Lowering The Bar (Guest Article)

This article was written by Jack Wade, who contacted me by email. Since I’ve written a whole book studying the careful forethought given to MGS2’s polarizing writing and design choices I find it invigorating to see a good old fashioned trashing of the man behind the legend. Although Jack clearly hasn’t read my book, which accounts for many of the strange disparities he points out about MGS2’s development, he makes a compelling case for not accepting Kojima as some literary genius — especially in the vein of the usual fanbase, who all seem to have blinders on when discussing the series. He casts doubt on the purported complexity behind it all. Since first proposing the VR Theory and fleshing out the metanarrative analysis of the series, I’ve watched the community slowly absorb the positive ideas I put forward about Kojima, but reject the unflattering side of the analysis. They don’t debate it, they just reject things they don’t want to hear. Ironic, of course. I much prefer people like Jack Wade, willing to step up and make the discussion more interesting.

There is no such thing as a clean and simple discussion of the Metal Gear series and it is the fault of a singular entry within it. Metal Gear Solid 2 had some of the most jarring idiosyncrasies, not just in its own world, but among fans of the franchise. If Metal Gear just skipped over MGS2, tweaked MGS4 to match the changes, and then proceeded normally, it would be another unremarkable series with a very high bar set by its opening iteration that just gets worse over time much like Deus Ex or StarCraft.

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The Ideology of Torture

Mr. Sylazhov returns with his latest guest article the day before the release of Metal Gear Solid V, to examine the extremely important matter of torture, in both the real world and the fictional one Kojima uses to show his views.

The methods, reasons, and history of torture are discussed, along with a personal story that drives home the reality of the barbaric practices used by military and spy agencies around the world.  This article was finished quite a while ago, but I’m publishing it on the eve of The Phantom Pain to emphasize the seriousness of its controversial subject matter.

Warning: Some graphic content follows.

The Ideology of Torture

A personal, political, and philosophical study of torture in the MGS series and the real world

I would like to dedicate the following piece to the victims of
the dictatorship in my country, and to all victims of
political repression from any side of the political spectrum.

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Kojima and the Soviet Union

The following guest article was written by a friend and author, Alexander Sylazhov, who you ought to remember fondly from his Big Boss as Che Guevara article; I titled that article in order to highlight one of my favorite aspects of it, but it certainly went well beyond that.  I’m deeply honored to be able to present his new article, which is the kind of analysis I would love to be able to do myself.  With the upcoming release of Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain less than a month away, this in-depth exploration of ideology, politics, and pop culture in the Metal Gear series is a fascinating must-read from a talented writer from a different side of the world.

Expect to see more from him soon, and please check out his science fiction novel series if you want to see more from him and support his work.


Kojima and the Soviet Union

An analysis of the political overtones of the MGS series and Hideo Kojima’s ideology



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Big Boss as Che Guevara




If there’s one thing we have no shortage of in the world, it’s the perspective of the USA’s media and public.  Rarely do we hear intellectuals from other nations; they’re not relevant to “Americans”, no matter how deeply we’ve impacted their culture and history.  This insulated and ignorant way of living is why the Metal Gear series has always tried to include international viewpoints, raising awareness of global issues such as nuclear holocaust, oil shortages, and abuses of the military industrial complex.  The characters we meet are not usually one-dimensional bad guys for the USA hero to destroy, but outspoken victims of war themselves, reflecting the tragic aftermath of the struggle between self-interested superpowers.

This guest article explains the ongoing importance of Che Guevara around the world today, and how a silly little PSP game like Peace Walker can open old wounds that most Americans know nothing about.  The Latin folk hero of the 1950’s and 60’s may be “iconic” in North America, but in the most reductionist sense of the word, appearing on t-shirts and capitalist merchandise without a shred of irony.  And although Peace Walker focuses heavily on the Latin American struggle for independence and justice, few fans realize the significance of its political and historical commentary on issues that still burn with significance in the hearts of millions around the world today.

I hope you’ll share my interest in how Kojima designed Peace Walker and Big Boss to pass on a message of international sensitivity and awareness in a world dominated by US propaganda.  As we’ve seen, this awareness is only growing deeper and darker as we approach Metal Gear Solid V, and I think the words of our friend A. Sylazhov should be kept with us as we look forward to the politically-charged and insightful next chapter of the Metal Gear series.  Enjoy.

