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.

Tags: metal Gear, metal gear solid v, Ground Zeroes, the phantom pain, Kojima Productions, hideo kojima, Konami

Zack Wheat

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.

Comment!
  • Frank Hartnett 2 months, 3 weeks ago

    I don't know if Kojima has the subtly to tackle such subject matters correctly. Not to mention it's just off putting that Kojima of all people would be trying to invoke these kinds of reactions. The MGS series is usually known for being over-the-top and goofy, not some grim-dark war story.

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  • GamerBeck 2 months, 3 weeks ago

    Good read, great job Zack. I don't think the kind of subject matter in the trailer will be taken lightly by Kojima & staff, this definitely seems to be a more "mature" MGS game.

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  • Nathan 2 months, 3 weeks ago

    Good article as always Zack. Bring up some good points and here is to hoping Kojima can pull it off with some tact, if not it could be the black sheep of the series.

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  • Nadia (Reborn) 2 months, 3 weeks ago

    I can understand the ambivalence, Zack. This new MGS is a complete different turn visually. Maybe it's my own personality, but I thoroughly enjoyed the graphicness of trailers I've seen. The gore of War and Revenge and just...Savagery is what really draws me to this game because it is the backdrop of a HUGE character development (Big Boss, among others.) I hate to be that guy, but honestly, games NEED this kind of violence, not because we're desensitized, but actually because it is important to show that sort of "realism" so to speak, to viewers who have played this series, along with games like GTA, Bioshock, CoD, Dead Space, where the violence is frightening and unsettling, but in my opinion rather weak--it doesn't sit with you for very long, while Kojima knows how to make an impact.

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    • Davethezombie 2 months, 3 weeks ago

      I agree with reborn. If games want to be considered art, they should try tackling serious subjects like this. I do think Koijima does have the ability to pull this off. I also don't know why torture is suddenly being singled out here. Almost every mgs game has some scene of torture and people usually brush it off as a minigame sequence. After having played mgs3 and experiencing Big Boss's backstory and her character, I have some faith that there can be some strong female characters in MGS V as well.

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      • Zack Wheat 2 months, 3 weeks ago

        I totally understand and respect where both of you are coming from here, and I hoped to establish that in the piece as my own core conflict- it's not bad to depict rough subject matter, but it does have to be done carefully and it does put consumers who are faint of heart in an odd position. I do have to object to torture being "singled out" in the article, however. I don't believe I did that, as it was only mentioned once (and not mentioning its presence in the trailer at all would have been strange). Exploring that point, however: what is depicted in the red band trailer is much more realistic (and, thus, more hard-hitting) than MGS1's QTE with Snake strapped to an evil hexagon and making quips about French cinema or MGS3's magic evil Russian dude interspersing every punch with nigh-hilarious Bond villain "you'll never locate the secret thing that I have hidden in this exact location!" monologuing.

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  • zlade 2 months, 3 weeks ago

    wasn't Springsteen's nickname "The Boss?" great read.. I also really, really love the Metal Gear Solid series. Just hope I can save up enough for me to enjoy the future releases.

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    • Zack Wheat 2 months, 3 weeks ago

      Ffff I totally missed the The Boss thing that is a nice catch

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  • Jacobisalemon 2 months, 3 weeks ago

    Great article, Zack. I feel like these really "heavy" scenes can at times be a bit too much, but I feel like they can also really be defining moments in a game. Although this game doesn't really seem like a classic MGS, I'm really optimistic of this darker story.

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  • soemeup504 2 months, 3 weeks ago

    Not a huge follower of the MGS series, but it was indeed a bit surprising to see the trailer. Don't know how the game would turn out with a darker story since I'm not to familiar with the others in the franchise, but hopefully it ends up being a good experience.

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  • jeffrey 2 months, 3 weeks ago

    I can somewhat understand where you are coming from, but the only MGS game I played was Snake Eater. So it's hard for me to feel the way you do about the series. However, I will say that based on the trailer it seems as if the player isn't participating in the gut twisting scene of grabbing the object out the lady's stomach. Which makes think if I can watch this in a movie then I'm able to do the same in the game. But if you want, think of the scene as a warning from Kojima. Your conflict reminds me of Spike Lee and the film Django. Lee didn't watch it and had some harsh words toward the director. Basically saying the movie didn't do juctice depicting slavery. But either way, I believe the experience of playing MGS V isn't worth saying "no, I will not buy this" and miss out on a great game.

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    • Zack Wheat 2 months, 3 weeks ago

      Oh heavens, I've been compared to Spike Lee. I may need to hang up my spurs now. I get it, though, about what appears to be a lack of player participation in that scene. Consider my commentary more from a cinematic perspective, as I imagine that's how Kojima would want his work critiqued anyway.

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  • theottomatic91 2 months, 3 weeks ago

    Um Zack if you don't like what you see then just simply don't buy it. I can assure you with the comments Kojima has made this game will be very dark and have more than one gory scene. There have been plenty of game series I have dropped because I did not like the direction they are going and it seems like this is going to be the case with you.

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    • Zack Wheat 2 months, 3 weeks ago

      well "I felt weird about the thing so I didn't buy the thing" wouldn't have been much of an article

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      • theottomatic91 2 months, 3 weeks ago

        Oh you so just felt weird? My bad from this article I thought your feelings were more like disturbed and revolted but if its just something that will make you cringe a bit and you can handle then by all means get a copy. Although if are going to honestly continue to think about this issue till release I would still suggest skipping it.

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        • Zack Wheat 2 months, 3 weeks ago

          Haha I understand. I can confirm that I'm adopting a wait and see approach. As mentioned, the sticking point is how all of this is handled and I wouldn't dare make a firm statement on that before the game's release.

