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”

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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 – 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 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”

The Phantom’s Pain – Turning Venom Snake into the Boss: A Metal Gear Solid V Narrative Analysis – Part 4

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Part 4: The Phantom Pain

Metal Gear Solid V’s subtitle, “The Phantom Pain” has a few prominent reference points throughout the game. Most notably, Big Boss and Kaz both lost limbs when MSF was destroyed in Ground Zeroes. Thus during the events of MGSV, they both contend with literal physical phantom pain where their limbs once existed. Kaz even refuses to use prosthetic limbs as a means of maintaining his phantom pain. This phantom pain also exists in a metaphorical mental form as the grief these characters feel for their lost comrades. Similarly, nearly every character in the game is motivated by some form of revenge and feels metaphorical phantom pain for their losses.

While these references are meaningful, I think they miss the single most important meaning of the game’s subtitle.

“The Phantom Pain” refers to The Phantom’s Pain. And the Phantom is Venom Snake.

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The Demon

Throughout MGSV, Venom is repeatedly referred to, and represented as, a Demon. Consider the following:

  • The “Demon Points” system, wherein Snake receives Demon points for performing evil acts (killing people, developing nukes, etc.) and loses Demon points for good acts (capturing soldiers, saving animals, etc.). If the player receives enough points, Venom Snake’s “horn” grows in increments. At the maximum point level, Venom is permanently drenched in blood and becomes “Demon Snake.”
  • Venom is seen as “Demon Snake” during two key cutscenes, including the end of “Shining Lights, even in Death” after he kills his own men to prevent the vocal cord parasite from spreading, and at the end of the “Truth” mission when he punches the reflection of himself.
  • This conversation between Kaz and Big Boss shortly after Venom awoke from his coma:

KAZ – “Cipher sent us to a hell but we are going even deeper. Take back everything that we have lost.” 
VENOM – “Kaz, I’m already a demon.

  • Various Skull Face quotes:
    • “You look well-rested, Big Boss… My, my, how you’ve changed. You became a demon for such little weapons as that?”– In reference to the Honey Bee in “Where do the Bees Sleep?”
    • “You too have known loss, and that loss torments you still. You hope hatred might someday replace the pain, but it never goes away. It makes a man hideous, inside and out. Wouldn’t you agree? We both are demons. Our humanity won’t return. You. Me. We’ve no place to run, nowhere to hide. And that’s why I’ll show you my demon.”– Upon Skull Face meeting Venom in the “Skull Face” mission.
  • Venom Snake’s speech in the secret “Disarm all Nukes” ending -.
    • “I haven’t forgotten what you told me, Boss. We have no tomorrow, but there’s still hope for the future. In our struggle to survive the present, we push the future farther away. Will I see it in my lifetime? Probably not. Which means there’s no time to waste. Someday the world will no longer need us. No need for the gun, or the hand to pull the trigger. I have to drive out this demon inside me – build a better future. That’s what I – what we – will leave as our legacy. Another mission, right Boss?”

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The Demon is Big Boss’s persona in Venom Snake. It is the metaphorical representation of Big Boss’s hateful, destructive personality, in contrast to Venom Snake’s levelheaded, benevolent personality.

Continue reading “The Phantom’s Pain – Turning Venom Snake into the Boss: A Metal Gear Solid V Narrative Analysis – Part 4”

The Phantom’s Pain – Turning Venom Snake into the Boss: A Metal Gear Solid V Narrative Analysis – Part 5

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Part 5 – What does it All Mean?

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The Nature of Legends

Metal Gear Solid V is the ultimate display of a theme commonly found throughout the Metal Gear franchise: legends are inherently distortionary.

All the way back at the start of the series with Metal Gear 1 and 2, Kojima subverted expectations with the surprise twist that the main antagonist of the games was none other than Solid Snake’s commander, Big Boss.

Then in MGS1, Solid Snake is a world renowned hero amongst soldiers and covert ops personnel. His legendary feats inspired Meryl, a rookie soldier with no real world experience, to try to become an elite fighter. Throughout the game, Snake consistently dispels the legends surrounding his past and chastises Meryl for believing in them. To Snake, his legend is more myth than reality, unfortunate exaggerations of his actions which gloss over real moral ambiguities and give him more moral credit then he’s due. In his words, “The real me is no match for the legend.”

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MGS2 not only continued this theme, but brought it to a meta-narrative level as well. Within the story, Solid Snake is again the subject of distortionary legends which are copied and borderline worshiped by Raiden. Outside of the game, Kojima used this same paradigm to manipulate player expectations. He promoted Solid Snake as the protagonist of MGS2 (Solid Snake is a legendary video game hero of sorts) only to subvert expectations by secretly putting the player in control of Raiden for the vast majority of the game. Being the diametric opposite of Snake both physically and mentally, Raiden served to deconstruct the nature of Snake as a video game legend.

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Continue reading “The Phantom’s Pain – Turning Venom Snake into the Boss: A Metal Gear Solid V Narrative Analysis – Part 5”

Metal Gear Solid 4 Retrospective – The Metal Gear Game No One Remembers

“Isn’t it weird how no one ever talks about Metal Gear Solid 4 anymore? How many people reading this article right now who have played Metal Gear Solid 4 can even remember its subtitle?

MGS4 was a huge deal when it came out. It wasn’t just the epic conclusion to one of the most famous series in all of gaming, it was a flagship title in a new console generation, and without a doubt the most technically advanced game to date. It was Hideo Kojima’s follow up to Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater, arguably the high point of the whole series and one of the most well-regarded PS2 games in the console’s storied history. It’s hard to find exact budget figures, but MGS4 was probably one of the five most expensive video games ever produced at its launch date in 2008, largely due to Kojima’s insistence on building a brand new game engine to handle MGS4’s ambitious technical dimensions (which allegedly were so advanced that the game couldn’t even fit on an Xbox 360). The game’s hype was subsequently reflected in its stellar launch, with 3 million copies sold within the first few weeks, thereby establishing the PS3’s first mega-hit.

And yet MGS4 is strangely all but forgotten today, or at least it seems to have fallen to the unenviable status of being the least memorable game of the console-based Metal Gear Solids. Granted, I have no empirical evidence to back this up. As a lifelong Metal Gear fanatic who regularly frequents forums and reads every drop of Metal Gearcommentary I can get my hands on, it only recently dawned on me that I hear so little about the series’ chronological conclusion. Time has granted MGS 12, and 3 their unique legacies both within the Metal Gear series and in gaming history as a whole. Though MGSV is too new to accurately establish its long term reputation, I am confident that the game’s stark virtues and vices will be excruciatingly analyzed over the coming years and it will at least garner a sense of misguided appreciation, if not reverence in its own right. But MGS4… no one seems to care about MGS4.”

 

Read the rest of the article at the Gaming Rebllion:

Metal Gear Solid 4 Retrospective – The Metal Gear Game No One Remembers