Levine took the time to chat with The Washington Post about the politics in “BioShock Infinite.” Below is an edited version of our conversation.
How do you start sketching out these movements for the game?
When we started the game, we had this idea for these movements, and we were looking back at history. Our games are heightened versions of history — “BioShock” was kind of a hyper-realized Ayn Rand if she had made Galt’s Gulch. But instead of having her idealized characters, we put in more realistic characters.
In this world, we came up with the idea of looking at what was happening at the time of the game [the 1890s], with the jingoism movement and the nationalist movement versus internationalist movement. This was before the tea party, before Occupy Wall Street. Actually, when people saw that demo, they thought we were aping the tea party; they thought it was a hit piece on the Tea Party. But these movements tend to happen. There have been nationalist and nativist movements many times through history.
As we developed these opposing groups, the Founders versus the Vox Populi, it was interesting to see this play out in real time, so that the fictional movements we’re creating that are set in this heightened past are almost being duplicated in reality.
Of course, we have these extreme movements [in the game], but they have to start somewhere. As you write, you ask, “Do they evolve in a peaceful way or not?”
I initially based the Vox Populi on this German student movement, the Baader-Meinhof Group. I’ve been looking at how people evolve into extremism: They start in a peaceful, understandable place and end up somewhere very different.
There are very valid concerns in the beginnings of these kinds of groups, and anyone can understand the reasoning and logic behind them. But these groups tend to evolve, and plotting that out is fascinating.
Have current events influenced your development on this game? When you showed this demo at E3, there was no Occupy Wall Street.
What’s really interesting, what’s most interesting to me, is how the movements reflect movements that have come before.
That’s either reassuring or concerning when you look at what’s going on now. Some of those movements, dating back to the French Revolution, have had similar complaints to what Occupy Wall Street has. It’s interesting to watch how they evolve. They tend to reflect each other, and for the game you can look at what’s happening in real time, but you really see what could be happening in the future by looking at history.