Metal Gear Solid V is a videogame in which I travel around on a bright pink helicopter which blares Kim Wilde’s Kids In America from a loudspeaker. Then I go home to my bright pink oil rig in the Seychelles and roll around on the floor with a one-eyed puppy for a while, before delivering a savage and unprovoked beating to the men who work for me. They thank me for my cruelty, and demand I hit them harder.
I spent so many years convinced that Metal Gear Solid was the antithesis of everything I wanted from games, but now I’m certain that it’s everything I want. At any point that the game threatens to take itself too seriously, be it in the militarism of its missions or the uncensored auterism of its cutscenes, it will before too long pour over a mad custard of silliness, or at least the potential for it. It’s not simply surface silliness: it’s silliness that matters. ‘Here, it’s your game, enjoy yourself.’
This is so at odds with the aspect of the game which relentlessly tells me it was made by Hideo Kojima (credits before and after each mission, his name in mile-high letters, held on the screen, which are surely half-pride and half satirising the breathless, unrealistic lionisation the man’s fans apply to him. All these other names in the credits, but those screens flash by at lightning speed) that I begin to doubt every prior assertion about the man’s ego. I’d had him pegged as some sort of idiot savant until MGS V, but now I see the extreme self-awareness at play too. Either that, or he lets his team get away with anything so long as the ‘cinematic’ cutscenes are the intended vision.
So I paint my helicopter pink, and have it blare Kim Wilde as I drop into a Soviet-invaded Middle Eastern warzone. ‘We’re the kids in America, woah-oh.’ Oh God. Cold war kids in America. Cold war on terror kids in America. I thought it was just pop, but I’m making an accidental statement. Back to Bowie next time, I think. I will collect more music as I play, and I’m almost more excited about that than I am ballooning new species of animal up into the night sky.
There are people who will not paint their helicopter pink, I realise. They’ll paint it green or grey, or some dreadful camouflage pattern that they believe makes them look like A Very Important Soldierman. They’ll ignore their PREPOSTEROUSLY CUTE HUSKY PUPPY, or – ugh – they’ll punch it to the floor when it skips up to them with love in their eyes. How could they? Why would they?
Conversely, maybe they won’t tussle with their masochistic, adoring staff; maybe they’ll just bristle with pride when all those fanboyish jarheads salute them while they stride around their drab olive base. You can be Patton if you want, if you really must. Or you can be Pink Boss. Or Yellow Boss Or Purple Boss or Lime Green Boss. Be your own Boss.
Me, I beat those waiting, bug-eyed tropps. And strangle them. And bodyslam them. And kick them when they’re down. It’s what they want. It’s what they love. They are soldiers, and they want a Boss.
The base is mine. The base is me. Saints Row does this to an extreme, with infinitely more options, but that’s so chin-deep in satire that its subversion dissipates. In Metal Gear Solid, to paint my base pink and my helicopter pink, to listen to Kim Wilde is to say “I reject everything Call of Duty says videogames should be. I reject realism. I reject visceral.” It is such a simple tool, to choose the colour, to tweak the logo, to change the music but it matters so much. And the puppy? The puppy tells me that the game’s creators endorse my doing this.
I don’t have to return to Mother Base after every mission, and usually there’s little new to do, but I do go, I must go. What a greeting I get. Kim Wilde, over-excited puppy, a dozen men begging to be wrestled and choked.
How could I ever refuse that, after crawling through the dust and blood in Afghanistan, after all the guns and the hiding, the panic and the fury? This is catharsis. This is how to cope, not how to celebrate military violence.
You, you prick who sets your helicopter music as Ride Of The Valkyries, who struts around a grey deck, who pushes the puppy away, who hasn’t made his armed insurgency group’s logo look like the cover of a glamrock fanzine: what is wrong with you? What the fuck is wrong with you?