Sometimes killing two birds with one stone is not a good idea. Last week, was one of those times. In my previous post concerning Condemned: Criminal Origins I attempted to describe why despite all of it’s strengths the game failed to grab me. I used a phrase I made up, “Kojima Syndrome” to explain why I felt the game, specifically the narrative, did not work for me, and in re-reading my post I feel that I didn’t really get across what I was trying to say. I’d like to clarify and explore a little more in depth what I meant by “Kojima Syndrome”.
“Kojima Syndrome” occurs when those who write stories for video games create characters, situations, or plotlines that rely on the bombastic and outrageous to create interest in the player. Hideo Kojima, director/head honcho of the Metal Gear series, created an intricate and sometimes overwrought yet interesting narrative about war economies, patriotism, and all manner of political commentary. It’s in my opinion really pretty riveting stuff. Kojima also made sure to include giant robots, ninjas and pocket nukes. It’s all bombast and what I like to call “aww-shit” moments to make gamers perk up and pay attention, and in the case of Metal Gear Solid it sort of works. It’s obvious that Kojima cares enough about his universe to make things mostly cohesive, and give some form of explanation to why a traitorous covert soldier would have access to a miniature nuclear warhead in the 1960s.
Despite all of the care that goes into making these stylish indulgent flourishes fit within the game’s context, Kojima is still appealing to all of our low brow tendencies. In a trait shared mostly with Hollywood movies, videogame writing seems to use these “aww-shit” devices as a crutch, a way of saying, “our literate and well considered treatise on modern war isn’t enough and we may lose some of our public unless we include something gnarly that will show up on screen and make those who would normally skip a cut-scene finally pay attention.
I don’t hold anything against Hideo Kojima, and in fact have enjoyed the narrative and occasionally the gameplay in most of the Metal Gear Solid series, I just use him as an example of the way many video game writers seem to be approaching their craft. Many games for a long time have been nailing nuance and subtlety over bombast and spectacle for the hell of it for quite a while, see Ico, Shadow of the Colossus, even Super Metroid. However, I still feel talked down to when a lot of game narratives make something happen just to look cool without setting the proper tone, or foreshadowing the event. It feels immature and superfluous. I thought that Condemned: Criminal Origins was a great example of this, as I loved the atmosphere and art direction, but felt that the narrative hurt the overall experience.
It also should be said, that I as much as the next guy love completely over the top action and buckets of blood. I just want it delivered to me in the proper context. I always thought Suda 51 of Grasshopper Manufacture fame was great at this, he understands the importance of developing interesting characters and stories that fit in the irreverent world’s he creates. Suda understands tone and the importance of a cohesive whole. He makes me believe that Travis Touchdown is the kind of guy who would fight a school girl with a wannabe lightsaber. Hideo Kojima, for his part, also does a good job at this. It’s just unfortunate that so many other writers latch on to the boom of the dynamite without remembering that it takes a fuse and a bunch of gunpowder to get there. Those writers suffer from “Kojima Syndrome”
If you’ve made it with me this far, thank you for indulging me as fumbled around with an explanation for something I did last week, I’m working on this blogging thing and hopefully with some time I’ll get there. I’m currently playing through the Resident Evil Series and hope to have something to say regarding narrative and characterization as well as the new direction the series has taken over the last five years. I’m also trying to resist the urge to play more Halo: Reach so that I can get through them a bit quicker.
Just in case you want to help me procrastinate, my gamertag is dkinnaley.