Wednesday, July 9, 2008

The Saga Begins

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 my many, many people, so there's usually no one identifiable person who leaves their distinctive mark or stamp on a game like there is with movie directors. This is not the case with the MGS series. Hideo Kojima, who is seen as a sort of auteur, 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. First off, 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 could and have been written on America's fascination with violence, but I think it 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 movies, and that's what I'll explore next time.

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