MGS4 Storyline Is A Measuring Stick, Not A Detriment
As both my resume and my closest friends will tell you, I'm a writer first and a gamer second. Granted, I will always love the hobby in question and I consider my current position at PSX Extreme as a grand combination of two deep-set passions. Therefore, it should go without saying that I've watched the advancement of writing in the video game industry with attentive eyes and an encouraged heart.
Some of our loyal readers will remember an editorial I did last year, addressing the storyline of Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots. You will notice that I don't make any ill-founded (and ill-advised) comparisons to the finest pieces of literature ever written, or the best movie scripts in history. I'm no literary genius but I can easily recognize that video games aren't quite up to snuff in regards to top-notch writing talent. In no way will I place MGS4 in one hand and Thomas Mann's "The Magic Mountain" in the other and say to myself, "hmm, now let's examine the contrasts." But at the same time, it would be equally foolhardy to discount the strides we have taken in this industry, and even more so to place the Metal Gear Solid franchise in the cross-hairs when we call for the need of "better writing" in video games. While accepting the current limitations and looking forth to future advancements, one should use the best examples at the ready disposal in order to remain optimistic. Doing the opposite is...well, backwards.
As it has gained plenty of attention, you may notice this article, asking Konami and Kojima to provide gamers with less "long-winded" and "convoluted" storylines and, as far as I can interpret, simplify the intended plot (potentially for Metal Gear Solid: Rising). There are several problems with this, the biggest of which I have just alluded to; as MGS4 remains one of the best examples of relatively impressive writing, it shouldn't be used as a scapegoat to call for better formulated stories and keener character development. To those schooled in the art of writing, they will notice several glaring errors in the construction of the MGS4 script: the author really doesn't know when to end a scene (there's a distinct difference between drama and melodrama), and even more importantly, the reader - or in this case, the player - deserves more respect. The cardinal sin of fiction is to "tell" rather than "show," and there's a great deal too much "telling" going on in MGS4. In this way, it stumbles a bit and falls from the ranks of "professional" to "amateur with raw talent." That's how I see it.
But to call down the cut-scenes for taking too long and going after the complexity of the script isn't doing the game justice. I will freely admit that one needs to be a little too acquainted with the overall MGS storyline to understand every last facet of the plot in MGS4, but you really shouldn't hide behind a mostly transparent veil of, "I didn't get all of it so it's the author's fault." This rarely flies in book clubs. Again, I don't want to make the poor comparison mentioned earlier; I'm merely making a point. If you want to ask for better writing, talk about games that should've had good writing but failed in their attempt. There are plenty. But don't make it sound as if MGS4 is an example of what not to do in the realm of video game writing. That, my friends, is a mistake.
Related Game(s): Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots
6/17/2009 Ben Dutka