Thursday, December 11, 2008

Rehash: The Saga Begins

[I've just recently completed Metal Gear Solid 2 and plan on writing my analysis and thoughts on it soon. At the moment though, my mind is still reeling from everything I just experienced and it may take a bit for me to get my thoughts down properly. For the time being here's a rehash of the first part of my analysis of the original Metal Gear Solid which I posted on ludology 101 a few months ago (and which you probably missed since it's basically a dead blog). Enjoy!]

I've recently taken it upon myself to try out the Metal Gear series. Just a few weeks ago the final chapter of the series, Metal Gear Solid 4, was released. As I've posted before, it's been receiving rave reviews, with some reviewers calling it one of the best videogame narratives ever. After procuring (on-site?) a Playstation 2 and a copy of the original Metal Gear Solid (1998) I've begun my journey.

The man behind the MGS series is Hideo Kojima. He is both the creator and director of the series. One of the problems with videogames not being taken seriously as an art form could probably be attributed to the fact that games are made by many, many people, so there's usually no one identifiable person who leaves their distinctive mark or stamp on a game unlike a director of film. This is not the case with the MGS series. Hideo Kojima, who is seen as a sort of auteur in the videogame community, is the driving force behind MGS. Some people think of Kojima as a visionary- a complete master of his craft, able to tell amazing, complex (actually, really complex) narratives. Others see his games mimicking cinema so much that they say he's in the wrong business, that he should be making films instead of videogames. For an interesting look at Kojima check out this article at the Brainy Gamer which compares and contrasts him with D.W. Griffith.

Metal Gear Solid starts out with the main character, Solid Snake, being given a mission to infiltrate a nuclear waste disposal facility in the Bering Strait which has been taken over by a rogue private military contract group called Fox-Hound, of which Solid Snake used to be a member. The game relies on you, as Snake, to sneak around and figure out what's going on.

What makes the game interesting, at least for me, is that the story is basically an analysis of the American military-industrial complex told from a distinctly non-American perspective. The whole gameplay revolves around stealth. Fighting is usually a last resort, with sneaking around making the game much easier than if you try to fight everyone you see. I find this in contrast to most American made games, which usually have you shooting anything and everything, with violence being the easiest, if not the only answer. Whole books have been written on America's fascination with violence, but the contrast between a Japanese vs. an American take on the subject shows here when your character doesn't fight all that much, even though you're told you're a top tier secret agent with deadly skills.

The other observation I've made so far is just how anti-violence prone this whole game is. There have been increasing anti-war/anti-violence themes and messages cropping up as I go along. Currently I'd say I'm a quarter of the way through the game. After rescuing a kidnapped weapons company executive (think Halliburton) the player is treated to an 8 minute long cutscene which goes into a whole history lesson about post-Cold War nuclear weapons disposal, how much nuclear waste is created each year, out-of-work Russian scientists looking for a job, and a whole diatribe on the evils on nuclear weapons. Watch it here (skip to 5:15 to get the real history lesson).

As the length of just this cutscene shows (and there are many more lengthy cutscenes), Kojima is fond of fashioning his games like they were films, and I'll explore that further in another analysis.


Peter Matthew Reed said...

How much do you think this is really an American/non-American difference in video games? I know there is plenty of violence in the other Japanese origin games (It thinking the FF series here) I have played, so I can't see that distinction holding.
For instance, stealth makes the "Global:" series (especially later games) easier, but it isn't really sold as heavily as in MGS. MGS is extraordinary, but maybe that is down to Kojima.

Little Earl said...

"(and which you probably missed since it's basically a dead blog)"

Holding the funeral so soon? Jeez buddy. Maybe give it a little more time at least. Or just post your stuff here until you develop a bigger following.

Peter Matthew Reed said...

What if he "steals" "your" "readers"?

Sorry, I suddenly found myself writing a sentence where more than half the words kind of "needed" scare quotes...

Herr Zrbo said...

Maybe you're right that there isn't as much of a distinction in the amount of violence between American vs. non-American games. I was perhaps equating 'violence' with 'guns'. It seems that in American-made games guns are usually the answer, the only tool, given to the player to solve problems. In Japanese/asian games I see violence as being more personal, like with martial arts for example. It becomes more of a battle of personalities in this case.

My opinions might be influenced at the moment since I also just finished Gears of War 2, which is the epitome of jingoistic, gun-toting machismo where all the characters look like they play American football, drink Budweiser, and eat Campbell's Hearty Beefy Chunks. The black guy talks in the most stereotypical way possible, and the guns have chainsaws on the end which you use to saw through your enemies. MGS seems like Ulysses in comparison.

Herr Zrbo said...

@LE - Well, it's not that the blog is "dead", but I doubt anyone reads it. I use it more just to get my thoughts out, even if no one's reading. At least here we've got a slight audience.

yoggoth said...

I played through half of MGS, and watched a friend play through the rest. I was also impressed by the anti-violence message, although it was a bit ham-handedly delivered.

As for the complexity of Kojima's plots, I'm of the school that says they get a bit overly complex at times. Still, it's interesting to see his outsider take on American mythology.