I’ve been lucky to have Alexander Sylazhov as a guest contributor multiple times on this site. His writing reveals a facet of the Metal Gear community otherwise hidden from me, and shows me how other cultures and peoples can approach the subject matter in Metal Gear with a drastically different perspective. Recently I decided to ask Alexander for an interview, so that his fans and the general readership of this site can get to know the man behind these daunting essays a little more personally.
Check out the interview below and learn a bit about this mysterious character.
Q. What’s your background? Not only where you’re from, but also what kind of subcultures there (or online) have influenced you?
I was born and raised in Montevideo, Uruguay, in 1990, and moved to Tenerife, Spain, at the age of 14 in 2004, and then moved to Granada in 2014, where I’ve been living since. Subcultures which have influenced me, especially in high school, were the rock subculture, heavy metal, punk, etc, and the gamer subculture. I used to hang out with Uruguayans, Canarians, Argentines, Russians and Brits a lot, and pretty much met people from all over the world. Online, I used to be very active in forums at the age of 15, particularly a Metal Gear forum in Spanish, a GTA: San Andreas forum in Spanish as well, and the forum Soviet-Empire.com. I remember the Metal Gear forum with particular fondness, as we were truly like a brotherhood and we ended up bonding amazingly. This was of course before the age of social networking like we know it today.
Q. We know that you’re not a fan of American imperialism, but how would you describe your socioeconomic and governmental views? Are you an idealist, or do you tend to think of solutions in terms of Realpolitik?
I used to be an idealist, a communist utopian. Not anymore, especially after researching so much. Now I do think more in terms of Realpolitik, not because I like it, but because there doesn’t seem to be an alternative. Realpolitik reminds me of people like Henry Kissinger, the orchestrator of Operation Condor in Latin America, and it just makes me cringe. I can cite many Soviet equivalents and similar historical political actors, but I really do find Unitedstatian ones to be worse when it comes to Realpolitik. Some of the worst humanitarian atrocities and orchestrated, systematic acts of war and terror, coups and regime changes have been wrought by US government agencies, in the name of “freedom and democracy.” It’s sickening. I don’t hate people in the US or the country itself, I’m just really against its government and industral-military complex. Kissinger himself said once “the US doesn’t have permanent friends or enemies, only interests.” It reflects its stance on the world quite well, but it’s the core of Realpolitik, and what the Boss taught us in MGS3 and Orwell in 1984: no enemy, no friend is forever. They’re always relative. Kissinger himself is a product of the times, of the context and its politics.
My socioeconomic views are socialist. I believe in free and universal healthcare and education, and dislike neoliberalism for all the exploitation, poverty and class distinction it causes. I know it well from the horrible tourism industry in Spain which has affected my family for years, an industry which is basically Francoist in essence. Nepotism is alive and well, and corruption is incredibly widespread here. I’m particularly fond of Uruguay’s democratic model, but it is still weak economically, with barely any growth. There’s a street crime problem, but not as huge as in other Latin American nations. Also, the leftist government in power is so afraid of getting tough to decrease crime because of the ghosts of the right-wing dictatorship, that it’s become a very weak government when it comes to tough policies. There is a lot of bureaucracy as well, just as in Spain. Overall, you could say the Uruguayan socioeconomic system of a presidential representative democratic republic with socialist public policies and a regulated market economy is what I think works best right now, but there is a lot to improve.
The EU has failed us miserably, and we have been plundered. No wonder Brexit happened. I’m amazed no other countries have initiated a secession from the EU. Europe used to have a very good socialist model, but cuts in the economy dictated by Brussels, Germany and France, which have only resulted in the rich getting richer and the poor getting poorer, have led us to this state.
Q. You’re quite educated. What fields do you study and what educational system have you been through?
I’m studying a degree in Translation and Interpreting in Spanish, English and Russian in the T&I Faculty in Granada, Spain. My fields of study include translation studies, linguistics, translation software, and history, literature, politics and culture of the languages I study. I have, however, many fields of interest that I can’t really invest myself in much due to how little time I have with the degree. These include chess, cinema, theater, astronomy, egyptology and biology.
I went to a private school that taught English in Uruguay from the age of 4 until the age of 13. From then on in, I went to public schooling in Tenerife, and a language academy in Tenerife as well, to study German for two years. I must say however that a lot of my education stems from my parents, who are well-versed in English, science and music. My father has a degree in physics, and is a sci-fi and astronomy lover. My mother was supposed to complete a translation degree in English in Uruguay, but it never happened. She’s a connoisseur of classical music and instruments, self-taught. Both have always helped with my education, but I’ve always been very self-taught myself. With English, I found at an early age that I had a passion for it and that I could express myself in ways I just couldn’t in Spanish. I really learned a lot from US and British media, with films, books and TV series. I’ve found the same process has worked with Russian, which I’ve been studying since I was 15. My passion for Russian was born from the curiosity of seeing Russians portrayed in Western media, and also from my father’s Cold War anecdotes regarding chess and the space race and my mother teaching me about Russian classical composers, so I started reading about Russia and studying Russian myself. As Issac Asimov once said, “self-education is the only kind of education there is.”
