Thursday, August 30, 2012

Because it is bitter, and because it is my heart.

Last week, I finished Metal Gear Solid 3. It was bittersweet. We have a history, MGS3 and I. Fortunately, unlike the women I met in undergrad, MGS3 cannot be annoyed or offended by my writing it up here, and it can't file a restraining order should I attempt to play it again.

I'm old enough to remember the end of the Cold War, but not old enough to understand what it meant or why it mattered until years later. Which is to say that I am also too young to remember Metal Gear, Metal Gear 2, or Snake's Revenge. I played Metal Gear once on the NES, and spent my time being confused why I was in a combat zone with a pack of cigarettes and no weapons. That was Metal Gear for me: unarmed, with addictive, carcinogenic drugs, and no clear idea what to do.

I got older, the wall came down, and Metal Gear Solid came out. I was seventeen, living in the phantom world between middle school and college, and I finished it in two sittings. Which is not to say I was particularly good at the game, just persistent. I learned the rules slowly, in the face of constant failure, but the Game is good, and the Game is kind, and I learned. Stay under the cameras. Break the neck if you're unarmed. Shoot from behind with a silenced pistol if you're not. The FAMAS for close- and medium-range firefights, the PSG-1 for long-range combat, the stinger for hard targets. Chaff grenades to make their attacks less accurate. Cigarettes and valium to make my own more accurate. MGS is a marvel of parsimony; a place for everything, and everything in its place.

I grew up a bit. "Watashi no senkoo wa seijigaku desu," is how the kids would describe it. MGS is a good thing to love if you're studying poli-sci, it turns out. The limits of deterrence theory, the ins and outs of modern weapons systems, the challenges posed by actor proliferation: all good stuff to have a handle on before you step into the classroom, especially if you haven't been there in a while. MGS stuck to me deeply in adolescence, and I suppose it sticks there still.

At 20, I acquired Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty, and played it manically, usually with an audience. The sheer craziness of the narrative was well-paired with the brutal sanity of the gameplay, and I died and died and died until I won. I didn't go for a lot of the secrets--I shot birds, sure, but I was never good at robbing guards, and I didn't think to look up the hostage's skirt--but I played it to death, and when I started working on my undergrad thesis, armed with a novice's knowledge of postmodern literature, I played it again. MGS2, and its progenitor, ended up being the centerpiece of my first significant academic work, my writing sample for grad school. Columbine taught me about CMS, but MGS2 got me there.

But that hadn't happened yet, so when I met Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater, I was living surreptitiously in my girlfriend's college housing. Like the Democratic party at the time, I was disorganized, weak-willed, and completely without direction. So when MGS3 didn't "grab" me right out of the gate, it might have been my own lack of focus that presented the problem, rather than that of the designers. We cannot blame the snow, after all, for being soiled by the earth. (We can also infer from Ms. Edison an alternate explanation.)

I'd return to MGS3 periodically over the years, sometimes with high hopes for figuring out what I was missing, sometimes out of dull determination to get it over with. I bought a DualShock 3 controller, in the hope that it would make the AP sensor more useful. I ignored entreaties to buy the enhanced re-release Subsistence. I'd pick it up, get confused, and put it back down. The rest of my life was working out much the same way. Looking back with the smallest amount of distance, I can see the sundry errors, near-misses and general-purpose fuck-ups of the last eight years mirrored in my relationship with, and my approach to, MGS3.

Next post will pick up the thread from there: how I learned to stop worrying and eat the snake, and how frustrating it is to have already used that joke on an entirely unrelated post title.

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