like, what’s that person’s problem and what’s their solution and I’ve chosen characters whose solutions tend to be political."

I asked him: "Imagine I want to tell a story, and I have some intentions, of course the main goal is to tell a great story, but I want to express my ideologies through this story, I want to talk to people behind it, how do I do it without being so blunt?"

Ken replies: "I think the interesting thing is, you have to start from the position of the story, exactly what you just said, the end of the day, there has to be a story to follow. You know, Animal Farm is brilliant cause you can read it like you said, it’s about bunch of animals who stage a revolution at the farm house and that sounds like an interesting story but what about if animals took over the farm? What would happen? You don’t really necessarily have to understand anything about Trotsky, Lenin and Stalin and all that to understand that story is really about them, or even about politics or the larger issue, you know, the Russian revolution.

You know, I knew nothing about the Bolshevik revolution when I was a kid when I read that book, I took something away from the story just as an example of people when how people don’t live up to their own ideals they create. You create some ideologies and it’s hard to adapt to it."

You can read or listen to the full conversation here.

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