With tickets nearly sold out for this year’s Eurogamer Expo in London, and new details about Metal Gear Solid V out in the wild, I was recently reminded of a rather upsetting event that occurred to me during the 2012 expo. I’ve withheld from writing about it for a while, as I wanted to give myself breathing room to absorb, reflect, and compose my thoughts properly, but I figured an eight month respite would probably be enough.
I should say straight from the off that this isn’t a traumatic story in the traditional sense. There are no “triggers” here, unless you’re a fan of Metal Gear.
Here’s the setup: I was to watch the presentation of Ground Zeroes at Eurogamer Expo, on a lovely big screen, surrounded by lots of fans, and I’d be in the same room as the mythical Hideo Kojima.
I didn’t meet him face-to-face of course, he was probably far too busy for an interview with little old me; Konami never acknowledged my request for one anyway. But I worship at the altar of Kojima, and I had it in my head that I was going to see this man, in the flesh, before the games industry killed me through a heady combination of caffeine toxicity and stress.
A light amount of “don’t you know who I am” posturing combined with three years of a BA in Acting to get me into the queue that had for some time now been “completely full”, as the nice lady chaperoning gamers noted.
I was fast tracked to near the front, and I could see the tallest games journo in the business – the massive (and disgustingly talented) Vaughn Highfield – further down the line. Vaughn had been waiting for ages, and now I was readying to go in before him, three minutes after joining the queue.
“This is okay, I can get a story out of this, I’m not being a massive bell end, this is for work” was the lie I told myself as even more dedicated fans looked on at my queue-hopping antics in revulsion.
Let’s pause for a moment though, because I should emphasise to you why this session was so personal, and so genuinely heart-wrenching to me. You see, Metal Gear Solid is the reason I’m writing about games today.
I fell out of love with video games when I was about 11, because it was 1996 and I still had a Nintendo Entertainment System as my primary machine. My family had a “those who ask don’t get, and those who don’t ask don’t need” policy towards purchases for its younger members, so I would have to make-do with the NES and my small but much-loved collection of games.
I wanted the latest and greatest consoles of course, I’d made friends with kids at school for the opportunity to go and play their super fast PCs and cutting edge machines, but those allegiances were wearing thin, the veil of feigned interest in their boring lives was fraying, and my access to these platforms was consequently becoming limited.
Due to a lack of accessibility to the form, at the age of 13 I’d kind of forgotten about the buttons and D-Pads and pixels and high scores of my youth.
And so, it seemed, had video games. Because one of my few remaining “console friends” – a boy by the name of Paul – had a PlayStation, and I had somehow fooled him into believing that our companionship should require that he lend it to me for a whole week, along with a folder full of his games.
In there was a game called Metal Gear Solid. And it was The Best Game I Ever Played™.
You don’t need another gushing piece on why Metal Gear Solid is so important to the landscape of games, so I won’t bore you with one here. What you should know is that I was so engaged by MGS’s plot, so connected with its characters, that when Sniper Wolf exited stage left I was moved to tears.
It was the first time I had cried due to interacting with any medium, in any capacity. Ever. I sat on the edge of my bed, I saw the inevitable events unfold, and I wept right along with Otacon.
From then on, I did everything I could to play games. I sold my old toys at boot sales, I cleaned the family car, I walked the dogs, I did the washing up. Anything for a little more money for a PlayStation.
That obsession with the form has never, not once, abated within me. Now I work in the editorial side of the games industry full time, constantly trying to find the next product that approaches the zenith of emotional and mechanical design found in the first MGS. I’ve seen the series grow and evolve, and I’ve loved every moment.
So we’re clear then guys? This series is important to me.
Back to 2012 now, and I’m entering the hall where Kojima’s lecture will take place. I don’t think I’ve felt more anticipation, or greater nerves, than I did simply walking into that room. A cosplayer walks past me as I find my place in the auditorium, and while it’s a good costume, I see his fandom as almost a sign of disrespect for the occasion. Perhaps not for Kojima, but for me – this is a big moment, and I want it to be inspiring, not tasteless and crass like the novelty cigar he’s chomping.
I take my seat, and the man next to me is grinding for SpotPasses on his 3DS. Again, it’s a fine place to take part in this activity – Eurogamer Expo – but a crummy time to be doing so. I doubt we’d become friends IRL.
As we wait for the talk to begin, a trailer for the supremely banal looking Dishonored plays, and I think about how its form of first person stealth action wouldn’t exist if it weren’t for the man about to appear on stage.
The seats in the room are now all taken. There are people everywhere, all facing in one direction, all waiting for something incredibly important to happen. I’m reminded of the closing scenes of The Tanker in MGS2, albeit drier and with a lot more checkered shirts. And slightly more musty.
The Dishonored trailer rolls for the fifth time. It looks alright I guess. Maybe I’ll pre-order it. The trailer would really like me to pre-order it. I’ll probably pre-order it.
