By Kyle B. Stiff
Like a lot of nerds, I was blown away by the first Metal Gear Solid. A Western focus on modern military themes and conspiracies mixed surprisingly well with an Eastern flair for sentimentality and over-the-top characters. I’m also one of those pretentious types that loved the second game. In fact, I attribute MGS2: The Sons of Liberty with my “wake up” call that turned me into a full-blown conspiracy nut. And I nearly cried at the end of the third game; the fact that only Snake understood Boss’s sacrifice, which only helped turn him into the unfortunately-named Big Boss, really hit me in my soft underbelly. I even got a little blubbery during the ending of the Portable Ops game when Big Boss’s Russian troops are being rounded up by the Americans – but then they salute, and we realize that Big Boss has gone beyond the nationalistic concept of “king and country” and united his troops based on their common humanity. That’s some heavy shit, no doubt about it.
But I’ve stopped playing Metal Gear games. Once I became officially old as balls, something started bothering me about the series. It’s been years since I made Rosemary’s jugs bounce via telekinesis during a codec conversation in the fourth game (how embarrassing was that bullshit, gamers?), but now I know why I can’t play these games without twitching uncontrollably. It’s because Metal Gear Solid is targeted toward a young audience. And, as I’ve said before, I’m old as balls.
Don’t think that I’m trashing the series. I’m not. In case you haven’t seen the new trailers for Metal Gear Solid 5, here they are. Please note that they are all incredibly awesome. However, also please note that one trailer contains an event that lasts for about three seconds but makes my intestines curl up with fear about how awkward the next MGS game will be. More on that later.
Here’s a trailer that wasn’t pushed as a Metal Gear trailer, but people figured out pretty quick that it was a Metal Gear game. The sense of horror and helplessness are very, very powerful. Some narrative text even wonders: “Have I gone to Hell?”
Here’s the latest trailer, which merges the hellish Phantom Pain narrative with clips from the unfortunately-named Ground Zeroes segment, which I’ll post last. Again, it’s pretty awesome. The inclusion of mythical beasts adds a dreamlike element often missing from the usual military aesthetic, but hints at alternate realities like we saw during the battle against The Sorrow in the third game. Also there’s the fact that Big Boss may be somewhat insane; he certainly wasn’t introduced years ago as a mentally stable hero, but as a megalomaniacal villain.
Now, here’s a trailer based on the beginning of the new game. It’s a slow crawl through a military base lashed by rain and run by someone covered in burn scars. As good as it is, the narrative conversation makes me wish that Kojima would learn to edit himself; I understand that Paz and the kid are being held in a military base, there’s no need to beat it to death.
That’s an awesome trailer, right? But here’s the thing: At 8:25 the camera zooms in on Big Boss, who takes off his goggles, looks directly into the camera, and says, “Kept you waiting, huh?” Don’t try to kid yourself by thinking that he’s talking to the other dude and the camera just happened to nearly slam into his forehead. No, Big Boss is actually talking to the goddamn audience. He’s referencing the fact that it’s been a while since we had a new MGS game available for a console, and Snake knows that we might be excited by seeing him again.
This is not cool, dear readers. This is really lame and awkward. There’s a reason why movies don’t show characters turning to the camera to spout off a one-liner unless said movie is a comedy. It’s goofy. It’s not something that an adult gamer wants to see.
I don’t mean to sound like a nit-picky, whiny little bitch, but the MGS series has always been hamstrung by lame attempts at humor in what should otherwise be a serious story about individuals being ground up by powerful forces that will do anything to extend their control.
But the compulsion to put lame jokes into a serious story is indicative of something far darker. That compulsion stems from the fear of telling a serious story, a story that could influence people because it closely mirrors reality.
For example: What was up with that goofball ending for the fourth MGS game? There were many, many great moments in that epic story. Who among us had ever played anything like it before?! There even came a point when it was understood that the hero, Solid Freaking Snake, would have to kill himself at the end of his mission so that humanity could live. He deserved only reward and adoration, but instead, he found out that he was a biological time bomb, and the final boss he would have to kill… was himself. I mean, a shot of Snake standing alone in a graveyard with a gun to his head, followed by a short five-minute cutscene of Hal Emmerich at a wedding explaining to some kid why Snake had to die alone, would have been soul-shattering and beautiful.
So what happened? Instead, we get some goofball antics with Meryl marrying some genetically unfit comic-relief dufus (this was after their painful flirtation during a final battle where bullets seemed unable to hit them), Emmerich cried for twenty minutes about Snake’s suicide only to have the scene undermined by an awkward phone call in which Snake said he didn’t have to do it after all, and he quit smoking, and he wants to hang out (to do what?!), and Big Boss came along and rambled for forty-five minutes while tripping over graves like he was in some kind of slapstick comedy sketch. It’s funny, that’s for damn sure, and the only thing that would have made it any funnier would be Meryl’s new husband throwing his ankles behind his ears and lighting farts during the wedding scene.