Q. Which guest article of yours do you think was the easiest to write, and which was the most challenging? What did you learn in the process, whether about the subjects or the activity of writing a guest article itself?
I’ll start with the most challenging, which was “Big Boss as Che Guevara.” It was the most challenging one because back then I had never written an article before, at least, not for anybody, and not for the internet to see. Now I do have university research articles with bibliography and references in scientific style, but the guest articles in your site were always intended as opinion pieces with facts and works cited somewhat along the way. They were also intended for people to either perform their own research in case they didn’t trust what I said, and for them to just find them interesting and enjoyable, without all those awkward references and bibliography that characterize scientific journal essays. Also, I didn’t want to make people believe I was trying to influence their views and indoctrinate them, although that happened anyway. I would say the easiest article to write was the last one, “The Ideology of Torture,” as I was by that point more experienced, more comfortable with my writing style, and more familiar with your website in order to edit it.
Regarding what I learned from the experience, I mostly cemented my knowledge on Che Guevara, Operation Condor and Cold War Latin American politics and history in general. I also learned a lot about torture techniques and their origins, and was heavily surprised about many of them being born in and perfected in Latin America. It’s amazing how those techniques developed there with direct assistance from the US ended up being associated to Latin American and Soviet stereotypes in US media.
Q. Tell us about your gaming history and preferences.
When I was a kid I had a Sega Genesis and a Windows 95 Packard Bell PC, my first gaming console and my first desktop computer respectively. My cousin had a Super Nintendo and I also used to play NES with a friend. In 1999 I got a hold of a Genesis and a Super NES emulator and got to play a lot of titles I could’ve never gotten to play before. I used to frequent arcades as well, where I got to play shooting, racing and fighting games that often showcased the best graphics of the time. The 2D scrollers and platformers of the 90s heavily influenced my gaming taste. Sonic the Hedgehog 2 and Super Mario World were my all time favorites, and I used to love mascot games in general: Earthworm Jim, Ristar, Dynamite Headdy, Rocket Knight, Gex.
I used to love shooters like Contra: Hard Corps, beat ’em ups like Streets of Rage and fighting games like Fatal Fury, Mortal Kombat, Killer Instinct, Street Fighter, Marvel vs. Capcom and Vampire Savior, and strategy games like Warcraft II: Tides of Darkness, Dark Reign: Future of War and the Red Alert series and first person shooters such as Far Cry, Doom, Medal of Honor, Battlefield and Call of Duty. I could never afford a PlayStation One, N64 or Dreamcast when the 3D boom happened, but I got to play them eventually after moving from Uruguay. Many multiconsole and PC games such as the Deux Ex, Tomb Raider, Grand Theft Auto, Silent Hill and Metal Gear series were a revolution for me, as I got to experience gaming in amazingly new ways, and they actively influenced me both intellectually and emotionally. Gaming is my favorite hobby, because it makes me experience worlds which are basically impossible to experience as intensely or with such immersion in any other type of media, such as cinema and literature. A game, in contrast to a film or book, also requires active input from you, and the challenges and situations that can arise are unique to its field.
Q. You’re a rather old-school gamer then. What does the culture of gaming represent in your estimation? It’s had a big impact on society, hasn’t it?
Games have become so mainstream and ubiquitous, they’re nearly everywhere: in clothes, TV series and movies. Adults and children, jocks and nerds alike bear their emblems. Series do parodies of games like South Park’s “Make Love, Not Warcraft.” Actors in popular series play them, like Kevin Spacey in House of Cards playing The Stanley Parable and Killzone 3. They’ve also become a tool to improve on a movie’s narrative or enhanced it, like Adam Sandler playing Shadow of the Colossus in the film “Reign Over Me.” I remember the days when it used to be impossible for someone to know the games you liked, or to talk about your hobby without it being regarded as childish or antisocial. But, as accepted as it is now, just like football (soccer) and cinema, gaming has become exactly that: a cold, heartless industry. There is no charm anymore. There is creativity, but it falls flat, at least in my case.
We have to rely on indie developers not only to release games we like and that charm us, but to play games the gaming corporations won’t allows us to play. Christian Whitehead, known Sonic game developer, proved with Sonic Mania that “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” demonstrating the foolishness of Sega to reinvent Sonic and make him modern and needlessly hip for the next generation. The icons of gaming, such as Sonic and Mario, have become too huge for other icons to grow and be popularized. Its legacy is cemented, and this is partly why gaming sometimes seems too stagnant, at the top of its height.
