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I’ll leave you for the week with another concept from Ms. Kael. “It’s preposterously egocentric to call anything we enjoy art—as if we could not be entertained by it if it were not.” Just because you like something does not make it art. For that matter, just because something is art doesn’t mean you have to like it. I would expound on her comment by saying that’s it’s incredibly self-absorbed to disqualify the entire medium of video games simply because you do not like them. Clearly, games can and do fit well within the realm of art. Gaming offers a truly unique format and can often be the only way to completely effectively communicate a point. We could go from here into a discussion of pop art versus high art, but that one will have to wait for another time…
Let’s revisit that definition of art one last time. Was this game created with imagination and skill? Obviously. This game is simply dripping with both. Is this game beautiful? Yes, it is. For that matter, from the PS2 forward, I don’t think we’ll have to worry about games looking bad over time. Yes, technology will continue to improve, but PS2 games will always look good (provided they ever did, mind you). Does this game express important ideas or feelings? As Daniel Bryan is so fond of saying, “YES! YES! YES!” This game and this series sets an extremely high bar, in terms of storytelling and gameplay, for other games to meet, and, honestly, very few of them do. Your actions always have consequences. They can make your life difficult, or end those of your enemies. As a result, when those who pull the strings in this game double-cross you (octuple-cross you…), you truly feel the sting of having been played. It’s the perfect vehicle to make the player receptive to the significant points raised by this game.
This game gets into so many issues that it gets pretty crazy, actually. As we’ve seen, there are many blatant real world ties to the ideas we’ve already discussed, but let’s quickly look at some more. The game deals with absolute power and its corrupting nature, as seen by the above Patriots. It also deals with censorship and gatekeepers of information. We find out very late in the game that much of the plot is a massive experiment by the Patriots to see if they can create a super soldier through extraordinary events, consequences be damned! We even see some poignant points made about artificial intelligence near the game’s conclusion. Finally, the concept of child soldiers is briefly explored by this game, although it’s much more in the spotlight of the current MGS game.
While I don’t (nor do I think the game does) advocate killing multiple marines, taking over tankers, threatening environmental disasters, etc. to achieve my goals, it’s important to point out that the Sons of Liberty in this game don’t necessarily have evil goals in mind. The Patriots are using the flow of information, and, through censorship, the lack of it, to control all major world events. There’s a real world parallel in there somewhere… Frankly, if you think the Sons of Liberty DO have truly evil goals, that’s an admission that you’re on the wrong side in later games in the series, although that’s going to be true no matter what if you play this series long enough. If the Patriots (in MGS) are evil, then the Sons of Liberty must be good? If that’s true, whose side are you really on in this game? Whose side are you really on in this series?
Let’s dig into this a bit more. You, as a player, have competing goals with the enemies of this game, but knowing what we find out in other games in the series (as well as in the later parts of this very game), are the Sons of Liberty really villains? The name wasn’t chosen by accident. In early American history, the real Sons of Liberty were instrumental in agitating for “No taxation without representation.” They were an anti-Loyalist (pro-British) group, and comprised of many Patriots (!). In Metal Gear lore, the Patriots are the puppet masters of the world, but the Sons of Liberty in the game actively oppose the Patriots, importantly, after having a falling out with them. The Sons of Liberty are even led by former President (and final boss of the game), George Sears. This name is a mashup of George Washington, and real life Sons of Liberty member, Isaac Sears.
The game goes out of its way to point out that the opponents in this game are flesh-and-blood people. In addition to their realistic behaviors (and I only scratched the surface of this!), every single enemy in this game has a name. The casual player can easily miss this important aspect of the game, but if you’re a devotee, you’ll notice that you can acquire the dog tags from each enemy in the game. Again, every single one of them has a unique name (actually, there’s a unique set of enemy soldiers for each of the 5 difficulties of this game)! Collect them all for a fun reward! But there’s more to this than just getting the infinite ammo bandanna. It’s there to make you think. As your bullets tear through the bodies of your enemies, keep in mind that they are people and that they have their own motivations, goals, and agendas.
The enemies themselves really make the series as well. They know what their areas are supposed to look like. You may not think anything of the table setting you carelessly knocked over as you raced through the mess hall, but the enemies will notice and get suspicious. They behave in ways that real people in similar situations might. This means that you must always be 100% aware of all of your actions, all of the time, and it makes for tense gameplay. It also goes a long way to show us the humanity of the enemies.
The environments are highly interactive in this game! This has a twofold effect: it helps sell the realism of the world and it lends itself to the stealth nature of the gameplay. This realism is a huge part of the draw of the Metal Gear series. Yes, the games are fiction, but given their real world settings and meticulously crafted interactivity, the games are almost plausible. Almost… For example, run around outside in the rain long enough and you’ll catch a cold. Once you have a cold, the noises associated with it make it much harder for you to sneak around.
