Among the titles that have been whipping up excitement following this year’s E3 lies the stealth action adventure that is Metal Gear Solid V. Hideo Kojima’s latest concoction promises to be a glowing gem in the early days of the next generation, but as details of the game’s plot begin to surface through its trailers we are met with an unsettling realization – We may not be ready for this.
The trailer shown at the beginning of the Microsoft presentation at E3 opened with fairly standard content for a trailer; it showed off the game engine and some of the mechanics such as climbing and “dynamic” CQC. However, it started to get a little dark after that. Once Snake is reunited with his old friend Kaz we are treated to the sight of a man truly haggered and damaged by the warfare he so advocates. Kaz is wounded and visibly affected, and the unsettling shot of Snake helping his dismembered friend off of a helicopter is an uncomfortable sight.
That being said, we are not strangers to violence in video games. We aren’t even strangers to violence portrayed in a serious and harsh manner – Spec Ops: The Line was excellent at showing us the dehumanizing nature of war and conflict. It’s this dehumanization that Metal Gear Solid V seems to revolve around with the constant reminder that Snake and Kaz are becoming demons and shadows of their former selves. From the subtle lyrical choice in the previous trailer to the not so subtle slate at the end of the new trailer: “In Outer Heaven… Men Become Demons.” This look at how men can become degraded through the acts they commit in war, being transformed into monstrosities is an incredibly dark tone and one very unusual for an action game.
However, it’s not the effect that the horrors of war have on the human mind that is the core of the controversy surrounding Metal Gear Solid V. It is the portrayal of children in the game. Specifically, the portrayal of child soldiers. As many of us are aware but would like to forget, child soldiers were and are still indeed a very real problem around the world. There are few things more horrendous than a child being forced to murder in cold blood for the profit or megalomania of another. Metal Gear Solid 5, however, pulls no punches on the topic and addresses in the very same trailer.
This is the sort of thing that some people are not sure our medium is ready for. Many people play games to escape into a fantasy world where they don’t necessarily have to concern themselves with the problems of reality. I find this argument to be nonsensical. Many people turn to the magic of cinema for the same reason, so does that mean we should only make comedy and fantasy films? Should the media we absorb be designed to simply placate us and bring us joy, or should some of it challenge and engage us so that we walk away from it a richer person? The answer, naturally, is the second. The problem with video games is that they are still seen by many as being quite childish for the most part, though that image is beginning to come apart lately. Until it does completely though, any game trying to convey a serious message such as this will likely be misconstrued as containing controversial material merely for the sake of it.
Everyone that I was watching E3 with exhibited a sharp intake of breath upon seeing the shot above of the children brandishing rifles. This sort of thing has certainly never been tackled in a game before, and heaven forbid should the children actually appear as enemies in the game. In addition to this, Kojima has also stated the controversy surrounding race is a major part of the game too, as if child soldiers weren’t enough. If even that isn’t enough for you, treat yourself to the “Director’s Cut” of the trailer , which features such delights as a bomb/tracking device placed inside a child and a disabled man being held captive and tortured.
Video games always garner more controversy than any other medium for the same reason that many people reading this find them more entertaining than any other medium – they are significantly more engaging due to the presence of player input. That being said, a film dealing with some of the topics that Metal Gear Solid V seems to would be extremely controversial, so I can only imagine the potential uproar on the game’s release. Some months ago Hideo Kojima stated that the game may be too controversial for release and I expressed some scepticism of the claim. Now that we’ve seen more of it, I completely understand where he was coming from.
All in all, I think we are ready for this next level of mature content, but I am painfully aware that we need to handle it carefully and tastefully. Video games are finally approaching the point where they can be taken seriously as a method of expression and a form of enrichment, and the way we handle extremely difficult topics like those I’ve spoken about could make or break this movement.