Ok, before I even put up my roughest of drafts, I’d like to mention that my “research” for this project was actually a video game (Metal Gear Solid 2). What’s more, the game’s plot is extremely thick and not easy to untangle. I, consequently, am having trouble figuring out which direction I ought to take my paper, so consider that in your comments =). I would also like to supply some brief background on the series’ plot:
2005 – Shadow Moses Island, Alaska – A terrorist organization making various demands hijacks a weapons-testing facility; namely, one holding the top-secret government project, “Metal Gear.” The Metal Gear is a bi-pedal tank equipped with a rail gun and capable of launching a swift tactical nuclear strike with little hands-on operation. An elite, hardened secret agent, codename Solid Snake, is sent to infiltrate the facility and dispatch the terrorists.
2007 – After the “Shadow Moses Incident,” the specs for creating a Metal Gear were wildly spread throughout the Web and the Black Market. Every country, rogue nation, terrorist group, etc. could feasibly fund and construct a Metal Gear. On a tip, Solid Snake, having left his post as an agent and working for an anti-Metal Gear organization known as “Philanthropy,” infiltrates a tanker going along the New York coastline; supposedly, a new Metal Gear headed by the Marines, codename REX, is being kept in the tanker. Snake plans to take photo evidence of the new project so as to post it on the internet and expose the project, thereby deterring it. However, a group of Russian soldiers hijack the tanker in the process, and their commander, Ocelot, crosses them, sinking the tanker and taking off with the Metal Gear. He speaks notably that, “[He’s] not stealing it; no, [he’s] taking it back.”
2009 – In the aftermath of the sunken tanker, the government planted a fake tanker in the same spot as to limit suspicions. The “Big Shell” was then erected as a clean-up facility for the New York harbor. There, a terrorist group ends up taking over the facility, making various demands; you, an elite, rookie soldier known as Raiden, are briefed that the terrorists are holding the President hostage and threatening to destroy the Big Shell. The explosion of the Big Shell would not only mean the death of the President, but it would also lead to the releasing of the toxins used to clean the mess of the sunken tanker, which would consequently wipe out the harbor’s entire eco-system. You enter the facility with the mission of dispatching the terrorists and saving the President. (Does this sound somewhat similar to the 2005 part? Trust me; it’ll make sense soon enough.) This is where the vast majority of Metal Gear Solid 2 takes place, and you, as the rookie agent, must complete the mission.
Now that I’ve gotten through the basic information, I’d like to go over my prospective topic (i.e., the one I think will work out the best):
1) Explore the medium of video games and its relation to the narrative; particularly, how it manages to involve its audience in its “message” and plot. Use Twain as a basis of comparison as the two have very similar ideas within:
In A Connecticut Yankee, Twain writes in such a way that we discover Hank is, in fact, a con man; he qualifies his statements with words such as, “cipher,” and he portrays himself as wanting to be the dictator sent from Heaven, so to call it, whose grace and benevolence will improve the lives of those in King Arthur’s time. We also learn how Hank views the ‘perfect’ human: no conscience; a person who’s trained in the ways of democracy, etc.—arguably, a cog in the machinery of Hank’s world. As a reader, though, the medium of text limits us to a more passive role. We hear of Hank’s man factory and know of his trickery, but we are not directly exposed to it. In other words, we do not experience the way in which Hank is molding these people in his “man factories” or fooling them with his “magic”; we are not as emotionally, spiritually or however so invested in his ideals, aspirations and actions as the people of King Arthur’s Court. In so many words, we are not the ones being conned or trained.
This is where the medium of video games can play a vital role. Video games offer a wide variety of means by which a player can become more involved in the story: graphics, customization, voice work, the playing of the game itself. All these create a more sensory experience than text alone can hope to accomplish. Basic sensory improvements do not necessarily elevate one medium of the other, however; there has to be something unique to video games. That one quality is that the story revolves around you. By extension of your character, you make the ethical choices (both consciously and unconsciously); you are obliged to complete the mission; you react to the world around you according to how you perceive it.
In Metal Gear Solid 2, you play the role of Raiden, a rookie soldier who’s first mission is of dire consequences: the President’s life, New York’s ecosystem, the balance of the entire country lies on your shoulders. You, as the soldier, are in essence the Freeman from A Connecticut Yankee; you’re driven by circumstance and training to carry yourself as you do; you must complete the mission, fulfill your role at any emotional or physical cost. By comparing the role as a player in Metal Gear Solid 2 (henceforth abbreviated as MGS2)—in particular, the way the game treats and guides you through the narrative—to the role as a reader in A Connecticut Yankee, I plan to illustrate the uniqueness of video games as a medium for a narrative. At the same time, I will outline the advantages a video game supplies an “author” for involving his or her audience.
From here, I’ve only outlined the way I envisioned completing the paper, as I was unsure how well this direction would be perceived. I will, however, list the topics I plan to use to substantiate my claims.
