An analytical essay on MGS4: GOTP that was for my A2 media courseworkHow Does Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots Subvert the Conventions of the Genre? Why Does The Franchise Continue To Be So Popular?
The Metal Gear franchise has always been the intellectual property of Konami, developed by Kojima Productions and essentially the vision of one individual: Hideo Kojima; Kojima has been working on the Metal Gear concept, story and gameplay since the beginning. Consequently the institution is entirely Japanese; this has noticeably influenced the game in various ways with Japanese culture and mentality prevalent in the ideologies and themes perpetuated. On nearing the end of the game the player finds himself/herself manoeuvring Old Snake down a microwave rigged corridor, Snake is clearly struggling and it’s up to the player to repeatedly press the “Triangle” button to keep Snake from collapsing completely. The Japanese are notorious for their value system which endorses honour and a refusal to surrender during conflict. The player’s motive to reach the end of the irradiated corridor is to shut down a devastatingly powerful nuclear weapon known as a Metal Gear- this purpose is the ultimate goal and essential to the narrative development in all the Metal Gear games and it often culminates in one of the spectacular boss battles for which the franchise has become renowned. This theme of the threat from nuclear weaponry and warfare is another of the manifestations of Japanese history and culture upon the game. Though there are these references to the conflict that has passed between Japan and the U.S the game’s characters are predominantly American in order to cater for an international audience and maximise the product’s market.
Metal Gear Solid: Guns of the Patriots’ target audience spans 16 to the average gamer of 35, this slightly more elderly audience, I believe, is due to the complexity of the game’s narrative and the amount of attention the player must devote to the mythology of the Metal Gear franchise. Though this requires the investment of more time than the average plug-and-play game it creates greater brand loyalty as the player has now invested in the product emotionally, financially and spent more time with it than is healthy. The audience is predominantly male due to this thoroughly hardcore approach to gaming, also-while others subvert this stereotype; there is a certain female character whose appearance subscribes to Mulvey’s theory on the male gaze. The hardcore gaming market that is dominated by the Xbox 360 and Playstation 3 consoles is far more gender specific to males than the Nintendo Wii and handheld systems which target a much more balanced audience. While the audience and institution of Metal Gear Solid is very male focused this is not the same for the industry as a whole: “Forty percent of all game players are women. In fact, women over the age of 18 represent a significantly greater portion of the game-playing population (33 percent) than boys age 17 or younger (18 percent).” - http://www.theesa.com/facts/index.asp The institutions are also more balanced with successful producer Jade Raymond of Ubisoft and creative director Amy Hennig of award winning developers Naughty Dog.
The lengths of the Metal Gear Solid games make them great value for money. Consider that the average new DVD release cost £12 and contains several of hours of entertainment depending on bonus features etc, MGS4: GOTP cost £40 and contains 25 hours of entertainment which can vary; allowing for excellent re-playability on differing levels of difficulty plus infinite amounts of online multiplayer. The online multiplayer that has become a staple for current generation games as it adds a human element and brings diversity to the gameplay. With developers now creating DLC (downloadable content) they can now extend the period of time for which the gamer plays the game by steadily releasing expansions and updates over several months, this prevents the game joining the used game market which- while good for the gamer, is bad for the industry. The amount of entertainment that the average game delivers in comparison to a film has always been a strength of the industry and this value for money is what has lead to claims of the gaming industry being “recession proof”, though companies have gone bankrupt and people have lost jobs it is one of the industries that has seen the smallest decline in revenue.
The Metal Gear Solid franchise has always been firmly rooted in the stealth genre whilst experimenting with aspects of various other genres and the subtitle demonstrates this clearly: “Tactical Espionage Action”. MGS4: GOTP employs mechanics and conventions from the action, role-playing and shooter genres, hybridising more than any of the previous Metal Gear Solid games. This has broadened the potential audience but possibly at the cost of disappointing the core fan base with its mild deviation from the formula that it has grown to love, but Metal Gear Solid has always been about innovation and MGS: GOTP is no exception. In the original Metal Gear Solid there was a battle against a boss called Psychomantis who possessed the abilities of mind reading and telekinesis. When he attempted to prove this he would read the save games from your memory card and depending on what games you had saved he would comment on your taste in games “so you like sports games.” When your attacks were ineffectual the solution was to switch controller ports in order to bypass his mindreading abilities. These literally “thinking outside the box” moments were what made the game so legendary. Metal Gear Solid’s self referential tendencies firmly place it in the self-conscious-formalism stage of Shatz’s genre cycle when it comes to narrative. In terms of gameplay it would be more appropriate to classify the game as a revisionist title. MGS4: GOTP has the inventory interface, stealth mechanics and iconography of a stealth game. It innovates and hybridises by adding action conventions in the form of a more substantial combat system. The role playing conventions come into play where Snake can choose to aid local militia and in return they will greet him as an ally; allowing him safe passage through their territory and supporting him on the battlefield.