I see no innovation. Many games that seem revolutionary and stylish such as “Watch Dogs” end up being forgotten flops. The rest is just recycling old concepts and franchises from previous generations. I haven’t been emotionally invested in, changed by or influenced by a game since Hotline Miami, which was an indie game, not an industry game. It has probably been the most recent game I’ve liked this much, in every aspect. Subculturally, gaming also used to make us gamers feel cozy and special in our unique hobby. Now, it’s a mainstream hobby meant for everyone. I still notice it’s associated with nerds or outcasts, but not as much. Everything is internet-oriented, multiplayer, DLC, etc. There are truly horrifying things such as Street Fighter’s blatant re-releases, and the purchase of character palette colors. Also, in the indie side of it, we have “walking sims,” basically games masquerading as something deeper and revolutionary like Gone Home and Stanley Parable, where we do nothing except moving a character around as voiceover plays in the background. They’re called “experience games,” using the emotional part of the game, the plot, and removing everything else. There is no skill and no learning curve in those games, just exploration. I wouldn’t call them games at all, and I think their existence was necessary, but ultimately detrimental to gaming, a bad step that was useful to show what games shouldn’t be like. Gone Home particularly fails also in narrative, setting up a moody and dark atmosphere to have a tantrum gay teenage runaway climax. And don’t even get me started on Stanley Parable. A game whose sole objective and purpose is to be ended so as to receive as many endings as possible is not a game. The ending is the reward players have for learning and mastering the game, and also enjoying it.
Q. I enjoyed Stanley Parable as an interactive commentary, but I’d feel sorry for somebody who expected a real game there. Are you invested in Death Stranding, Kojima’s first project outside of Konami? Or do you think Metal Gear had a special kind of relevance that makes it worthy to follow more closely?
I don’t think much is known about it yet to really give an opinion, but from what I’ve seen, I find it pretentious: the collaboration with Guillermo del Toro, the casting of Norman Reedus, the way it looks, the strange allegories and symbolism, the Low Roar song, the supposed gaming mechanics and even the William Blake poem opening lines from the trailer, it’s like the kind of Bergmann type of work an artist does every now and then to distance themselves from their legacy and what characterizes them and be reborn, a way for Kojima to prove himself to Konami and to his fans, and to obviously distance himself from the burden of Metal Gear, but it also reeks of that obnoxious Tarantino-esque tired formula of “ironic pop-culture references + disturbing imagery and violence” thing Tarantino and others have exploited to death. I appreciate the fact that Kojima’s realizing his vision, investing himself without Konami to burden him and producing something that seems unique, but I have not been charmed by it, and have the troubling feeling that it might be an overpriced, overdeveloped walking sim like Dear Esther and Firewatch, with Kojima’s name stapled on it. [Note from editor: we know that the game is supposed to appeal to fans of Uncharted and Destiny, so perhaps it will fall into a different camp.]
About Metal Gear’s relevance and future, I believe it can be done better, especially without Kojima’s involvement. He’s done with it, and has made so very clear. But the fans are not nearly done with it, and with good reason. Metal Gear gave us what no Tom Clancy narrative could, a stylish, fictional approach to the world of warfare and geopoltiics, using paranormal and fantasy elements to create a truly wonderful world that illustrated human suffering and even the beauty to be found amidst that horror. Everyone who got to play MGS at a somewhat early age is forever changed by it, in a way that no other gaming franchise seemingly could. A Metal Gear game more suited to the problems of this generation and era would be wondrous, reaching an entire generation through political and social commentary the way the old Metal Gears pulled off. I feel the world has become too politically correct for those narratives that involve real-world issues within geopolitics. What do we have from MGSV in terms of controversy? Violence, Tarantino-style. Stupid, shallow, gratuitous violence. The Soviet War in Afghanistan setting was terribly wasted as a setting and as an opportunity to comment directly on it socioculturally, like it would have been done in the past, say, in the times of MGS3. Even Peace Walker, released only in 2010, had a beautifully romantic and semi-accurate portrayal of Sandinista fighters and Che Guevara, especially in its audio tapes.
Konami could really do something with Metal Gear, if it wanted. Metal Gear Survive demonstrates the little vision they have. The world is a powder keg of political instability, extremism and uncertainty right now, and a new Metal Gear title could really exploit that in its narrative. But I guess a new, superior breed of game should take the baton from Metal Gear, a hungrier, less jaded and fresh team who clearly has fun with the development, like Devolver did with Hotline Miami. I think that, at least for me, Metal Gear is finished, and Kojima’s departure cemented that. It had a good run. Let it rest and enjoy the past for what it’s worth. Sonic Mania, despite being a great game and a homage to everything Sonic, reeks of nostalgia and tries to exist in a world that long abandoned and got over that type of game. It’s great to revisit the past, but never to bring it back to the present in new ways. That is seldom growth.
Thank you, Alexander. I wasn’t expecting that kind of answer! To think that the Metal Gear series could actually improve without Kojima says a lot about what the series can all represent to fans. There’s no doubt MGSV has left a sour taste in a lot of mouths for a lot of different reasons, and I’m glad to see the intellectual appetite of fans can sometimes surpass the demand for gameplay or Hollywood-style drama.