Playing the Last Guardian is like Going to India

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“Before I get to The Last Guardian, a digression…

When I was 23, I backpacked around India alone for two months on a shoestring budget. I stayed in Spartan hotels for roving businessmen or huge bunk houses with 24 beds to a room, usually at a price around $5 per night. I walked ten to twelve hours most days in 90-100 degree heat and 95%+ humidity. I took a few short plane flights to get between major cities at first, but eventually I settled for train rides where I would stuff myself in-between migrant workers in 5th class, two of which lasted 17 hours.

On a daily basis, I was miserable. The physical exertion, heat, humidity, and beating sun took its toll. I had trouble maintaining weight and was chronically sunburned despite liberal use of sunscreen. Then there were the locals constantly trying to beg and scam me, especially the taxi drivers who turned every cab rental into a prolonged battle of wits over how much of my dignity I would sacrifice to save 20 rupees (please don’t look up how much that is in real money). More than anything, I was exhausted. The walking and heat and constant travel and paranoia of scammers with no comfortable respites along the way made the two months feel like an eternity. There were good moments too of course. I saw incredible temples and palaces, I met wonderful people, and I witnessed first-hand incalculably amazing parts of the world that I never thought I’d see with my own eyes.

But I still could not have been happier when I returned to America. The horrors of India were still fresh in my mind and the comfort of my couch at home seemed more valuable than all of the temples and mosques erected by the Mughal Dynasty over a thousand-year period (or whatever).

And yet, after maybe a week, that sentiment started to shift, or even invert. The walking and heat and sun and dirty bunk beds and scammers started fading from my mind while the temples and palaces and curios became more prominent. It wasn’t that I was literally forgetting the hardships (though I’ve certainly forgotten a lot of the little things over time), but rather they were no longer visceral. The weather was torturous while I was there, but I can’t feel the 100 degrees or 100% humidity (or both simultaneously) while I write this sentence in my air-conditioned bedroom. I know Indian taxi drivers are the scum of the earth, but even though I am not a rich man, I can’t say I care too much about the times they charged me an extra $1.50 for a cab ride.

Meanwhile, the temples and mosques and all that great stuff seemed even greater in retrospect. Especially near the end of the trip, I’m sure I was too exhausted and mentally fatigued by seeing the same architecture over-and-over again to even care who built what building when and why. Yet the memories of the beautiful curvature of some ancient stature, the festive buzz of Calcutta on Holi Day, and the spectacular beaches of Chennai, glow in my mind. Today, I consider going to India one of the best decisions I have ever made in my life. I will die with one less regret.

Anyway, that’s sort of what playing The Last Guardian has been like.”

 

Read the rest of the article at Gaming Rebellion:

http://www.gamingrebellion.com/2016/12/playing-last-guardian-like-going-india/

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Response to “It’s Very Bad” on my Metal Gear Solid V Analysis

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The blog, “It’s Very Bad,” has written a “rebuttal” to my Metal Gear Solid V analysis: http://temporaldistortion.net/2016/11/a-rebuttal-of-mgs5-narrative-analysis/

I will attempt to respond to every part of the rebuttal, but there’s a catch… it’s written in Russian. I don’t speak or read Russian, so I am relying on a Google translation. It’s entirely possible that Google might misinterpret some parts, though some sections definitely get their intentions across anyway (like, “To hell with this ‘analysis,’ which invites us to swallow it”). If the author of the rebuttal believes I’ve misunderstood anything, he should feel free to point it out.

I’ll break down my response into 10 parts to correspond with the rebuttal. In each part, first there will be an excerpt from my original analysis in blue, then there will be the Rebuttal in red, and then there will be my response bolded in black.

Continue reading “Response to “It’s Very Bad” on my Metal Gear Solid V Analysis”

The Trial of Huey Emmerich – Examining the Evidence

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I love Huey Emmerich as a character. I don’t love the man himself. In fact, I’m open to the idea that Venom Snake should have executed him on the spot at his trial. But I love what Hideo Kojima did with Huey in Metal Gear Solid V.

Throughout MGS1, MGS2, and MGS4, Hal Emmerich (AKA Otacon) was a bright light amidst a whole lot of grim-dark characterization. Otacon wasn’t a perfect man, but he was a hell of a lot kinder and more benevolent than almost anyone else in the series at that point, including the ostensibly heroic Solid Snake. At the very least, Otacon was one of the few characters who lacked the physical and emotional capability to snap someone else’s neck at a moment’s notice, and thus naturally engendered some form of sympathy from the audience. Add on some healthy doses of intelligence, ingenuity, humility, and even humor, and Otacon ended up becoming something of an underrated fan favorite character in a series packed to the brim with colorful personalities.

However, in MGSV Kojima cleverly twisted the nature of Huey Emmerich. Kojima used the popular preconceptions of who an Emmerich is and how he’s supposed act to create a sort of narrative trap for players. In many ways, Kojima pulls the same trick with Huey Emmerich that he does with Big Boss, where the character’s legend both within and outside of the game is used to obfuscate the true nature of the man. In Emmerich’s case, the positive legacy of Otacon is used to initially trick players into sympathizing with Huey. The two men may look and sound nearly identical, but they are radically different individuals on an emotional and ethical level.

