Sunday, June 21, 2009

Metal Gear Solid 2 - Understanding the Game

I've been writing down a few ideas here and there as topics for this blog, but I have Metal Gear Solid 2 on the brain, seeing as i completed the game on Saturday.

Upon doing so, I scoured the internet for any academic writing I could find pertaining to the game's narrative (especially the final two hours). I came up with some links that helped me understand what I had sat through. Well not only the ending, but what Kojima was actually doing within the narrative of the game itself.

*One criticism I often have of academic writing is that I sometimes think people delve too deep. They try to illicit meaning out of work that might not necessarily have deep meaning. I still kind of hold that to be true, but I think it's all very subjective. One person might be able to find meaning in what might be considered the lowest form of culture or entertainment, while another person might not get anything out of some of the great works of literature. In fact, that person might go so far as to lamblast people who did find meaning as pretentious or too eager. For this blog I'm taking the road of subjectivity to the fullest. Feel free to disagree with my readings of games, but please try and put reasoning behind your words. That is all I ask.

The reason I went off on that tangent is because Kojima's games and especially Metal Gear Solid 2 (from now on referred to as MGS2) divides people. It does this for many reasons, and the three academic works I discovered and read through kind of touch on that in different ways. The game certainly affected me, as I'm considering putting it in my top 20 games based on its narrative alone (I am fickle and this list changes from time to time). What I will do now is provide links to these essays and then discuss what they are about, why i found them interesting and hopefully through this exercise, will be able to form some of my own thoughts about the game.

Link Numero uno:

The first link written by James Howell in 2007 takes the approach of MGS2 when compared to its predecessor Metal Gear Solid. It explores what people expect of a video game sequel and how MGS2 delivers on a couple of those expectations, but then usurps said expectations creating an experience while reminiscent of the first game, is infuriating for its fans.

I only played through the original MGS a year or so ago. Like MGS2, i ended up wholeheartedly enjoying this spy thriller full of science fiction, and super natural elements. A game where revelations, double-crosses and secrets are spewed out at the player with wild abandon. In essence, a narrative assault, especially when coming from a stealth based video game.

MGS2 delivers the same narrative assault in my opinion, but there are many links to the first game. There is a cyborg ninja, there is a rag tag group of supernatural terrorists, there are many characters from the first game, and you do get to play as Solid Snake (at least for the first couple of hours). In fact, part of the ending reveals that most of the game was a training exercise meant to recreate Shadow Moses (the events of MGS). Howell's essay takes most of these similar elements and explains how they heighten your expectation of what MGS delivered and then refuse to pay that expectation off in MGS2. The epitome of this is one word, Raiden.

Link dues:

This is quite an extensive look into the ending of MGS2 by one Artemio Urbina. It includes links and readings to many outside sources on the subject matter and themes presented by Kojima in this game. A transcript of the ending is also available to aid discussion through the paper.

If I had to sum the theme of MGS2 up succintly, I would probably say something along the lines of 'the free distribution of information in our digital age hampering our evolution as a species'. It's a little more complex with secret societies, AI, genetics, virtual reality, betrayal, etc, but like the first MGS, Kojima is able to weave something thought provoking in a narrative that really shares more in common with pulp novels, cheesy action movies, and government conspiracy thrillers.

If the last couple of hours of MGS2 confused you or angered you, this reading might clarify some things.

Link Three:

This article by Tim Rogers was discovered last year while I was researching an essay on 'new games journalism'. It approaches MGS2 as one of the first postmodern videogames (Earthbound probably taking the mantle of first). This article is all about approaching MGS2 as a game that knows it's a game. Explaining how Kojima wanted to write a story only a videogame could tell, Rogers explores how Raiden is a true videogame character, and how the MGS2 narrative plays with the idea of knowing it's all a game.

Art is purely subjective (as I also established earlier are people's readings into it). I think it can be argued that a game such as MGS2 that runs the reactions of astonished to repulsed to confused, and possibly even to indifferent, fufills its duty as an art form.

Also I'd like to put forth the idea that not many people in the mainstream go out of their way to experience something different in the art world. By creating a sequel to a beloved game that was so radically different on purpose, in order to circumvent people's expectations and to open up some thoughts on the digital world they live in, was a bold move by Kojima.

I have yet to play Metal Gear Solid 3 but I have to wonder if it will have a similar effect.

1 comment:

  1. Dave! Good read mate, well done.

    Good position too, looking forward to reading more.