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Week In Geek: Metal Gear Solid by Ashly & Anthony Burch

Week In Geek: Metal Gear Solid by Ashly & Anthony Burch

The book in question: Metal Gear Solid by Ashly & Anthony Burch. Source: Boss Fight Books

Part of my goal as an academic-slash-nerdy-stuff enthusiast is to be a person that helps build the bridge between those two tentpoles that, as time moves forward, seem to be pushed further apart. In truth, criticism evolved as a genre from the world of popular culture. Without going too deep into the history of literary criticism, what academics view as critical writing––examining texts through specific lenses and discussing the positive and negative results of such investigations––was birthed by popular thinkers arguing back and forth in newspapers, mostly people like Samuel Johnson and Matthew Arnold yelling at other people. What criticism brings to its readers––and why it should be much more present in popular culture––is new ways to look at familiar things. You can agree with them or disagree, that’s fine; in critical discourse, if you disagree, you respond with your own critical analysis.

Criticism operates on the assumption that there is no one right way to read a text, so for people who have concrete definitions they’ve crafted or inherited about what a specific movie means or what a certain writer of a comic book is trying to say and they don’t want to budge because they know they’re right, then the critical investigation can’t move forward because a conversation can’t be had.

This is what is happening in the world of video game criticism right now, especially with the entire fracas that formed around Anita Sarkeesian’s videos and GamerGate’s reaction to them (among other sundry instances). Could Sarkeesian maybe have had more tact or been less forward in her presentation of her analysis? Sure. Because of that, did she deserve the response she got? Absolutely not. She was engaging in a critical discussion to not necessarily change the games we love but to bring these readings of the medium to the table for developers and players to use them as they will.

In their book for Boss Fight Books, Metal Gear Solid, the Burch siblings do an admirable job bringing critical investigation to a popular audience. As I mentioned in Episode 117 – Five Minutes to Funny, their approach was unorthodox for me who is more used to “classical” critical prose––i.e., very academic, argumentative, essayistic format––but it actually worked quite well. In more traditional co-written criticism (or most collaboratively written works, for that matter), no effort is made to distinguish between the contributions of each writer. In Metal Gear Solid (their book), the chapters are divided into sections with headings of either “Ashly” or “Anthony” to let the reader know who is speaking. This is ultimately effective for a few reasons. First, there is a slight difference in age between the two and the difference is enough to be notable; specifically, their initial comprehension of the game and what it was trying to do provides interesting juxtapositions. Second, and more importantly, the gender difference yielded very different reactions to the game and how it impacted their lives overall both in their youths and as adults, which would be lost or depersonalized if they had to neutralize the more dialectical (not a transcribed dialogue) format.

The Burch siblings. Source: TV Tropes

With that in mind, their book brings a lot of interesting aspects of the game to light that should be discussed, but usually aren’t. The standout for me is the excellent analysis of characters and their arcs––and the missed opportunities therein (their section on Otacon is outstanding)––which balances the “it’s complex stuff for the time” and “it’s really not as progressive as it appears to be” arguments fairly. This balance is a source of the schism in the greater video game culture; too many people don’t realize that you can criticize a game and still love it, which is exactly what the Burches do. They point out issues within Metal Gear Solid that, in a modern environment, can seem backwards and sometimes unforgivable. Snake, to a teenager or child (as Anthony and Ashly were, respectively, when they first played the game), is an uncompromising badass; however, upon reflection, it is clear he is a bully and sadist, especially to women. Meryl is presented as a tough woman who is every bit a soldier as the men on Shadow Moses Island, but with the way the camera, Snake, and the gameplay treat her, she is woefully underserved by the game that otherwise wants to present her as a progressive take on female characters in video games. A lot of this comes down to the apparent conflict within the series creator, Hideo Kojima, himself. I’ll quote here what I read aloud in the episode:

There are two Hideo Kojimas.

One Kojima injects every Metal Gear Solid game with earnest if overbearing discussions of nuclear disarmament, the morality of genetic experimentation, the nature of warfare, and the difference between patriotism and terrorism.

The other Kojima lets you call Rose in Metal Gear Solid 4 and shake your SIXAXIS controller to make her boobs jiggle (21-22).

Part of accepting Metal Gear Solid as an artistic entry is to accept that, yes, it is thematically earnest and powerful and its characters are remarkably well-rounded, but for every two steps forward it––as a game and as a series––takes at least one step back. But that is also the nature of art. If any thing was perfect, there would be nothing to talk about.

