Extra Punctuation

Extra Punctuation
Games With Fake Wars Are Stupid

Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw | 19 Mar 2013 12:00
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A lot of people seem to have varying concepts of what the Metal Gear series is intending to be. The word "quirky" tends to get thrown around a lot. But quirky I would understand. Wario Ware and No More Heroes are "quirky" games that I like a lot. It's quirky bits alongside attempts at serious character drama where the writing gets just plain bad. Like Metal Gear Solid 4, in which a soul-sick dying old man puts a gun in his mouth in hour 1 and rolls around in a barrel until he pukes in hour 2.

But I'm not going to beat on Metal Gear too much, because there's still something about it that appeals to me. That's why I don't want to hear anyone reminding me that Hideo Kojima was only on Rising in a supervisory role, because in my desire for artistry in games I cling to the notion that at least one major franchise is directed by a single auteur. No, I'd like to talk about game plotting in general, and one game plot in particular.

Okay. Games industry? There's a plot that I know you're all very fond of, but you need to stop using it. Here it is, in brief, broad terms:

"A private military company (or arms manufacturer) deliberately engineers terrorism or political destabilisation in order to provoke a global conflict, because then there will be lots of business for them."

Now, it's very easy to see why this plot strikes a chord with modern audiences. It combines the PMC - one of the few remaining acceptable targets in a sociopolitical minefield because they are generally understood to consist of soldiers who want to fight for personal gain rather than out of loyalty to a country or ideology - with the bogeyman that is big business, and the pursuit of profit over human lives. This is a time of crisis after economic crisis, and it's a fairly understandable rule of thumb that whether popular fiction depicts the powerful as gentle protectors or greedy hoarding assholes depends largely on whether or not there's a recession going on. One of these days I should write a serious article about my "Dragon" Theory Of Global Economics.

But any character shown to have the motivation expressed above is immediately placed on the level of a Care Bears villain, who wants to cacklingly use an exotic contraption to drain the sunshine from every baby's smile. To my mind, the truly great villain is one whose thinking we could sort of understand. We should be able to imagine how, from their perspective, they see themselves as the protagonist. That can't always be the case and there's nothing wrong with making the morality of the story a bit cut and dry, but at the very least the villain's scheme should make sense on some logical level. In that regard, "PMCs provoking global conflict" is beaten out even by the baby smiles plot, which at least leads to a net profit if you can find a good sunlight fence. Here's why:

1. A PMC requires more than just a state of war to function

The problem with making a massive global conflict happen is that at some point it's going to come back and hurt you. Because that's war. In Metal Gear Solid Peace Walker, in a classic example of writing worthy of a 12-year-old, one of the villains is trying to get a nuke detonated for some unclear purpose related to nuclear deterrence, and it's pointed out to him that the radiation will destroy farmland.

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