When I talked to Ken Levine about one of the inspirations for BioShock, it was during the financial meltdown in America, when Alan Greenspan, who was an Objectivist, said, "I thought this was going to work."
AH: But I was wrong.
But I was wrong.
MS: That's nice. [laughs]
AH: After all those years being the brainiac.
MS: Yeah, but, exactly! That's interesting, isn't it?
AH: That's more interesting than running around shooting things -- that's all we're saying.
MS: Yeah. Can't we express that in a game? That kind of realization, that his ideology failed? Isn't that beautiful? Isn't that more beautiful...
AH: Or more tragic? Than the 10,000 deaths of BioShock? Somehow that is the most tragic aspect of things. And to not get a full expression of that in the game -- in the game. Not just as the project as a whole -- because you get that -- but in what you do most of the time, or what the main joy of that experience is supposed to be. Right now, it's bullet porn.
I have a background in being very much a gamer, and of course I have aspirations of making games. I think most people, at least in their head, do, who play games.
On one hand, I can see the cultural relevance, but on the other hand, I might be another Ken Levine -- not to compare myself to him -- in the sense that I would want to stick with the conventions that I've enjoyed in games in the past.
AH: That's all right, too. But let's just realize that there are two different things that could happen. One is this, and one is that.
It goes back to the industry, right?
People have something... Whether it's a stake in the industry from a commercial perspective, or just a stake in what they've creatively enjoyed for years.
AH: Yeah. I mean, one of the hardest lessons I've had to learn as a female in the games industry is all these guys really like what they make. I did not understand that for years. It was only until I talked to the maker of Alan Wake, and we were talking about it...
MS: Also a typical example of a game that we think could have been a lot more.
AH: Yeah, and I was expressing to him what I was saying about, well, "Yeah, would it have been more interesting without the shooting." And suddenly it dawned to me as I was talking to him, "Wait, he wanted to make the action game where the main thing is killing the zombies," or whatever the hell that was. He made exactly what he wanted.
And suddenly it clicked. "Oh, so, those guys who make Call of Duty want to make a 'sailing down the side of a mountain shooting shit' game." It was like, "Oh, okay. I get it now. This is why everybody seems so happy and creatively satisfied."
I took it seriously when they said "I'm making a game based on Objectivism that is talking about the financial crisis." I was like, "Okay. Let's do that!"
MS: Hey, but maybe they do. Maybe they succeed for gamers that are like them, that are used to the conventions.
AH: I know. I'm just saying my misunderstanding of the games industry, as a non-gamer, coming in making games -- I was taking the subject matter and the content in the cutscenes seriously. I was honestly looking for the stories that are on the back of the box, or the media, the propaganda, that they put out about the game.
I was thinking, "Oh, all this content is in there somewhere, and I just have to find it and I'm missing it," whatever. When in actuality, no, they really want to make another fucking first-person shooter. That's amazing to me. Still, to this day, I'm amazed by that.
I mean, they're always talking about creative frustration, and I'm just like, "Why don't you just make that thing you're talking about? I don't understand. Why are you making this other thing?"
It's money, right? And a developed audience.
AH: Well, that was kind of what I thought, but it's more than that. I think people really like it. I mean, they really like these things. So, all these guys get together and go, "You know what would be fucking cool? What would be awesome?" And they really do think it would be fucking awesome to make Duke Nukem Forever. I mean, okay. Now, I get that.
You talked about people pushing against certain constraints, while still wanting to create games like this. I think that's actually true. I think people who talk about that do feel they're constrained. But at the same time they do have this drive and desire...
AH: To make the thing that they love, from their childhood or whatever. But then I feel like they're just making excuses, often. You know, make a copy of Another World because you loved that game, and you thought it was genius. Go ahead and do that, but don't try to claim, "Oh, but I put this other level on top of it, that smeared some art content on top of it, so therefore I've made something of artistic worth."
MS: You feel that duality in a lot of games, I think, on several levels. That duality between sort of, yeah, like a more mature artistic experience, aesthetic experience, and a more playful, childlike interactive experience. And yeah, the tension is there, just because it seems like the creators don't choose. They want both things to be there, but both things are fighting with each other, and don't want to be in the same game.
Or, at least, expressed as a game. Narrative versus gameplay -- that's another level in which you see this kind of contrast.
MS: Yes, but that's a dangerous path, because then you slide very quickly into linear versus nonlinear, and that's really not what it's about. It's about expressiveness, about aesthetics. It doesn't have to be story. It could be a painting, too, or a cathedral, or a poem.
I think all of those things can be expressed with things that are very much unique to the medium, and all that. And I would actually argue that gameplay is one of the strange components that is not unique to the medium, that comes from that old age-old history of playful interaction between humans, with sports. It, in and of itself, is an alien factor. I'm not against alien factors. I really think we should embrace as much as we can, and mix it all up.