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[NYT] The Shootout Over Hidden Meanings in a Video Game

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If there’s a subject that’s as contentious as war itself, it might be a video game about war.

It’s been just over a week since the release of Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots, the latest chapter in the popular video game series about a covert military agent named Solid Snake. And already, fans are exchanging rhetorical fusillades on the Internet, teasing out what the underlying political and philosophical messages of Metal Gear Solid 4 might be.

Encrypted within this discussion is a more sophisticated argument about the nascent medium of video games. Can it tell a story as satisfyingly as a work of cinema or literature?

Is the Sisyphean mission of Solid Snake — to rid the world of a robotic nuclear tank called Metal Gear — a parable about the futility of war or about its necessity? A critique of America’s domination of the global stage? A metaphor for the struggle between determinism and free will? If the creator of the Metal Gear Solid series, Hideo Kojima, has answers to these questions, he isn’t telling.

“He doesn’t interview very much,†said Leigh Alexander, an associate editor at Kotaku.com, a video game blog. “Sometimes he will speak about it, and other times it’s left to the critical peanut gallery to disassemble what his intentions might have been.â€

Devoted players have no shortage of opinions about what Mr. Kojima’s games are saying. The original Metal Gear Solid, released in 1998 for Sony’s PlayStation console, combined stealth combat with cinematic intermission scenes, full of dialogue and imagery that directly invoked the bombing of Hiroshima and the birth of atomic weapons. The game called attention to the scourge of nuclear proliferation, and forced players to consider the morality of their own lethal actions.

These messages were complicated by a pair of sequels: Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty, released in late 2001, introduced a shadowy supernational group called the Patriots, so powerful that even the president of the United States answers to it. (A commentary on the disputed 2000 election? The cabal theories of post-9/11 politics?) And Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater, released in 2004, explored the cold war origins of its characters, whose personal stories are intertwined with the rise of the military-industrial complex.

“This is a just-off-center world that gamers can almost believe in,†said Rob Smith, the editor in chief of PlayStation: The Official Magazine. “All the important world history of the 20th century matches up in ways that say, ‘If we’d gone down this path then, this is what we’d now be facing.’ â€

Metal Gear Solid 4, released for the PlayStation 3 console, further upends traditional notions of heroism and villainy: in this game Solid Snake (think James Bond meets Rambo) has aged considerably, as have several of his archenemies; the forces he battles are not the soldiers of identifiable nations but the mercenaries on the payroll of private military companies. “The issue of good guys and bad guys doesn’t exist anymore,†Mr. Smith said. “It’s just: here’s the guys.â€

Even as gamers ponder what this symbolism means (an allegory of war in the era of Blackwater Worldwide and stateless enemy combatants?), they are also debating whether the story of Metal Gear Solid 4 is a satisfying one, and if its storytelling techniques are used effectively.

“You get so caught up in just figuring out, Does this story need to be here?†said Stephen Totilo, an MTV News reporter who covers video games. “That’s not a question you wind up asking yourself when you’re reading a novel. Of course the story needs to be there! Otherwise you don’t have a novel.â€

Players like Shawn Elliott, the senior executive editor of the gaming Web site 1up.com, have criticized the game for its preachiness, and for its reliance on lengthy cinematic interludes that can run 30 minutes or longer.

“It can basically become a movie for long stretches,†Mr. Elliott said. “It’s not necessarily a game catching up with movies, but a game kind of cheating and using a language that isn’t native to its own medium.â€

Others object to the sheer density of the story, spanning seven games released over 20 real-world years, that players are asked to master. “Let’s just say it’s not something any of us gamers are nearly as used to doing when we’re playing a game as when we’re reading a novel,†Mr. Totilo said.

Players can skip over the storytelling elements in Metal Gear Solid and still play the game.

But unrepentant fans like Ms. Alexander of Kotaku.com argue that, coherent or not, the narrative of Metal Gear Solid 4 is an inseparable part of the “package experience†that makes it an evolutionary step beyond fare like Halo 3, a first-person shooting game designed to soothe itchy trigger fingers.

Metal Gear Solid, Ms. Alexander said, “has the characters and the narrative, the symbolism and the metaphors, and all of the lore that ties it together,†whereas Halo is popular “not because of any of its peripheral elements or anything else about it, other that you shoot people.â€
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post #2 of 31
Halo is popular because it makes it FUN to shoot people.

Its also popular because the Master Cheif pwn's.
    
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post #3 of 31
Halo got ruined when the 10 year olds migrated to it...........
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post #4 of 31
Quote:
Originally Posted by wsnnwa View Post
Halo got ruined when the 10 year olds migrated to it...........
yup. agreed. but its still fun to make those 10 year olds realize that they are in fact just little turds over xbox live. 10 year olds aren't very hard to frustrate...
post #5 of 31
mad old news
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post #6 of 31
Quote:
Originally Posted by wsnnwa View Post
Halo got ruined when the 10 year olds migrated to it...........
halo has cooop
halo is quake 3..... already been done
post #7 of 31
Quote:
Originally Posted by kmo_9000 View Post
Halo is popular because it makes it FUN to shoot people.

Its also popular because the Master Cheif pwn's.
Mast chief is a noob.
Gordan Freeman will kick his ass anyday of the week.

Quote:
mad old news
What are YOU talking about? It was written and posted TODAY.
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post #8 of 31
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by dustcube View Post
mad old news
This is new, please don't troll threads.
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post #9 of 31
Quote:
Originally Posted by OmegaNemesis28 View Post
Mast chief is a noob.
Gordan Freeman will kick his ass anyday of the week.

WHHHHAAA?!
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post #10 of 31
Quote:
Originally Posted by Mr.Taquito View Post
WHHHHAAA?!
No WHAAAAA - more like, of course. Who in the world would think differently?
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