Metal Gear Solid is one of my favourite video game franchises. It’s probably up there with Final Fantasy and Tekken. However, I have never completed the first Metal Gear Solid game for the PlayStation, or the PSX or PS One as it would later be called. I’ve played it. When the game was first announced, I got a demo via GamesMaster magazine and played it relentlessly. After the game was officially released, I rented the game from Xtravision. Yep, this was back in the day when people still physically rented games from physical stores. But, I failed to finish the game in the allotted time and I was still in school at this stage so I didn’t have the monetary funds to purchase the game itself.
Since then, I’ve bought and completed all of the Solid series of games and the Raiden centric spin-off, Revengence. There are a lot of canonical games that I haven’t played, such as the original Metal Gear games, because I never owned an MSX, Portable Ops and Peacewalker, because I don’t own a PSP, and Ground Zeroes, because I take issue with paying full price for what is essentially a prologue. Still, it ranks as one of my favourite game series’ because the gameplay and story is so different from everything else in the market and Hideo Kojima is constantly reinventing it.
Here’s a second revelation for you: I don’t actually hate Raiden. Some fans of the Metal Gear series will balk at reading that sentence. Maybe I just have a soft spot for Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberity because it was the first game that I bought and completed but I thought that the bait and switch between Raiden and Solid Snake was great. It’s the video game equivalent of killing Ned Stark at the end of A Game of Thrones. Raiden might not have been as tough looking or as gruff and manly as Solid Snake, but he created a fresh perspective on what was basically a retreading of the first Metal Gear Solid.
Of course, that was the point. And I don’t deny that some of the less overt references probably went over my head because I hadn’t played the previous game. But rehashing that first game and putting a new spin on it wouldn’t have worked from Solid Snake’s perspective. That new spin didn’t exactly go down well either but I thought it was ok. I had to play the game several times to understand it but the idea that Raiden was essentially the player being manipulated was really quite revolutionary.
As gamers, we don’t really think about how we play games. In Metal Gear Solid we are given an objective and told how to accomplish that objective. Straying too far out of the confides of how to accomplish that objective leads to a game over. In Candy Crush, we are told to match candy to gain enough points to earn stars. Even in a game where are told that we have a choice, there’s still a game over if you don’t do it right. In the Sims, if you don’t go to work, you lose your job, can’t pay your bills and all of your items get repossessed. If you still refuse to play by the rules of the game, your sim starves to death. The game is an AI and we do what it tells us because we are indoctrinated to think what we have to do what the game tells us is an objective. We never stop to think that we don’t have to do that.
Selection for Society Sanity is basically just that. The objective of the game was to control the player in the most extreme situation and if you made it to the end of the game, then it worked. You killed all the bad guys that you were told to kill. You blew up everything that was meant to be blown up. You trusted those who you were told were your friends and family. How many people were fooled into turning off the console when instructed by Colonel Roy Campbell in the latter stages of the game? Very few. And actually, that was probably the only way to avoid being manipulated; to not play the game at all. The game leads you to believe things that aren’t true which in turn influence your behaviour. In fact, you’re working for the bad guys. The most terrible thing about Selection for Societal Sanity is that it really exists and its name is Facebook.
Not really of course, but by now, we all know the story that Facebook edited their algorithms to see whether more or less positive or negative posts affected the mood of Facebook users. They experimented with the psychological state of its users without telling them, making numerous people feel sad just to see if they could. More recently, the “I Voted” buttons a top of American user’s pages have caused controversy. If you’re going to vote, you click the button. It’s been around since 2008 and since then researchers have noted a significant increase in voter turnout, all because of a sticker on social media. Manipulating world events, indeed.
Just because we can see the ‘I Voted’ button doesn’t mean that we’re privy to the experiment. Any changes were said, by Facebook, to have been done in a neutral manner, though Facebook is unlikely to admit to manipulating people to vote in a certain direction. But either way, it pays to be aware to what we click and what we share. Don’t vote just so you can click a button like your friends. Think about who you’re voting for and why. This is important and it’s your choice. Don’t let Facebook make it for you. Keep that in mind this Thursday, May 7th.
It is interesting to see the ideas and predictions of fiction come to live in the real world. I’ve probably said this before, but my favourite book is George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four. It’s a very clever book that draws the reader in first and foremost, but it’s best remembered for its insights into the future, such as the devolution of language into “newspeak”. Text speak and leet speak hasn’t penetrated Western culture in quite the way that newspeak did in Oceania (it is still quite unprofessional to use contractions of any sort in your work environment) but Nineteen Eighty-Four speaks to the reader about the human condition. We can see Orwell’s hopes and fears living and breathing in the world around us. Just as we can with Hideo Kojima.