Colonel, there's a monkey wearing a tie here...
Given that we’re in the advent of Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain, presumably the final project between Kojima and Konami, it felt like a good time to look back on the visionary director’s greatest moments. The thing is, as I’ll get onto in a bit, Kojima isn’t really about doing things the conventional way, so a bog-standard ‘My Favourite Metal Gear Moments’ article simply wouldn’t cut the virtual mustard.
Being quite the bookish recluse, I’ve grown up with a popular movement called metafiction, and whilst you might not realise it right now, you definitely have too. Flourishing in the early sixties, metafiction is a style of writing in which a fictional text (i.e. books, films and perhaps most importantly videogames) draw attention to the fact that they’re a made up thing. To put it simply, the majority of TV shows and films you watch, even books you read, will strive to convince you that their world and characters are real, and so encourage you to become immersed and invested in them. Littered throughout his games are constant reminders that the world you’re immersing yourself in isn’t quite real.
There are, however, a daring few who look at this style of writing and say: “Do you know what? That’s not for me”, and Kojima is most certainly one of them. Littered throughout his games, from the snowy introduction of the original Metal Gear Solid to Kiefer Sutherland’s rain soaked opening line of: “Kept you waiting, huh?” in Ground Zeroes, are constant reminders that the world you’re immersing yourself in isn’t quite real.
Oh, and I’m not just talking about that Psycho Mantis boss fight…
One of the most common ways of drawing the reader’s (or player’s in this case) attention to the artifice of the text, is by referencing the fact that other games, books, films etc. exist; think about it, how many games have you played where characters actually play other games? Scattered throughout the many (and boy, do I mean many) hours of codec conversations that permeate every Metal Gear Solid title are multiple allusions to a lot of different media texts. Across the radio channels, characters reference everything from classic films like King Kong through to obscure titles like The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms.[yt_video id=”TFsTz02Eavo”][/yt_video]
Interestingly enough, however, Kojima also drops in references to titles like From Russia with Love and A Fistful of Dollars, which, when you consider it a little further, have obviously had a direct impact on the production of games like Snake Eater. The opening credits of Snake Eater borrow directly from the introductory few minutes of a James Bond film, and the action sequences involving Ocelot directly recall scenes from old spaghetti western movies. Kojima actively opens the player’s eyes to the ‘made-upness’ of his text by referring to the other (very made-up) things that influenced it.
Let’s Get (Sur) Real For a Moment
On the surface, Metal Gear Solid is a resoundingly realist franchise; it’s hardly like there are any dragons flying around or upgradable healing spells, right? Wrong. Well a little bit wrong anyway. For the most part, Metal Gear Solid games do all they can to convince you that they take place in our world; enemy AI is designed to react in a believably human manner, players guide Snake through real, tangible locations, the games even directly engage with historical incidents like the Cuban missile crisis. But then, every so often, you come across hints of fantasy and the supernatural that just don’t seem to match up with the rest of the experience. And are these merely examples of poor writing? I hardly think so.
Surrealist instances creep into every Metal Gear Solid game, from Psycho Mantis and his extra-sensory powers that break the fourth wall, to Snake’s encounter with paranormal entity, The Sorrow, in the third instalment. These characters and encounters leave a lasting impression not just because they’re well written, but because they actively go against our expectations of the genre. Kojima once again challenges the staples of videogame development by incorporating elements from a number of seemingly disparate genres. These surreal instances almost jar the player out of the gaming experience because they’re so far away from what we have come to expect from the stealth/action genre, and thus remind us of just how very artificial games are.
Interestingly, however, this incorporation of surrealism stretches beyond the game’s boss fights, and into the core stealth experience itself. Consider the famous punctuation marks that denote whether or not an enemy has detected you; what are these if not obvious kickbacks to a heavy manga/comic book influence that underlies a lot of the games? Even though you might accept them as commonplace, take a second glance and you’ll probably start to notice how out of place they look.
Getting Your Hands Dirty
Perhaps one of Kojima’s most daring metafictional moments is the incorporation of himself as a team member into the handheld release, Metal Gear Solid Peace Walker. In what might be considered an Easter egg of sorts, players can actually discover Kojima hiding in a HGV and Fulton him back to Motherbase (he is best placed in the Intelligence team, naturally). More than just a quick way to get fancy gadgets, however, Kojima fills a much greater role in the game.
By writing himself into the game, Kojima attempts to suspend our belief in its realism…
Though I hesitate to use the term, in a lot of ways the director should almost be considered the ‘God’ of a game’s world; they have, after all, created it – they decide where it begins and ends. As such, we as players never expect them to physically show up in it. By writing himself into the game, Kojima attempts to suspend our belief in its realism – how can we believe in the reality of a game if we’re literally reminded of who created it? Once again, the director challenges our preconceptions of what a game should be, and foregoes the traditional practices of videogame development.
Regardless of his reasoning for the inclusion of all these concepts, whether it’s to challenge the videogame industry as we see it, open our eyes up to how we perceive and expect things to be, or even just to drive sales, we can all agree that Kojima truly is a visionary game director. The good thing is that from what we’ve seen so far, The Phantom Pain surely won’t disappoint. Wherever Kojima ends up after the game’s publication, I remain hopeful that he’ll still bring us titles that continue to challenge and even rewrite what we’ve come to expect from our games.