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GameInformer discusses Peace Walker’s Mountain Dew, AXE body spray, Doritos product placement

Remember how you could research and equip Doritos, AXE body spray, and Mountain Dew in Peace Walker, and they would actually be useful items that refresh your PSYCHE and make Big Boss feel extra healthy back in the 1970’s Costa Rican jungles?

Game Informer remembers.

KojiPro not stealing any spotlights at this TGS

Raiden wears a new hat

There was a time when any news surrounding Hideo Kojima and his production company would stir up excitement and flood gaming communities with speculation, but this year they’ve taken been pushed to the back thanks to lukewarm announcements about HD ports, a non-butchered aspect ratio, and the fact that Rising hasn’t been cancelled yet.

This is an incredible year for gaming, with major franchise titles dropping left and right — Portal 2, Witcher 2, Deus Ex 3, Battlefield 3, Elder Scrolls V to name a few — with the PS Vita offering something exciting on the hardware side of things.  A ton of interesting digital download content has been popping up (Magicka and Skullgirls come to mind, although I know there’s a lot more I haven’t gotten around to).  Established games like Team Fortress 2 and Minecraft continue to evolve and update, proving how effective patching and updating can be in a community.  So what is Kojima Productions doing to keep pace?

Kojima Productions can’t afford to be shuffled to the back, but it seems that they’re not worried.  Maybe they can afford to sit on their laurels and capitalize on old nostalgia for a few years, but considering how aggressive the market has become, I just don’t feel like they’re doing anything special.  “Transfarring” seemed to be a great idea before people heard about “Continuous Play”, but now it seems to be irrelevant.

The new FOX Engine could turn out to be a smash-hit, but Ugly Face Man (my own pet name for the poor guy) doesn’t look any better than current-generation models being shown off elsewhere.  Personally I trust that Kojima will have something great up his sleeve with the “taboo game” he’s hinted at for ages.  My hope is that he’ll make a triumphant return in good time.

Until then, we’ll have a ton of other great games to keep us occupied, I suppose.

Peace Walker’s Allegory

Even if it fails to live up to the “MGS5” hype, Peace Walker is an important instalment in the Metal Gear series, redeeming its handheld games after the blasphemous Portable Ops, and finally bridging the long gap between Snake Eater and the original Metal Gear in a satisfying way. It also accomplishes another important goal, which is to continue the fascinating allegory of Kojima’s personal experience.

I don’t have to explain why I think breaking down the illusion of Metal Gear games in order to interpret its hidden meanings is okay anymore, do I? Good, then let’s go.

I believe that a hidden yet very deliberate allegory is contained within Peace Walker. As with previous games, I believe it tells the story of Kojima’s experience with creating the Metal Gear series. It’s the tale of Big Boss as he creates and expands his army of followers — Militaire Sans Frontiere — for the sake of fulfilling a simple promise to help a little girl’s defenseless country, only to become a nuclear superpower in the process. This consciously parallels the way Kojima feels about the creation of the Metal Gear franchise. Put aside the challenge of simply following along with the details of the story for the moment, and remember that whether the allegory is technically accurate or not, Kojima wanted fans to experience what it’s like to create something simple and small with good intentions, only to have it steadily grow into something controversial and dangerous along the way.

The game’s concept is structured in a way that your impression of the packshot will change after completing the game. The impeding danger that looms behind Snake… The Mechs & armed force. They are menacing to MSF, but while playing the game, they can be made part of your unit. You are fighting for peace… but by the time you notice, you are knee deep in militarization. That is the Theme. (Kojima, via Twitter)

We know from Metal Gear Solid 4 that both Big Boss and Zero were guilty of misinterpreting the will of The Boss, and that Big Boss regretted it in his finals moments. Peace Walker shows us how he walked down the path he would later regret. As I explain in the Sold Out article and elsewhere, Kojima uses Big Boss to voice his opinion on how the Metal Gear series has become misunderstood and gone astray. The game reinforces the message of MGS4 by showing us how nicely it all started; how well-intentioned, if not quaint. In a sense, if MGS4 was his attempt to finally kill the series and atone for the “sins” of creating loose ends and not answering fan questions [see here], then Peace Walker is a celebration of the true intentions, as well as powerful explanation for how it got out of hand. In this sense, the two games go hand in hand.

