Posted by: Alephwyr | December 15, 2011

Metal Gear Rising: Thoughts and Impressions


That feeling you just felt was the voice of a million fanboys crying out in terror.  This video at the moment stands at a ratio of roughly 3:2 for likes vs dislikes, and IGN (while admittedly a joke of a website) even ran an article saying that Rising will destroy the series.  Which is of course absurd, as it implies that MGS4 didn’t already do the job.  That is what makes all of these fanboy outbursts truly precious.  I have had ambivalent feelings about Metal Gear Solid 3 for some time now, but I’m beginning to realize that it was both a swan-song and an ultimatum.  Both MGS1 and MGS2 had important messages about personal agency and meaning, established against the backdrop of both individual lives and social phenomenon, which were used to prove the existence of freedom by suggesting the possibility of its antithesis.  However, in MGS3, the death of The Boss; both narratively and ludologically; signals the death of the series.  The player is forced to kill her by the mission, by the requirements of the game, and even by the mechanics of the game if they prove too stubborn to follow through.  The essential message here is “Fuck it.  Forget all that stuff about personal freedom.  You’re a puppet and that’s all you ever will be”.  It comes at the end of a game which is much less bleak in general.  Without being actualized, the insult can’t really be extended to the point it subsumes the series.  Of course, then Guns of the Patriots comes along and you literally play as a puppet.  The ending of MGS3 was a threat, and then MGS4 was its execution.  With extremely rare exception, this flew over the heads of the so-called fanbase and the gaming press alike, who lauded the game with perfect scores all around.

The joke went ignored because of a fundamental flaw in the way the average person “reads” games.  The story of a game rarely has primary significance to a player.  Instead, it’s an aesthetic; an embellishment which exists only to enable and contextualize the actions of the player.  This is why the average player doesn’t care whether they’re playing as a puppet or a person.  They just need an excuse to get to the next goal, and they don’t dwell overly long on the implications.  This of course explains the commonality of the “puppet” trope.  It is easy to write consistently, and in a way which works with the aesthetic of a game.  The result is a lot of subtly dehumanized characters, from Gordon Freeman to the Bioshock protagonist to the entire crew of Mother 3.  The MGS series has suffered from its need to be commercially appealing.  Instead of remaining an effective vehicle for important messages, it’s been forced to acquiesce to complaints from 30 year old manchildren that “Raiden is too girly”, that the gameplay isn’t enough like Call of Duty or Battlefield, that the plot is too complicated, etc.  MGS4 was the death of authorial control.  It was a finely tuned modern shooter with minor stealth elements which turned Raiden into an excuse for stylish cutscenes and which reduced the plot to “The patriots control everything and everything is nanomachines”.  Sure, the cutscenes were twice as long, and equally portentous (and pretentious) despite now lacking substance of any kind, but that was just part of the joke.  It was too subtle though.  This is why I love Rising.  This is why Rising exists.  It is the progeny of the same sense of humor as MGS4, but dumbed down for the target audience.

We are living in the shadow of MGS4.  Metal Gear Rising takes all the stupidity of the previous game and presents it without the trappings.  MGS4 was an enabler, like the friend who encourages you to drink well past the point of cogency at any event where alcohol is present.  Rising is more like the friend who overdoses after injecting a speedball and leaves you realizing how hollow, fleeting and superficial your lifestyle is.  The reaction of the fanbase to Rising is a colossal case of missing the point.  It’s a few hundred thousand people saying “Substance abuse is bad, and some people would drag me down into it, and I don’t want any bad influences in my life.  Only alcoholics”.  I say fuck that.  I personally love the hell out of excess when it serves as a form of honesty, and that’s exactly what Metal Gear Rising is shaping up to be.  It eschews hypocrisy in favor of toxicity.  It’s not the game the fanbase needs, but it’s the one it deserves.  Of course nobody gets it.  They don’t understand the way in which it’s a reaction to its predecessor; the way in which it’s effectively required by it, in fact.  The series was beloved by its nominal fanbase not for its content but for appearances.  In MGS4, the content was removed without anyone noticing.  Now with rising, the aesthetics are changed slightly, and suddenly everyone is going “where did my content go!???”  This would be hilarious, in much the same capacity as tricking a dog into chasing a non-existent ball, if not for the fact that it corresponds to the death of a series.  Hell, honestly it’s funny anyway.

– Jessica Evans


  1. Wow, you give MGS a hell of a lot of credit. Baring a few gaming moments I’ve found the series to be the most hand holding of all games, to the point I find them unplayable.

    Good point about the puppet trope, it is easier to explain it away that reason that you are on tight rails is that you are controlled with no real choice over the outcome.

    However, I never really felt that Metal Gear rose above that, I am no expert so I’d be interested for you to cite your reasons. For non-linear story telling, where decisions the player makes clearly have an impact on the game world, I would rather play Dead Rising or Way of the Samurai. For games that tell stories without relying on traditional film methods I would rather play Dark Souls, or even Condemned: Criminal Origins.

  2. Your analysis of MGS4 as a joke reminds me of “dreaming in an empty room”, although minus the nihilism. 😛 And yeah, it’s kind of true, MGS4 was a cop-out considering how the patriots were handled. Now sure, Margaret Mead tells us that we must not believe anything else than that what changes stuff in the world is half a dozen of people burning for their thing (thus urging us to get off our butts and do something), but this whole man-against-man business got funky indeed, and the political ramifications went out the window. This text sums it up well:

    Also, I’ve been thinking about the message of doing stuff for oneself, learning to be more than a soldier/pawn in the series, it’s kind of conflicted. Now that you said that MGS3 had no such ambitions, I’m thinking back to Sartre and Fromm and their contesting point of views. For Fromm, it was better to “be” than “have”, and one should aim for putting ones will towards specific things, while for Sartre commitment was the most important thing, no matter what one does. This rings very much like Snake. And that sounds good and all, but already in MGS1 I was asking myself, is this not so because of the noir setting/universe which is presented/Kojima lives in? In a world where you can’t trust anyone or any politician especially, you can’t seriously take apart whatevers out there, only commitment and/or enjoyment would count. On the other hand, this is not the only message that gets across, but I do see some of those cynic tendencies in the games.

  3. I wouldn’t describe that as cynicism so much as existential purism. It comes from what Sartre argues is the nature of human consciousness rather than from any specific idealism or practical concern. Thanks for the post.

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