The argument that video games are an art form finds absolute proof in two examples: Silent Hill 2 and Metal Gear Solid 2. Both games are sequels that build on the themes and depth of their predecessors, and stand as jewels in the crown of the PlayStation 2’s unrivalled library of all-time classics.
Silent Hill 2 is an overwhelming, atmospheric experience, and a fundamentally personal horror story rich in symbolism. Its grey colour palette and oppressive fog perfectly represent the confusion, doubt, and misery of its protagonist, James Sunderland, while the titular ghost town chillingly hosts the twisted, bloodied manifestations of his psychosexual guilt and self-loathing. It remains the most powerful and overwhelming video game narrative that I’ve ever experienced.
Metal Gear Solid 2 comes a close second. A maddeningly devious deconstruction of the art of video games and even narrative media itself, Hideo Kojima’s magnum opus is the ultimate statement in interactive subversion. Replicating the events of the first game with a different character to provide commentary on simulation, the power of technology, and media hegemony in the new millennium, Metal Gear Solid 2 broke new grounds that to my mind no video game has ever managed to surpass. Both games were made by Konami.
How times have changed.
Everything seemed to go wrong for Konami when they made a disastrous decision that effectively slaughtered one of their most beloved products. After a few mediocre instalments, the Silent Hill franchise was set to be jolted back to life with a new game- Silent Hills. With the revelation that this game was to be directed by acclaimed horror maestro Guillermo del Toro in collaboration with Kojima, fan expectations were unbelievably high. Further bolstering these expectations was P.T., a playable teaser for the upcoming game that terrified everyone who played it with its brilliant environment: an average suburban home warped into its own special purgatory.
I can still remember playing P.T. with my brother and nearly ruining my trousers after the incredibly immersive atmosphere was shattered by the most terrifying jump-scare I have ever experienced. Based on P.T. alone, Silent Hills looked to be the next evolution in gaming, one that could do for interactive media what Orson Welles did for cinema. Then, in early 2015, some concerning news trickled out.
Piece by piece, we slowly learned that Hideo Kojima had been part of an internal conflict with Konami. He would leave the company with a vague internal business restructuring planned after his departure. Things were tense. The fate of Silent Hills was uncertain. On April 25 2015, fans learnt that P.T. would be removed from the PlayStation store. The writing was on the wall. The final blow of the axe came on April 27, when Silent Hills was officially cancelled. Although Death Stranding eventually rose from the ashes of Silent Hill, we were still deprived of the next leap forward in video game horror. A further crushing blow (had we not suffered enough already?) came when it was revealed that Junji Ito, the manga master of otherworldly horror, had been a collaborator on the cancelled Silent Hills project. We’ll never know what Silent Hills could have been, and it still hurts today.
Kojima’s departure was a rueful incident that was simply the final, fatal misstep for Konami
The question is, what did Konami do next? How would they recover from the upset and outrage that they caused by cancelling Silent Hills? In 2015, the company announced that they were focusing on mobile gaming. Konami delisted itself from the New York Stock Exchange. They continued to release games, but remained mostly focused on arcades and the Pro Evolution Soccer series. A Metal Gear follow-up – Metal Gear Survive – released in 2018 to a middling reaction fuelled by Kojima’s absence. Konami seemed to be fading away.
In January of this year, Konami dissolved several of its Production Divisions, though it was confirmed by the company that this was done to allow future games to be made with greater speed and efficiency. This most certainly isn’t the end of Konami as a video game company, but it’s another strange development for a former titan of game development that has fallen into obscurity in recent years. It’s important to note that Konami isn’t just a video game company – it remains connected to the casino/’gacha’ industry, and also has ties with anime and trading cards. Perhaps the Japanese conglomerate has turned its attention to these lesser-known (at least in the West) divisions that are actually more profitable. That seems to be the most obvious conclusion to draw.
It has to be said that Konami’s fall from glory didn’t start with the Kojima controversy. The last truly great Silent Hill game was released in 2004 (or perhaps even 2003). Castlevania’s most recent 10/10 game came in 2003. Kojima’s work on MGS4 and MGS5 was truly deserving of critical acclaim, but we’ll have to see whether they stand the test of time as well as 2004’s Snake Eater. Konami failed to make the vital jump into sustained greatness for the seventh generation of consoles. The PlayStation 2 is in many ways the resting place of most of the company’s final great works. Kojima’s departure was a rueful incident that was simply the final, fatal misstep by a company that had been fading for a decade by that point.
Is there a lesson to learn from all of this? I think that there is. The video games that I love and cherish the most prioritise atmosphere, experience and narrative. MGS aside, Konami abandoned that. As a company that moved from the production of experimental, surreal, cerebral interactive art to milking its legacy for easy money and focusing on the reliable flow of revenue from its other ventures, Konami stands as a tragic example of the loss of respect, significance and importance that comes from placing profit above cultural relevance and artistic vision. What a loss.