Bioshock creator reveals why he almost stopped making games

Dr Zaius

Chief Defender of the Faith
May 1, 2001
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Inside the Making of 'BioShock' Series With Creator Ken Levine

Ken Levine said:
For you, it's an experience that you play. For me, it's the five years making it, and all the things that happened while making it, and the health problems I had during it. I saw a picture of me when we first announced it. That was 2010. And then I saw a picture of me after I did an interview on NPR when we shipped it in 2013. And I look 10 years older.

It changed my life in terms of what it did to my health, and what it did to my view of making games, and my relationships with people.

Managing 30 or 40 people where you know everybody's name is a very different process than managing 150 people. You walk by people in the studio and you don't know who they are.

There's a certain kind of person, man or woman, who thrives in that situation, who are a captain of industry. I'm a creative. I'm a writer, basically. More like a showrunner on TV.

I think the natural expectation was that I would go and do the next bigger and better BioShock game. And I felt, "I think I'll fail if I do that. I think I'll lose my mind, and my marriage." And so my solution was to quit.

I'm not a happy person. I have crushing anxiety all the time. Which is crazy, because I wake up and I look at my beautiful wife and my beautiful dog and my beautiful home and the beautiful people I work with and these things I've created and these fans, and I say, "How the fuck can you be unhappy?"

Well, we're a miserable species. I am born with a depressive, anxious brain. So I'm full of regret. I use regret to say, "How can I do it better in the future?"
An interesting interview as Levine is an interesting guy. He's also a guy who seems to thrive by being a bit of a contrarian. Now whether it's those contrarian views which have helped him create successful games or something else is a matter of debate.

But I can appreciate what he's saying about the toll creating something special can take on your personal life. At one point being an editor and writing about games pretty much made me not want to play anything and very nearly drove me away from gaming altogether. When you see the proverbial sausage being made and you get dragged into that muck, it can understandably kill your appetite.

It's a shame that creating quality computer games has devolved into such a tedious grind. People envision the job of a game designer as sitting around experimenting with all sorts of cool ideas and leaving work with a big smile on your face. But the reality is that making a modern game takes a huge team of people, lots of behind-the-scenes maneuvering, and a massive amount of money. In addition, the day-to-day work is about as exciting as programming a networking client for an insurance app compared to what many people imagine.