Another fascinating aspect the book investigates is how Kojima openly and freely manipulates the relationship between the player and Solid Snake, arguing that Kojima willingly draws Snake and the player together at times and forcibly separates them at other times for a purposeful, emotional, and narrative purpose. It opened up a through-line for critical investigation into games as power fantasies, so that the conversation doesn’t just stop at “video games are power fantasies.” The Burches delve into how Kojima uses that fact to both make the player feel powerful (like most games do) and also use that trope to make the player feel detached, weak, and helpless. If anything, for both the criticism and the praise, the book showed me the art that goes into game design and how mindful Kojima is with his games despite his own severely problematic flaws as a creative.

Who is in control of this game? Of my tv? Screenshot from Metal Gear Solid. Source: Metal Gear Wiki

For all the good that this book does at managing the intersection between criticism and popular culture, it is clear they have the events of GamerGate on their minds, which is smart considering that a co-author is female and, by the virtue of that simple fact, she, her brother, and the book are automatically painted with targets. Their apology takes the form of the concluding chapter, titled “The End?”, in which Ashly takes the lead with a passioned defense that, I would argue, comes dangerously close to diminishing the very poignant and important arguments she and her brother make in the book to that point:

So, Anthony and I shit on Metal Gear Solid for about half of this book. If you’re a fan of MGS1, you might be kind of pissed. But despite the amount of acid we spit at the game and its various baffling choices, despite the inordinately long cutscenes, the convoluted plot, and the awkward dialogue, we do love this game (159).

This is problematic because 1. they surely don’t “shit on Metal Gear Solid” at all. They critically engage with it and because they are able to do that with detailed and thorough arguments it 2. proves, beyond any reasonable doubt, that they love the game. In that instant, this concluding chapter felt a bit reductive and unnecessary. What’s impressive is that despite being couched in a chapter-long ass-covering thesis, Ashly does an admirable job teaching not only what criticism is, but why it’s important for the industry as well as for fans:

[W]hen we hear a complaint…about a game we love, we have to stop that little seed of defensiveness from spilling over into anger. We have to recognize that a critic’s concern doesn’t say anything about us, and it doesn’t make us wrong for liking the game. We’re all on the same team, and we’re all just trying to make this medium the best it can be. For everyone (161-2).

This chapter was an eye-opening moment for me as a reader, gamer, and wannabe critic, perhaps because I audibly scoffed when I read this chapter, saying something akin to, “You didn’t have to do this, catering to those people.” The D. Bethel that said that was Professor Bethel, the academic, the person whose workplace and occupation don’t have to apologize––among colleagues at least––for challenging arguments. In fact, they are expected.

What is Snake hiding from: a clear and present threat or genuine, productive, and thoughtful criticism? Source: PlaystationLifestyle.net

However, in the pop culture nerd world that Podcast Co-Host, Comicker, and Website Curator (and straight white male) D. Bethel operates, you have to do this, especially if you’re a woman or minority. And while it’s atrocious and insulting that anybody would have to write this chapter, it shows why this book is successful at building that bridge I longingly want to help construct.

I want more good, challenging gaming criticism. I want to buy books of it. And though some exist and continue to get published, such a desire may be self-defeating in the end. If we’re looking to bridge that gap between pop and academic cultures, it won’t be through book stores. Instead, it is happening online in the form of podcasts and videos and, occasionally, articles. However, if we’re looking to make this a two-way connection, from the halls of academia to reddit and back again, in order to legitimize games as critical texts in the eyes of PhDs, books should be made as well as journals and panels at conferences. The Burches’ Metal Gear Solid definitely offers the academic handshake toward the people who love and care and talk about video games on the internet with confident airs and cries for legitimacy. I just hope pop culture is willing to accept and return it.

Episode 117 – Five Minutes to Funny

Episode 117 – Five Minutes to Funny

WEEK IN GEEK: Andrew spends some time with Fantasy Flight’s Arkham Horror: The Card Game while Dan reads Boss Fight Books’ Metal Gear Solid by sibling team, Ashly and Anthony Burch (a book Dan may actually finish!).

The classy cover for Metal Gear Solid by Ashly & Anthony Burch. Source: Boss Fight Books

GONNA TAKE YOU FOR A RIDE: Sony had it’s most recent Playstation Experience event which unveiled a lot of new games, most Sony exclusives, but amid that they announce the new installment of the previously-thought-dead franchise with Marvel vs. Capcom: Infinite.

Plus, an extended gameplay trailer has been released since the segment was recorded, confirming both Captain America’s and Darkstalkers‘ Morrigan’s presence in the game.

