Let’s just get it out of the way: I’m not doing April Fools. The competition is just too fierce. And besides, I’m just not that imaginative.
I’d like to talk about games, for a second. I love games. But I’ve fallen out of love with them recently. Perhaps it’s just a symptom of age, but it seems to me that they’ve started to suck.
I’m going to have to declare an interest here. I don’t like Metal Gear Solid. Not my thing. Any explanation as to why I don’t like it will probably tell you more about me than it would about Metal Gear Solid.
I hate, for instance, the little noise when one of the guards spies you. Goddam, that noise is annoying. The whole experience is akin to one of those steady hand games, where you have to get the loop around the length of a wire without touching it. After the first failure I’m all about mashing the thing through the whole thing, buzzes or no. I enjoy not those games.
Metal Gear Solid is pretty much Japan’s answer to James Bond. There are secret conspiracies. There are corporations. There are impractical haircuts. As the franchise has progressed, all of these things have gotten respectively more secret, more shadowy and more impractical. It has accreted all manner of weird things: Robots, space aliens, katana-wielding ninjas, space alien robot katana-wielding ninjas – all of them have at some point established a foothold on the Metal Gear Ass, like barnacles on the hull of a fishing trawler that’s been lost at sea and whose captain has gone mad with scurvy.
The captain of this particular ship is a man named Hideo Kojima. This guy is holds a strange allure over his fans. He…does things. And they let him. They even enjoy it.
Here’s the thing: the latest addition to this franchise, Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes is not a very long game. It can be completed in just over an hour, though some have done it in less than that. Some have done it in six minutes. And yet the game costs twenty-five pounds – less than a normal console game, I’ll grant you, but not proportionately less. To give a sense of scale, games can range in size from around six hours all the way up to two hundred. If you want a comparison, it’s like if Quentin Tarantino were to release a ten minute film and charge people £5 to see it.
Kojima’s name carries sufficient weight that hordes of devotees will happily part with twenty-five pounds in order to play a game that lasts less than a two-part episode of ‘Star Trek: The Next Generation’. I say ‘game’, but the term is charitable. Konami describe their creation as a ‘prologue’. A better word would be demo. It’s a long advertisement for a game yet to be released, and for the privilege of consuming this advertisement you must pay twenty-five pounds.
Why are they doing this? Because they can. Because it’s profitable. Why is it profitable? Because people are happy to pay twenty-five pounds. That’s capitalism, right? Dumb question. But why are people happy to do this? Now we’ve arrived at a question worth pondering! And ponder I shall. But before I do, I need to take a moment to talk about polygamist cults.
There have been a number of these in recent times, but the basic premise is that you get a bunch of people together and convince them that you are a source of moral authority – normally by citing some supernatural power you have. Once the members of your cult are sufficiently convinced of this, they will blindly oblige your every instruction. This is how Jim Jones got all those people to ingest cyanide.
A more practical application of this power would be the one where the leader requests that members let him (and it invariably is a him) shag their wives. If everyone has been sufficiently brainwashed, then they will agree that this is certainly a jolly good idea, and happily offer up their obliging spouse.
Hideo Kojima is that cult leader. The twenty-five pounds is your spouse.
Brand loyalty is an ugly thing, and it is at its most fervent when it comes to technology. Microchip versus Atmel, Nvidia versus ATI, Mac versus PC. You can’t whip out a new phone without inviting some Freudian schlong-off. Everything is viewed as a battle-royale, with all the respective hardware enthusiasts poised at ringside, dicks in hand, ready to masturbate themselves into a coma. Incidentally, these are usually the sorts of people who think spectator sports and organised religion are very silly indeed.
People talk about ‘the console wars’ as though they are actual wars. They treat Reggie Fils-Aime announcing Zelda for the Wii-U more seriously than they do Vladimir Putin marching troops into Crimea. Why is this the case? When Mr. Kipling announces another in a long line of exceedingly good cakes, it’s never described as ‘The Cake War’. It’s just some companies marketing competing products. No-one talks about ‘the dishwasher war’ or ‘the vacuum cleaner war’.
You don’t get this with food. Opinions on food can be strong as all hell, but there’s never sneering air of condescension when someone professes a preference for the wrong sort of food. “Oh, you like cheese sandwiches? I didn’t know they still made those. I prefer double cheese sandwiches. THEY HAVE TWICE THE CHEESE.”
But, for whatever reason, ‘the console war’ seems to be a thing.
Perhaps this is a reflection of the games themselves, whose content is for the most part incredibly violent and incredibly competitive. Maybe it’s because these things have such long lifespans. The hopes of a company do rest quite heavily on the performance of a single product. You could say that Betamax versus VHS and Bluray versus HDDVD were ‘wars’, couldn’t you?
But the blame must ultimately rest with the people buying this shit. I’ve no idea where this need comes from. Is it an excess of testosterone? Some sort of pent-up need to participate in some conflict, however meaningless?
Whatever the reason, the result of all this is that people will happily pay the sort of prices normally reserved for one-off events like rock concerts or sports events or meals in really posh restaurants or trips to Alton Towers or France.
This is obviously appalling news for those of us that don’t want to be shafted. I think we have crossed a Rubicon, here. A precedent has been set. The games industry was already quite happy charging people for invisible horses, weaponry and outfits to dress Lara Croft in. This is just one more step on that road. I hope the people that bought this game are happy. Christ only knows what hellish discord their kind hath wrought.
As a consequence, I can see this sort of thing spreading throughout the games industry. Maybe it’ll take root in the wider world of entertainment. In fact, in the world of literature, it already has. George RR. Martin just this week released a chapter of the next Song of Ice and Fire novel. But, here’s the crucial distinction: he did it for free!
Until next week!