We are very happy for the chance to interview the veteran game developer Ken Levine to discuss some of the controversial topics have been surrounding the gaming industry lately, “Are games harmful to society?”, “Are Gamers dead?” or “Do games need to grow up?”. He is the mind behind some greatly successful and iconic games such as System Shock 2, BioShock and BioShock Infinite.

ken levine bioshock

Levine has worked on titles such as BioShock, BioShock Infinite, System Shock 2 and Thief: The Dark Project.

Jack TGG:
Often I have heard phrases like “video games should grow up” or “if video games want to be taken seriously as an art form they should do X, Y and Z”, I rarely hear this from other gamers but from outsiders or the media, as a developer what do you think about this?

Ken:
I’m sure lots of people feel that way. I think some games as a whole are “growing up” in the sense that they cover a much broader range of play styles and topics than they used to. I’ve always been a “more the merrier” kind of guy. There’s room enough for all kinds of games. I’m not sure why people need to shit on FPS or “walking simulators” or whatever type of game they don’t like. Anybody who wants to impede the development of certain types of games probably has other issues going on in their life that they should attend to. More art is better than less art.

postal 3

Media and politicians have blamed many crimes on violent video games since the 80s.

Jack TGG:
For decades Video Games have been blamed of causing real world harm, for example Wayne Lapierre of the NRA said the games industry was a “callous, corrupt and corrupting shadow industry that sells, and sows violence against its own people” but it’s not just violence, video games have been blamed of harming society in all kinds of different ways and I rarely hear developers respond to such accusations, so why do you devs are so silent and what do you think when some people accuse you of creating a harmful product?

Ken:
It’s a matter of science, not opinion. When there’s meaningful science that supports a “harm” argument, I’ll listen to it. In terms of the various critics of violent video games…well, it’s just the newest example of “OMG won’t somebody think of the children!” that have been around since jazz music, comic books, rock, television, and petting parties. Also, Wayne LaPierre is a lobbyist. What’s the point of ever listening to anything a lobbyist has to say?

Jack TGG:
Last year we’ve seen some discussion in the media regarding the term “Gamer” many articles saying that the gamer identity is dying or should die and accusing the gaming community of being angry and toxic, do you still consider yourself a gamer and what do you think of gamers in general?

Ken:
I consider myself someone who plays games. I consider myself someone who believes in social liberty. I consider myself more of a Keynesian than a Friedman-ian. But labels are a suckers game. They become what OTHERS use to label you. Why sign up for ANY label? Why join any political party? You don’t need to be anybody’s box. Keep the fools guessing.

bioshock infinite elizabeth

This is what Levine had to say about the Bioshock infinite elizabeth controversy back in 2013 “It’s disappointing when [Elizabeth’s appearance] becomes a focus for conversation because that was never my intent and it’s sort of a disincentive – I’d much rather talk about what she’s going through as a person” – Ken Levine, via OXM

Jack TGG:
In a Gamespot interview back in 2013 you mentioned you receive letters telling you to include “positive female characters, positive X characters” and now that video games are very much mainstream I see even more people who think games could be a good vehicle for political propaganda or used promote certain ideology, what do you think of this?

Ken:
I love writing female characters. I love writing male characters. Blacks, whites, jews, communists, capitalists, heathens and martyrs. The notion of a “positive” character bores to me to tears. I’ve never met a “positive” person.  People are strange and fucked up. Celebrate that.  Look, one man’s honest expression is another’s propaganda. I support writers who express themselves. More art the better.

We’re very grateful to Ken for the chance of this interview and all the TGG team wishes him a lot of success on his future projects

tgg author avatar Jack Davis
Jack Davis
The Gaming Ground
Twitter: @TheGamingGround

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