Ken Levine isn’t looking for a Job
In light of Ken Levine firing just about everybody at irrational games so he can start a new studio at Take-Two Interactive to makes for the “Core Gamer”, I have a few quick thoughts. Now while I know people who have worked at Irrational games in the past, I am not familiar with the particular studio structure there. That being said, I am familiar generally with the way most video game developers are organized and I will hazard this hypothesis: Ken Levine is the only human being that was really central to the creative process at Irrational Games, while the rest are only servants of the computers that guide and direct their work.
This seems like an insult to the hundreds who worked on these games, but it’s not. It’s not that these workers didn’t create value, it’s more that even though they were making creative decisions over a variety of problems all the time, their actual profession has been rationalized, streamlined, and scientifically managed to the point that their particular creative skills are replaceable and interchangeable. The only person who wasn’t disposable, according to Take-Two, is the creative lead.
Levine’s intent with the first BioShock was to skewer the Randian hero whose supposed individual success was actually built on the backs of the worker, yet he has lived that exact Hero’s life. Under cognitive capitalism the goal for any good manager is to undermine autonomy and unpredictability as much as possible, and keep the actual creative work in the heads of a tiny select few who rule by fiat. That Levine isn’t looking for a job while the rest of the assembly line workers are says a lot about how empty the promise of skilled professionals sharing in the success and wealth of high tech capitalism is.