The Moral Conflict of Ground Zeroes, or: The Springsteen Analogy
By Zack Wheat on January 22nd, 2014 (27 comments)
Have you ever listened to Darkness on the Edge of Town?
It’s an album by Bruce Springsteen, released when he was in his prime and right off of the massively successful Born to Run and The Wild, The Innocent & the E Street Shuffle. It was brilliant, to be blunt, but it didn’t sell like the aforementioned hits did.
Darkness on the Edge of Town was his “dark” album, you see. People don’t like the dark stuff. It can be scary and confusing and it certainly isn’t welcome when one is expecting a rollicking good time.
I’ve thought about that album a lot lately as I reflect upon the upcoming release of Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes.
I really, really love the Metal Gear franchise. It even says so in my signature, so long as you are not reading this from a future in which I have edited that signature. (Note: If you are from the future, please tell me who wins the Super Bowl.)
Microsoft made the “bold” move of opening their E3 2013 conference with a trailer for Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain, here referred to as “bold” in quotation marks because it was odd to open the conference with a game that was also coming out on two of their competitor’s consoles. The trailer itself is bold (in the proper, non-sarcastic way), bringing to a classically linear genre an open world and a full day/night cycle.
Shortly after the conference, Kojima Productions and Konami released an uncensored “red band” trailer, and things became conflicted.
This trailer was raw, opening with scenes of brutal torture and quickly cutting to a drawn-out scene of men digging through the intestines of a still-conscious young girl as she writhes in agony, eventually removing a package from within her. If you are faint of heart and have not seen the trailer, I recommend sticking with the “standard” release. You’ll still get the gist of things.
Upon viewing this trailer, I called up my girlfriend. She knows my fanaticism of this franchise, and I needed to express a great deal of conflict which had suddenly welled up in my gut.
“I don’t think I can do this,” I said.
She asked what I can’t do.
“Metal Gear Solid V. I'm not, you know… as a consumer, I’m not obligated to spend money on something I don’t want to experience.”
She asked what I don’t want to experience.
“Pulling bombs out of kids,” I replied.
This came before the mess that accompanied imagery and discussion of the Quiet character, a silent and buxom female sniper clad in what appears to be barely enough fabric to piece together a curtain. At this time, I took the path of being more affected by violent content than sexual content (a surprisingly rare viewpoint), which was a big enough issue on its own.
I now post a question: While a consumer has every right to not spend money on something they don’t wish to experience, what if that experience is designed to provoke revulsion?
Saving Private Ryan is not a Super Fun Time Action Comedy, but it is widely considered a gripping depiction of war and is thus worthy of viewing. Is that the intention? It’s hard to say now, roughly two months before the release of Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes.
For me, it all comes down to how. How is brutal violence depicted? Is it used in place of quality storytelling as a means of manipulating strong emotions in the viewer? Or is it delivered brutally but honestly, not pornographically dwelled upon for shock value but instead presented as a reality of conflict?
Hideo Kojima, overlord of the Metal Gear franchise, is not the most subtle of directors. Explosive diarrhea has been a recurring gag throughout the years, each instance more tired than the last, and the cast of each game has almost always conveniently found room for futuristic cyborg ninjas. Metal Gear Solid 2’s lead villain was a blade-wielding U.S. President with rocket-firing mechanical octopus arms sporting an eyepatch and prone to rambling monologues, who led an army of ninjas from a massive nuke-stocked submarine disguised in the New York Harbor as an anti-pollution facility.
Is this a director who will provide an honest and mature depiction of the realities of war? Can he take a recently-announced scene of sexual violence in a direction that is not exploitative and- as is disturbingly often the case- fetishized?
I don’t know. Perhaps he has grown up in the four years since Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker, a game in which the player is prompted to X-ray through an underage girl’s clothing and take her out on a date in her underwear. Perhaps I’m wishing for too much.
So: the Springsteen analogy.
I fear that I am one of those consumers who passed up Darkness on the Edge of Town. I fear that I am encountering a creator, whose hits were comparatively light, attempting to take his work somewhere darker and more expressive and I am turning from it out of my own ignorance.
I fear that I am looking upon the upcoming release of Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes with disinterest because I reject something I do not understand. I fear that I am choosing not to spend my money on a work which makes me uncomfortable, when it is instead attempting to be something important, beyond entertainment.
My comparisons might be a little unfair. This is merely the prologue to the much larger Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain, for starters, and the extent of this vision won’t be fully understood or available to fully digest until that game’s credits are rolling before my eyes. My standards here are unfair, as well: if I enter into this expecting this creator’s Saving Private Ryan, or a great musician’s arguably most underappreciated work, I am bound to be disappointed.
But when a game attempts to do what this is attempting to do, to tackle such subjects unflinchingly, it simply must be held to a higher standard. All eyes will be on this game because that is where all eyes should be, if it is what we are being told it is.
Darkness on the Edge of Town is hailed as a fine work because it embraced its titular darkness and made something great from it.
I hope Hideo Kojima takes a page out of Springsteen’s book.
Zack Wheat is a Staff Writer at 4Player who fights the urge every day to make sweeping statements about video games using as many words as possible. He has an unbridled love for anything Metal Gear or Ace Attorney, a fondness for JRPGs, and an embarrassing affection for J-pop. Follow him on Twitter, because he loves you.
|Follow Us||Back to the Top|
Log in or sign up