Analysis of Participation

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Metal Gear Solid 4- Guns of the Patriots

“Metal Gear Solid 4” is a Japanese stealth video game released in 2008, with a strong narrative and interesting characters. The main plot deals with countless conspiracies, backstabbing and secret agents. It requires knowledge of the previous games in order to fully understand and experience it, which I had to learn the hard way as a first time player of the series. As mentioned, the narrative of the game is very strong and mainly represented by overlong cutscenes, which makes the game appear more movie- than game-like. The content contains offbeat humor, lot of political themes and different philosophies that further complicate the plot and the game to an extent that everything is  sometimes incomprehensible.

From the different game elements of participation (Murray,1997), immersive visit is one of the least strong elements. An immersive visit would be entering the game world without a goal or restrictions. Due to the linearity of the narrative and the goal based mission design, the immersive visit is reduced to some relative open game levels. One example is the level taking place in South America that lets the player decide whether to support the present militia or not. The maze like structure of the level allows a visit that is temporarily not goal based, but ultimately the game is too focused on the narrative to allow immersive visits.

Another participation element that is not present in “Metal Gear Solid 4” is creation, the element that players could interfere with the ongoings of the game with their own creations. The world is a set element of the game and cannot be changed. Although there are small factors that are optional and can enhance the player experience if used, they are not present enough to rectify creation. These factors are some collectibles and video calls from characters that have to be sought after in order to use them.

The mask, the avatar for the player is also not present, even though masks are an essential game element for most games to create identification. Various characters use them to disguise their identity, but in context of the game and not to enhance the identification with the main character. Solid Snake as the main character is established, with a personality and motivations that cannot be altered by the player. However, due to the narrative and story circumstances it is easy to emphasize with him, which can transform him into a light version of an avatar. Moreover, the possibility of small weapon and character customization and tactical camouflage system, there are elements of the mask present.

Overall, the strongest element of participation is the role of the player, which would include goals to achieve and accomplishments to get. The goals in the game are clearly defined, although they often get distorted by the narrative. Emotions and identification with the characters are major elements of the game, as displayed by excellently animated cutscenes and references to previous games. However, the goals presented can be achieved in different ways- as a silent killer, a pacifist, as a mass-murderer, or something in between- the decision is with the player and the game structure does not favor any of the playing styles. The goals do not change dependent on the style, but get colored by the actions of the player in a meta-game like manner. Also the cultural differences between Europe and Japan, do some goals appear to be out of context for the player. All in all, it does not influence too much, as the role still is the biggest element of the game.

Arousal can be a controversial element in “Metal Gear Solid 4”, dependent on the definition. The game offers enough visual stimuli to cause over-arousal, but also emotional situation can over-arouse. Moreover, all the information and facts presented during the game can cause the feeling of having too much, especially if the game was not researched or if knowledge of the previous games is not existent. It could be said that “Metal Gear Solid 4” does not necessarily work with arousal, but with exhaustion, as the overall feeling when playing is more tiredness than excitement. The depressing topics discussed in the game enhance the effect even more.

However, these circumstances make sense in the overall game context and the narrative, which appears to be weird in the eyes of the player. It pays off in the end of the game and with creating more realistic player participation, which is more associated with books or movies and not with video games. “Metal Gear Solid 4” is a successful example, how a complicated narrative can pay off in the overall game context. It definitely helps setting it apart from other stealth games and supports its popularity.

Murray, J.H. (1997). Hamlet on the Holodeck. New York: Free Press, pp. 108-199.

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