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While Otacon strives to use his intellect and scientific passion to make the world a better place, Huey is… possibly a murderous, conniving, pathological liar. Or at least that is what Huey is accused of at his trial near the end of MGSV.

I must admit that I was pro-Huey for most of the game. I figured Kaz was being a raging nut-job as usual, and scapegoating a helpless, paralyzed sad sack like Huey was typical of a man so blinded by a desire for revenge. It wasn’t until the evidence was laid out at the trial that I thought Kaz might actually be on to something. Maybe it was just my affection for Otacon that lead me to trust a man who somehow had the unique capabilities to do lots of horrible things and seemed to chronically be in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Yet I still can’t say for certain that Huey is guilty. There is a lot of evidence lined up against him, but the vast majority of it is circumstantial, with arguably only a single “smoking gun” to be found on one of his (admittedly abundant) charges. Maybe Huey is an absolutely horrible person who uses his sympathetic and familiar demeanor to cloak his crimes. Or maybe Huey is just an odd-ball who doesn’t fit into the testosterone-fueled world of private warfare, and is being unfairly targeted by angry, disaffected soldiers desperate to find an outlet for their rage.

Huey does get a trial in MGSV, but it can hardly be called objective. So I want to give Huey another trial. I will list Huey’s charges and provide evidence-based arguments for and against each count.

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Continue reading “The Trial of Huey Emmerich – Examining the Evidence”

The Phantom’s Pain – Turning Venom Snake into the Boss: A Metal Gear Solid V Narrative Analysis – Part 3

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EDIT – Since I wrote Part 3 last, it shows up first on my Blog’s feed.

Part 3: The Philosophy of Venom Snake

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A Different Path

As has already been stated, revenge is a prominent theme in Metal Gear Solid V. Kojima suggests that the quest for revenge leads to endless cycles of transgression and retaliation. When a person, organization, or country is wronged, it gains a desire for revenge and strikes back against the offender, which subsequently produces a desire for revenge in the original offender, which causes it to strike back, etc. This creates “an endless seesaw of blood and violence,” as Kaz calls it. Hence, Big Boss/Kaz and Cypher, the USSR and the US, the Soviet army and the Mujahedeen, Skull Face and the world, and all of the PFs in the war economy are locked in endless cycles of revenge-fueled violence.

This process represents an obstacle to the Boss’s dream of a unified world. If it is taken as a given that people fight, and that fighting is naturally divisive, how can unity be achieved?

Zero’s solution to this problem is to manage the chronic cycle of violence by controlling the context in which the fighting occurs. This initially takes the form of Cypher’s presence as a shadow government in the United States, which later evolves into the AIs’ control over information flow, and finally plateaus with MGS4’s war economy.

Big Boss’s solution is to embrace the fighting by accepting it as a natural form of stability. This is essentially the thesis of Outer Heaven. War as a constant. War as a way of life. There will always be wars and soldiers to fight them, so these soldiers should dictate how and why such wars are fought. As one such soldier, Big Boss figures that he may as well accumulate as much power as he can and usher in the era of chronic warfare.

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Continue reading “The Phantom’s Pain – Turning Venom Snake into the Boss: A Metal Gear Solid V Narrative Analysis – Part 3”

The Phantom’s Pain – Turning Venom Snake into the Boss: A Metal Gear Solid V Narrative Analysis – Introduction

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Author’s Note

6/16 EDIT – All done!

This four five six-part article (including the introduction) is currently over 21,000 27,000 words long, thereby making it by far the largest thing I have ever written for Theory of Objective Video Game Aesthetics or gamingrebellion.com (where I write a weekly article). I may add more to this piece later, but I really want to hear more feedback from the Metal Gear community. For one, I wrote and edited this thing all by myself, so I’m sure there are random typos and Metal Gear lore errors that I need help sniffing out. But I also want to get feedback on my overall points and structure (and a pithier title would be nice). Any and all feedback, good and bad, is welcome.

VecYTng

Introduction

“Now do you remember? Who you are? What you were meant to do? I cheated death, thanks to you. And thanks to you I’ve left my mark. You have too – you’ve written your own history. You’re your own man. I’m Big Boss, and you are too… No… He’s the two of us. Together. Where we are today? We built it. This story – this “legend” – it’s ours. We can change the world – and with it, the future. I am you, and you are me. Carry that with you, wherever you go. Thank you… my friend. From here on out, you’re Big Boss.”

– Big Boss

When I first finished Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain, like so many other players, I was disappointed. MGSV was supposed to be the “Missing Link” in the Metal Gear canon. It was that game that would reveal the bridge between the heroic Big Boss of MGS 3, Portable Ops, and Peace Walker, and the grand historical villain of Metal Gear 1 and 2. As expressed by numerous launch trailers and Hideo Kojima tweets, MGSV was going to be a tale of Big Boss’s fall into darkness, driven by an insatiable lust for revenge, a consummate anger lit by his enemies which would scorch his soul until nothing was left but a power hungry mad man who would threaten the world with nuclear war for the sake of his power-hungry ambitions.

