A Metal Gear primer
Bloggers en fuego

This I believe...except when I don't.

Hideokojima The pending release of Metal Gear Solid 4 has me thinking about fundamental tenets of game design and a growing awareness of my own hypocrisy. If I sat down and thought about it - which I guess is what I'm doing right now - I could make a list of the basic design principles I believe in and have advocated on this blog. So here goes:

  1. Video games must develop their own language of meaning. While narrative games can borrow useful tools from film, novels, comic books, etc., ultimately the medium must communicate its distinctive interactive properties in its own ways.

  2. I believe in Auriea Harvey and Michaël Samyn's notion of "inescapable narrative":

    It's the perfect non-linear narrative environment. You walk through it and there are all these stories around you, and in general they're part of your culture. Our favorite games have strong emotion...where you're really there and you never stop being curious about the things around you...It's about being, rather than seeing, and that's why games are more closely related to architecture than film. [1]

  3. "Show, don't tell" makes sense in every other visual medium, but I believe Corvus Elrod's revised version of that dictum should apply to video games.
    1. It is not enough to “show, don’t tell,” when showing takes the play out of the experience. So, perhaps, the rule for video games ought to be, “Let me do, don’t show, don’t tell.” [2] 

  4. Strict linearity unnecessarily limits the player's autonomy and engagement with the world. When a game limits my interactivity to pre-scripted linear goals and missions, I'm little more than a pawn, and my experience ceases to feel personal or unique to me.

  5. Cutscenes are narrative crutches that reduce the player's engagement from active participant to passive observer.

  6. Video games must learn to tell stories that go beyond killing and violence as the core gameplay experience. First-person-shooters featuring conflicted heroes and thematic meditations on the meaninglessness of war will not do the trick. We need new stories that address other aspects of the human condition.

So that does it for "this I believe." I'm sure I could come up with a few others if I tried, but I'm distracted by this pesky little man on my shoulder bearing an unsettling resemblance to Hideo Kojima. He whispers in my ear:

"You're a hypocrite, Abbott. You pontificate like you've got it all figured out, but I know the truth about you. You want my game bad, don't you? Admit it. You're way more excited than you were for that silly sandbox Gotham, aren't you? You want my game, and you want it now. Well I've got news for you, smart guy. My game breaks every one of your stupid little rules. That's right. Every single one. How do you like that? Hmm? What do you say now? Yeah, I thought so. Still want it. Can't wait to play it. You're a very silly man, Abbott. A very silly man."

And I have no defense. I'm a hypocrite indeed. MGS4 will likely defy most of my hopes for the future of video games and, oddly enough, I don't care. My enthusiasm for the game remains undiminished, largely because I believe in Kojima's vision and his signature grip on the series. Linear missions? Bring 'em. 90-minute cutscenes? I'm there.

Maybe he won't pull it off this time. Maybe the game will finally succumb to that self-indulgent streak that has threatened all the Solid titles. But I feel confident about one thing: the game will be full of ideas. Big, political, eccentric, ambitious, goofy, inspired ideas. And artists with big ideas can sometimes make us forget about what we expected. We'll soon see, won't we?