The Metal Gear Solid franchise has always expressed ideologies, particularly on topics such as war and violence; that subvert the norms of the genre and videogames as a whole. Players are encouraged to complete missions without taking the lives of the enemy or triggering alarms and are even rewarded for this style of gameplay. There are guides on the internet devoted to explaining, step by step, how to go through the game in this way, for example: http://uk.guides.ign.com/guides/714044/page_4.html . It has become a kind of holy-grail of gaming. This anti-violent attitude is something that has always set the Metal Gear Solid series apart from other games, there is a particularly good example of this philosophy in the Playstation 2 prequel- Metal Gear Solid: Snake Eater. Snake Eater is set in the jungle adopting a new emphasis on survival; during the course of the game the player must undergo a series of boss fights against individuals whose names symbolise the emotional by-products of war: The Fear, The Pain, The Fury and The Sorrow. That context in mind, when you come to face The Sorrow the game completely changes and turns the traditional boss fight mechanics on end; instead becoming an emotional vehicle. The player finds himself/herself walking down a shallow river with mangroves either side, as you progress upstream the dead gravitate towards you. You cannot defend yourself from them. You cannot destroy them. These are the people whose lives, as the player, you have taken. Overhead looms The Sorrow himself narrating the sorrow and death you have caused. The emotive music, sense of helplessness, and subversion of everything a boss battle is: instead of making you feel powerful as you improbably defeat something significantly mightier than yourself you are rendered powerless, all work to bring home what the player has done under the guise of entertainment. It turns out it was all a dream that took place whilst you were unconscious and half drowning and the only way to escape is by taking a revival pill. It is through moments like this that MGS3: SE continued the subversive trend.
MGS4: GOTP opens with the protagonist, Solid Snake, dressed as part of the middle-eastern militia, travelling with other soldiers through a dry and inhospitable looking landscape that bears the connotations of Iraq and Afghanistan. Snake in previous games has been the stereotypical alpha male reluctant hero but this time there’s a twist, in MGS4: GOTP snake has suffered from advanced ageing due to his genetic condition. In MGS 1 snake carried a virus in his body designed by Naomi to infect the “terrorist” organisation he was infiltrating, by the events of GOTP Snake’s virus has mutated and developed the side effect of advanced ageing. This subversion of the stereotypical male protagonist has become increasingly popular with Hollywood in recent years, the most successful examples of this being John McLane from “Die Hard 4” and Indiana Jones from “Indiana Jones & the Kingdom of The Crystal Skull”. This could be in response to a post 9/11 state of mind where institutions resurrect heroes associated with a time when the superpowers of this world believed they were invincible. In the first twenty minutes Snake’s age is revealed, not only in his appearance but in the way he moves. During gameplay Snake gets back pains, has coughing fits and vomits, all in relation to the stress gauge that responds to the situation the player finds them self in. This mechanic helps to foster a connection between Snake and the player, a bond that will already exist for some from previous games and will only be strengthened by Snake’s suffering. While these subversions exist there are still aspects of Snake’s character that conform to the stereotype for example his severe smoking addiction. Though there are connotations attached to smoking that might classify it as a seriously cool activity, characters throughout the game reprimand Snake for this habit and reinforce the ideology that, while it may be perceived as mature and stylish, it is in fact lethal and probably the sole cause of Snakes ferocious coughing fits. So while on the surface it may appear that Snake is conforming to the stereotype, it is in actuality highlighting the impracticalities of the reality of this facet of the stereotype. Or is it merely enhancing his machismo by ignoring the repercussions of his self-destructive tendencies?
