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Metal Gear Solid and Games as Social Commentary

In preparing for my presentation at the College English Association conference in St. Louis this week, I’ve been kicking around a lot of ideas of games as a brand of social commentary.  Specifically, I’ve been analyzing Grand Theft Auto as a combination pastiche/satire that lovingly mocks great pieces of American pop culture to point out the vices of that culture in general.  I’ll post that presentation up here after I give it (Thursday afternoon).

In a similar vein, I’ve always considered Hideo Kojima’s Metal Gear Solid games to be extremely good pieces of postmodern fiction set into game form.  Kojima lets the player work his way through different scenarious using whatever skills and hardware Snake is allowed, and ties those abilities thematically back to his story arc.  The character is a combination of stealth, intelligence, caution tempered with daring, and emotional reserve.  All those qualities are woven into both the cutscenes and the gameplay segments, turning them into something of a mutual metadiscourse continuously commenting on these themes and how they are addressed within different segments of the game.  One might justly criticize the series’ indulgence with cutscene length, especially given the way narrative components are more strongly tied into gameplay scenarios in current games.  But little of those cutscenes is wasted. 

The opus has always served as a warning of the very problems videogames so widely represent for modern culture: the potential that our reliance on and affinity for technological advancement might lead at least to our dehumanization, at worst to our collapse.  Touching on subjects like genetic manipulation, nuclear arms, political and cultural loyalties, individual identity in an increasingly networked world, and the simple perils of war without consequences often makes Kojima’s games seem like some of the more topical and relevant narrative discourse on modern life.  Read more…

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