IDEAS: Do you get pushback from fans?
HOUSTON: [In some online forums], there’s definitely a resistance among gamers to talk about violence at all. Part of that is, they’re reacting to the way game violence is depicted in the media, which feels like it’s leading down the road to censorship.
IDEAS: Given that the center of a game like “Dishonored” is still an assassin who can commit vicious murders, do you worry that any subtle messages are kind of trivial?
HOUSTON: Yeah, I’ll be honest, that’s a risk you take when you make a game like that. I feel that you have to put trust in the humanity of your players, without rejecting your responsibility to provide proper context....I don’t think there are a lot of games where game designers trust their player-base enough to let them make those kinds of decisions.
IDEAS: I presume you still play ultraviolent games, though. Do you still find some kind of giddy joy in virtually killing people?
HOUSTON: Yeah, for sure! It’s fun to be powerful, and that’s the narrative that’s going on there. It’s not so much about being fun to kill people. I think the important thing to understand, as a game designer and a person, is that it’s a power fantasy. It’s fun to be powerful. That’s the underlying experience. A lot of time, you play a game and it’s fun to have an adventure....The answer is almost never, “It’s fun to kill people”—it’s deeper than that.
Abraham Riesman is a multimedia journalist in New York City. You can see more of his work at abrahamriesman.com.