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16 May 2012 @ 05:30 am
I realize that fireholly did a brilliant MG1 review/fanfiction to this basic extent already and I'm just beating a dead horse so there's no chance it will ever be revived as a zombie, but.

Looking back at the MGS series, the level of detail, realism, and complexity in gameplay directly correlates to the level of humanity/inhumanity in the warfare contained within, and the respective maturity/psychological damage of the protagonists doing the fighting.

In MG/MG1, Snake is a young, fresh soldier, obedient and dense and comparatively in a good psychological place. The enemies he fights can't be taken out in nonlethal ways- even if he punches them, they blink out of existence and "die" in the language of the game. Enemies are faceless little blobs.* You kill them to progress and don't feel bad. Everything is too abstract and surreal to have an emotional impact, even Big Boss's betrayal of Snake or the fearsome walking tank Metal Gear. War is at its most inhuman in this game, and Snake cares the least about it, being young and undeveloped.**

MG2 is more complex. Guards have more complex behaviors (they have habits like going to bed whenever they hear an owl!), and the bosses have something approaching a personality. The game is obviously very abstract, and Snake is still immature as a man, following orders unquestioningly and killing without a second thought. There's still no way or reason to spare the lives of guards, but there is a key moment that breaks MG2 from the remorseless, abstract, inhuman killing in MG1: the fight against Gray Fox, previously established as an ally and a friend to Snake. He betrays you out of loyalty to Big Boss, and the result is a knock-down drag-out punchfight to the death. It's brutal, it's wrong, and it's a boss fight that you have to win but you don't want to, a prelude to content later in the series.

MGS1 is even more complex, as a less abstracted from reality game than the previous two. Though even punches will still kill the guards***, the narrative clearly reflects Snake feeling guilt and remorse over his ongoing role as an unquestioning killer, and that he's enjoyed the thrill of the fight. As an extension of the player up to this point, of course he would. The player played MG1, MG2, and MGS for fun, and part of playing was killing guards and bosses. But now Snake has a personality of his own, his own regrets about the past two games, and so do his enemies. They're not just faceless goons, they've got quirks and roles and behaviors, especially the bosses. Boss fights can't be avoided if one wants to progress, but can anybody really say that they wouldn't have preferred to find a peaceful solution with Sniper Wolf, Gray Fox, or Psycho Mantis? War takes a human toll in MGS, and this is reflected in both the dialogue and the gameplay.

MGS2 gives the player the option to tranquilize or non-lethally knock out guards. It also introduces dog tags. While a fun collection minigame, they are also a very effective way to humanize otherwise faceless guards. They have names and blood types and birthdays. They listen to headphones and fall asleep on the job and get distracted by porno magazines. They're real people within the slightly abstracted universe, and the wrongness and inhumanity of killing them is highlighted once again in the story but above and beyond that in the gameplay. Snake, having broken free of genetic destiny as a killer, can now spare the lives of foes. And though Raiden is a different character than Snake, with different baggage due to not having explicitly killed a bunch of dudes in a dehumanized 8-bit setting, he has the same capacity for mercy and faces the same humanity in his enemies. MGS2 is the game where war has a real, human toll, and you are explicitly capable of not just being horrified or discomforted by it like in MGS1, but capable of actively preventing more deaths at your own hands.

MGS3 mostly carries over mechanics from MGS2 with an entirely new character- Naked Snake. Once again lacking the baggage of the 8-bit era that Solid Snake had, he is still presented with the same choices to spare his opponents, and his opponents are once again very human people. It is also a game that lets you kill civilians for approximately the same amount of consequence as killing combatants. But, as before, there's nothing saying that you should kill them, and a fairly solid body of reasons why you probably shouldn't.**** The biggest reason, of course, is the MASSIVE GUILT TRIP the game sends you on in the guise of a "boss fight". Whereas previous games used increased realism and slightly more subtle metatextual along with far less subtle textual hints that Killing Is Bad and Dehumanizing, MGS3 hits you over the fucking head with it in the Sorrow's boss fight, in which you face the ghosts of everyone whose death you are responsible for. Every one, even the guys who you tranquilized and then committed suicide via concealed stupid bomb. The game rewards you with an easier slog through the River Styx***** if you kill less (or no) people. And you, the player, along with your avatar, are rewarded with much less guilt for, you know, murdering people. The first-bossfight-against-Gray-Fox-style gut punch of player action being horrible but needed to progress, illustrating the injust inhumanity of killing and being a soldier, is, of course, having to pull the trigger yourself on the Boss, actually pressing the button. Even if you were a pure pacifist against all odds, in the end you're a killer. You and Snake.

MGS4, being more "realistic" in graphics and enemy behavior (they fight each other, not just you!), tries hardest to paint war as dehumanizing and horrible and vile and something that the world needs to not have anymore. It gives you options to non-lethally take down foes. It hits you over the head with the anvil that is the BB Corps and how war has dehumanized them into "beasts" rather than the "beauties" they once were, and draws parallels to Snake there. And there are gameplay mechanics for PTSD! Snake gets flashbacks and vomits and everything is generally horrible to you in regards to Snake's past as a soldier and continued role as one.****** But I also hate MGS4, and the the moment of gameplay cruelty is just a kick in the balls and kind of unrelated to the player committing atrocious acts in order to win. It's more a moment of forcing the protagonist to suffer through something excruciating that is in turn excruciating to the player in order to win- wait, actually. The microwave corridor's pain was just a metaphor for Snake's pain when the player keeps playing MGS and forcing him through the story, forcing him to kill, isn't it? God, this series is just circles within circles. I'm going to retire to a tropical island and run tests on the seashells after this.

*Then again, so are the bosses and "good guys", who get dialog and more unique designs, but are still faceless little pixel blobs.
**Unless you count Justin Halley, but why the hell would you, honestly?
***Not counting The Twin Snakes, of course, but for the sake of this progression, we won't, because it's semicanon at best and was made after MGS2.
****You also have the option to kill harmless (and not-so-harmless) animals for your continued survival, but just like the tranq gun is a valid option, eating calorie mates, ramen, mushrooms, and fruit through the game instead is a completely valid option.
*****I don't think it's canonically the River Styx but you know what? Fuck you, wiki-reading strawman.
******I legitimately forgot the bit in italics, thank you to fireholly for reminding me of this fact over twitter, as I really rushed and half-assed the MGS4 section, due to blocking it out of my memories and also not having played it since high school.