MGS4: GOTP’s representations of women are slightly contradictory at first glance. The characters Naomi and Eva are both clothed according to Mulvey’s male gaze. Naomi’s laboratory coat is always half unzipped down her font in a revealing manner, this bizarre exception to the otherwise intelligent representations in MGS4: GOTP is perhaps justified by the subversion of her stereotyped and submissive character later when she is revealed during a plot twist to have been the mastermind from beyond the grave who engineered the virus that destroyed the AI’s. Also balancing up these slightly sexist representations is Meryl’s character, a love interest in previous games, now turned professional soldier whose headstrong and dominating personality subverts the patriarchal values of videogames as a whole.
Snake’s attitude towards what he does is far from proud. When asked whether his age of heroes is finally over he responds: “I’m no hero; never was, never will be...” the inference is that killing and following orders are not heroic qualities, this reluctance to assume the mantle of “hero” only reveals qualities of humility within Snake’s character emphasising his role as a reluctant hero in the vein of a protagonist such as the previously mentioned John McLane. This stance on violence and death subverts the trivialisation of death that occurs in not only other stealth games but games in general. In comparison to the Splinter Cell series (where the player is a similarly aged agent) the varieties in which the player can dispose of the enemy: usually Russian, Chinese or some other nation that is deemed a threat to the U.S’ hegemonic stranglehold on global society, is what delights the audience, to sate the player’s bloodlust; a mysterious and primal desire to witness brutal acts of violence which are so far removed from their own reality. In MGS4: GOTP the player is given freedom of choice, this imposes an ideological quandary that the player must overcome according to the way they wish to experience the game. This choice between blazing a bloody pathway through the game’s levels and sneaking by unnoticed is the most obvious way in which MGS4: GOTP has straddled the divide between the stealth and action genres broadening the appeal of the game to a wider range of players as a consequence of this hybridisation.
Metal Gear Solid’s narrative is, and has always been, self indulgent and complex; employing parallel narratives, flashbacks and ellipsis. As a game, there are interactive elements to the cutscenes which are what lifts the videogame’s potential as a storytelling device above and beyond anything films could achieve as a passive medium. For example the flashbacks are player triggered; a signal in the corner of the screen during a cutscene indicates that there is a flashback of archive footage from a previous Metal Gear game that is relevant to the current scene, by tapping the “X” button the flashback will begin: adding context and deeper meaning to the players understanding of the events unfolding in the present. These moments will be recognised and remembered by players of the previous games and help to further associate themselves with Snake’s character as they will recall themselves playing through the moments re-presented in the flashbacks.
Kojima productions have always been praised for their ability to squeeze every drop of processing power out of which ever console they turn their hand to and this has resulted in the Metal Gear Solid games showcasing impressive production values leading game development in its technical advancements. It is generally agreed that in game design: technology is redundant without art and vice versa, MGS4: GOTP has both and it flaunts them in a ridiculous number of lengthy cutscenes as well as in game. These cutscenes are what make or break Metal Gear Solid as a franchise for the gamer. Some hate the large amount of narrative the player has to wade through (for the benefit of such people a skip function has been added in MGS4: GOTP) while others revel in the narrative’s depth and complexity. The Playstation 3 has afforded them the capability to create larger and more detailed environments for more expansive gameplay, better looking character models with higher polygon counts allowing for close up camera angles. Effects like depth of field, motion blur, camera shake, realistic physics simulation, particle effects, real-time lighting and high dynamic range lighting, longer draw distances and accurate water effects all contribute to the realism of the Metal Gear universe and the overall experience of the gamer.
All this new technology is presented in ways that make MGS4: GOTP’s cinematography some of the closest to film in gaming, Kojima even being hailed as a frustrated film maker responsible for further blurring of the line that divides film and games. Nearly all the shots that follow Snake are done in handheld, cinéma vérité style. This immerses the player in the experience by physically bringing the player closer to the character. When Snake is battling Gecko after Gecko (enormous bipedal biological robots) the screen is split down the centre to reveal a beautifully choreographed fist fight between Raiden and Vamp that uses the motion capture technology that has become increasingly popular in the current generation of videogames. This split screen technique is just one of the ways that MGS4: GOTP attempts to create for the player a greater sense of scale and context whilst without losing sight of who really matters to the player: the protagonist. During gameplay the camera, as in any 3rd person game, is under the player’s control and it is entirely up to them as how they wish to frame the action. This is a break away from the camera systems of the first 3 games, though there was a fully mobile camera in Metal Gear Solid 3: Subsistence- the amended version of Snake Eater (the 3rd game). In the original games there was a slightly angled top down camera which players had a small amount of control over. MGS4: GOTP gives the player total freedom over the camera and even an option to position the camera to look down the barrel of Snakes weapon; a convention from the FPS or first person shooter genre. It is through this convention that the player and Snake converge and are one and the same.
Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots is a game. Throughout this and the preceding three games the institution has gone out of their way to point this out to the gamer in an interesting choice to bring the player out of the experience. This is done on a number of occasions. In Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty for the first half of the game you play as Snake and the second half you play as Raiden. This was done to give players another perspective on the franchise’s protagonist before they made MGS3: SE which was a prequel to the first two and starred Naked Snake a.k.a Big Boss; so the 2nd game is in fact the one before the 4th chronologically.
In MGS2: SOL there are moments when the codec- the game’s primary source of dialogue and plot development, malfunction. These malfunctions alter the voices of the characters speaking, de-humanising their words which leaves the player wondering what’s going on. This enigma code (Barthes) leaves the player speculating as to what is wrong. As the game progresses the codec starts saying some really bizarre things and Snake explains how the virtual reality training missions that Raiden undertook are just the same as what the Metal Gear they are currently trying to shut down is doing to them; it is not reality, you are within a virtual reality created by the Metal Gear. This surreal “Russian doll” situation, where the player is experiencing a virtual reality (the game) of a character experiencing a virtual reality (Metal Gear), reminds the player that the game is just intangible entertainment. This realisation links the game with the player’s reality and causes all the characters, narratives and ideologies in the game to hold additional relevance and truth. Then a large number of enemies appear and if you die the game over screen appears, but within the window that usually displays your corpse the action continues. The patterns and rules within which the player expects the game to unfold are broken and the player is forced to stop and think. How can I beat the game when it doesn’t follow the rules? Every gamer has expectations in a game of what can and can’t be done, what to do, where to go; it’s the re-writing of these rules that provides the player with a fresh and new experience. It is perhaps the greatest strength of the Metal Gear Solid franchise.
Other moments like this include The Psychomantis and The Sorrow boss battles I mentioned earlier. MGS4: GOTP’s moment of genius innovation is perhaps more subtle. Right from the beginning MGS4: GOTP, through Snake’s narration, sets the scene by telling the player how war economy has become the largest in the world and private military companies (PMCs) fight proxy battles for reasons that the soldiers never believed in. The Patriots, an organisation introduced in MGS2: SOL, are now extinct and in their place are three enormous AIs they built to govern the world’s economies, resources and governments. These AIs were so advanced that they have now evolved to understand that a world constantly at war is a world of scarcity and profit. Along with the advancement of the AIs came the implementation of nano-machines into the soldier’s bloodstream and a system called Sons of the Patriots. Snake has an older version of the nano-machines, by using a syringe to suppress them he can bypass their effects upon him; this is the way in which you defeat the final boss in the beauty and the beast corps (a group of female soldiers whose traumatic childhood experiences with war have crippled their minds). The beauty and the beast corps are the doppelgangers of the original bosses from MGS game on Playstation 1.
These nano-machines in conjunction with SOP allowed soldiers heart rates, adrenaline, thoughts and emotions to be monitored, regulated, suppressed and ultimately controlled by the AI. This essentially takes away everything that was human from the soldiers and they become a tool. “Now-a day’s anyone with a computer can get combat training. The FPS games that these children love are distributed for free by these companies. It’s so easy for them to get absorbed by these war games and before they know it they’re in the PMCs holding real guns, these kids end up fighting in proxy wars that have nothing to do with their own lives.”-Eva This truth is so relevant with the way our media manipulates our perception of reality with carefully censored representations that strengthen the hegemonic grip it holds over our freedom. The groundbreaking conspiracy film “Zeitgeist” shares a lot of these views with MGS4: GOTP but instead applies them to contemporary society: the nano-machines are substituted for micro-chipping, the AIs for giant banking institutions and soldiers for ordinary members of society. The war economies that the AIs profit from in MGS4 are a direct parallel for the few elite individuals who create conflict to further their own agenda. It is these elements of the narrative that make it so powerful and so significant that the player really feels the story because it is his/her story, not only because he/she is Snake but because these things are really happening. Though Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots presents itself as only a game; the story it tells is one that could be said to surpasses previous standards in the medium
I'm hugely impressed if you got this far.