People now line the walls. This room is heaving. And it’s all for one series, and for the one man we’ve collectively decided is at the core of that series – Hideo Kojima. He’s certainly one of the most influential creatives in my life today, as he is, let us not forget, responsible for me being in this career. The reason why I’m in that hall to begin with.
And then he appears.
There is applause.
He’s wearing a sparkly top.
And now – oh goodie gumdrops – some scumbag a few rows ahead of me is using an iPad to take a photo of him. “Fuck you, poseur” I think, “we get it: you own an iPad. Sit down, you’re obscuring the view of the man we all came to see. With your iPad. Which we all now know you have”.
I think about how much I’d like to own an iPad. Then I think about how I can’t afford one. I start to wonder what alignment of the universe means that this jerk face should have one and I shouldn’t. Then I consider the ease at which I might rob him after the lecture. I probably shouldn’t. But I bet I could. I think about how this line of thought is probably why the universe thinks I shouldn’t have an iPad.
Other than this thought process, I’m completely transfixed. The introductions begin and the Metal Gear series is talked about a little. Pre-prepared questions are raised, and he starts answering them. I begin to wonder about whether anyone in the world could fill the very big shoes of the man at the helm of this series?
It’s here things go downhill.
The Big K is asked about lead characters other than Snake continuing the series. “Snake is so iconic”, he says. Then Hideo notes of the game he’s here to help promote, Rising: “you may come to like Raiden”.
He’s speaking of course about the intense – and unjustified – outspill of hate for the surprise lead of MGS2, which saw fans spew forth venom about an interesting new hero, simply for not being the one they had grown to adore. Where Kojima had included Raiden to tell a new spin on an old tale, it turns out that the fans just wanted the same old tale with the same old Snake.
At this statement of intending to bring fans over to empathising with Raiden, the room erupts into laugter. I don’t understand why. Kojima’s face seems to drop.
For a fraction of a second I see my idol falter.
The questions from the audience keep coming, each with an uncomfortably over-the-top enthusiasm from the asker. I felt uncomfortable: I knew how to bottle and control the excitement built from a deep-rooted fandom, so why couldn’t others keep a lid on theirs?
The key line I took away from the lecture was Kojima stating that “Snake will always be a part of me”. It was in relation to some round about question of whether he’d like to go on and make different games, the answer to which anyone who followed the work of the man close enough would be a resolute “of course”.
He was talking about making a Silent Hill game with the FOX Engine, and though I was excited at this prospect – it’s another series I adore – this was quickly put to rest with the admission that he would probably only be able to take on an executive production role, that he could only oversee it, that he had to concentrate on his other projects.
Namely: more Metal Gear games.
Did you know that Kojima wanted to be an Astronaut? He talked about this too, and perhaps that’s why he made Policenauts. Did you know he loves movies? That’s why there are so many references to sci-fi flicks in Snatcher.
Now two pricks in front of me are talking. One of them’s wearing a beanie. Why are they even here? I hate beanies on boys. God damn, there are a lot of boys wearing beanies here.
A mixture of rage and sadness is swelling within me. Anger at the boy with the iPad, anger with the boys that are talking, anger at the boy near me that stinks to high heaven, anger that the boys that enjoy the series as much as I do could be such a cavalcade of social miscreants.
But that sadness, that’s more powerful. It’s caused by the slow and steady realisation that the man in front of me, the man I held up as a paragon of excellence in the medium I love, is trapped within his own creation, imprisoned by his own success, seemingly destined to create Metal Gear games over and over for time everlasting.
To do this not for creative expression or for social meaning, but for money and sparkly tops and because the fans demand it. Not because there’s anything new being produced, or because innovations are being made, but because it’s safe, and it’s what these outcasts want, and they have money, and Konami wants that money.
The TGS trailer rolls. I’ve seen it before. There are a few more questions, but I’ve checked out. The talk ends. I think about trying to grab a moment of Kojima’s time before he leaves, just to give him a hug and tell him everything’s going to be okay. But he’s gone.
At one point after the talk, I ended up in a graveyard near Earl’s Court. It was a sunny day, and I needed to be around greenery while in the choking city sprawl of London. It was peaceful there, the birds were singing, the sun was hot overhead. Life was in full effect amongst the dead, it was a remarkably beautiful and vibrant place.
I thought back to the lecture, and to the false ending of MGS4, and it struck me: I wish Snake, and by association Kojima, had had the guts to finish the job.
Sure, there would be no more MGS games with Solid Snake, and that part of my life – and with any luck, Kojima’s – would be over, but from that place of death could spring new life. A new character, a new direction, a new man at the helm, perhaps? An opportunity for a clearly talented man in our industry to go off and try new things, while the men in suits concentrate on making the money from a franchise he established.
Instead the man and the series that is responsible for me being in this business, is languishing in the safe, and in the increasingly stagnant.
But as I sat about the sprouting plants growing in the graveyard, for me there was both life and death: a life continuing to love the medium, shaken just a little by the death of a gaming God, reduced to a mere man.