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Ken Levine reflects on the game industry's history of violence

Bioshock creative director Ken Levine speaks to the historical value of violence in video games from a developer and publisher perspective during an interview with NPR.
"One of the reasons there's been a lot of violence in video games is because it's relatively easy to simulate and, like action movies, there's an easily perceivable market for it."
- Bioshock creative director Ken Levine speaks to the value of violence in video games during an interview with NPR. In a brief interview segment on NPR's All Tech Considered, game industry veteran Ken Levine spoke candidly about why he thinks the industry at large -- himself included -- demonstrates such a predilection for violence and gore. "There's a tendency for publishers and developers to underestimate the audience," said Levine. "They're really no different than any other audience. There's plenty of movies that are intended for people that aren't that interested in political philosophy, and there's plenty that are." The interviewer challenged Levine about some of the criticism Bioshock Infinite received for its violence, and he responded by pointing out that the criticism itself is evidence that the industry is changing -- presumably for the better. "I think that it's not particularly more violent than Bioshock 1," said Levine. "I think the conversation in the games space has changed a little bit. I think people used Infinite as a launching point to talk about the changing nature of games." Levine went on to suggest that game development is growing up, claiming that as segments of the game market have evolved -- in a very broad sense -- from quarter-munching arcade games through shooters to story-driven experiences like The Walking Dead, so too have his own interests and game-making skills. To hear Levine tell it, first-person shooters offer a very violent, very convenient mechanical frameworks which developers can drape their designs over and easily appeal to a broad swath of people. "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," said Levine. "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 one-to-one interaction with a smaller, more dedicated fanbase and give them the thing they want. You couldn't do that twenty years ago when I started." It's an interesting point to make in light of the veiled claims Levine made about producing digitally-distributed "narrative-driven games for the core gamer that are highly replayable" with Take-Two Interactive in the wake of the company's decision to close Irrational Games earlier this year. Levine cofounded the studio in 1997 and helped lead its development of first-person shooters like System Shock 2, Bioshock and Bioshock Infinite. The full interview segment, which contains more commentary from Levine about the industry and his role within it, can be heard over on NPR's All Tech Considered website.

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