-Your character in MGS 2 is somewhat ambiguous when it comes to gender. The director/writer (Hideo Kojima) arguably utilizes this to keep from isolating any part of his audience. Hank, on the other hand, is just Hank: a Yankee man of the 1800’s. He’s so specific that a large of the audience may not be able to connect with him. It is also important to emphasize how customization in video games (not only in MGS2, but in others) is a feature that cannot be found—in the same capacity, at least—in any other medium, especially text.
-In Twain’s book, and even in CYOA books, you never get entirely defined; there’s no absolute “you.” In MGS2, however, certain shots of the game highlight that this character, Raiden, is in fact you. In one shot, for example, you must enter your information (name, sex, age, blood type, nationality), then it shows you being shocked as it “initializes” you. Not only does this spark the imagery as you being a machine of sorts, but it symbolizes your being (as in your existence) being “downloaded” into the character; your information or, rather, you have been digitized in a sense.
-Twain vividly describes bloodshed that ensues near the story’s end, the “[vomiting of] death.” In MGS2, you not only get experience the bloodshed visually (and in an equally gory manner), but you are also the purveyor of the bloodshed. This makes a perfect segue way into the next topic.
-Throughout the game, you can make conscious and unconscious ethical decisions; furthermore, you’re not strapped into one or the other. In other words, the game can be completed despite how gruesomely you play it. For instance, the vast majority of the entire game can be completed without killing a single person. It may also be completed by the destruction of each and every enemy you encounter.
-Take one of the games main features, collecting dog tags, as another example: not only does this manage to personalize the soldiers whom you may kill, but, as a result of the manner in which you collect them, many soldiers will beg for their lives, while others will resist. It’s clear that Kojima varies the emotional scale for a player, appealing to their sympathy for the beggars and antagonizing them with the resistors. On top of that, remember that you, too, have a dog tag; these soldiers are just like you: they’ve a got a name; they’re a life.
-During the mission, your character Raiden has a support team. One of whom happens to be your love interest; she begs you to complete the mission and come home safely no matter what—even when you begin to have doubts about the authenticity of what you’re doing. The game is compelling you by circumstance to finish your job, again, at any cost. This also brings forth more robot imagery about being hard-wired to complete your duty.
-This is seemingly a draw between text and video games, because audio is just the voicing of text, right? I, however, would like to argue otherwise. In A Connecticut Yankee, for example, you as a reader are not able to raise objections; you merely watch the event happen and make internal observations and judgments. Being involved in MGS2, however, allows you to question what’s going on. Kojima foresees many of the ethical questions and problems that may be posed by the player and let’s your character put them in the foreground. For example, during one conversation with Rose (your love interest), the following is said:
“I've killed someone” (Raiden).
“Jack, it's a battlefield...” (Rose).
“My opponents are living, breathing human beings! This isn't like the VR training! They have bodies. They have -- had -- lives. I took all that away from them” (Raiden).
“But you've got no choice if you want to survive” (Rose).
“And yet... maybe because of the VR training... I can't help but try and block out that reality. It's the only way I can manage to fight...” (Raiden).
“I don't care what it takes, just as long as you come back alive. Do whatever it takes. Please! Just come back in one piece!” (Rose).
Direct Character Interaction:
-All these previous portions contribute to how great of a medium video games can be for a narrative. Ultimately, though, it comes down to its ability to manipulate you personally through your character. Throughout the story, you are constantly bombarded with the facts of your VR training. Your support team constantly reminds you of things like, “Complete your mission at any costs!” and “That wasn’t part of the simulation.” In the end, you’re even confronted with strange events like your support team going berserk, sending messages like, “I need scissors! 61!” and the “Game Over” screen appearing when you haven’t died. By the game’s end, you discover that you were being directed by an AI employed by the “Behind-the-Scenes” rulers of the United States. In essence, you were a test machine. The program’s purpose was to prove that, given any situation, any circumstance, you could be pushed to overcome it. Ultimately, you realize that you were merely a replaceable cog in the social machinery the government runs, as Ocelot notes, “If the boy had allowed the Big Shell to be destroyed, this exercise would have ended there. The project has no room for failures.” Furthermore, the AI that ran your whole mission explains:
Colonel : We used Shadow Moses as a paradigm for the exercise.
Rose : I wonder if you would have preferred a fantasy setting?
Colonel : We chose that backdrop because of its extreme circumstances. It
was an optimal test for S3's crisis management capacity. If the
model could trigger, control and solve this, it would be ready
for any contingency. And now, we have our proof.
This brings the game, and my point, to full circle. By means of a video game, you were trained and conned into completing the mission. Had you failed, it was simply “Game Over.” In the end, you came out of the man factory molded exactly as the ‘owner’ of that factory saw fit.
Well, that’s where I finish up, though I was considering adding a section on some of video-games drawbacks; namely, that people will often read books looking for a message or moral, whereas many play video games paying little or no attention to the ideas being put across. I hope things make sense, and I hope you like the direction I took. By the way, sorry for being so late. I have gobs of pages of notes, and I had to repeatedly work through them to find what I needed and coherently put it together.