One of the major themes of Peace Walker is one of gradual militarization, as Kojima has said before. Recruiting members, expanding Mother Base, and upgrading technology through R&D all fit perfectly into this allegory, as Kojima would have done similar things by hiring new team members, expanding his work space, and creating new software engines with the advent of new videogame hardware. Perhaps the creation of the “MSF” brand is supposed to be reminiscent of the “Kojima Productions” brand. Both Kojima and Big Boss are highly praised by their subordinates, and both are responsible for organizing teams of them to work on certain projects. “Outer Ops” for Big Boss, and “Portable Ops” for Kojima’s team! Hiring, directing and orderding men to do work for you is something Kojima has been doing for a long time.

This allegory, when interpreted thematically, places the ultimate responsibility on Kojima’s shoulders, since everybody looks to him for guidance and orders, just as MSF looks to Big Boss. Much like in MGS4, he feels responsible for everything, and an obligation to remain committed to the needs of the “times”. He’s in charge, yet he isn’t truly free to do what he wants. There is always some new threat that must be dealt with, and, more often than not, dealing with that “threat” requires a compromise of his idealism.

This is where Master Miller comes in. Big Boss is the eternal soldier, struggling to remain loyal to his mentor, The Boss, despite the fact that “the times” pitted them against each other. Big Boss became jaded, and was given a prestigous title he never asked for (and in fact resented,) but which he eventually needed to accept. Miller, on the other hand, is the eternal business man, occupied only with the immediate practicalities of success. The humorous relationship between Miller and Big Boss obviously intersects where idealism meets pragmatism. Big Boss possesses neither the ego nor the appetite to exploit his misguided fame, and leaves the business aspect to Miller, who is simultaneously a loyal comrade and an opportunist. He has a heart, of course, and I’m certainly glad that he isn’t portrayed as a heel, because doing so would have been too simple, and contradicted his positive role later in the chronology. It would have meant that Big Boss (Kojima) was being exploited, and therefore not complicit in the development of MSF, Metal Gear ZEKE, or Outer Heaven. This wouldn’t true to Kojima’s life. In order for the allegory to hold true, Big Boss needs to accept the propositions given to him by Miller and others. We get the sense that Kaz’s brand of business mentality is almost a neutral fact of life – the game isn’t condemning the military industrial complex, it’s simply revealing the way of the world, just as Kojima has learned it.

Of course, on the other hand, we have Strangelove and her obsession with The Boss.

I believe Strangelove is a metaphor for the fanboys of the series who worship everything about it, and yet completely miss the point behind it all. Think about the analogy. Strangelove has collected every piece of information available on The Boss, and yet does not know her motives, which are what matters most. As I explained at length in the “From Nothing” article, this is exactly how Kojima feels about the stupid questions which have haunted him for so long. Big Boss, who represents Kojima, is actually tortured by Strangelove for answers! I have no doubt that this is a direct metaphor for the inquisition faced by Kojima over the course of years, including real life death threats that were taken seriously. Funny then how, just as Kojima didn’t have satisfactory answers for the fans, Big Boss has nothing to say to Strangelove either. The mystery of The Boss’ will is only understood after MGS4, in the moments before Big Boss dies, and the details of her choices that Strangelove seeks are hardly relevant in the big picture. To get caught up in details is to once again miss the point.

What else is part of this allegory? How deep does the it really go? If you picked apart the details of the game and truly connected everything in its proper context, you may end up with an even more satisfying metaphor, or you might ruin it by scrutinizing it too closely. I believe Peace Walker, like previous games, has enough layers to be appreciated on several levels at the same time, without needing one to override the others. The clever story of how Big Boss and Kojima inevitably become misunderstood anti-heroes was already hinted at in Snake Eater, and is brought to full fruition here. Kojima, through the combined themes of MGS4 and Peace Walker, is showing us how foolish and shameful it is to overlook the true message of the series in favour of obsessive fact collection and ignorant devotion. The pervasive, meaningless “System” which threatens the world with endless conflict is the final manifestation of the simple cat and mouse game of war being fostered by the player over the course of the game. It is a brilliant play by Kojima to put the choices in the hands of the player, to not only give us a sense of how conflict begets conflict, or how Big Boss could simultaneously be a hero and a villain, but how Kojima’s work on the series is no different.

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