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Are You a Hero, or a Monster?

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I read an article the other day in which Hideo Kojima stated that Metal Gear Ground Zeroes might not ever be released, and if it is then it might be too controversial to sell well. He stated that gaming hasn’t done much to mature beyond “zombies and explosions”, and that he wants to push the limits and break every taboo that he can. He felt that it either would be too controversial for Konami to allow him to release it, or that gamers would be too put off by the controversy for it to sell.

I don’t know how I feel about that, as we’ve already had the capacity to see through a little girl’s clothing, take her out on a date, slap her around on said date and chase her while she runs crying in the last Metal Gear (Peacewalker), which cemented me not supporting the franchise any longer. Which is a shame, because up to that point even in spite of the whole “Every nation is evil except for Japan” thing Kojima had going on, Metal Gear was one of my favorite franchises.

Growing up, you were either a Metal Gear Solid fan or a Splinter Cell fan. The two camps didn’t mix. Oh, there were also those Hitman kids, but, they were weird and we didn’t hang out with them (*cough cough* Wilkie *cough cough*). I found Splinter Cell’s controls to be all clunky and junk and so I was a Metal Gear kid. Me and my friends would play for hours, discovering all of the easter eggs, the hidden cutscenes, deciphering the deep and intricate story, working out the best tactics, beating the game without being seen and without killing anyone, including bosses, it was great fun.

But, slowly and steadily the series started getting creepy. I never finished the second Metal Gear because…Raiden…but a friend that did clued me in on the creepiness that was Otacon. I’m going to give a disclaimer right here and say that this article and the next two in this series are going to contain some spoilers, and also are going to be dealing with some less than PG themes that might make some readers uncomfortable. Please exercise your own discretion going forward.

Otacon was engaged in elicit sexual relations with his step mother and step sister, which led to said step sister bumping her head and almost drowning in the family pool because Otacon was having extra curricular time with the mom when he was supposed to be watching her. There was the implication that the three might have spent said time all with each other at once on occasion. The idea of this poor little girl being molested was never really mentioned, with the stronger focus being on Otacon’s guilt at his  sister almost drowning because of him.

The idea of Otacon being molested was downplayed also, with a stronger focus being on the relationship being consensual.

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After that, there was the whole series of scenes with Paz in Peacewalker, and yeah, the series went and got all creepy on me. Taking into account what Kojima has already done, I’m finding it a bitter pill to swallow that he’s working on ways to be more taboo. He’s already portrayed incest in a relatively positive light, downplayed child abuse, and then gave you a child abuse simulator, and he’s already said America, Russia and China are guilty of pretty much every war crime you can imagine, so I’m not sure where else he can go. More importantly, I’m not sure what else he could possibly want to do.

I stated in an article called “Respecting Atrocity” (that I’m not entirely certain is on this website) that I really don’t mind a dark story dealing with dark themes when it’s done right or done with a purpose. I write Christian science fiction and fantasy, and have on more than one occasion explored protagonists dealing with molestation, violent abuse, drug addiction and more. I also am not one of the extremists that believes that these traumas should never be mixed with fantasy settings.

That sounded weird, so I’ll elaborate. In my novel More Than a Fairytale: Second Soul the protagonists, sisters Lor and Tara, are descendants of a tribe of spiritual warriors. Their father was a high executioner for a dark army turned good, and their mother was a high ranking knight in a royal holy army. These protagonists gain miraculous abilities from manifesting spiritual weapons to hurling fire from their fingertips. Amidst the fantasy story with a strong focus on dealing with demonic assault, the sisters also have to deal with surviving molestation and rape at a young age. What’s more, the older sister, Tara, has to deal with how to protect and care for her younger sister dealing with this trauma, while somehow keeping her own sanity as well.

Both sisters have to reconcile believing in God and their family with the traumas that happened, and the awful individuals that harmed them were written as humans, regular people without other worldly powers, and prior to the sisters awakening to their gifts. The point of them being humans that hurt the girls was to drive the point home further; had they been some manner of monster or demon it would’ve taken away from the wickedness that ordinary people inflict on one another on a regular basis.

The story and plot devices used were not done so facetiously, rather they were done to help survivors deal with and reconcile what has happened to them, and to show that your story does not end once someone believes they’ve taken your power away. Amidst the fantasy epic, there is the tale of dealing with these terrible things that society has bred us not to talk about. Your friends don’t want to talk about it, because it makes them uncomfortable and they want to swear up and down that they’re there for you and have your back, right up until you need to talk about something that causes them to go into that deep dark place with you. The family has been bred to be there for you, unless they have to face something that makes them feel inadequate. Society has taught you to keep your mouth shut, and to deal with your pain in the dark while painting on a harlequin’s smile in public.

