This includes major story spoilers for Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes. It is merely an opinion piece and is in no way meant to attack anyone mentioned within.
There seems to be a fad going these days where people go out of their way to search for ways that any given game could possibly offend someone. Even if an event in a video game could offend someone, is that really cause to change or remove it? On Tuesday we saw the release of Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes, a game that has attempted to take the previously part serious part camp series into a new mature direction.
Prior to the game’s release, Hideo Kojima spoke about his goals of wanting to help further both his series and the medium as a whole
.”If we don’t cross that line, if we don’t make attempts to express what we really want to express, games will only be games,” Kojima said. “If we don’t try to go beyond that, we won’t be able to achieve what movies or novels have achieved. I didn’t want to stay away from these things that could be considered sensitive. If we don’t go that far, games will never be considered as culture.”
If you’re curious as to how this ties in and what sensitive material he’s included in MGSV then here are where the spoilers begin. The main story mission of Ground Zeroes sees Snake infiltrating an enemy camp to rescue two children he is acquainted with who have been kidnapped, Chico and Paz. Making your way through the camp you learn that they aren’t the only people to have been kidnapped, and upon finding Chico you discover that nails have been driven into the backs of his feet to prevent him from escaping on foot. You then learn from a recording that Paz has been tortured and possibly killed, so after getting Chico to safety to go to search for her. She is found in a basement strung up and having been tortured but still breathing. Getting her to safety is your final goal and from there you’re treated with a long scene that contains what has people talking.
As you, a medic, and the two kids escape on a helicopter, you discover that Paz’s stomach has been recently stitched up and it doesn’t take a genius to realize that you’ve been set up. Snake and Chico hold her down as the medic removes the stitches, opens her up, and you watch a graphic (as video games go) scene of the medic reaching inside of her, moving her guts about, and removing the bomb, which is then thrown out of the helicopter. After a bit more cutscene and more story details come and go, Paz wakes up and, disoriented, moves to against the wall of the helicopter muttering and saying to stay away from her. She mentions that she has a bomb inside of her, and Snake assures her that it has been removed. “There’s another one,” she replies as she then willingly falls out of the side of the helicopter and almost immediately explodes before your eyes, causing the helicopter to crash and the game to end.
Now, is that event intense? Absolutely. Has Hideo Kojima gone too far? No. This is a story of war, of treachery, of possible child slavery and definite child warfare. Regardless of the camp nature of any previous games, this is an obvious attempt to push for more mature and sensitive material in video games, and it does just that. As far as I am concerned, nothing should be out of bounds or too sacred to be brought up in any medium, let alone video games. If it can happen in real life then it can happen in a video game. There always seems to be one group of people saying that video games can’t be taken seriously because they are all either about humor or murdering for no real reason and another group shouting that you can’t approach serious subjects because games should be for fun happy times. Obviously everyone doesn’t fall into one of these categories, but both seem to be pretty prevalent.
You’ll also hear talk of those who say “these subjects should only be approached if they can be done in a fitting way” which really means “a way that I find fitting.” Here’s the thing though, we can’t demand that games shy away from sensitive material until they can do it perfectly. You have to let developers and writers try and make mistakes so that they can learn from those mistakes. IGN’s review for Ground Zeroes called the ending “unearned,” but I would argue that it wasn’t trying to, nor did it need to, earn anything, because this ending isn’t really an ending. Ground Zeroes, while a standalone product, is not a standalone story. The “ending” of this is really just the beginning to the bigger story of Metal Gear Solid V. If anything, this is letting you know what to expect in the story to come. There is no easing into warfare and death. It happens when you least expect it; whether you’re ready for it or not.
Another, less intense, example of searching for controversy in a game is an article that was published on U.S. Gamer prior to the release of Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2
. Kat Bailey wrote about her time getting to see a preview of LoS2 and meeting with producer Dave Cox to discuss what they call the “family scene” early in the game. This is a scene, again very early on, where a recently awoken, incredibly weak Dracula wakes up in a locked room with a family (a father, mother, and daughter) on whom he is to feed to regain his strength. In the scene he wakes up dizzy, looks over at the scared family, and before he does anything is immediately attacked by the father. He then kills the father, grabs the mother, and drinks her blood. He then turns to the daughter and reaches for her as the screen goes black.
Bailey writes “First, the way this scene is constructed isn’t accidental. When Cox talks about wanting to take risks and arguments with the marketing team, it’s clear that the scene was constructed with the intention of evoking sexual assault. It’s ostensibly there to show that Dracula is evil; but really, the imagery was chosen for its ability to provoke a strong emotional reaction. That it’s being used almost exclusively for shock value serves to trivialize a very real horror that women must deal with every day.” I feel that this is another grab for more controversy than is actually there. The idea that it is “clear that the scene was constructed with the intention of evoking sexual assault” is a bit of a stretch to me. He murders the father because the father attacked him, which shows the others what they should expect if they fight back. He then sucks the woman’s blood and is done with her. There’s nothing there that implies anything sexual. It’s a tough sell to a marketing team because you have a character murdering a family on screen.
She goes on to talk about how you’re not even meant to sympathize with the victims because the woman is given neither a name nor a personality (for the sixty seconds or so that she’s there) and how because Dracula is the hero of an action game he is meant to be cool and so “any ambivalence about the hero is bound to feel superficial, and in the case of the Family Scene, gratuitous.” She ends by stating that she hopes they remove the family scene from the game before release, which in my opinion is the biggest mistake of the entire article.
Now I am by no means saying that these events, or anything that takes place in any game, is beyond criticism. I believe that everything is open to criticism, and I’m sure that most developers happily accept constructive criticism, but saying that something shouldn’t exist or just that “it’s not done well” is NOT constructive.
Essentially this entire piece can be condensed down to “Let developers and writers create what they feel fits into their vision of their game, and if it’s not done as well as it could be then help them to make it better next time.” We partake in one of the most fascinating mediums ever contrived. Don’t put it down, help to make it even better!