These are the things I will pass on
Creative mediums are powerful tools, especially video games. Most of us are already intimately familiar with that fact. I mean, you’re on a video game website, you probably wouldn’t be reading this if you weren’t interested in video games. Yet other outlets cycle between praising and demonizing them. It’s obvious that this site and its community are always pro-games, but we support them for so many reasons we’d be here all day if we just put those reasons into a listicle. Instead, I’m highlighting one moment in video game storytelling that explains why games support our future.
Hideo Kojima capped off Metal Gear Solid 2 with a profound speech about how art matters to humanity. In some ways, this moment can be seen as a corny Aesop delivery. Yet it speaks a truth we often take for granted… and somehow, it’s even more relevant to us today than it was then. So today would be a good day to dissect this speech and how it illustrates the positive power of games and other media.
And quick heads up, as the title says, this whole thing is about major spoilers in Metal Gear Solid 2! The game’s almost two decades old, we know, but this is your common courtesy spoiler warning.
Life isn’t just about passing on your genes. We can leave behind much more than just DNA. Through speech, music, literature, and movies… what we’ve seen, heard, felt… anger, joy, and sorrow… these are the things I will pass on. That’s what I live for.
Kojima is known for producing games similarly as he would movies. He’s known for emphasizing his games’ cutscenes as much as, if not sometimes more than, their actual gameplay. From Metal Gear to Snatcher and beyond, he’s primarily thought of as a storyteller even though he’s a game director.
While they’re never mentioned by name in this script, Kojima surely intended for games to be included in this grouping of art mediums. He’s already passed on so much joy through Metal Gear’s comedy, so much sorrow with its drama, and so much anger with its conflicts. This is a statement on Kojima’s inspiration, and it sets up the meaning of (one of) the game’s bizarre plot twist(s).
For as long as history can remember, we’ve passed our experiences onto future generations through mediums like these. Books taught us about the mistakes and accomplishments of our forefathers. Black and white television gave us various glimpses into the cultural strengths and flaws of the past century. Tribes told stories to their children. Renaissance artists gave image to history and myths. Fictional literature used what-if scenarios to probe into real-life issues.
Today, we have all of those options, and so many more, to record and share our experiences and values. Video games are also a part of that.
We need to pass the torch, and let our children read our messy and sad history by its light. We have all the magic of the digital age to do that with.
The digital age has given us more power than we’ve ever had before. We have the power to instantly find libraries of information from anywhere in our homes, or from the palm of our hand. It’s so commonplace to many of us that we take it for granted, but the truth is, it’s an incredible gift that we’re still learning how to properly wield. Its misuse, more often than not, comes from distorting the meaning or context behind content. As Snake puts it here, that means using it properly requires us to bare this information in a clear light.
Interactive documentaries like Valiant Hearts: The Great War showcase the darkest parts of our history to prevent us from repeating them. Fantasy stories like Gravity Rush accentuate their heartwarming moments by making the player oppose so much maliciousness to reach them. Did the presence of the Bakers in Resident Evil 7 lead to a worldwide spike in violence against hillbillies? Pretty sure it didn’t, because players know how to separate extraordinary scenarios from real-life parallels.
Showcasing an action, a belief, and so on doesn’t mean endorsing it. Only people can endorse things. What these products themselves do is show information, nothing more, nothing less. It’s our responsibility to interpret that information as what it actually is, whether or not that fits the author’s intention. That may mean taking it at face value. That may mean opposing it. That may mean iterating upon its ideas.
Technology is allowing us to reach out towards and interact with peers we never would meet otherwise. It’s given us the opportunity to create and share the depths of our minds with others. The Internet has enriched so many of our lives by allowing us not only to access more information, but to create and share it. These things have always been difficult, but with our current technology, it’s almost effortless by comparison.
This is why content creators have become so popular in the digital age. Now, anyone can leave their mark on the world by writing a story, recording a video, drawing art, programming an application, and more. It’s truly incredible how much each one of us can add to human culture with this power, and the climax of MGS2 revolves around protecting the sanctity of that power.
The human race will probably come to an end some time, and new species may rule over this planet. Earth may not be forever, but we still have the responsibility to leave what traces of life we can. Building the future and keeping the past alive are one and the same thing.
Keeping the past alive, as our most solid snake puts it, is necessary to comprehend and learn from past generations. When we’re no longer around to teach our successors ourselves, only the things we leave behind can help them build a better future. Creative media is far more helpful for them than anything else we can leave for them, as nothing else speaks louder or clearer.
In every way imaginable, our futures are shaped by our pasts. To neglect the past and allow it to be forgotten is to doom ourselves to repeat our worst mistakes. To acknowledge the past and study it is to reassure ourselves that the future can and will be better, provided we act on that knowledge.
Video games are not the first medium to be demonized for violence, and they most likely won’t be the last. After all, everything before them — films, television, comics, literature, art — went through the same thing. They all still exist, and are stronger than ever, because we know the importance of making them stronger. Sharing ideas is how we prepare future generations to become better than us.
Games shape who we are, not because we’re easily impressionable, but because they’re rich with so much to learn. They help us understand ourselves. They help us understand the world. They help us understand each other. Media gives us information to bounce off of, and we use that information to develop ourselves. Information technology is meant to provide enough context for users to come to informed decisions.
We keep talking about video games because video games do us so much good. We know that talking about them does us even more good. That’s why we blog like this, to generate discussion and develop our understanding of these topics beyond just the blog itself. That’s why Destructoid branched out into Flixist and Japanator, to do the same with similar passions.
The passion that creators pour into these mediums help us grow as people. Kojima understood that. That’s why MGS2‘s plot changes from a fight to save the world to a fight to save the creative freedom of the Internet. That’s why he ended such a game with this speech. That’s only one of many reasons why games are helping us build a better future.