MGS4: Sold Out (Part 1)

This article has been updated on June 7, 2011 for your enjoyment.

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In the previous articles, The Long, Dark Path to Metal Gear Solid 4, and Kojima VS MGS4, we looked at how Kojima’s relationship with the Metal Gear series became dysfunctional leading up to the development of Guns of the Patriots by things such as stubborn fan expectations, lack of appreciation, and outright hostility. We also studied the pre-release indicators that Kojima did not like MGS4. In this article we will look for in-game evidence that Hideo Kojima not only decided to undermine the series with the game, but communicate his own plight in its subtext.

PART 1: Pre-Game Fake Television

The intro sequence of MGS3 let users control the screen, but according to Kojima, MGS4 is going to be even better and startling. “The customer-service phone line is going to be flooded with calls, and I’m going to get fired,” joked Kojima. (source)

Considering all of its hype and its massive cost, the opening advertisements of MGS4 are easily one of the least talked about aspects of the game.  As you can see above, Kojima talks about how the customer-service phone line is going to be flooded and he’s going to be fired, and yet nobody seemed to notice or care when the game was released.  This isn’t surprising to me, since I know just how unthinking and moronic fans of the series actually are, but apparently Kojima was expecting huge backlash. The fact that it didn’t happen makes it the kind of epic fail that’s impressive for any director — but especially for someone with a following like Kojima. It also makes it very interesting to study.

The question is what Kojima, who imagined that this “trick opening” would stir up outrage and confusion, was thinking when he decided to create it in the first place. It was ambitious in its execution, hyped before the release, and obviously very important in the eyes of Kojima himself, even if the consumers quickly forgot.

Combining real actors with computer graphics, the opening consists of ten high-production faux-television spots for the player to view and surf through; five shows, and five PMC commercials. If you want to watch them again, you can go to their website. It says there that they were written, produced and directed by LOGAN, although this was surely done under the general advisement of Kojima and his staff.

Why make them? Why create a bunch of bizarre films, and then then force people to watch them before the game starts? Let’s begin by appreciating the more obvious reasons for doing it.

 

Obvious Reasons

(1) They provide rare insight into what television is like in Metal Gear’s dystopian future.

Aside from Sons of Liberty‘s fake New York Mirror book review and “The Shocking Conspiracy Behind Shadow Moses” feature, we don’t really know how the average person in the Metal Gear universe might perceive the wacky world they live in. Everything else is from the perspective of some secret agent in the middle of a mission.  It’s nice to see that Kojima wanted to give players a glimpse at the “times”, considering how heavily he emphasized that theme during MGS3.

These spots could also serve as a commentary on modern trends in reality TV, game shows, and other stuff that Kojima sees in our society.  Kojima is a huge movie buff, after all, and pays attention to the trends.  So, these fake TV spots could be a rather experimental (and costly) way of sharing his thoughts on where it’s all leading.

 

(2) They include interesting bits of information related to society and the PMC’s.

For example, in the “7th Circle” game show, we hear that Pieuvre Armement produces 51.5 million firearms per year, and employs an armed force the size of Canada and Mexico combined. In this sense it’s even relevant to the game’s storyline. Pretty clever, wouldn’t you say?

By sneaking facts about the story into these cutscenes, Kojima conveniently avoids forcing the player to make calls on the codec to learn about the world, or otherwise trying to squeeze it somewhere it doesn’t fit.

 

(3) They look pretty neat and catch your attention.

Simple as that. It can be fun to simply watch the programs and look for details, such as the morbid text floating around in the background of the “7th Circle” game show. I suspect they were  all designed to warrant multiple close viewings.

 

(4) Cameos!

David Hayter does a fake interview in the game with Lee Meriwether (ie. The Boss) in “Celebrity Moralist”. Meanwhile, the actor who plays Drebin pops up to give the correct answer in the game show “7th Circle”. Kim Mai Guest (Mei Ling) is also in the “Body of Armor” bit. This is good fanservice, and a nice touch considering it’s supposed to be the final game in a long and famous saga where its character actors have become quasi-famous.

 

(5) Instant “artist” credibility. Whether Kojima actually felt the need to boost his reputation as an artist, or whether he was even involved enough with these to warrant a boost if he did want it, the fact is that it’s pretty artistic to do something so pretentious and costly with a major series. It’s a good way to tell people that you aren’t afraid to be bold and take risks and blah blah. Who else does this kind of stuff, after all?

 

The Hidden Reason

Despite these fine reasons for wanting to waste incredible amounts of money on fake television spots, I can’t help thinking there has to be a better reason. After all, we’re talking about the same genius who created the postmodern masterpiece that is Sons of Liberty. He’s always got a bigger reason.

I’m not the least bit surprised that everybody chooses to ignore the greater question of these advertisements, considering that everybody already chose to ignore the glaring implications of MGS2 before it. Most people just don’t like stepping back and questioning something that they’re trying to enjoy, even though that’s what postmodernism is all about. We’d rather tell ourselves that the game we bought is totally awesome than look for cracks in its shiny new surface. And let’s not forget the fact that most people are too stupid to handle multiple thoughts simultaneously; so while we’re distracted by the pretty pictures and trying to figure out what the heck is going on, we neglect to connect it to the bigger picture or find a deeper meaning.

But even so, nobody seems to care much about the fake TV spots. You forget about them as soon as you start playing. This is unfortunate, since a lot of money and effort was put into making them worthy of multi-layered consideration. But then again, we didn’t ask for them, right? And certainly they’re not the reason why bought the game! Overall they’re actually quite annoying.

But maybe they were designed to annoy people a little bit. Maybe they were designed—among other things—to provoke players with their superficiality and offbeat direction. Maybe we’re supposed to step back and think critically, wishing we could skip them. That would be a cruel joke, but so was Raiden in MGS2.

If I may be so bold as to suggest the obvious, perhaps forcing the player to feel as though he’s watching cheesy and commercialized television before playing the game is a (not-so-subtle) allusion to the fact that the whole game comes off like a commercially driven, blockbuster-by-numbers movie. It’s a B-movie. Why not drive this point home by adding commercials before it?

We know that MGS4 is just a commercial product made for basic entertainment, not true art or a labour of love. The intentionally awkward acting job by the actors is especially effective at making it feel like a parody of TV more than believable attempts. They’re not even trying, which means that somebody told them to treat it like a joke. (Again, if you haven’t seen them in a while, check them out.)

This kind of opening cinematic was designed to undermine the credibility of the entire game before it even began, by calling it little more than a sappy sci-fi movie… something critics of the series have attacked the games with for a long time.

In his recent GDC ’09 keynote, Kojima made several “jokes” about how many cutscenes he has in his games, going so far as to verbally tell the audience to laugh at them. He’s sensitive about it, and when combined with the fact that he didn’t want to make MGS4 anyway (something he also admits in the keynote,) it’s easy to see how he would get a kick out of intentionally proving his opponent’s correct. But since he can’t really say it openly, he says it secretly, between the lines, with stuff like this.

Is it possible that Kojima actually tried to frustrate players with the fake TV stuff? Is it possible that, on top of all the “obvious reasons” given above, there was a hidden motive? Is it possible that he wanted his fans to be confronted by the fact that the game world is no longer cool, and it’s plot is no better than made-for-TV flicks?

It may also be worth noting that every time Snake dies and it’s “Game Over”, the screen flickers different images before becoming static, as if the signal has been cut. Another way of breaking the illusion? It may not seem like much on its own, but when connected with the television opening it may gain a new meaning.

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