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Levine on BioShock: 'I don't think I was conscious of how Jewish it was until afterwards'

"When I started thinking about the look of Rapture and Rand, who was a New York Jew...her accent, the way she sounded, all those things brought me back to my childhood," Ken Levine tells Kotaku.
"I don’t think I was conscious of how Jewish it was until afterwards."

- Ghost Story Games' Ken Levine, speaking to Kotaku about BioShock.

Today the folks at Kotaku published an interesting article featuring interviews with some of the original BioShock, which came out 11 years ago this month.

It's well worth reading in full, as the writer interrogates how some aspects of the seminal game resonate with and reflect the experiences of post-Holocaust Jews. Notably, BioShock director Ken Levine (who's now working with his team at Ghost Story Games) opens up a bit about how his own (culturally) Jewish upbringing in New Jersey and New York influenced the game's development.

"I don’t think I was conscious of how Jewish it was until afterwards," he told Kotaku. "When I started thinking about the look of Rapture and Rand, who was a New York Jew that came from pre-Soviet Union Russia, her accent, the way she sounded, all those things brought me back to my childhood."

He went on to suggest that the displacement and alienation BioShock​'s Andrew Ryan cites as a reason for founding the game's titular underwater city is itself inspired by the history of displacement and migration many Jews wrestle with today.

"There’s literal displacement and then there’s a feeling of not fitting in, of ‘I don’t really belong here,'" Levine said. “I think Jews are always going to feel a little bit like they don’t belong wherever they are. There’s always that ‘what if we have to flee’ mentality.”

It's a good reminder that games are the product of real human beings who are actively influenced by history and politics, and that those experiences influence the games they make -- even if they aren't always fully cognizant of it. You can (and should) read the full article over on Kotaku.

And of course, if you want to read more about how the game was made, check out the BioShock postmortem originally published in Game Developer Magazine all those years ago.

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