One moment - Metal Gear Solid 3
Posted by Matt at 15:03 on 08 Nov 2013
The world is a fast place. Constantly moving, always changing, and we awful smelly humans are all caught up in the rush. Anxious to get to the next place, forsaking time to just reflect on the things and moments around us, in order to keep the momentum going.
Videogames are often seen as an escape from reality, and by extension this race to self-fulfilling ends. But games are also becoming just as frantic and desperate to see you through to climax after climax without offering the time to meander and think about what is happening, and just what that means. The art of giving us as players a place to stop and think is a specialist one, and a rare treat that deserves a high creative value placed on it.
Metal Gear Solid 3 is perhaps my favourite game of all time. That doesn't mean I think it's the best, but it is the one whose story, characters and gameplay have resonated with me the most profoundly in my gaming life. Everything about it feels like a wonderful celebration of everything games can be: thrilling, profound, eccentric, funny, and touching. For all the criticism Hideo Kojima gets for his love of gargantuan cutscenes and the often incredibly silly storylines, the man knows how to create unforgettable, unique experiences. The series drips with the touch of a producer who genuinely loves his creation, and wants everyone else to rejoice in it. And despite what its detractors may say, it is a far cry from being a mere interactive movie.
One of the things MGS begs you to do is lose yourself in its world. To fully embrace the strange universe it takes place in, and allow yourself to care about it, and the characters whose lives play out within it. Even if at times it appears a bit mad and overtly surreal, that's just part of its personality. For the times where it seems to have lost its mind, it's just thinking with its heart. So many games in their bid to portray themselves and the industry as high brow, intelligent and deadly serious, lose the silly charms that made us love gaming in the first place. Metal Gear, in its silliness and sincerity, is still firmly in touch with its roots. And it makes us love it all the more for that.
Metal Gear Solid 3 also has those simple but magical moments where it lets you stop and reflect. Because of the sincere personality that underpins it, these moments resonate with you, and stay in your memory. They make you realise: you care deeply about what happens.
All it is is a ladder. Honestly, that's all it is. You climb a ladder. One that takes minutes to climb, and what all rational logic should say is a pointless inclusion. You've got nothing else to do but push up on the analogue stick and wait for Snake to reach the top. Just sit and wait. Then somewhere along the ascent, a woman gently sings the game's title song. No bombast, no orchestra; just the gentle voice hypnotising you, and reminding you of the story playing out around you, as you simply climb.
And in this moment your mind is urged to reflect on what's come before. Not least, the epic battle that directly preceded this moment. A long and tense battle with a legendary sniper. It can last for hours, across multiple areas and victory is not easily won. It's one of the best, most memorable boss battles in gaming. And the moment that follows is not a back-slapping, triumphant swagger. It's just a simple time for reflectance, with nothing but a gentle crooning to keep you moving up. It's one of the most understated, yet epic moments that I've experienced in a game, and it couldn't have been made by anyone who just doesn't get why videogames are special. It's a moment created by someone who understands the need for thought, rather than relentless progress. The hallmark of a designer who has enough faith in his audience that he knows they'll stay with him, and not become bored or irritated if things aren't constantly moving and dancing around them. How sad it is then to suppose that this trust between designer and player is an increasingly rare thing.
Nowhere is this perhaps more evident than in quick time events. Shallow, cynical engagements with the player that may as well be accompanied by onscreen text reading "hey, just making sure this bit that isn't exploding and shouting isn't also boring you to the point where you might just turn the game off." It's the product of fear that the people playing the game are unable to form a meaningful attachment to what they're experiencing without the constant stimulation of what are essentially jump scares. We are treated like children.
One of MGS3's final gameplay moments takes on the appearance of a quick time event. One button press to perform the most devastating action in the entire game. But there's no prompt. No time limit with an arbitrary punishment for not being tensely alert at all times. The game just waits for you.
"Think about what it is you're about to do," it urges.
There's no moral choice to undertake. You just press a button and the moment is over in your own time. Slowly you realise what you must do to advance the scene, and the game nods you along. You don't want to, it breaks your heart as you realise you have no choice. And the game is respectful and intelligent enough to not hound you for the action. It just sits back quietly, and lets you think before you go through with it. A final, loving goodbye, rather than a hurried, relieved victory of knee-jerk button jabs.
Metal Gear Solid 3 is a product of trust, intelligence, care, and love. Traits that gamers owe to themselves to cherish more, and seek out over the instant gratification and constant bombardment of noise and spectacle that the AAA gaming industry has found itself lost in.