Instead we got an incredibly weird twist which did little more than retcon patch a largely ignored plot hole in one of the least-played Metal Gear games. We found out that the final boss of Metal Gear 1 was not Big Boss, but a body double, who through surgery and hypnotherapy was made into almost an exact copy of the legendary soldier.

Again, like most other players, when I first finished the game I thought this was a neat trick, a typically crazy, convoluted, but seductively entertaining twist from one of my favorite story tellers of all time. But of course… it was also a major let down.

Finding out that I had just played as some random ass medic from Militaires Sans Fronteres for the last 80 hours instead of the most important character in the entire Metal Gear canon was certainly a mind-fuck, but also left me feeling deflated. What was the point of it all? Why did I just follow some entirely new character for an entire game who has only a minor, tangential connection to the series’ larger plot instead of seeing Big Boss’s moral/psychological/narrative transformation which is at the heart of the entire series and was supposed to be the entire point of Metal Gear Solid V?

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Continue reading “The Phantom’s Pain – Turning Venom Snake into the Boss: A Metal Gear Solid V Narrative Analysis – Introduction”

The Phantom’s Pain – Turning Venom Snake into the Boss: A Metal Gear Solid V Narrative Analysis – Part 1

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Part 1: The Rise of a Legend

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Who is Big Boss? 

Take a step back and consider who Big Boss actually is at the start of Metal Gear Solid V.

Yes, he’s the protagonist of MGS3, PO, and PW. He’s a legendary hero, soldier, and leader. He’s the ultimate mentee of the Boss and seeks to carry on his interpretation of her will. It’s so easy to see Big Boss in this way because it’s the way everyone in the Metal Gear series sees him.

I’d like to suggest that there is another way of looking at Big Boss. In fact, I’d say that Big Boss’s legacy by MGSV is a dangerous legend which is in reality a toxic mixture of genuine heroisms and corrosive demagoguery.

Kojima’s cleverest trick of the last three Metal Gear games was to completely contain the player within Big Boss’s self-created world view. The player may know that Big Boss will eventually be the series’ primary antagonist, but when playing through MGS3, PO, and PW, those days seem so distant and abstract that it can be easy to forget them. In these games Big Boss is not just the protagonist, he also represents the only force standing between the world and nuclear annihilation and/or abject tyranny under Cipher. He is the gruff, charismatic leader of men who stands tall while malicious forces lurk in the background trying to manipulate and undermine peace and liberty. Big Boss is the world’s savior.

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Continue reading “The Phantom’s Pain – Turning Venom Snake into the Boss: A Metal Gear Solid V Narrative Analysis – Part 1”

The Phantom’s Pain – Turning Venom Snake into the Boss: A Metal Gear Solid V Narrative Analysis – Part 2

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Part 2: Venom Snake vs. Big Boss

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Phantoms and Parasites

The nature of parasites is a prominent theme throughout MGSV. In the game, Kojima posits multiple ways of thinking about the relationships between parasites and their hosts. XOF is described as a parasite of Cipher (since it survived and prospered by cleaning up Fox’s and Cipher’s messes) which eventually ended up not just consuming its host, but taking its place. Skull Face described the English language as a sort of “conqueror’s parasite” which latched onto lesser languages and weakened them into obsolescence. Code Talker describes (at length) how an ancient parasite infected human beings and was initially a detriment to their health, but adapted into a symbiotic relationship with humans by giving us the ability to speak.

In Metal Gear Solid V, phantoms are essentially psychological parasites.

Kaz’s loss of MSF and his limbs drive him into a blind, vengeful rage in MGSV. Rather than attempt to quell his feelings, Kaz feeds them, embraces them as a part of himself. He lets the “phantom pain” caused by the anguish of losing his comrades control his mind and drive him against Skull Face. This relationship between Kaz and his pain becomes just as important as the relationship between any host and its parasite.

Likewise, Skull Face suffered immense trauma as a youth, having lost his family, homeland, language, and even his own face (via burning and torture). This trauma hardened in his mind over time and became an enormous source of phantom pain that manifested as a sort of extremist nihilism. Eventually this phantom drives skull face to want to use the English parasite to kill all English speakers (because he blames the United States for his childhood) to bring the world into a bizarre state of egalitarianism based on mutual pain and suffering.

Venom Snake is repeatedly referred to as a Phantom of Big Boss in the post-Truth mission cassette tapes between Big Boss, Zero, Ocelot, and Kaz. The implication is that Venom is a parasite living off of Big Boss. Not in a literal sense, but in a metaphorical or even spiritual sense. Venom is put into Big Boss’s life to live and fight as Big Boss. Big Boss made himself into a legend through his own actions and will throughout his life, and then Venom was granted custody of this legend to continue to Big Boss’s legacy.

In reality, the exact opposite is true. Big Boss is the parasite on Venom Snake.

Continue reading “The Phantom’s Pain – Turning Venom Snake into the Boss: A Metal Gear Solid V Narrative Analysis – Part 2”