Post-Modernism: A Solid Snake

I believe that video games are art, and therefore always enjoy comparisons between games and more “traditional” art forms and associated trends. This would include post-modernism, a movement that can described as: “often funny, tongue-in-cheek or ludicrous; it can be confrontational and controversial, challenging the boundaries of taste; but most crucially, it reflects a self-awareness of style itself(Tate, 2006). Could we observe this trend in video¬† games?

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Call of Duty: MW2 “No Russian” (No Russian, no date)

Controversy, a key element of post-modernism, is something the gaming industry is familiar with. Indeed, video games have had their share of controversies around violence, sexualisation of characters, or more generally sensitive themes – see the Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 mission “No Russian” (‘No Russian’, no date) for an edifying example where the player has to kill civilians.

However I’m more interested in another important element of post-modernism: the self-awareness and subversion of its own tropes. Now, where have I seen these themes in a game before?

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Raiden… or yourself? (Model Raiden, no date)

Let’s examine Metal Gear Solid, a long-running stealth/action series, created by the ever-controversial game designer Hideo Kojima. What do you expect when starting its anticipated second PlayStation instalment, Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty? Everything the trailers and artwork promised: polished missions, main protagonist Solid Snake on top form, streamlined tutorials for fans of the series, and more of the same. And that’s exactly what is delivered – until the end of the first mission. As mission 1 reaches its conclusion, Solid Snake dies and you control rookie character Raiden… for the rest of the game. The game also removes several gameplay options and adds new, very detailed tutorials.

Once the player recovers from the shock, they then realise that there is more to the main character than meets the eye. It’s all in the game’s dialogue, and here are some of my favourite game design nuggets, courtesy of the MGS Wikia (‘Fourth Wall’, 2014):

 

  • [In first person view mode] If the player looks up while outside, seagull droppings may splatter on the screen
  • [In-game characters] make cryptic messages, urging the player to turn off the console, saying lines from previous games – Metal Gear, Metal Gear 2, Metal Gear Solid, VR Missions and Ghost Babel, and famously spouting gibberish. At one point, [a character] even specifically refers to Raiden’s situation as a “role-playing game.”
  • Just before Raiden throws away his dog tags at the end of the game, they display the information that the player entered at the beginning of [a chapter of the game].
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Hideo Kojima, man of mystery (Kojima, no date)

To the attentive player, the game slowly becomes a “meta-game”: a game about the player playing a game. The game is self-aware in that Raiden / the player’s role is situated firmly outside of the game world; it also gently mocks the player for getting too involved, and sends regular reminders that this is not real.

Hideo Kojima famously resented making a follow-up to the first PlayStation Metal Gear Solid. Could we jump to the conclusion that he therefore created a self-mocking parody of the series he did not want to continue? Subversion of its own genre, confrontational and controversial decisions that will challenge the player’s loyalty (and possibly enjoyment) of the series… The jury is out on Kojima’s motivations, but we can safely say that MGS2: Sons of Liberty has all the hallmarks of a post-modernist game – players be damned!


References:

‘Fourth wall’ (2014) Metal Gear Wikia. Available at: http://metalgear.wikia.com/wiki/Fourth_wall (Accessed 17 October 2016)

Kojima (no date) [image]. Available at: http://cdn-static.denofgeek.com/sites/denofgeek/files/6/64//kojima-main.jpg (Accessed: 17 October 2016)

‘No Russian’ (no date) Call of Duty Wiki. Available at: http://callofduty.wikia.com/wiki/No_Russian (Accessed: 17 October 2016)

No Russian (no date) [image]. Available at: http://vignette2.wikia.nocookie.net/callofduty/images/8/82/No_Russian_menu_image_MW2.png/revision/latest?cb=20130221215405 (Accessed 17 October 2016)

Model Raiden (no date) [image]. Available at: http://vignette1.wikia.nocookie.net/metalgear/images/9/9f/Model_Raiden.jpg/revision/latest/scale-to-width-down/180?cb=20091019140715 (Accessed 17 October 2016)

Tate (2006) Postmodernism. Available at: http://www.tate.org.uk/learn/online-resources/glossary/p/postmodernism (Accessed: 17 October 2016)

Featured Image:

Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty (no date) [image]. Available at: http://www.destructoid.com//ul/323446-/metal_gear_solid_2_sons_of_liberty-1920×1080.jpg (Accessed: 17 October 2016)

 

 

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What is Games Design?