REBOOTING FRANCHISES: With the upcoming Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, Dan and Andrew investigate the approach to legacy franchises. Should we reboot and start from scratch, or keep pushing the continuity forward or leave it be and fill in the “cracks”?

Leave your thoughts as comments at forallintents.net. Be sure to join the official Facebook group and like and subscribe to the official YouTube channel. Email Andrew at andrew@forallintents.net or D. Bethel at dbethel@forallintents.net. Help the show out by subscribing to and leaving a review of the show at the official iTunes store. If you like the episode, please feel free to share.

For all intents and purposes, that was a podcast recap.

FEATURED MUSIC:

-“Stayin’ in Black” by Wax Audio
-“Player Select” by Mitsuhiko Takano (from Marvel vs. Capcom 2: New Age of Heroes)
-“Rey’s Theme” by John Williams (from Star Wars: The Force Awakens)

Episode 101 – The Black Arts of Algorithms

Episode 101 – The Black Arts of Algorithms

ShowCard101

WEEK IN GEEK: Andrew recovers from his serious bout of time-travel last week by watching Wil Wheaton’s tabletop adventure, Titansgrave: The Ashes of Volkana while Dan finds room on the bandwagon to jump on and start watching Netflix’s Stranger Things.

SELF-FULFILLING PROPHECY?: Even though DC/Warner Bros.’ Suicide Squad only hit theaters today, audiences at premier screenings have been walking away less than happy, possibly sounding a cloister bell for the cinematic universe they’ve been trying to build since Man of Steel. Dan and Andrew investigate how the fate of this movie may influence future DC/Warner Bros. entries.

STATISTICS AND RHETORIC: Unintentionally hitting both Andrew and Dan’s wheelhouses, they examine a controversy that surfaced on the Manfeels Park blog where the author examined the strange disparity in the language around the interpretation of box office returns for both Ghostbusters and Star Trek Beyond. Despite having similar budgets and similar opening weekend numbers, Ghostbusters was declared by some to be a disaster for Paramount, while Star Trek‘s similar numbers were hailed as being a great success. What is going on here? Is it intentional? Is it warranted? Is it bad or good analysis?

Leave a comment about this week’s topics at forallintents.net. Be sure to also join the official Facebook and Google+ pages for links, conversations, and to meet other listeners. Help the show reach out to new listeners by leaving a review on the iTunes store.

And, for what it’s worth, there is (in a sense) a Transformers Genesis (re: the outtakes):

A legitimate Transformers Genesis. Thanks, Hasbro.
A legitimate Transformers Genesis. Thanks, Hasbro.

For all intents and purposes, that was an episode recap.

FEATURED MUSIC:

-“Stayin’ in Black” by Wax Audio
-“Also Sprach Zarathustra” by Richard Strauss (conducted by Herbert von Karajan)
-“Halloween Theme – Main Title” by John Carpenter
-“Pseudo Suicide” by Oysterhead
-“Ghostbusters” by Walk the Moon
-“Rest In Peace” by Nobuo Uematsu (from Final Fantasy VI)

Worth a Look

Worth a Look

A large talk that basically started the whole GamerGate mess had to do with representation in video games, specifically with how female characters were presented and utilized within gameplay and narrative with the obvious and problematic conclusion being that female player characters were either underrepresented or, if present, lacked the variety or depth of the male protagonists.

Source: kotaku
Source: Kotaku

However, the newest critical focus––and just as important––looks away from the screen and toward both the community and the developers. If the more forward-looking fans of gaming out there want more representation in games, we should also be asking ourselves about representation in the making of games. With regard to the community, there is a harrowing documentary that I discussed on the show awhile ago, GTFO, about female pro gamers and critics that I guarantee will have you wanting to throw a chair against the wall.

The Kotaku article discusses the story behind––and of––a new book, Women in Game Development: Breaking the Glass Level-Cap, that deals specifically with female developers and their road to being professionals in the field and how that road is paved with sacrifices, shame-dodging, and prioritizing aspects of their identity that males in the same positions never had to make. It’s infuriating how human beings are being treated in a field that, at the core of it, everyone loves so very much.

Another great feature on the book was published at Polygon, “How Women in Gaming Face Hostility” by Colin Campbell.

This is a book I want to read and, it seems, one that gamers should read, no matter what side of development we are on. It’s just sad that this book had to be written at all.

