Mid-Atlantic Popular &
American Culture Association

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Breathing Life Into Elizabeth: Collaboration in Video Game Character Development


Ken Levine, the Creative Director of the wildly popular video game, Bioshock Infinite, looked no further than his fans for developing the face of the main character, Elizabeth. A devoted “cosplayer” from Russia, Anna Moleva impressed Levine and her Facebook followers with her uncanny resemblance to Elizabeth and detailed costuming and staging techniques characteristic of serious cosplayers. Bioshock Infinite, the third installment in the wildly popular and much-anticipated Bioshock video game series, was released in March 2013. By May, the game topped 3.7 million sales. Much of the hype surrounding Bioshock Infinite involves the well-developed Elizabeth, who serves as your companion, or rather, the companion to the first-person (male) protagonist, Booker DeWitt, throughout gameplay.

Creating digital characters from live models is nothing new to computer animation. What is notable about contemporary video game design, however, is the self-reflexive back-and-forth that happens between developers and the live models they use, especially in the above example. Using the case of Elizabeth and the men and women who created her as a starting point, I consider what it means for a video game company to develop and market a character and engage with its users in this way. Through analyzing character development from the industry perspective, I aim to uphold the importance of consumer feedback in video game design, while also pointing out the limitations to this sort of “crowd-sourcing” approach.

While the field of games studies is expanding in scope and breadth, little has been examined in earnest regarding the production culture of digital games. To that end, this paper seeks to contribute to the field and its growing significance in popular culture.

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