What ho and hail, Lusiperpendicular humanoids!
A reoccurring theme in my thoughts of late has been the comparability between video games and film, especially in the misty-afterthoughts of E3. Year after year we hear consistent refrains about “cinematic experiences.” Hell, we have even been seeing the steady rise of imported Hollywood talent and techniques in video games, from Michael Biehn playing himself in Blood Dragon to the use of Snyder-esque green screen sets for video game cutscenes. Yet for all that it makes sense to compare video games to a similarly visual medium, I have wondered if we are too hasty in our attempts to emulate film. Perhaps some games should be seen as emulating other mediums: painting, music, or even books. Dust blows off the cogs of my brain. The wheels slowly begin to turn…
In the comments on an earlier post I referenced Hideo Kojima as being a developer whose personality can be clearly felt within his games. Since then, a wealth of information has sprung up around Kojima’s latest project, Metal Gear Solid V. This slew of trailers and interviews got me thinking – had I been too hasty in my dismissal of Kojima’s intentions for the Metal Gear series? The themes of the games, from Metal Gear to The Phantom Pain, are surprisingly consistent. In some ways, we might even suggest that Metal Gear provides Gaming with its first (and I would argue sole) Epic.
Seriously. Consider that most Metal Gear games begin in medias res, a common technique in Epic poems, placing the player right in the middle of the action at the very beginning. Homer’s Iliad opens in the middle of the Trojan War, just as Metal Gear Solid opens amid Snake’s infiltration of Shadow Moses. Taken as a series*, Metal Gear opens with Solid Snake breaking into Outer Heaven, with little to no context of who Snake is (beyond an amalgamation of Snake Plissken and the aforementioned Michael Biehn) or the purpose Outer Heaven serves. These details get fleshed out as the series continues.
The fleshing out of the details is something else I feel elevates Metal Gear to the status of Epic. Unlike other series, Metal Gear manages to expand on its premises and characters without blowing them up into bloated, arbitrary Resident Evil style monstrosities. This is due, in part, to Metal Gear seemingly always having its eyes on the global, and in a sense epic, stage. Whereas Resident Evil was forced to continually up the stakes in more and more ridiculous methods, Metal Gear evolved in consistent ways that made sense, subtly poking the complexities of their narrative until gamers finally gathered the pieces themselves. In a more concrete example, by the time Metal Gear Solid 4 rolled around, gamers were used to the idea of soldiers with supernatural powers- they had been an integral part since the early days. Resident Evil 5, on the other hand, ends with a fistfight in the middle of a volcano. In a game series that started as a zombie horror game. Because consistency is a four letter word to Capcom.
Metal Gear is further elevated beyond its brethren for its willingness to discuss (at length in many cases) such heavy handed topics as War, Pacifism, Nuclear Proliferation, and Love Blooming on the Battlefield. Kojima’s willingness as a writer to literally stop gameplay to have a discussion on philosophy harkens back to the writings of Tolstoy and Hugo, who were both known to do much the same thing. While other commentators have criticized this, to me it is one of the greatest joys of playing a Metal Gear game. The juxtaposition of the Overman Snake, a hero whose sole purpose is to sow death and destruction, with the obviously personal values Kojima holds is one that keeps me riveted to my seat throughout the games. Other games with seemingly epic storylines such as Resident Evil or Halo fail to even hold a candle to such strength of theme.
The ironic bit of this entire thought exercise is that Kojima himself was explicitly influenced by film. Metal Gear‘s Solid Snake was inspired by Kurt Russel’s Snake Plissken, while Big Boss was inspired by Sean Connery. The films The Great Escape and The Guns of Navarro were also listed as inspirations for the stealth emphasis. Despite this, however, I firmly believe that if we examine the Metal Gear series on its own, we find that Gaming may have its first epic to share with the world.
So what do you think, good Lusireaders? Are the Metal Gear games just a bloated mess of words and cutscenes, or are you as struck as I am by their obvious greatness? Are there any other series that you believe could hold their own in the Epic genre, or is there a game you feel is better compared to an obscure medium rather than to film? Leave your thoughts in the comments below!
*Though it should be mentioned that in medias res is not anything with a prequel