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The story was not written just to do it, which is what I feel like Kojima does a lot of times. I don’t know the guy, so I don’t know what goes on behind closed doors, but the impression I get from his interviews is that really at the end of the day he’s become a shock jockey, someone who does taboo and controversy just for the sake of doing taboo and controversy. I could be wrong, but, that’s the impression I get.

Honestly though, the original idea for this article came from the change in tone from Ninja Gaiden 3 to Razor’s Edge. In Ninja Gaiden 3 there was this strong focus on showing the monster that Ryu Hayabusa was seen as by his enemies. I felt like this was a very good tonal focus, and it was an interesting and at times somewhat jarring experience to see men begging for mercy or talking about their wife and kids back home. By and large, games don’t do this. Even as the men begged you for their lives, the game made you stalk towards them and finish them off.

The thing is, most video games have bred us to have a hero complex. Most video games give you the expectation that you’re a good and justified person and that there is no moral grey area. Now, while games that polarize the issue, such as Call of Duty, Battlefield, and so as not to just pick on military shooters, Baldur’s Gate, Asura’s Wrath, or, let’s say…Trinity: Souls of Zill O’ll, are all fine and dandy, it’s also good to have games that question the hero.

One of the things gamers complained the most about was that the begging enemies made them feel bad about what they were doing (duh, that was the point!), and so Razor’s Edge brought back people that you could feel justified in taking down. This made no bloody sense. Ryu Hayabusa is a war machine, an unstoppable force of destruction. Realistically speaking not every single soldier that came against him was a bad person. Realistically speaking, yeah, most of those dudes had families, and most of them were doing what they could to take care of said families.

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What’s more, all of those guys are just regular people with guns and a tac vest. Pit a bit of kevlar against a super ninja descended from a dragon, and I’d be evacuating my bowels too!

Removing these darker tones cheapened an already flawed experience, and removed the main redeeming quality of the game for me. I’m not gonna even go into the gameplay issues…

There are games, such as Mass Effect, Spec Ops: The Line, the original Ninja Gaiden 3 and yes, even Final Fantasy X that make you question what you’re doing. They make you stop and think to yourself “Wait…am I the bad guy? Is there even a hero in this story? Is any of this good?”

But, their number are few and far. So yes, I think gaming can stand to mature a little, and I think gamers can stand to suck it up and grow up a little. But, I think to call the whole of its medium and its fanbase immature is a little unfair. By and large you see indie developers willing to tackle emotional stories, such as Finding Teddy, but you rarely see that sort of thing in big name releases.

I suppose it all boils down to most big name companies playing it safe; mindless destruction of enemies with polarized gameplay that makes us feel like we’re always good people no matter what, such as how in Prototype 2 every enemy we had to devour for storyline reasons just happened to be a comically terrible person, will always sell. The stereotype is that gamers don’t like to have to think, and that when you’re in control of the ultimate warrior you want to feel like everyone, including collateral damage, has it coming.

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I have to question how much truth there is to the stereotype however. I personally love games that make me squirm and go “Oh…wow…I’m…kind of a bad person…” every so often. Games that make you stop and go “Jeez…I mean, sure, I had to do that” or “I didn’t know that was going to happen”, but ultimately make me go “…Crap man…that just happened…”

Games like Spec Ops: The Line with the infamous burning scene. Games like Mass Effect 3 where I watched a whole planet suffer for no other reason than “I just wasn’t strong enough…”. Games like Fire Emblem where I do everything right, but people that I care for and have come to know and love die anyways.

Ah, but I’m not the average gamer, right? Is that the argument you’re making, developers? My bro tends to be a fan of Call of Duty, Halo, Medal of Honor, ya know, military shooters. He also absolutely loved The Walking Dead because of the deep emotional level that it reaches you on, and the thought provoking story that it tells. He also also loves Brave Fencer Musashi, which is a lengthy JRPG that questions your motivations on more than one occasion. He also loved Zone of the Enders, which constantly has you going “WHY DOES EVERYONE I LOVE KEEP GETTING BLOWN UP?!?!”

Also why is the only eligible bachelorette that isn’t insane a giant robot?

So what do you think planet Earth? Do you prefer games that don’t make you think, or do you like to question your motivations and get involved with your characters every now and again? Furthermore, does a game have to be taboo just to make you feel? Name some of your favorite titles below, I’ll give a few of mine:

1) Legend of Dragoon

2) The Mass Effect Series

3) Spec Ops: The Line

4) Lufia: Rise of the Sinistrals

5) Xenoblade Chronicles

6) Pandora’s Tower

And on and on and on. Xeawn, out!

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