Ken Levine: The game world tells the story

BioshockKen Levine obviously knows what he’s talking about when it comes to storytelling in videogames. He and his team at 2K Boston have managed to deliver one of the best experiences in recent memory to the gaming community with their hit title, Bioshock.  A big part of that experience (besides the visuals, audio, gameplay, and everything else) happens to be the game’s story.

At this year’s Game Developers Conference, Ken hosted a session entitled, "Storytelling in BioShock: Empowering Players to Care about Your Stupid Story," where he clued designers in on how to actually get players interested in the tales they have to tell.

In an interview with, he addressed the topic again, describing the differences between story and narrative:

"Story is the stuff you tell the player. It’s the same experience for everybody in the sense that even if it is a branching story…there is a limited amount of space.

Narrative is sort of the story the player is able to construct on his own initiative. That’s why so much of the story with BioShock is in the world and everybody experiences it differently. We tried to put as much of it in things that a player could either opt in or opt out of – see or not see, listen to or not listen to – rather than ‘Watch this cut scene. Watch this cut scene. Watch this cut scene.’"

He went on to explain what he thought was the best way to convey the story to the gamer – and that is to let the game world tell it:

"And I think it is an excellent place for games to go. What is our best space for storytelling? Cut scenes? Characters? No. It is the world around you. What do we render really well? What is the player looking at most of the time? It is the world around you.

In BioShock, most of the story fits in the world around you. The whole world was a metaphor for the story. You have this beautiful dream that is literally falling apart by the seams – with the water coming in. The crushing weight of reality, you know?

That’s a visual metaphor for the story, and I that games do this better than anybody else because we have all these resources."

Well, I couldn’t agree more. What do you guys have to say about Mr. Levine’s stance on storytelling in games?


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Author: Eddie Inzauto View all posts by
Eddie has been writing about games on the interwebz for over ten years. You can find him Editor-in-Chiefing around these parts, or talking nonsense on Twitter @eddieinzauto.

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