Axby Stories: How videogames broadened my political awareness

Finally, part 3 of what was initially only meant to be one article on how Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker led to me reading Che Guevara in depth, something that my time at university only got me to read at most the required chapters.

The Metal Gear Solid series is fairly convoluted and becomes ever more so with every new canonical entry. However I have found it to be one of the most intriguing overarching stories available in the medium, and what’s more, for me it often feels like an interactive lesson on various topics ranging from nuclear disarmament to the concept of a nation state.

There are similarities to be found in the more recent entries of the series to the points I made in the first article in regards to the removal state boundaries. MGS3: Snake Eater was the first to really put this across with the Boss’ dream of a unified world, but a dream that was misinterpreted by Zero and Big Boss which subsequently led to the split in how both men operated in achieving a world order that would pleased the Boss.

In the original Metal Gear games (separate to the Solid games, but very much a part of the canon) Big Boss and Outer Heaven play a large role, and that is where ultimately Peace Walker came in to sow the seeds towards its creation.

Peace Walker is both one of the most unique MGS games, but also possible the most definitive version as well. For a game that was originally designed for the PSP handheld it is surprising that it is also the longest game so far in the whole series. I managed to sink over 40 hours to get the main ending, and whilst there was some repetition (such as grinding through past bosses), there were plenty of different missions available. And due to the accommodation to being on a handheld, most missions lasted no more than 20 minutes, furthermore in stark contrast to 40 minute plus cut scenes found in  MGS4, the comic book style cutscenes found here were to the point.

What really stuck with me during and after playing Peace Walker was the way it portrayed revolutionary fighters, or rebels. I had studied guerilla warfare in the past, and you can’t study that without at least reading a couple of chapters of Che Guevara. Whilst doing so put an end to my derision of his work and what he stood for (mostly due to ignorant teenagers who think he’s “cool”) that was about the extent to which I cared about him.

So it was to my great surprise that the way in which his work and the whole situation regarding Latin America was portrayed in Peace Walker generated a lot of interest for me. When studying the Cold war the focus obviously tends to be on the US (and the wider NATO allies) and the Soviet Union. Whilst Latin America is not completely overlooked, when mentioned it is often in the context of how the US interfered in its affairs (usually for the worst), or the main scenario of the Cuban Missile Crisis.

The whole setting highlighted how this region that just wanted to get on with its own affairs was in the middle of an ideological landgrab between the US and the Soviet Union, neither of which actually cared about the countries themselves. Most of these countries didn’t follow the same interpretation of socialism as the Soviet’s and nor did they want the unfettered capitalism that the US were trying to push. This setting was picked for a reason as it sets the scene perfectly for Big Boss’ movement Militaires Sans Frontieres (Soldiers without borders) which provided military services for anyone who needed it regardless of ideology or nationality. This outward modus operandi also reflected the inward motivations of what would become Outer Heaven, for it is a place for soldiers to be free of political and ideological interference, they can fight wars for what they feel is necessary and not what their government tells them. For governments do not always act in the best interests of its citizens, something which Big Boss has faced first hand.

The wider actions of MSF (not to be confused with Doctors without borders), Big Boss, and the revolutionary fighters fall in line with some of the aspirations of Che Guevara. For they want the ability to lead their own lives, but the only way to successfully achieve this is to have a loyal force of people who truly believe in what they are fighting for. Raw firepower isn’t enough to guarantee victory, something which the US have experienced, and these days that mantra is becoming even more relevant with the ability of some movements (but not all) to get their demands via peaceful non-violent means.

This is the one area where the recent MGS games differ from Guevara’s writings, for he was a big proponent of the use of force to attain victory, now this did not mean that all who stand should be killed, quite the opposite as he made a point of not mistreating prisoners, but that violence was needed to show they were serious. This violence would often take the form of sabotage and destroying infrastructure useful for the government, but he had no reservations about killing enemy combatants.

In MGS3, 4, and Peace Walker it is possible to go through these games without killing a single enemy. This both reinforces the stealth aspect but also helps to symbolise that soldiers are not your enemy, they are fellow human beings who just happen to be on the otherside. Peace Walker (and the upcoming The Phantom Pain) take this further, as the enemy soldiers can be brought over to your side by being captured on the battlefield, providing further incentive not to kill.

The Metal Gear Solid series might now be one of my favourites, even though I’m not actually that great at them, the overall storyline has kept me coming back for more, and the core gameplay is enjoyable. Yet Peace Walker was the culmination of all the aspects that I liked most about the series, its interpretation of that era of the Cold War and its understanding of Guevara’s work have provided me with an opportunity to explore other political ideas that I had previously dismissed, and for that I am grateful.

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