by Jed Pressgrove
“She also had a message for you: ‘I’m ready for the worst.'”
“Sounded a little too cheerful to me.”
With dialogue like that, would it be surprising if director Hideo Kojima finds inspiration in the dumb nihilism of Telltale’s The Walking Dead? Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes is the latest video game that wants to be a television show. It goes all out: Kiefer Sutherland, a film actor who became a big television star in eight seasons of 24, voices the protagonist Snake (fans disappointed about the absence of David Hayter fail to see the significance). But the game is more silly than shrewd, as evidenced by the villain Skull Face, a mindless idea that hopelessly recalls Killface from the satirical cartoon, Frisky Dingo. More often than not, Kojima’s jealousy of television leads him to stupidity, not brilliance.
“Open world” continues to be nothing more than an advertising slogan for spoiled yet freedom-starved audiences. Essentially, Ground Zeroes is a collection of episodes that all take place in one location — a stealth sitcom. The episodic nature of Ground Zeroes puts it more in line with Batman: Arkham Asylum than Batman: Arkham City. Side missions — tantamount to television filler — have to be unlocked by beating the main mission, which has more cinematic flair than your average television show (similar to “smart TV” like Breaking Bad). The fantastic production values of Ground Zeroes has led some critics to compare it to the filmmaking of Alfonso Cuaron, a man who has risen to limited fame by copying the superior camerawork and framing of Steven Spielberg and Stanley Kubrick.
Rather than do something shockingly different, Kojima hopes to outdo Jack Bauer when it comes to shocking darkness. Ground Zeroes entices its post-9/11 audience — what easy prey! — by blandly referencing real-life politics and war. Kojima believes that acknowledging Guantanamo Bay by itself will allow us to see video games mature before our eyes, but the director’s personal fantasy of revolutionizing video game content somehow results in the gore of Mortal Kombat.
The sight of a tortured woman’s guts in Ground Zeroes signals a new dawn in gamer confusion. At a very basic level, the scene raises the question: am I playing the latest entry in an action franchise or watching torture porn? Others will yell “Misogyny!” as those desensitized to grossness attempt to explain how tacky horror visuals fit into the “Metal Gear Solid universe.” This scene and the rape allusions might make and break connections between people in the video game community. This confusion allows Kojima to continue living his absurd dream of reincarnated film director and savvy television show creator.
Misogyny isn’t the problem with Ground Zeroes. The problem is that some feminists would love Ground Zeroes, and all of its meaningless political posturing, if it didn’t contain a tortured and raped woman prisoner and instead starred an “acceptable” female protagonist. Some gamers, of all political persuasions, have worshiped so much “AAA” and indie cynicism that they are no longer aware of what constitutes an imaginative video game. They don’t care that Ground Zeroes doesn’t innovate stealth (the bullet time is embarrassing shoehorning), contains less humor than the superior Metal Gear Solid III, and feels less fluid than the Arkham games. They just want more crap to talk about before the actual game, Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain, is released. Kojima, inspired by addictive and trashy television, is ever willing to serve a well-produced package of crap.