If Ken Levine were the auteur artist that he's been made out to be, he might be happy only with groundbreaking aesthetics, but he's a gamer first. "You can make a shooter with great gameplay and a mediocre story and still be somewhat successful," he said. "You can't make a shooter with a great story and terrible gameplay." If there's any deeper understanding of the man to be had, it must revolve around this hierarchy. That said, Levine isn't only about challenging himself to make the best games he can, but, also, about challenging perceptions about what gamers want, and so it's natural to lay the burden of defining the artistic value of his medium upon Levine. "My primary goal is to entertain people. To make something that is going to be important and meaningful to people, and people can approach it and engage in it without feeling like 'Hey, you can't come in because you don't get this.' That's the last thing I want to say to people. You look at a BioShock game. Does that seem like mass entertainment? The topic we're dealing with? Probably not, but I think it's probably because we underestimate people who want to consume entertainment, that they only want the most banal and basest of aesthetics."
To Levine, BioShock Infinite is about giving the gamer their money's worth, not creating his next artistic masterpiece, and he doesn't buy his own press. "Somebody at my point in my career, maybe people will pay attention to what you do a little more than they might pay attention to someone who hasn't ever done anything before, but the game itself? You need to prove yourself every time you go out, because you're asking a lot of people," he said. "You're asking people for 60 bucks. That's a lot of money, man! So, I don't think you deserve any more trust that people are gonna just play this thing because it's you. When it comes time to vote with their wallets, I think you're held to the same standards as everyone else, and you should be." What defines Ken Levine in the videogame developer space is not a background in the arts, but his self-imposed challenge to push the limits of what can be done with a videogame, not for the sake of an artistic crusade to legitimize his medium, but to deliver a product, which is worthy of our time to play, and therefore his to create.
Dennis Scimeca is a freelance writer from Boston, MA. He maintains a blog at punchingsnakes.com and contributes at Bitmob.com.