This acute, cinematic eye helps create some of the most detailed and immersive experiences in all of gaming! Enemies will use all of their senses to find you! If they see unfamiliar footprints, they get curious. If something is damaged or out of place, it raises questions and the enemies will investigate. The game even uses a picture-in-picture effect to show what some baddies are doing.
The Metal Gear series, in particular, is crafted with a keen eye for such artistic details. This series is the brainchild of Hideo Kojima, a legend in the world of video games. It is paramount to note that Kojima initially wanted to be a film director (you see what I did there?). This little tidbit is on full display in multiple scenes of his many games.
Created with imagination and skill? Check! Beautiful? Debatable and varies greatly from game to game (and even time to time). Expresses important ideas or feelings? Much more often than people give them credit for! My articles on Seiken Densetsu 3,Final Fantasy III, and Mega Man X delve into this, actually. If you haven’t read them yet, check them out after this one. If you have, reread them through the lens of art and you’ll see what I mean.
Finally, we come to games. I am a firm believer that video games are art, or at least that they have the potential to be. Just as not all books or movies can be considered art, neither can all games. Sadly, far too many critics shun games and dismiss them merely as toys. Nothing could be farther from the truth! And I’m not only talking about movie critics… Even Gamespot, a well-known gaming site (though that doesn’t necessarily make it a good one…), has argued against video games being considered art. Of course, this is a fallacy, as toys are playthings that lack goals, while games have goals in mind, but I digress…
Should this be my next review?
Art, like all words, has a specific meaning, hence the need to clearly specify the definition. Without a definitive meaning, we could call security camera footage art. This is clearly not the case.
There is so much talk now about the art of the film that we may be in danger of forgetting that most of the movies we enjoy are not works of art. “The Scalphunters,” for example, was one of the few entertaining American movies this past year, but skillful though it was, one could hardly call it a work of art—if such terms are to have any useful meaning.
What about movies? Everyone agrees that all movies are art. But do they? Beware of absolutes, such as everyone! Indeed, the late Pauline Kael, renowned critic who used to write for The New Yorker, disagrees.
This managed both high and low gross
So, let’s revisit our earlier question about art. Stay with me, folks! I’m going somewhere with this, I promise! Are all books art? Given the above definition of art, no. A science textbook, such as the one depicted above, should be about as far from imaginative as possible, thus failing to meet the criteria to be considered art. Having said that, I think that books like this are the gross exception and that the vast majority of printed works are art.
So far, we’ve engaged in a really fun thought experiment, but the meat and potatoes of Zero Sum Gaming is gaming (imagine that…). Chip from Knoxville, Tennessee donated a game to us that offers the perfect prism through which we can analyze games as art, and if you’ve ever played it, you know just how meta this game is. Chip sent us Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty. Thanks, Chip! With the recent release of Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain, you couldn’t have been more timely with your choice!
Now let’s get really meta and make our heads spin! My intent in capturing the footage of the dustbin was NOT to create art, yet I want you to see the artistic vision in this very article right now. Because this article (art?) contains the stupid picture (not art?), did I inadvertently transform the filth into art despite my best attempts not to?
According to Merriam-Webster, the definition of art is something that is created with imagination and skill and that is beautiful or that expresses important ideas or feelings. A strict reading of this definition would preclude most auto-tuned music, but lest I go off on a tangent… Is my trash imaginative? Did it require skill for me to stack up the refuse this high? If so, I’m incredibly skilled, as I’ve stacked waste baskets far higher than this one! I think we can all agree that it isn’t beautiful… What about the important ideas or feelings? And even if you think it DOES express an important idea or feeling, the fact that I just blatantly stated how this image came into being, and, in so doing, that it certainly is NOT meant to express ANY idea or feeling, let alone an important one, should be considered. Despite the fact that I am the creator of this image and that I have spelled out that it is NOT art, do I even have the power to make that assertion? If you view it as art, did THAT make it art?
What is art? If I take a picture of my too full garbage can, did it just magically become art? I could probably write an entire college course around just that image actually. Something about overconsumption in the United States or some such nonsense… The reality is that I’m lazy and I haven’t taken the garbage out, but simply immortalizing that as a photo, at least in some people’s eyes, completely transfers my (lack of) action of sloth into the realm of art.
Having said that, it’s not perfect. This series always seems to have an oddly sexual undertone. Vamp’s name isn’t referring to vampire, for example. This undercurrent does sometimes get in the way of the larger points at times, but try not to let it. There are also fairly frequent juvenile jokes, such as the long running (pun fully intended) Johnny Sasaki and his digestive dilemmas. But then again, Shakespeare has plenty of sex jokes, such as Othello’s “beast with two backs,” so I don’t think these things undermine the game all that much.