In a bit of selfish rank-pulling, I’m using “Worth a Look” as a “Save for Later” bookmark for myself. This article discusses Dungeons & Dragons as it is used in the recent Netflix hit, Stranger Things (which will be my “Week in Geek” in this week’s episode). Stranger Things has been a Facebook darling, especially for nerds born in, or who lived through, the 1980s and for good reason.

source: Netflix
source: Netflix

Stranger Things is less a snapshot of life in the 1980s and more of an evocation of 1980s adventure movies: The GooniesE.T.: The Extra-TerrestrialStand By MeExplorers, and the like. By mentioning those movies, I don’t mean that is nostalgically mining those movies for characters, plot points, or in-joke references; I would argue that’s not the case at all. Instead, it feels like those movies. The Duffer Brothers (and their directors) have seemingly “figured out” how those movies were paced, how they sounded, and how they looked to feel like a long-lost sibling to those earlier movies. It’s meta-eerie on top of the creepiness of the show itself. It’s able to capture what J.J. Abrams tried to capture (and did pretty well) in his excellent Super 8. But Stranger Things just does it right in an ephemeral way.

The show is framed (or so the article tells me, I haven’t finished the series) around Dungeons & Dragons, which Kunzelman decides to parse not only as a narrative bookend, but also as a thrust, arguing that the game “functions as the primary metaphor for how these young nerdy boys are able to communicate and cooperate with one another and how they contextualize the challenges they face.”

I am eager to read the article, but not as eager as I am to finish the show. It’s so good.

Episode 76 – Beepop

Episode 76 – Beepop

As you wait in line for your viewing of Star Wars: The Force Awakens, listen to two over-educated nerds talk about things tangentially related to the biggest release this year.

Week in Geek: Andrew plays a bunch of new games, including BastionRollers of the Realm, and Assassin’s Creed Chronicle: China on the PlayStation 4 while Dan reads Ian Bogost’s new book, How to Talk About Video Games.

Trio of Trailers: Dan and Andrew discuss the ups and downs of exciting new sequels awaiting release: Star Trek BeyondTeenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out From the Shadows, and Independence Day: Resurgence.

Hutt-Killer: Andrew and Dan weave through the controversy surrounding Disney’s decision to pull all “Slave Leia” content from store shelves, and Andrew goes on a bit of a Lego rant.

Assuming you don’t hate the show with the outtakes at the end, you can leave your thoughts about the episode on the page for the show at forall.libsyn.com. Be sure to follow the official Facebook and Google+ pages for exclusive links and discussions. You may also e-mail the show at forallpod [at] gmail [dot] com. The best way to support the show is to leave a review on iTunes which will help spread the word to new potential listeners through the magic of Apple’s algorithms. 

For all intents and purposes, that was an episode recap.

Featured Music:

-“Stayin’ in Black” by Wax Audio

-“Turtle Power” by Partners In Kryme (from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle)

-“Ewok Celebration and Finale” by John Williams (from Return of the Jedi)

-“Yoda” by “Weird Al” Yankvoic

Episode 75 – A Sad Game About Nuclear Disarmament

Episode 75 – A Sad Game About Nuclear Disarmament

SPOILER WARNING: Details from Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain and other video games are discussed in this episode and can be considered spoilers. Keep that in mind before you proceed.

Week in Geek: Andrew plays Dragon Quest for iOS while Dan watches Lovecraft: Fear of the Unknown on Blu-Ray.

Games With Feels: Based on a specific experience Andrew had while playing through Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain, Dan and Andrew discuss video games that have created in them strong emotional responses based on more than just a cutscene and plot point, but when actually playing the game elicits emotional reactions and why that is an important development of the medium.

The article about Tomb Raider Dan mentions can be found at knowngriefers.com.

A Sad Game About Nuclear Disarmament: Andrew and Dan discuss a hidden cutscene found in the files of Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain‘s (that were confirmed by Konami) that will only play if, in the online portion of the game, players decide to lay down their nuclear weapons and employ a digital peace. Based around this Ars Technica article by Kyle Orland, this seems to be the culmination of Hideo Kojima’s goals with the Metal Gear Solid series.

If you have any thoughts or responses to the topics discussed in this week’s episode, leave a comment at forall.libsyn.com. Please join the official Facebook and Google+ pages for exclusive comment and listener discussion. You may also e-mail the show at forallpod [at] gmail [dot] com. 

For all intents and purposes, that was an episode recap.

Featured Music:

-“Stayin’ in Black” by Wax Audio

-“Sins of the Father” by Donna Burke (from Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain)

-“A Phantom Pain” by Ludvig Forssell (from Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain)

-“When Doves Cry” by Prince

Boasts of Bethel: Getting to the Point

Boasts of Bethel: Getting to the Point

This Boast is framed around Game of Thrones and does not discuss content; so, there are no spoilers contained herein.

