Having a deep affinity for the Metal Gear games, at this point, sort of puts you in a box. Somehow, in the fifteen years since the original Metal Gear Solid, it’s become a series that can define you as a gamer, and your opinion on it seemingly reveals much about your sensibilities with regards to gaming and perhaps in general.
Okay, maybe I’m reaching a bit by proclaiming the series maintains that much relevance, but I certainly feel a certain anxiety and shame associated with my intense proclivity for the franchise. The original Solid doesn’t hold up by any stretch, the PS2 games are tough to go back to, and it even seems like MGS4 is universally reviled now, despite having been released to abundant critical acclaim just five years ago.
Whatever. I’ve played all of them, even making my way through the original MSX games when they were included in the 2011 HD Collection. But one installment will forever hold a special place in my heart, and that’s Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty. Called a crushing disappointment by many, and rightfully outshined by its masterful successor, MGS2 isn’t remembered very fondly in the mainstream. But it was the first Metal Gear I played, and it kickstarted my voracious appetite for the franchise.
Let me give you some background: MGS2 came out in 2001, at which point I was nine years old. I acquired the game several months after its release, during somewhat of a transitional time in my life. It sounds strange, and I won’t go into specifics, but suffice it to say that some unfortunate stuff was going on for me at that time. For now, I’ll just chalk it up to the same story that most of us have and say that video games, and particularly this one, with its sophisticated narrative and fleshed-out world, provided an escape unlike anything else during my childhood. I could read a little too deeply into the experience and ponder whether the game’s directives of hiding and observing as an unwelcome outsider may have caused me to relate to the game further… but if I’m being honest it was likely just a fun game with those “mature” themes that kids so desire in their entertainment. Either way, I ate it up, and it’s the first game I can remember playing for hours upon hours at a time and never stopping until I had to. I even remember completely missing a soccer practice because I had just triggered the 20+ minute final cutscene, and there was nothing that would pull me away from it; not even an angry dad actively and aggressively reminding me of the consequences for staying.
I also want to point out, for those concerned that one of my earliest meaningful gaming experiences was with an M-rated, blood-soaked thriller with disturbing psychological aspects, that MGS2 was the first game I can remember that made me feel bad for killing enemies. In case you’re unfamiliar with the series, you can pretty much make it through every game without killing any enemies. The rewards for doing so, if any, are pretty thin, so you don’t have much tangible incentive not to ice every single foe you come across if you’re so inclined. But I think that’s what made me feel so strongly about it: You also don’t have a reason to kill anyone, either. Wasting guys in this game just made me feel like a cold-blooded, ruthless psychopath. So I’m practically living proof that video games can teach children empathy.
By the way, if you’re waiting for my concession that this 12-year-old game doesn’t hold up so well anymore, that I can attribute my enduring affection for it to overly sentimental nostalgia, let me clear the air right now: Not going to happen. The version of the game included in the 2011 Metal Gear Solid HD Collection looks surprisingly stunning, and I maintain that it still plays fine. And I will simply not let go of my belief in its narrative genius. I don’t care what it says about me as a gamer.
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