5. Obscured By The Clouds (Or, Why I Call Myself “Solid Kenny”)
Years ago, Mr.Wolfe wrote a fascinating article explaining how much of the essence of MGS1’s gameplay has been lost or misunderstood. Rather than critically analyze what makes the gameplay “tick” (ie “the puzzle element”), most fans prefer to gush about surface-level details (ie “the cinematic presentation.”)
However, I feel that Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty is going through a very similar problem. Not with its gameplay, though; but rather, its message.
From my own observations of the fanbase, there are two ways to not understand MGS2;
- The “MGS DudeBro” Way: These are the people who bitched about not being able to play as Snake, called Rose petty, misogynistic insults (when all she was trying to do was get you to “grow up” and accept reality), and complained about its “preachy” message. This is the most obvious and common way, and is what most people refer to when they talk about how people “didn’t ‘get’ MGS2.”
- The “Lore Guru” Way: This is the less noticed/understood way. These are people who claim to understand MGS2, and will explain, in great detail, things like Raiden being a vector for the player, the game’s commentary on sequels and game design, and the role of MEMEs and social engineering. But ultimately, it’s their high-mindedness that causes them to still miss the point, despite making a greater effort than the “Bros.”
“Lore Gurus” fall somewhere between Metal Gear Elitists and Metal Gear Fanboys; as “authorities”, they will try to justify serious problems with each of the games (including Rising), and promote their justifications as “being clever and perfect”, and that others “just don’t ‘get it.'” By rejecting MGRising, I’ve been accused of “denying Kojima’s art”, when all I ever tried to to do was preserve Kojima’s art! (ie By dividing the non-Hideo Kojima games from the “A Hideo Kojima Games.”)
It’s the people who fall in Group #2 (the “Lore Gurus”) that praise Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance for building on MGS2’s “themes.” But in truth, what MGRising does is merely imitate MGS2’s motifs, not its themes or messages.
They praise MGRising for having Raiden reflect the player (07:50) (by having Raiden be motivated purely by his enjoyment of blood-lust, a reflection of the player’s desire for fun gameplay (05:20)), but they (like MGRising) miss a critical element of Raiden reflecting the player in MGS2, that turns this motif into a theme/message; Identity.
For his entire life, Raiden has been jerked around by others, whether it’s Solidus, The Patriots, or by society at large. Metaphysically, this is represented by the fact that, as a game protagonist, Raiden literally has no will of his own (since his actions are completely controlled by the player.)
By discarding his Dog Tags (with the player’s name inscribed on it; the player’s identity), Raiden asserts his independence from the player. He learns finds his own name, and his own life. According to Kojima (01:42), this scene is “very representative of the theme [he] wanted to put in the game.”
This is something everyone needs to learn to do; to strike out and pave their own way (in the actual sense, not the stupid MGR-sense where Raiden somehow “paves his own way” by embracing Solidus’ conditioning. (01:21:10)) This is a message that is relevant to any struggling teenager searching for themselves.
And yet, it’s this core, down-to-Earth essence of Kojima’s message, that is totally lost among the so-called “intellectual”-wing of the Metal Gear community. As I argued that Metal Gear is about “not being a prisoner to fate (01:13)“/”making the impossible possible”, I’ve seen “intellectual” fans flat out say they disagree that those are the themes of MGS, even as I provide irrefutable proof where Kojima said “yes, this was the lesson I had in mind when I made MGS” (18:30) (again, “Death of the Author” is nothing more than an excuse for willful ignorance and denial.)
To them, all a Metal Gear game needs is “child soldiers, corrupt US government, and moral ambiguity.” To them, these are the hallmarks of the Metal Gear series, not the down-to-Earth messages that are relevant to the player’s life. They value Metal Gear’s motifs and aesthetics more than Metal Gear’s actual message. This is why they perceive Metal Gear Rising as a “worthy Metal Gear game”; because they never understood what Hideo Kojima’s Metal Gear is really about.
So, what does all of this have to do with my online handle being named after a South Park character? South Park and Metal Gear have almost nothing in common. To fuse the two together is not only unoriginal, but pretty senseless. In fact, how dare I try to compare something as raunchy and simple-minded as South Park, to something as deep, intellectual, and brilliant as Metal Gear!
But the thing is, South Park is actually one of the most educational shows on television. Like Hideo Kojima, Trey Parker and Matt Stone aren’t content with just providing mindless entertainment; they use their medium as a means to convey a message. It pokes fun at the absurdity of the world, but ultimately, Trey and Matt are driven by a deep love for humanity (05:26). Like Kojima, they’re optimists (watch the full episode, otherwise the ending of this scene kinda gives off the wrong impression.)
Many Metal Gear fans perceive Metal Gear as this confusing, nearly-incomprehensible storyline. And because of the convoluted nature of Kojima’s storytelling, the fanbase look towards the intellectual “Lore Gurus” (the people who memorize everything and, allegedly, hold the answers to everything) as a means to achieve understanding.
These “Lore Gurus” work to make sure that Metal Gear’s storyline appears neat and tidy on the surface (by dedicating a large amount of time reading/editing the Metal Gear Wiki), because they can’t stand the idea that Metal Gear’s storyline is actually messy and unplanned.
But you know what? There’s nothing wrong with Metal Gear’s storyline being messy and unplanned. In the end, “factual canon” is irrelevant; what’s important, is “thematic canon.” So what if there’s AI mechs in the 70s? That has no bearing on the message Kojima wished to express through his games.
When you get right down to it, the real core of Kojima’s Metal Gear, the message, isn’t that difficult to understand. In fact, the ending of each game has a character (Naomi Hunter, Solid Snake, The Boss (02:32), Big Boss (05:45), and Dr.Strangelove (06:30)) spell out the message for the player. These moments are Metal Gear’s equivalent to when a South Park character (typically Stan or Kyle) spell out the episode’s message with “You know, I’ve learned something today.”
Through my video(s?), and this article, I wanted to show the fanbase that Metal Gear is so much more than just “child soldiers, corrupt US government, and moral ambiguity.” I wanted to bring Metal Gear back down-to-Earth; where, whether your a chubby kid aspiring to play sports, someone struggling with their autism, or a transgender person going through an identity crisis, Metal Gear’s messages are relevant to you.
I wanted to show that, ultimately, Hideo Kojima’s Metal Gear is no more complicated than an episode of South Park.
(Another reason; I totally suck ass at these games. I die allot.)