I like the Game of Thrones tv show more than A Song of Ice and Fire––the book series its based on––for a variety of reasons.  First, each book has a page length that, at this point, can only be measured in scientific notation.  At this point in my life, I have taken a firm stance and won’t read books over three-hundred pages (though exceptions can occur)––I’ve got too much else to do and my stupid brain isn’t able to remember that much story.  Second (though related to the first), the ten episodes (at one hour each) that make up each season is the perfect amount for me to not only consume and still have time left in my day but to also remember everything that’s going on.  I have my quibbles about the show, sure, but on the whole I enjoy it quite a bit.

But don’t tell me to read the books, especially because they’re “better.”  Of that I have no doubt.  It is a fact that tv shows are terrible books because, by definition, tv shows are not books.  However, the reverse is also true.

Nerds’ slavish devotion to source material puts us into a strange quandary––we are super excited that our beloved stories and characters are getting adapted to other media––and, moreover, they’re super successful––but we also become obsessive hair-splitters who feel the need to declare that one version (usually the original) is superior to the other (usually the adaptation).  I had to stop doing that because I wanted to actually enjoy these adaptations––especially when they’re good.  My first major encounter with this “disappointment” was with Brian Singer’s first X-Men movie.  Namely, how characters were shifted around in terms of relationships and ages for reasons that didn’t seem to make sense.  The biggest offender in this regard was the character of Rogue who, in the comics, was the same age as most of the main cast and even had intimate relations with Magneto for awhile.  For the movie, they basically made her a mixture of Jubilee (i.e., Wolverine’s teenage apprentice) and Kitty Pride (i.e., the new student at the school who is initially wary of being a mutant).

Though I enjoyed the movie because, in terms of general characterization, Singer got the X-Men right, I made sure to note that it differed from the comics drastically (I am proud to say that I never cared about the lack of comic-inspired costumes, however).  What turned me around was when I thought back to the X-Men cartoon from the ‘90s––another adaptation I was incredibly excited about.  The series was extraordinarily faithful to the comics despite some dodgy animation and I remember being so excited for each episode to start on Saturday mornings that I couldn’t sit still.  However, the feeling that dominates my memories of the show is mostly boredom.  I eventually stopped watching it about halfway into season 3.  It remained incredibly faithful and was even doing some direct adaptations of stories from the comics, but I just couldn’t bring myself to care.  I realized that the show was too close to the comics, that I had already consumed this content but through a different medium––so why would I want to see it on tv if I have the comics in a longbox?

Great artistic expressions are made by artists––that is, people who are adept at expressing themselves in a particular medium.  A great comic book storyteller does not necessarily make a great film director or screenwriter (re: Frank Miller’s Will Eisner’s The Spirit)––a great director makes a movie great.  If properties are being adapted into other media, I’d much rather see an artist of that medium approach the work so that the adaptation will mean something on its own and to not simply be “the movie version” or “the tv version.”  Such requirements diminish the importance of the source material when being adapted.  I point to things like the Hellboy movies––the second one, especially, feels right at home in Guillermo Del Toro’s oeuvre.  I point to The Walking Dead––both the tv show and Telltale’s episodic video game series.  I point to Darwyn Cooke’s Parker graphic novels.  I point to Game of Thrones.

All of these adaptations are done right––they focus on making a good example of the medium which is neither a “dumbing down” of a property to appeal to as wide an audience as possible, nor a point-for-point recreations of the originals.  They want to make a good movie, game, comic, or television show first rather than just make the source material dance like a marionette.  What makes a good book does not make a movie good.  A good adapter knows that and works with the ideas, themes, and characters of the source material to make them as viable to the new medium as they were to the original.  To do that may require changes, however, but if those changes are made out of the same desire to tell a good story––the same motivation as the original creator––then it should yield good results.  Differences don’t make things bad––that’s called bigotry.  Differences are just different, and as a fan it’s important to ask why––not just in terms of the story, but in terms of the medium.

The truth is the correlation between adaptations and their source material is more akin to alternate universes than family relationships.  They rarely feed off on one another, especially once they get going.  The choices one makes neither adversely nor, necessarily, favorably affects the other.  They are separate entities and should be viewed that way.  I’m sure the A Song of Ice and Fire novels have much more complexity and intricacy in terms of plot and character; I understand that.  Game of Thrones, for a tv show, is just as wonderfully complex and dynamic––compared to other tv shows.  And though A Song of Ice and Fire fans have been clamoring eagerly for book 6 in the series for three years––a book which will hold much more information and story than the tv show could ever muster––I’m comforted by the fact that I know I only have to wait a year for season 5.