Image: IGDB/PlatinumGames

Hideo Kojima: enlightened creator or tone-deaf developer?

With a career spanning nearly 40 years of game design, Hideo Kojima is one of the most experienced developers in the industry. His games have proved divisive in the gaming world. Some praise him for his incredible contributions to the stealth genre whilst others are pushed away by his complex and surreal plotlines. Kojima is most well-known for the Metal Gear, a series of stealth action games first created in 1987. The series is genre-defining and was the first to place stealth and subterfuge over the guns-blazing approach like so many other games of the era. As the series grew to eleven main games and several spinoffs, the gameplay and graphics advanced with the times, starting as a 2D top-down with Metal Gear and finishing with the open world third-person Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain.  And apart from a brief foray into hack and slash with Metal Gear Rising: Revengance they have stayed true to their stealth roots. Whilst most were released before I got my first console, I have gone back to play many of the classics such as Snake Eater and Metal Gear Solid alongside the more modern titles. 

I have never finished a Metal Gear game without feeling two things: confused and thoroughly entertained. The gameplay is undeniably exciting and unique, and whilst older titles get more dated the further you go back, its remarkable at how they still provide a thrill nearly two decades later.  This gameplay is one of two main reasons why the series has proved to be so popular. It provides rewarding and difficult stealth gameplay that has become synonymous with Metal Gear. The gameplay is also where ‘my thoroughly entertained’ feeling comes from.  

The games will make you sweat and panic with their gameplay but also laugh with their occasional childlike humour

The other ‘confused’ part comes from the whacky and often strange storyline and characters. The best way I can portray the atmosphere of Metal Gear to someone who has not played any of the games, is by simply retelling the opening of the final of the series The Phantom Pain. The story begins with you waking up in a hospital in Cyprus which is subsequently attacked by a shadowy organisation who go through killing all inside. The tension for what essentially is a tutorial level is incredible and really puts across the serious aspects of the series.  This is then followed with a helicopter being eaten by a giant flaming whale summoned by a floating child in a gas mask and a chase sequence where the character is pursued by a man who is perpetually on fire riding a similarly alight pegasus. All this whilst being rescued by a character who was your enemy in the previous game. These two contrasting parts of the same tutorial level show the two sides of both Metal Gear and Kojima himself. Gruesome realism goes hand in hand with bizarre surrealism in his games and is what makes him so unique.  

The lore of Metal Gear that Kojima has constructed portrays this. It deals with mature themes of war, peace, human knowledge, race, and power. They also feature a side character whose main trait is having irritable bowel syndrome and accidentally soiling himself.  Characters like these, alongside the fact that there are six separate characters who are called Snake, lead to many seeing Kojima as a developer who makes good games but has completely lost the plot with the plot.  As such the words ‘tone-deaf’ have been thrown around Kojima and his games frequently. I can certainly see where these complaints are coming from. I was initially turned away when I first started playing his games by the complex plot and ‘silly’ parts of the game. But after I had another go, I came to fall in love with the serious, yet unserious nature of the series and Kojima.  

The games will make you sweat and panic with their gameplay but also laugh with their occasional childlike humour. I will admit that anything Kojima touches requires a healthy dose of suspension of disbelief to take seriously, but once you have done this the more serious parts of the game really take hold and complement the gameplay well. Likewise, the less serious parts enable stranger gameplay mechanics, such using cardboard cutouts of attractive women to distract guards or parachuting a horse into Soviet occupied Afghanistan.  I truly believe no other developer has achieved what Hideo Kojima has with Metal Gear. He has created a series that holds your attention by exploring themes of war and government control whilst it makes fart noises with its hand in its armpit. 


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