Monday, August 19, 2013

Metal Gear, MGSV, and Genre Response/Satire

Was thinking of not putting this out even though it was finished considering that significantly more than half of this blog thus far is Metal Gear. I promise it will stop, I really do.

Some disorganized thoughts on how genre response and genre satire play a role in the Metal Gear franchise.

It goes often forgotten because of how unique the games themselves are, but for Metal Gear Solid 3 and Metal Gear Solid 4 especially, timely genre satire is a small element of the thematic framework.

Metal Gear, since the dawn of the franchise, has always been imagined more as a response to shooters, as opposed to a member of the mostly-western stealth genre. (1) The original game was, as the legend goes, originally a shooter that was saved by a whiff of Kojima's imagination.

While Metal Gear Solid was plainly based to some degree on the games that came before it, stealth gameplay in a limited environment stood in stark contrast to a shooter genre at the time defined by volume, expansive levels, and color. The cold Alaska setting of Metal Gear Solid also stands in stark contrast to the setting of the genre-defining Doom.

Metal Gear Solid 2 then wasn't a response to shooters as much as it was a satire of it's predecessor (which was already at least beginning to be a satire of itself,) though it's insistence on cutscenes served to distinguish it from then emerging in-gameplay storytelling techniques like set-piece events that were revolutionizing the shooter genre (see Half-Life.)

The legacy really continued however when Metal Gear Solid 3 upended the classical heroism and WWII imagery that dominated popular console shooters of the time (circa 2005), and replaced it with forests that recalled the Vietnam jungle, matched with a story that was dark and ambiguous on wether Snake's actions were indeed at all heroic and cast the notion of patriotism in a dark light.

Metal Gear Solid 4 then, at the beginning of the Modern Warfare era called out that entire sub-genre four years before Spec Ops: The Line, littering the battlefield with bodies, demonstrating the pointlessness of the proxy conflicts taking place, refusing to reward players for taking sides, and openly discussing the gamification of warfare.

Now it's looking like MGSV's target is the sandbox game, which is more popular than ever these days. What it'll do with those mechanics has yet to be seen, but I doubt that it will be uninteresting. The images of the barren Afghan desert lead me to suspect that it might be a commentary on the "emptiness" of the sandbox worlds players have immersed themselves in due to the popularity of titles like Grand Theft Auto IV, InFamous, Prototype, and WRPGs, Skyrim in particular. That's pure speculation, we'll see how this plays out.

                                               -Austin C. Howe, Maryland, 2013

(1) To wit, the only whiff on influence that any other stealth game started to have on the franchise was when Subsistence updated the franchise to have the Splinter Cell camera, not only a wise design decision, but one that gelled with Metal Gear Solid 3's new focus on environmental immersion.

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