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  • Diamond_Eyez 2 months, 3 weeks ago

    Hopefully Kojima and company don't just use the graphic and suggestive scenes for just that, scenes. It would be a failure on they're part to not use material like this to establish a platform for some type of higher meaning. I have faith in Kojima. Great article.

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  • VHimura 2 months, 3 weeks ago

    I will start apolagisin my english, don feel like spell checking, got stuff to do and my corrector is portuguese. I am a fan of MGS, i played all the games except the acid ones, and what can i say is this, this is the first chance of kojima to get MGS or a work of his in the cinema industry, thats why there is such viceral scenes, and thats why he for the first time chose the american voice, what whe are seeing is known to the cinema in movies that want a oscar a academy masturbation, but in the end, he will do a kojima game, and there will be hes humor and known sexuality, like sniper wolf, eve the beautys and so forth, the best analogy i can make is this, kojima always made a 80s spy movie, theres serious lines and scenes that you can see in all the MGS series, like meryls "death", otacon back story, emma death, the story of jeager and naomi, what eva suffered in the hands of volgin(in witch is just mentioned), all the act of the boss peace walker and big boss in peace walker, the story of the boss and the sorrow, the stories of the beautys that had canibalism and infant murder, but there the known good ol' 80s sheninigans that its seems when i read about this MGSV subject is the only thing ppl remember, and now kojima is going to the more serious 2000s spy movies that even the bond movies had passed trough if you watched the daniel greg ones, but, if is a kojima game in witch i will buy because it is a kojima game, it will use those themes that you don like Zack, but it will still have its humor and sexuality, the problem is how much will have it, we only are complaining of quiet clothes because of the weird contrast from such a violent tone from the red band trailer and kojimas humor and sexuality, in whitch he said he wanted hot chicks doing cosplay of quiet, and i hope wen we play the game, kojima uses this weird and awkward contrast betwen serious and hes humor to make hes kojima game.

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    • Zack Wheat 2 months, 3 weeks ago

      Oh, voce fala portugues? A minha namorada é do Brasil! Eu sei um pouco de português. Anyway, I think you do make a good point- heavy subjects are not new to this franchise, and it has all generally been handled okay before. This is indeed even darker territory, however, and the concern stems from whether or not Kojima's... maturity... will match up with it.

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      • VHimura 2 months, 3 weeks ago

        Bah, que surpresa agradável, you are a lucky guy to get a Brasilian girl :p In my opnion, i think this is gonna be the more dark humor we ever seen, but if is not like that, i have trust that we will be relieved with the comedy after so much shit going on.

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        • Zack Wheat 2 months, 3 weeks ago

          Lucky indeed! She's wonderful. I think you're right about humor being used to balance out the darkness, I simply hope it's well done. If five minutes before the intestine-digging we have a few fart jokes or Snake picks up the package and then makes some weird Stanley Kubrick reference... I think I'll be justified in saying it hasn't been well executed.

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  • Big Wazu 2 months, 3 weeks ago

    Great article Zack. I feel pretty positive Kojima will do this right and create something we have never really seen in a game before. The MGS games are my favorite games of all time and after seeing the trailers for V which, in my opinion, are some of the best trailers I have ever seen, I welcome the darker tone and very serious approach Kojima seems to be going for.

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  • Grenouille 2 months, 3 weeks ago

    Hmm...very interesting read. I am really going to need to get a sense of the game's pacing before I can really judge the darker elements here. If the classic outrageous mgs elements are interspersed for comic relief, these more serious, visceral elements might be a welcome addition.

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  • Toast 2 months, 3 weeks ago

    After watching the 120+ hour MGS marathon, it only served to heighten my interest toward Ground Zeroes; more specifically, after watching Peace Walker. If you're really conflicted but still want to find a reason to play Ground Zeroes Zack, try playing through MGS3 and Peace Walker (and pay attention to the tapes. They reveal so much more of the story than the game does alone). See how that works.

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    • Zack Wheat 2 months, 3 weeks ago

      Oh, you're speaking to a man with encyclopedic knowledge of this franchise. Peace Walker was played generally straight with light moments, which might work for MGSV if handled well...

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  • Revrevs 2 months, 3 weeks ago

    I like how you called up your girlfriend to tell her that you couldn't remove bombs from children in a video game. This is why you're a journalist and not an American hero. Did you consider the thought that she could have been in the middle of a child bomb diffusal herself? So inconsiderate! So yea thoughts on the game's violence...Well I can't see jack from a borrowed iPod with crappy wifi but I wouldn't be too quick to judge its entire contents on one trailer. Personally I find the graphic depictions of suffering children to be a low blow for getting an audience emotionally invested in a story. It's crude and exploitive. There's nothing more to it than that. I'm sure Kojima will find other ways to keep the game interesting and engaging by utilizing these gorier approaches on the villains' deaths.

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  • butts 2 months, 1 week ago

    I do agree that some games do need to start handling "serious" topics for the medium to be taken more seriously, if that is the end goal. However I do not think games, or any entertainment medium made largely for consumption, can handle the topic of sexual violence well right now to be honest... the ESRB description of "seen not heard" already gives me the impression that it's completely unnecessary as well. It is a topic near and dear to me so I really, honestly hope Kojima either handles it incredibly carefully, respectfully and maturely, or realizes it's better to drop it altogether. I do think he can handle war violence better though, although the games get so goofy at points it's hard to really take a lot of it seriously. I suppose we will see though! Or not, if you are on the fence Zack :P

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