Forgive me for stating the obvious, but there’s something very odd about the Metal Gear series. Unique might be a better word. Not just in terms of content, but also in the way we perceive it, and the way it is treated by the world around it. Metal Gear is like the weird kid who hangs around with your circle of schoolfriends and is tolerated because he does entertaining things, like the time he punted a sleepy bullfrog into the girl’s changing rooms. At other times, though, he might claim to have transformed into a velociraptor, or spend an entire lunch hour explaining that Star Wars doesn’t actually have any plot holes if you pay attention to the expanded universe, and in these cases everyone just smiles and nods and makes a circular gesture with their finger near the side of their head.
But from the point of view of the weird kid, he commands respect from his peers. Willfully he deludes himself with the idea that people aren’t actually laughing at him behind their hands, and builds this notion that he is actually some kind of legendary wit and visionary genius, an idea that festers as it is repeatedly enforced by his ‘friends’ in the hope that he does more funny things. The internet, where sarcasm is even harder for the mentally abnormal to detect, is something of a breeding ground for this kind of thing. You only have to Google ‘Chris-chan’ to learn that.
With their worldview constantly encouraged by those around them, things get awkward when the Weird Kid evolves, Pokemon-style, into Creepy Kid. Their antics become infused with an unchallenged opinion here and a raging hormone there, and the next thing you know, he’s drilling a hole in his bedroom wall to spy on his older sister in the shower. In the case of the Metal Gear series, it decided that it needed to apply its imagined creative genius to explore the hideous realities of war. And so we have the situation with MGS5: Ground Zeroes, in which a young woman is imprisoned in a Guantanamo Bay-style camp, implied to have been raped, and then has a couple of bombs shoved right up her. And while I don’t think any subject matter is too dark to be explored in a video game, when it’s placed alongside a villain who is basically just Skeletor, it comes across like it’s being treated a bit facetiously, and with not a trace of satire.
But we tend not to call the Metal Gear series out when it does this sort of thing. Not the way we would if someone we used to genuinely respect and admire did it. Just as we try to ignore the Weird Kid, when their creepy antics would lead to massive scandal if they were committed by, say, the head cheerleader. I think, partly, we all feel responsible for the stupid shit Metal Gear does. It’s our own fault for encouraging it. We should have pulled back on the leash while we were still on the thin end of the wedge, and told it things like “45 minutes is not an acceptable length for a back-and-forth expositional dialogue scene” or “Tell that woman to zip the front of her jumpsuit up, for fuck’s sake. She’ll get sunburnt at best.”
You see, when Platinum Games stepped in to make Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance, you can tell immediately that it doesn’t fit with the rest of the series, even disregarding the fact that it’s a fast-paced hack-and-slash as opposed to a stealth-survival-shooter. It’s because it has one thing underlying it that Metal Gear as a whole lacks – self-awareness. And that absence is something that cannot be simulated, for it lies at the core of the series. You can see it everywhere, in both the hilariously mad parts that make the games endearing, and the increasing trend towards the creepy.
It would certainly take a profound lack of self-awareness to release what amounts to a demo for The Phantom Pain for roughly half the price of a full-on triple-A release, and that brings me to the other thing I wanted to raise for discussion in this article. Metal Gear can be weird at times, but even if it was lining up the boy scouts for a graphic gang-rape jamboree, it still wouldn’t be doing any harm; nobody takes it seriously enough. But even the encouraging bullies would stop letting the weird kid hang around if he started stealing their wallets, and that’s what releasing a demo for $40 basically is.
This comes back to recent discussions on Titanfall, and whether or not you can justify charging full price for a mutliplayer-only game whose campaign you can be done with in under an hour. It all leads to a central question on how, exactly, one quantifies the financial worth of a video game. Quite a few correspondents got up my butt about my position, in an entirely anticipated round of butt spelunking, stating that they had clocked up tens of hundreds of hours playing Titanfall over and over again, and that they, personally, had gotten their money’s worth. Similarly, other individuals have done the upward butt assault since my Ground Zeroes review, reiterating a point that I already bloody made that there are bonus missions available to do within the game’s lone map, and again, that they personally had extracted at least $40 worth of entertainment.
Suit yourself, but I’d rather look beyond the anecdotal experience. A mad person could pay forty bucks for, say, ET on the Atari 2600, and spend an enjoyable eighty hours counting how many pixels are in every sprite, and they personally would have gotten their money’s worth. In my opinion, the objective worth of a game should be measured in hours of content, not hours of average playtime – how many hours go past before a game has nothing new to offer and starts repeating itself, because the number of additional hours of fun that can be extracted becomes much more subjective at that point.
Newness is also a factor in the considered worth of a video game, as part of the industry’s larger neophilia infection. I could go on the internet right now and download enough older games to keep me occupied for the whole 80 hours required to die of sleep deprivation (Editor’s Note: There is documented evidence of someone going 264 hours without sleep.), and the combined cost would be under twenty bucks. Eighty dollars for two hours (or even six hours) cannot possibly compare just because it’s a new game. And you don’t get this in films: a rental of a brand new blockbuster movie versus the rental of an old classic will be a difference of what, two or three bucks? Video games being the most profitable entertainment industry on Earth suddenly seems like less of an accolade when you factor in that the pricing is nuttier than in the wedding ring industry.
But all of these factors are meaningless. I’ve brushed up against the world of business more than once, and an accountant once shared with me the true secret of worth. There is only one factor that defines the price of something you’re trying to sell, and that’s how much the buyer is prepared to pay for it. So once again, you have only yourself to blame. Thanks a lot, asshole.
Yahtzee is a British-born, currently Australian-based writer and gamer with a sweet hat and a chip on his shoulder. When he isn’t talking very fast into a headset mic he also designs freeware adventure games. His personal site is www.fullyramblomatic.com.