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 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”

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”

Thoughts on My Second Playthrough of Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain

 

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(SPOILERS for Metal Gear Solid V.)

Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain has now been out for over six months, during which time its reception has been… mixed, to say the least. While the game’s mechanics have received universal praise, its narrative contributions to the overarching Metal Gear canon and structure have been strongly criticized, especially by longtime fans of the series. I, for one, absolutely love MGSV and pretty much haven’t stopped playing it since its release. After putting about 150 hours into my first save file, I recently decided to start a fresh file to relive the controversial story. The process has been rather enlightening in terms of showing me both the best and worst aspects of MGSV. Even after so many hours of play, I still can’t think of any grand, unifying thesis to encapsulate such a massive and innovative game, so I’m just going to list a bunch of random observations that stood out to me during my second playthough.

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MGSV Only Has Only One Save File

It’s crazy. I remember having to juggle three save spots in Crash Bandicoot 2: Cortex Strikes Back in 1997 on the PS1, but this state of the art, $80 million game on the PS4 only has a single available save file. My guess is this has something to do with accommodating the omnipresent online features, but I don’t know enough about the technicals to say for sure. If you do want to start a new round of MGSV you either have to delete your old save file or create a whole new PSN account. The former would feel like murdering my own children. Actually that experience might not be too dissimilar to Big Boss’s loss of Militaires Sans Frontieres’s Mother Base in Ground Zeroes, so maybe that actually would be an interesting form of “method-game playing” to get into the head of the player-protagonist. Alternatively, I can just use my friend’s linked PS4 account. So I did that.

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Continue reading “Thoughts on My Second Playthrough of Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain”

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