Thursday, May 24, 2007

Metal Heart

I would like to admitt something to the internet: I love Metal Gear. I've recently accepted my feelings towards it after a long period of denial. It's not perfect, but who is right? Like the Metal Gears themselves, the series has its share of weak points, or as Otacon puts it, "character flaws." Yet I stil find great value and artistry within it as a whole. This love was reaffirmed by my Game Culture class. For my final assignment, I looked at James Gee's concept of cultural models within Metal Gear Solid 3. Gee's book, What Video Games Have to Teach Us About Learning and Literacy was the primary text for my class and was very insightful. One part that really stuck out to me was his Cultural Models, otherwise known as the ideas that a game operates around. It is what the game presents as normal or right and its message and concept of the world. This struck a cord with me because I feel that he described what this blog examines, along with much of the feminist writings on pop culture. What do games tell us? Is a game producing the model that women are mere sexual objects (DOA), or is it telling us how gender does not effect ability, skill, or heroism (Metriod Prime)?

Since I have not played through the Metal Gear series in a while, I wanted to replay them and fully look at what these games are telling us. I feel that it provides a far more productive message than what most triple A titles being produced at this time offer, but we'll see. Here is the section of my final paper dealing with MGS3. The orginal plan for the assignment was to post it on Wikipedia, but that proved too difficult, so I figure this blog was just as good. ;)

Cultural Models (in Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater)

James Paul Gee’s concept of cultural models (the different hypothesises that humans form on what is normal or typical) can be examined within Metal Gear Solid 3. The game presents with its gameplay and narration cultural models of war that is unique when compared to most video games. Snake Eater provides motivation for the player to strive for peace within a seemingly violent game. The main element of gameplay is stealth, or what can be seen as the avoidance of conflict. The main goal of the game is to proceed from one area to the next without getting caught. You do not have to kill any of the guards in order to “win.” The game only provides for you a non-lethal tranquilizer gun, and Close Quarters Combat abilities (CQC). You have to seek out the lethal weapons yourself. Also, every enemy can be defeated by non-lethal means, and when CQC is deployed, it is just as simple to incapacitate the enemy, as it is to kill them. So essentially it is your choice to kill or not. A cultural model that violence is never a necessity is presented by giving the player the autonomy over the level of violence within their actions. The model states that violence is an option that people actively choose.

The game goes further to actually reward the player for not taking the most violent option. If bosses are defeated with the tranquilizer gun, the player unlocks special camouflage items that can not be acquired anywhere else in the game. There are also more consequences when a dead guard is discovered compared to when a sleeping guard is discovered. Defeating the bosses without lethal weapons is no easy task, and if guards are incapacitated rather than killed, they will become an obstacle again as soon as they wake up. Therefore, using non-lethal methods adds more difficulty. This presents the cultural model that violence is not the easier option, but peace will garner greater rewards.

The strongest example of the game’s peaceful intentions is the finally battle with The Boss. She is the only person the player is required to kill. The game forces you to press the button that causes Snake to shoot her. There is no other option that will finish the game. Afterwards, the story clearly maps out the effects of her death on Snake and his world. The consequences of the violence are fully explored thereby presenting the cultural model that violence will bring pain, and has an extensive impact on people. Therefore the player may look back on the different acts of violence they might have been committing throughout the game, and see them in a new light.

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