When I tell people I study games design, I usually get a positive reaction: “Oh that’s great! So… It’s about making good games, right?”. Well, is it?

Games design is one of these disciplines that most people understand, but struggle to define. “Making good games”, “coming-up with concepts”, “owning the game experience”… What’s the right way to break it down, and is there one and only way to do so?

This is a question I will be discussing in my Contextual and Theoretical Studies, a module exploring the social context and influence surrounding games, related societal issues (diversity, violence, addiction, crunch, advertising), the components that make a game, the concepts of flow and magic circle, gaming history, and last but not least: the “WHY” behind making games.

My first session this week focused on some initial questions to get us thinking. Here are my notes from the front.

List different types/kind/genres of computer games

RPGs, FPS, platformers, MOBAs, Horror, Strategy, Puzzle, Music, MMOs.

This sparked a larger discussion on the subject: how do we know the genre of the game we’re looking at? Several clues could be in:

  • Gameplay – levelling-up? Likely to be an RPG. Massively multiplayer? You’re in an MMO.
  • Visuals – platforms or guns? (or both, I guess?)
  • Sound – epic RPG strings? Or the silence of a horror game?
  • Audience – who is this game for? Is it listed in the 3+ section of an App store? Or the “Dark Souls-like” lists on Steam?

Define Games Design as a practice/act using full sentences (50 words)

Games design is a practice that involves creating interactive content for games, be it mechanics, levels, narrative scripting, or engagement strategies. Games design looks into creating a meaningful experience for the player by ensuring consistency between gameplay, art, sound, and narrative. It also involves managing a feedback loop between the development team and the player (prototypes, play-testing).

List other design disciplines with relationships to games design

Colour theory, UI, physical interface, etc.

Finally, list the 10 most important games to date

Here’s what my team came-up with – note that these are the 10 most important, not our 10 favourites!

  1. Super Mario Bros
  2. Final Fantasy VII
  3. Crash Bandicoot – we picked this as our most important as it ushered in the 3D platforming/PlayStation era. One we all remember fondly! (also, Mario was taken…)
  4. Doom
  5. Counter Strike 1.6
  6. Guitar Hero
  7. World of Warcraft
  8. Tetris
  9. Silent Hill
  10. Minecraft

Extra Thinking

The genre question is actually a little deeper and trickier than it looks. I looked back on my genres I allocated in my Steam library – then compared my list to two friends’. They list Civilization as a God-Like, I list is as Strategy. For me, Alien: Isolation is an Action/FPS. For others, it’s Horror/Survival or FPS. Are indie games Indie as a genre? Is BioShock an Action/RPG, or an FPS? Or all of it? Who is correct – or is there such a thing as a “true/correct” classification? Hard to say. There is also the consideration that games increasingly mix genres, by adding levelling-up stats to FPS, shooting to RPGs, puzzles to RTS, etc. TV tropes has an interesting entry about these sub-genres – and I have a feeling this list is far from comprehensive. Maybe genres are the new job titles – they look nice and final on paper but they don’t always show the whole truth.


Soundbites

  • “There are exceptional games but nothing exceptional about games”
  • “This subject is more about raising interesting questions than finding all the answers”
  • “Is games design the same than games development?” (this one really gave me food for thought)
  • “With games, under-promise and over-deliver” (this came after a [heated] discussion on No Man’s Sky. No comment!)