In part two of Next-Gen's "New Generation" trilogy, the site takes an in-depth look at five figures who've shaped the recent emergence of the new generation of videogames...
Kojima, on the other hand, likes to poke fun at the idea that videogames were ever real or vital to start with. Over the last decade, his mantra might as well be "videogames are absurd, and so are you" - which would probably warrant a slap, were he to take himself any more seriously.
The two things that make Kojima remarkable are his affection for everything he mocks, and that (as far as game designers go) Kojima is such a celebrity. His works are amongst the highest-profile in the industry, and when he speaks, everyone listens. That doesn't mean everyone hears what he's saying; still, that's why we were given a subconscious.
When Metal Gear Solid came out, nearly a decade ago, everyone with a voice and a PlayStation hailed it as the most mature, realistic secret agent simulator ever. What no one seemed to notice is that it contained a ninja cyborg, a vampire, a psychic who can tell that you like to play Castlevania by reading your memory card, and codes that you have to type in from the back of the game packaging.
There may have been self-aware videogames before 1998, yet this was on a whole new level of weird.
Faced with a contrast between a gritty presentation, his own comic book idea of narrative, and what was actually possible to express to the player with the awkward standard of game design, circa 1998, Kojima chose to skirt the immersion issue.
Not only does Metal Gear Solid go to lengths to ensure that the player is conscious of it as a videogame, with its own weird rules, rather than a real experience; it makes sure that the player is conscious that the game is conscious of the player, as a player, in relation to it as a videogame. Which is to say, as long as the player has enough perspective, everything kind of makes sense and the experience holds together.
Evidently the experiment worked, as nobody realized how ridiculous the game was. This must have both delighted and frustrated Kojima, as on the one hand he succeeded in fooling everyone; on the other, no one really appreciated what he was trying to say about the relationship of game and player.
To the contrary, he had built up a large audience that took the game and its hero seriously, at face value. Cue the perfect setup for a master trickster.
When the sequel finally arrived, justifying millions of early PS2 adoptions, players soon discovered that Kojima had been lying to them for years. Scenes which had in promotional material contained everyone's favorite hero, Solid Snake, were now populated with a new character: an awkward, effete gamer with no particular life other than a breathless desire to be like Snake - or even better, to meet Snake in person and be his friend.
Just for the fun of it, Kojima ensured that Snake's butt cheeks contained far more polygons than those of any other character, including the women. Gamers were not impressed. And I haven't even gotten to the water sports, or the reinterpretation of fan favorite Otacon.
In short, Kojima used his own celebrity and good will, and the profile of his previous game, to play the biggest practical joke ever on an uncritical gaming audience. From that point on, some part of the industry has never quite been the same. Those with a sense of humor and enough distance punched the air and finally got what Kojima had been saying: videogames as we know them are pretty dumb.