the artistry and psychology of gaming


Could the MGS Series Make a Good Movie?

Could the MGS Series Make a Good Movie?

This article is related to two previous installments on the Controller and the Lamp. Read the the other articles here , here and here.

Last week we discussed if Heavy Rain Could make a good movie; and if its greatness as a game stemmed from its movie-like characteristics; and if the label “interactive movie” was accurate. The answer was, as you may recall, no. Now let’s talk about another game which has been repeatedly called a “movie”, an “interactive movie” or “movie-like”, and that’s the Metal Gear Solid series. There are many reasons to that; but I’m going to prove in this article that this too is a mistake; and the Metal Gear Solid series are great only when they are interpreted as video games and not movies.

But why these games in this franchise have been to compared to video games so frequently? Well, there are many reasons. Firstly, and I think most importantly, are the cut-scenes. They’re long, elaborate, and “cinematic”. Fewer games force you to put down your controller down and watch the screen for so long. One of the most infamous such cutscenes is the (almost) one hour long ending of MGS2. Secondly, both the story and the gameplay are completely linear and this enforces the sense of watching a movie rather than playing a video game.

I have to admit here; MGS games are the most cinematic video games of all times. That still doesn’t mean that they’re interactive movies or even would work as a movie. Using the techniques usually typical to other genres is a tried and true artistic strategy. The plays of George Bernard Shaw are very similar to a novel, while the novels and short stories of Ernest Hemingway are very close to theater. The verse of Walt Whitman sounds like prose while the prose of D. H. Lawrence sounds like poetry. But the ultimate factor is that these works of art remain true to their genre although they wink at other ones.

And MGS games are not only cinematic. They’re also theatrical and literary. It seems that MGS is a franchise which uses all other genres but ultimately ends up as a video game. Like a chemical reaction. All because of one rather crazy genius.

Hideo Kojima. One day this name will be in the textbooks, alongside Picaso and Shakespeare.

 Kojima flirted with all the different other arts before coming to video games. At first he wanted to be an artist, but the fact that his uncle was an artist who struggled with financial problems discouraged him. He then tried to become a writer, but none of his stories were accepted by the magazines. He then seriously turned into film making, but that didn’t work out as well. His years of flirting with fine arts, literature and cinema haven’t gone to waste, as he exhibits all the positive aspects of these mediums in his games. Great landscapes and an eye for correct picture, moving and deep dialogues, and exciting and awesomely directed cutscenes are all features he has borrowed from outside the gaming world.

But then why call these games pure games? Well, there are some points and I’m going to address them below.

Just as you can’t compliment a book for its great decoupage, there are things one can find only in a game. Awesome gameplay for starters. The gameplay of this franchise is simply one of the greatest of all times. The gameplay and story are completely intertwined and impossible to separate. The gameplay sequences precede cinematic scenes intelligently and in a calculated way and they enforce each other.

I have already quoted Samuel Taylor Coleridge in these articles; but now I’m going to throw in the most important concept of his (will definitely read about it later in my feature) with which he practically invented literary criticism as we know it today. The concept is organic unity. Put simply, you can’t remove a single part of a poem without affecting its whole. The same goes for MGS; which nothing describes it better than any other term.

The gameplay is lame without the story; and the story is meaningless without the gameplay. Because the story becomes so intriguing when it goes along the gameplay and the gameplay is meaningful when it is enriched by the story. When you play the game and do the missions and fight the bosses, these are meaningful and not random acts, and this makes you enjoy the gameplay even more. The story sometimes injects a sense of urgency into the gameplay which again, makes it more exciting. You feel all ranges of emotion while playing the game and that’s because of the story.

The same can be said about the story. The story sequences are enforced by the gameplay. You care more for the characters as you interact with them on your codec or fight with them in battles. A breathtaking fight or gameplay sequence makes the story even more appealing and personal.

A movie cannot achieve any of these things; neither awesome gameplay, nor story and gameplay immersion.

Plus, technically speaking, the games have been groundbreaking. Their graphics was the best for the times they came out, their sound, music, and voice acting spectacular; their physics way ahead of their time. All of these things usually mean nothing, but the amount of care and loving and artistry and craft which has gone into them makes them an artistic achievement in their own rights, and therefore missing them will harm the game. Again, the organic unity.

Obviously, a movie is deprived of all of these things.

As I was getting the feedback for this article, a friend of mine, with the username Easegooshee, mention a very interesting point. Let me quote him directly from our forums:

One of the biggest reasons that Metal Gear Solid would not make a good movie: the way that the MGS series breaks the fourth wall.

Movies and television, for the most part, can only break the fourth wall by having a character look at the camera like Bugs Bunny and say “Ain’t I a stinker?” They will do this for a quick laugh or two, and then it’s on with the show. But with Metal Gear Solid, bulldozing the fourth wall is a quintessential part of the experience. Kojima has elevated this to an art form, playing with our expectations in a way that only a truly interactive medium (like video games) can. Sure, the MGS characters will occasionally wink at the audience for no other reason than to elicit a chuckle (the “Blu Ray” conversation in Act 4 of MGS4 comes to mind) but there are a lot of times in which taking a sledgehammer to the fourth wall is integrated into the gameplay itself.

(This paragraph contains minor spoilers for Metal Gear Solid 1)
As an example, there is the famous Psycho Mantis fight in MGS1, in which he reads your memory card and evades your attacks unless you plug your controller into the second port. That seems kinda goofy now that everyone knows about it, but back in the day it really got into the players’ heads. And that’s the kind of thing that can only happen in a game. A movie will never comment on specific films in your DVD collection, or ask you to fast-forward the disc with the VCR remote.

(This paragraph contains minor spoilers for Metal Gear Solid 3, as well as the film Se7en)
Metal Gear Solid 3 contains two of my favorite boss fights of all time (The End and The Sorrow) because of the way they warp the very notion of player interactivity. As you probably know, The End can be defeated by turning off your PS2 and waiting a couple weeks (or just setting the internal clock ahead), at which point he will have died of old age. Alternately, you have the opportunity to snipe him directly after an earlier cutscene. In the film Se7en, turning off the movie for a while will not cause John Doe to get bored and turn himself in early, and no matter how many times you tell him to, Brad Pitt will never arrest John Doe the first time he meets him. That’s just not how movies work, but it’s something that can be explored through video games. Regarding The Sorrow, that boss “fight” involves evading the ghosts of every person you’ve killed up to that point. There are several dozen enemy soldiers up to that point, which means there are several dozen life/death decisions that you have made, and several dozen times that you have directly altered the reality of the game. I don’t even need to explain why that can’t happen in a movie.

So while a movie can maybe get some fingerprints on the fourth wall, or perhaps crack it a bit, only a video game can demolish the fourth wall as thoroughly, creatively and entertainingly as the Metal Gear Solid series has.

As you can see; the game scale is much heavier than the cinema scale. MGS games are complete games, and they would lose everything as a movie.

There are few games which one can call complete; an obvious choice for the best game of the all time. Don’t degrade it by calling it a movie. I mean, yes, movies are a fabulous form of art. But as it would be degrading to call a movie a video game; it’d be degrading to call such a great video game a movie. Respect your masterpieces.

Plus, it makes no sense.

Next Week: I’m still not done with this subject! Next week we will take a look at some terrible movies based on video games, asking, what did they miss?

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