Okay first I’d like to start by saying that if people are huge fans of Metal Gear Solid 4, that’s all fine and good, but these are my thoughts on what Metal Gear Solid 4 means for gaming in general so I apologize if you get offended. The reason is fairly simple and that is that Metal Gear Solid 4 is the latest forerunner of a gaming trend that seeks to turn games into more of the likes of interactive movies then actual gaming experiences.
There have been odd spikes in this trend such as the trilogy of “RPG’s” that were the Xenosaga franchise which I tried to get into but eventually just stopped playing once I realized that I had been going for 12 hours and fought maybe 20 battles tops. Seriously, I thought that was bad when we had save points in between cutscenes, but I didn’t sweat it much because I knew that Xenosaga was just a random occurence in the grand scheme of video game design that would eventually be forgotten about with the passage of time.
Metal Gear on the other hand is insanely popular and it’s director Hideo Kojima elevated to borderline living deity status by many gamers everywhere. I do not understand why, but I do understand this, that the Metal Gear franchise has ceased to truly be what I would consider a video game experience and has become more of a go from point a to point b and grab a cold one to WATCH the important parts of the game unfold type experience. Yeah that’s right, you get to watch some of the most important scenes that seek to expose all the mysteries surrounding the Patriots and their purpose, Snake’s battle with the Foxdie virus inside him, the “Future of War” etc. instead of getting to experience them first hand through your actions as the player.
8 and a half hours. What does that number mean? Is it the length of the game? No it’s the length of the goddamn cutscenes (not including the credits) that you will be getting a chance to “experience” through what some have hailed, much to my inability to understand, as one of the single most important moments in “gaming” brought to us by the visionary Hideo Kojima. “Gaming”….does that term even have the same definition it once held not even a few years ago? 7-10 hours? What does that number mean? That is the average span of time reported by gamers on their finished save file for MGS:4 for the time they spent playing, as in actually inputting commands. The game duration counter does not count time spent in cutscenes. Let’s do the math shall we, if we take 7 and subtract it by 8.5 what number do we get. The answer is -1.5. Now if we take 10 and subtract it by 8.5 we get 1.5. Now if we assume for a second that the median of the 7-10 hour average time spent playing the game is 8.5 (in this case I just took the middle number because I’m not here to argue a math lesson since I suck at it anyway), that would make the gameplay length versus cutscene length a 1:1 ratio with a variance of +/-1.5 hours. What does that tell us? There are three options here:
a) You are watching the game as much as playing it.
b) You are watching the game MORE than playing it.
c) Metal Gear Solid 4 is just barely more of a game then it is a movie.
Now why is this a problem to me? Well for starters I enjoy the media format of games as fully immersive and interactive experience unique from those of movies. There is two way communication between me as a player inputting commands and the game as a form of entertainment responding, reacting and in turn communicating back through whatever means it’s programming allows for. This usually results in many different possibilities to keep things fresh and exciting. Movies I enjoy as a one way form of communication, that is the director’s communication of his screenplay to me as a viewer as a form of entertainment. These two forms of entertainment that I enjoy have remained seperate for as long as I remember and now every year it seems like the line that seperates them is blurring.
Hideo Kojima may very well be thought of by many as an influential visionary with lots of interesting stories to tell, but I do not appreciate him telling them through the format of gaming and trying to pass them off as such. What alarms me even more is that this man is held up to such a stature and so revered that his style of “games” that are more like movies are likely to be copied or duplicated by other developers due to their wild success. This worries me because if Metal Gear Solid 4’s success that has made it the top selling game of this generation for Sony is any indication, this is just the beginning of the next level of the interactive movie passed of as a game trend.
This is something I don’t want to see. We left this idea behind during the era of the first CD-Rom Format games that were on the Sega-CD and 3D0. Does anyone remember games like Time Gal, Slam City with Scottie Pippen and other games that were basically more like interactive live action cutscenes that would switch the track depending on gamer input? Well I never thought I’d say this, but those look almost appetizing to me compared to having to wade through overlong and frankly in my opinion overwrought cutscenes before getting a shot at the gameplay engine.
Hideo Kojima and Metal Gear Solid 4 to me, have now, with their runway success, just opened the door to allowing game designers to get away with laziness. If they see (and I think it’s a safe bet the will) that a game can sell extremely well as long as it has glossy cutscenes and a high profile then they will keep it up. I’m personally not ready to see the line between movies and games blur forever, but seeing as how Metal Gear Solid 4 is now the best selling PS3 game ever and FFXIII (by Square, whose games I frequently enjoy, but who I also have issues with for overkilling on cutscenes) is sure to be the next, I think I’m starting to see the trend that will define a significant portion of the seventh generation of Video Games. While I don’t think of course that the end of video games as we know them are on the horizion, I think the 1:1 ratio style “VIDEO game” is about to become more prominent. That’s why I think Metal Gear Solid 4 in the long run will prove to be bad for gaming as I know and love it.