Metal Gear Solid V, the latest instalment in a franchise that between spinoffs, remakes and prequels counts about 927 games*, has finally been released. Do you know how do I know that it has been released? Because no one on the internet will shut the fuck up about it.
To be honest, this piece is not really about Metal Gear Solid V. Let’s face it, this annoying wave of media hype happens every month, to a degree that I will assume no one is even surprised about it anymore.
What is problematic about this all-encompassing hype experience is that it involves no volunteering, every single person who follows the “gaming world” is brutally conscripted into it, passively subjected to this chorus of screeching voices that sing the same song, each one trying to out-fake the others, showing the world how joyous or outraged they are that yet another messiah has come to visit the western world.
And while I strain myself to put it in the most apocalyptic terms that I can, let’s be honest, it is not necessarily an “evil” thing to approach a game as the climax of a mediatic narrative, it can be quite riveting in fact, but it is an extremely different experience from “playing the game”. Again, the real problem is that we do not really have any choice, if we intend to play the latest releases we will have to be subject to this distracting environment. For how much we can believe that we are immune to such marketing ploys, the all-encompassing nature of the internet will inevitably get to us. We do not live in a void, and we never will, the act itself of playing a game at its peak of mediatic hype will snap our thoughts to the rest of the noise surrounding the product, subtly influencing us, driving us to shallowness and most importantly hindering our enjoyment of the game itself.
Because trying to play a game in the context of its mediatic hype is inherently an act of consumerism, and approaching a product through a consumerist mind-set will inevitably relinquish it from any higher joys that it could bring. Consumerism is only interested in the immediate and the material, in the “have” and in the “know” rather than in the “feel”, which is arguably the exact opposite to what the act of approaching a work of art should be. Mind you, I am not trying to say that the act of “buying” art and the act of enjoying it are inherently incompatible (or at least not in this piece), but when the buying is caused by a wider tide of marketed voices that push you to join them, the relationship becomes much more problematic. Buying, experiencing and sharing meld (have you noticed the share button on the Playstation 4 controller? yeah, illuminati confirmed) into that screeching sound mentioned above, playing the game becomes a task to conclude a thesis rather than a pleasure and deeper meanings are lost to a sea of stock discussions.
Naturally, I’m not pretending that this article is not itself a part of that cycle, after all it did come from my usual irritation at the continuous gushing over this latest messiah and I did pass a lot of time trying to find the most click-baity title I could think of. But it also comes from a place of realization.
During the last couple of months I have been stuck on a 4G connection, unable to get ahold of any new games (Yeah I know retail games are technically still a thing, only technically though). This led me to begin playing old games I had lying on my pc but never had the time to get into, and you know what? For the first time in a long time I actually re-discovered the joy to play for the sake of playing. Free from the screeching noise and the twisted expectations I went along with the ridiculous twists of Ace Attorney Investigations 2 and got excited at all the charming little ideas of Paper Mario. For once playing was the act that took the main stage, because no one cared that I was playing those games and there was no narrative to create an illusion that someone cared, it was just the game and me.
Even if I could have engaged with the latest releases, I would have been snarky and demanding. Playing would have become an act of confrontation with a societal context rather than an act of exploration and self-fulfillment, I would have constantly challenged the game to prove or disprove the screeching voices and in the end I would have just took in the part of the experience that would have allowed my thesis to snap to the hype grid (and let’s not forget that hype, on a personal level, can be both negative and positive). Instead I just played. That is not to say that I wasn’t critical about what I was playing (Peach’s representation does set feminism a couple of hundred years back and I could spend a thousand word just dissecting why the Flower Fields in Paper Mario are excruciating), but the experience as a whole was for once “pure”, in a way that could have never been if I played those games in another context.
This is not really a fault in the games that get this “hype treatment”, for instance The Witcher 3 looks like something I would quite like in the right moment of my life. The problem lies in the system that those game need to maintain sales and pop appeal, the problem lies in an artistically numb audience that has to be “fooled” to make art possible, the problem lies with the wider system that created that audien… eh, I’m digressing am I not?
Fighting against the huge pop machine that supports the gaming industry will always be a losing battle and the only way to survive, at least for me, is to give up, get as far as possible from the zeitgeist and just play. And I know that following the hype is fun and that is easy to be carried away by peer pressure when literally everyone is gushing at the latest messiah, but at least once you should try to not buy into it. Just grab an old game and play it. Really play it.
*number may be inaccurate