The first post in this series was a fun one, so this one will be an actual lesson I learned from game-master Hideo Kojima. Also telling this story to the other half of the RevPub team provided inspiration for the Life Lessons series.
Most of us play games without giving thought to life or death. Even when we die in games it’s never terribly critical. I’ll show my age when I say this but…there was a time when dying in a game could bring up a dreaded GAME OVER screen that actually meant something. It usually meant starting over from the beginning. Of course this was after expending a number of lives, so even then your own character’s death meant little, let alone the countless enemies that were stomped, shot, burned, or blown up during your gaming rampage.
This has changed in the last few years with games like Demon’s Souls and its sequel, Dark Souls, where death is more than just a minor inconvenience and can change the alignment of the world and the style of gameplay. But even in these games slaughtering countless monsters and faceless knights was a positive and absolutely necessary as it provided you with currency.
And that’s the classic relationship of games. They reward you for offing enemies; the tougher the enemy, the greater the reward, and this trend is true across genres; mindless shooters, over-rated RPGs, basic platformers, and even the earliest arcades. I won’t go into a preachy lecture about what this teaches gamers. Games are entertainment, they aren’t meant to teach players how to behave and anyone who thinks stomping on someone’s head is a viable method of problem-solving needs help anyway (though I could be persuaded it is likely the best technique when dealing with giant belligerent mushrooms…) This doesn’t mean games can’t occasionally teach you something about the value of life and one such game for me was Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater.
Hideo Kojima turned the gaming world on its head with Metal Gear, a game series that rewards players for not killing, not being seen, and not interacting with enemies except when deemed necessary by the narrative. MGS3 brought this to an entirely new level, however. I played MGS3 the first time through like most of players. I tried to sneak, got busted a lot and had to shoot my way out of danger until the alarms ceased, usually after I killed nearly every guard in the hemisphere and dove under a convenient truck. Even when not getting caught sneaking around, I would camo myself up and use my trusty knife to off hapless guards unfortunate enough ventured by my position. I went through that game like John Rambo on a Red Bull binge until…The Sorrow. After a thrilling chase through the sewers and a Fugitive-style dive into a stream you enter a near-death, dream-like state where you walk down a river. Walking for what seemed like eternity I kept passing shadowy figures of faceless guards all screaming and showing wounds. It took so long to walk though the river I thought I’d hit a glitch. Until I saw The Pain, an unmistakable early boss, crawl by. Then dozens more soldiers…and The Fear. It finally dawned on me: the countless soldiers I walked through…were all the people I’d killed in the game… I walked through the river for no less than 15 minutes. It’s a long time just to press forward on the analog stick and an even longer one when hundreds of men I’d killed screamed in agony around me. By the time I got to The Sorrow, the boss of the stage, I barely wanted to play any more. Before the battle commenced I reset the game…and started over. The second play through I killed no one, was never spotted, and (yes it lowered my ranking) used only the tranq gun and CQC. Never had a game so brutally shown the consequences of my actions and blatantly shoved my easy-way-out choice of gameplay right in my face. Only Kojima could think of something like that.
Since then games like Heavy Rain have offered similar experiences to face the consequences of your actions but MGS3 still stands out, not by punishing you through points, fewer power-ups, altered story-telling, or reduced game play time, but by making you literally face your victims. In the end it is just a video game but it gives me some hope in humanity…because if a machine, a video game, can learn the value of human life … maybe we can too ; )