Violence in narrative has always been part of the “story teller’s toolkit,” says Levine

Wednesday, 3rd April 2013 17:57 GMT By Stephany Nunneley

Irrational’s Ken Levine has voiced his opinion on the violence in games subject – a subject which as cooled recently, but is still hanging around enough to warrant being broached on NPR’s On Point radio program with Tom Ashbrook.

Speaking during the show
, Levine said violence in narrative has always been a part of the “story teller’s toolkit,” no matter what the medium and games are no different.

“Violence, for better or for worse, is…going back to the dawn of narrative,” Levine said. “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, and I found Dungeons & Dragons.

“If you remember, back in the 70s there was this big human cry about Dungeons and 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.”

The host, Tom Ashbrook, then brought up the Sandy Hook shooting, and how the result was an instant loss of many lives.

“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, 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.”

Irrational’s BioShock Infinite is out now on PC, PS3, and Xbox 360.




  1. Lord Gremlin

    Funny last part. There are first person action games. And first persona adventure games.

    #1 2 years ago
  2. TheWulf

    He sure does love what everyone else in the mainstream does. He’s a bit of a tool, really. You can tell a brilliant story without any violence at all. To the Moon achieved more without a single fight than all of the BioShock games put together. And ten minutes of To the Moon is more entertaining, more humorous, more poignant, more real, and more human than the entire BioShock series put together.

    Violence has its place in stories, sure. But it has become a fetish at this point. A real fetish. It’s something that people get off to on some level (power fantasy stuff) and that degrades the story. When your game is 99% violence, that’s going to corrupt the experience and turn it into a dumb action flick.

    BioShock has always had hints of brilliance and intelligence, but that’s always been in the aesthetics and never, never in the schlock writing. Staring at a wall in BioShock is more fulfilling and reaffirming than actually playing the damn games.

    So, no… can’t agree with Levine, here. Sounds like he’s talking out of his arse, to me.

    #2 2 years ago
  3. Mjorh

    This Man Rocks!

    #3 2 years ago
  4. Clupula

    As someone who writes, I completely agree with him. Violence, tension, conflict, they’ve been around since the dawn of man and are usually part of most conflicts. Sure, you can write something interesting without any violence in it, but many times, the right level of violence can enhance a story, greatly.

    I think the only thing really missing from videogames is consequence. I always hate when bodies disappear after dying in a game, because I feel like it cheapens death, a little. There’s no mess, there’s nothing to worry about, everything’s still pristine and clean and pretty. But piles of bodies and blood splatters and the like speak to the fact that every action has a result and the result isn’t pretty.

    I think violence, when shown in media, should be unpleasant, primal, and real. It shouldn’t be “cool.” It should make you uneasy. It should make you sick.

    When you take away those factors, it just becomes wish fulfillment, which can be fun on its own, I mean, look at the God of War series, but when you’re trying to actually have some sort of a message, violence should be as unpleasant and in-your-face as possible.

    #4 2 years ago
  5. YoungZer0

    @2: “And ten minutes of To the Moon is more entertaining, more humorous, more poignant, more real, and more human than the entire BioShock series put together.”

    Cool, so To The Moon achieved what it was trying to achieve and Bioshock didn’t because it had different goals.

    Also the moment I started “To The Moon” I lost all interest in it. So much for entertaining.

    RPG Maker games. Powerful stuff.

    @4: “There’s no mess, there’s nothing to worry about”

    We both know that most of it can be traced back to the power of the machine you’re playing it on. Models cost power, less models, more power.

    But if your actions literally have no consequences, then what’s the point of showing bodies? They have no real impact on the game either.

    “I think violence, when shown in media, should be unpleasant, primal, and real. It shouldn’t be “cool.” It should make you uneasy.”

    I think it should be the way the developer wants it to be.

    With that attitude we wouldn’t have any Tarantino movie (Not a fan of his work, but there’s a shitload of violence in them and a lot of it is rather comical). We wouldn’t have any Revengeance too (still hate it).

    Now, that said, if you try to deliver a serious story then violence should serve a bigger purpose. It should feel real and it should reflect on the characters.

    This is where Bioshock Infinite failed.

    The Art-Direction is over-the-top fantasy, very colorful, it’s Disney-gone-bad. Yet the story is supposed to be serious, while the action and violence is still over-the-top. There’s no reason. No purpose. It’s just there to shock or entertain you.

    The first time Booker used the hook, he used it in self-defense. It was shocking, brutal and frankly quite disgusting. But he had no other choice.

    The other 200 times? Nope.

    Booker uses the hook to decapitate his enemies. Why? I’d imagine there are other ways to kill a human being without losing your humanity. Repeatedly ripping your enemies head off will screw with your mind. But Booker is fine, he’s cool, he’s the good guy.

    What your characters and does and says are two completely separate things in most games.

    But that should not be the case.

    I would love to see a game where killing your enemy in a brutal fashion will somehow mess up your character, will transform him into a raging, murdering lunatic.

    The game should basically punish you for behaving like a sociopath.

    MGS3 did touch that subject in an interesting way. The fight against The Sorrow can drag on forever if you kill too many enemies and they will scream and yell at you for inflicting pain on them.

    #5 2 years ago
  6. MadFlavour

    And shitness in gameplay has always been part of the developers toolkit, and we’ve used both a lot to bring you Bioshock infinite.

    #6 2 years ago
  7. deathm00n

    @5 Nice catch on MGS3, I felt bad for the dead people that appeared floating there.

    #7 2 years ago
  8. Clupula

    MGS3 is my favorite game of all time and part of that was the whole thing with the Sorrow, as it was the first time I’d ever seen a game give you consequences for your killing.

    #8 2 years ago
  9. Clupula

    @5 – One of the few complaints I have about Revengeance is that the bodies disappear after you’re done killing them. Sure, there’s a storyline reason for it, but I still found it cheap there, even if I generally liked the game a lot.

    #9 2 years ago
  10. YoungZer0

    @9: Yep, I know. But again, the old consoles wouldn’t be able to keep up if the bodies would stay.

    #10 2 years ago

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