Plus we had to watch Raiden interact with his dumb kid. We already had all this awesome tension built up during the second game in which it was heavily implied that Rosemary wasn’t even a real person. She was a freaking memory construct, Raiden was an MK ULTRA mind control victim, and his masters were completely insane. THAT’S POWERFUL STORYTELLING – but wait! No no, it didn’t happen like that after all, Rosemary might have acted really weird at the end of MGS2 but don’t worry, she’s actually a real person and Raiden had a dumb kid with her and we get to see their awkward half-hour interaction at the end of MGS4. This was not long after a codec scene in which we find out that the player can telekinetically manipulate Rose’s tits while she helps deliver some dialogue during an otherwise serious scene. Totally makes sense… totally, totally makes sense. (It doesn’t really make sense, of course, unless we consider the fact that Kojima might be a virgin who has never touched or seen a breast and thus has no adult perspective on how embarrassing it is to see that stuff in his games.)
But there’s more. Why bother to have a heartfelt death scene for Raiden in MGS4 only to bring him back a few scenes later? It smacks of Joss Whedon and his inability to kill off a character because there might be at least one person who will feel a twinge of sorrow at the finality of death. As an entertainer, I would feel like a sack of shit if I tricked the audience into feeling sorrow at the death of a character only to – ta da! – bring them back later without a damn good reason. How could anyone feel any sense of danger while reading my stories if they knew that anyone I wrote about was effectively immortal and thus never in any danger?
Years ago, I thought it was brave of Kojima that he made it possible for Meryl to die in MGS1 based on the player’s actions (well, his ability to tap a button quickly during the torture scene), but her inclusion in MGS4 only proves that eternal life is canon in MGS and death is something that can only exist in an alternate non-canon universe full of endless horrors. Uh oh, here’s a plot twist, readers: Is that alternate dimension of horror actually the one we live in?
I guess my greatest concern is that I would really, really like to play this new MGS game, but I’m terrified that the ending will be lame and preachy. The ending of MGS3 and Portable Ops was pretty amazing, but the ending of every other game was mind-numbingly preachy. It seemed like every character gained this insight into humanity and existence, and then tried to pass that enlightenment on using strange non sequitors and sweeping generalities chock full of glowing optimism. Take MGS2, for instance. Raiden had to fight through a hellish nightmare, everyone around him went insane (and may not have even existed outside of his mind), he found out that his enemy Solidus was actually a good guy (sort of), he took part in an incredible hand-to-hand battle on top of Federal Hall, he made a human sacrifice of Big Boss’s closest genetic clone right under a statue of George Washington (where the “first patriot” was inaugurated) – and then what happened?
Oh, no big deal, Raiden and Snake just start preaching. “Life and stuff. It’s about being alive. Who am I? The decisions we make are the same as the choices we take. Is reality just a dream that wakes up and finds itself sleeping beside the choice to be alive?”
How does that happen? How do you experience the finest, most intense emotions that gaming has to offer, only to have it fall apart into something that might blow a fourteen-year-old’s mind but which ultimately sounds like a pile of horseshit? I hope this isn’t the case, but I suspect that, on some level, Hideo Kojima actually despises the audience of his games.
Think about it. Why are these action games that center on espionage and combat often hampered by sermons against violence? Does Hideo Kojima not understand that ANY AND EVERY hero’s journey must include violence because violence represents conflict and overcoming obstacles, which is a part of every human’s life? Or does he actually believe that violence in video games and movies has the power to turn a passive, idiotic audience into violent psychopaths? Why would he even make this assumption? How many war-hungry presidents and sadistic dictators and serial killers play video games? Really, how many? (Hint: The answer is zero.)
But… I probably will play MGS5. I admit, I’m looking forward to it. I didn’t bother to play Raiden’s solo game Revengeance, mostly because I suspected that Kojima’s hatred and disgust toward his audience had reached fever-pitch intensity. I decided that because 1) I remember my discomfort about the goofy ending to MGS4, and 2) the title is insanely bad. Not that I should have to hammer the point home, but do we understand that Revengeance is a really bad title? “It’s not just revenge… and it’s so much more than vengeance… it is: REVENGEANCE.” Why does it sound like the title of a comedy movie poking fun at action movie conventions? Is Kojima merely making fun of the audience? Or does he truly, truly hate the audience? Or is Kojima perhaps being more serious than we thought, and he trimmed the title down from the original and unwieldy THE MURDERKILLERS: RETURN OF THE RISE OF REVENGEANCE: THE FINAL BATTLE: THE DARK PROPHECY: THE ADVENTURE BEGINS?
Maybe this stuff really is made for children. When I was a kid, I was definitely one autistic sumbitch that liked complex storylines full of conspiracies and epic battles. Maybe I have faith that Kojima has outgrown his hatred for his audience and, as an adult, I will be able to write a glowing and worshipful review of METAL GEAR SOLID 5IVE: THE TWO GROUNDS ZEROES: THE PHANTOM MENACE PAINS: I WONDER WHAT IT FEELS LIKE TO TOUCH A WOMANS BREASTES.
Hey readers! If you liked this post, you should check out some of my books. I’ve got an epic series called Demonworld, which is equal parts Mad Max and Lord of the Rings (think “science fantasy”), and a much-loved gamebook series called Heavy Metal Thunder which is currently a hyperlinked Kindle book but will be a fancy phone app any day now.