While it’s normal to go into one’s 30th birthday with a sense of dread, it’s jarring to see the adage apply to a video game series. Especially one as dear to people as the Metal Gear franchise.
Through the community of fans for these games, I have met several people whom are dear to me, as well as a few whom are the opposite of dear. But, it all happened because a story about war, clones, cyborg ninjas and cardboard boxes shaped how we understand the world around us. It’s hard to explain why the exploits of a handful of fictional dudes using the codename Snake can have such a lasting place in so many people’s hearts.
Video games are rather remarkable, considering the rapid technological and narrative growth in a medium just a few decades old. While this accounts for the imagination, even wonderment of developers and consumers alike, the constant growing pains also account for a great deal of the toxicity we’ve all experienced. Imagine a storyteller like George R.R. Martin, with his savvy and talent for complex narratives. Now, imagine him emerging within the first few decades of the written novel as a medium being invented, and you have an idea of what Metal Gear creator Hideo Kojima brought to the world of gaming.
On July 13th, 1987, Metal Gear was released for the MSX2 system, and was one of the earliest video games to feature an overarching and cohesive narrative. As the series developed into the gorgeous and convoluted tangle of plots we know and love, it reflected – and pioneered – development in the gaming industry. Often, the gameplay and story showed signs of the times, but just as often showed how ahead of his time Kojima was.
As an artist, Kojima constantly tries to push boundaries, and it is both his best and worst trait. He came up with mechanics and plot twists that stunned us, and made many of us realize the potential of gaming as a storytelling medium. There’s nary a fan among us who didn’t have a “holy shit” moment at things like switching the controller plugs to beat Psycho Mantis, or the amazement and frustration at the reveal of new characters like Raiden.
Kojima is also a part of many people’s very complicated relationship with gaming, including conflicts with Metal Gear’s publishers, Konami. The fallout between artist and his employers is still bemoaned by fans and the subject of debate regarding business ethics. As evidenced from the unceremonious dismissal of Snake’s English voice actor, fan favourite David Hayter, and the reports of swan song Metal Gear Solid V going over budget, Kojima did allow his artistic vision to impede upon professional courtesy. Needing to recoup financially, Konami severed ties with Kojima in a frankly ugly fashion, and have taken the franchise in directions that do not sit well with many fans.
After releasing The Phantom Pain before the game’s concluding missions were rendered and added to to the final version of the game, the company went on to cancel the highly-anticipated Silent Hills project, announce Metal Gear Survive, a zombie shooter tie-in to the franchise (as if the gaming industry doesn’t already have those coming out the ears), and then used the FOX engine to re-animate cut scenes from Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater…to be used in a pachislot machine. To take some of the most revered aspects of the series and use them to create a gimmicky product without thanks to the series creator is simply a waste of potential, as well as a disrespect to the artists that have been involved in the franchise over the years.
It’s easy to default to sneering at gamers and simply assume that the outrage at Konami is a case of fan entitlement. However, given the company’s less than stellar behaviour, including forcibly isolating Kojima from his colleagues and barring him from attendance at the 2015 Game Awards, some anger in the fandom may be justified.
So, what have we got to look forward to on the 30th birthday of one of the biggest titles in the gaming industry? How is the occasion being marked? The Official Metal Gear Twitter is busy with activity from fans showing love through fanart, cosplay and more, but it’s unlikely that we’ll hear any announcements that will truly make fans happy in the wake of Kojima/Konami falling out. On what should be a day where fans and developers alike feel proud of how far the medium has come, there’s a sense of being adrift. Maybe it’s our own fault for falling in love with the legend that these games have become.
Then again, maybe corporate recognition isn’t what we need. Each one of us whom is a fan has a story about our lives being touched by these crazy bonkers games. Our emotional experiences come to a sum that is much greater than the pains of executive meddling. No matter how much it hurts to see the things we love become zombiefied disappointments, it can never replace the good kinds of pain we felt crawling through microwave corridors or watching Mother Base blow up. Like Otacon at the end of Metal Gear Solid 4, we are empowered to tell the story, too. Just don’t make a super-weapon and then pee yourselves, guys.