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Kojima hopes to tackle controversial themes with AAA design
Kojima hopes to tackle controversial themes with AAA design
June 11, 2014 | By Alex Wawro

"This is my challenge right now; to keep creating good things with authorship while working in AAA."
- Hideo Kojima speaks about his struggles to create meaningful big-budget games at E3 2014.

Metal Gear creator Hideo Kojima attended E3 in Los Angeles this week to promote Metal Gear Solid 5: The Phantom Pain, which has come under scrutiny in the wake of widespread criticism of the depictions of rape in its predecessor, the prequel game Ground Zeroes.

Gamasutra attended one of many roundtable interview sessions that Kojima participated in during the show to try and learn -- with help from a translator -- a bit more about why hes chosen to explore darker themes of rape, misery and revenge in his recent work, and how his experience working on The Phantom Pain differs from the projects he tackled earlier in his career.

This will be the most expensive game he's ever designed, and Kojima claims his decision to continue working with big-budget teams and technology is handicapping his ability to exercise creative freedom in his work.

I want to use a lot of technology, but as we use more technology we need more budget, and when you need more budget its more difficult to put more authorship into [the game]; the relationship with the marketing department becomes more difficult, says Kojima, citing the high risk of big-budget development as a chilling force on designers looking to explore new themes. So, as a creator it has become very difficult; the more technology we use, the more difficult [being creative] becomes.

And yet, when another interviewer asks the designer about why his work reflects contemporary realities like private military contractors or the threat of domestic terrorism, Kojima claims that his work remains a clear reflection of what hes thinking about and the environment around him.

I believe there has to be some authorship where you reflect your feelings. Thats how I make games; Im just reflecting what I feel, the things in my mind, I put them out there, and therefore some of the things that Im going through, that surround me, might be reflected in [my games], says Kojima.

The designer is fond of comparing game developers to filmmakers, and during our interview he

"There are things that I just cannot look away from and I need to depict."
points out that the Metal Gear games are much akin to the Godzilla films in the way they use the same characters to reflect and explore different themes through the years. For better or worse, this is what he clings to when the interview inevitably turns to reflect on the rape and torture depicted in Ground Zeroes.

Of course I expected people to react to this, but then again the theme of the game Im trying to create herethere are very dark themes; themes such as race, and revenge. Thats something I dont want to look away from, says Kojima. I did see the reaction coming, but that doesnt change the message I want to relay.

Despite opening our interview with complaints about the creative shackles of big-budget development, Kojima closes by taking full responsibility for the messages his games convey and promising to continue exploring controversial themes.

Certainly, what Im trying to do is different from just shooting at zombies, says Kojima. Im trying to depict something, a very specific message about things that happened in history. I think that, just because I have a very specific theme I want to relate, there are things that I just cannot look away from and I need to depict.

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Michael Joseph
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Some say there's no such thing as an anti-war film and that even those films that show us the horrors and insanity of war, wind up glorifying it.

The 2014 E3 trailer looks like hell. Literally.

I've never played a MGS game. Am I wrong in assuming it's essentially an R-Rated version of GI:Joe with comically evil bad guys and angelic good guys with Solid Snake serving as a sort of vengeful archangel?

If so, then maybe there are some controversial scenes, but people shouldn't confuse controversial material that is sensational and provocative, with controversial material that is rebellious and anti status quo. On the controversy spectrograph, MGS seems to barely register.

Joseph Garrahan
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Just the name, "Phantom Pain", should tell you that this has some meaning. This specifically means "still feeling something you have lost, like an arm". This probably has multiple meanings, but is also literal, with the character who has lost a leg/arm.

This Snake is not good or bad. In MGS 5, you play the story of Solid Snake's antagonist, "Snake". (that's not Solid Snake in the trailer...that's just plain "Snake"). I assume that in this game, you find out why he does what he does in the other games.

Yes, It's easy to tell you have not played it. While aesthetically it might look like GI:Joe, it is not at all about evil vs good. In fact, the series is unclear if whatever you are doing at any point is for the good or evil side. There is no distinction anyway, it's all grey areas.

All the characters think they are doing what is best, they don't do things because they are evil. Do you even see a bad guy in that trailer? Not really.

Vengeful Archangel? Definitely not Snake, but maybe Raiden. Again, it is never clear if Raiden is doing good deeds or not, since the "bad guys" always make their case clearly. They are always doubting their actions...

Adam Bishop
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The Metal Gear Solid games have always addressed interesting and relevant cultural themes. Metal Gear Solid 2, for example, has as a central plot point the idea that the U.S. government is collecting and monitoring everyone's web communications in order to supress political dissent. When the game came out people said it was a crazy idea, but recent revelations about the NSA show that Kojima was not too far off the mark.

And no, Solid Snake is not an "angelic good guy". A major theme of the series is that Solid Snake *isn't* blameless. The ambiguity in Snake's character and the fact that he recognises his own flaws is one of the reasons he's such an iconic protaganist.

Nuttachai Tipprasert
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"On the controversy spectrograph, MGS seems to barely register."

Sorry, but how could you come to that conclusion if you've never played the game before?

Sergio Rosa
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I have never played any MGS game (either), but it doesn't matter because I am not going to discuss Kojima's position itself.

I went to read a few articles about the subject (because I didn't even know the scene was present in the game), all discussing "how it was handled wrong." But it makes me wonder what kind of scene or sequence (on screen, of course) would people think it was handled right? Will there be a day when we get the "Irreversible" of games, or will we have to stick to trigger-happy dudes and "destruction porn"?

EDIT: In case you don't know, Irreversible is a french movie where there's a nearly 10 minute long rape and beating sequence (that's what people say. I haven't watched the movie and chances are I never will).

Larry Carney
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Glad that there is someone who is so well known in the AAA space deciding to tackle these themes. Isn't that what so many voices and editorials ask for, that AAA becomes "morally relevant" in the modern era?