Beginning, middle and end. Linearity in video games.

by whohorton

The Metal Gear franchise is a long, successful, and literally, storied example of the video game medium. Its appeal originates in its deeply complex and engaging story line, spanning decades and following multiple characters. MGS4’s story line is decidedly linear, as you walk the path of the single main character, Old Snake, through a variety of sequential missions. When put in the context of the entire MGS franchise, MGS4 could be deemed ‘multilinear’ in the same vein as books, films, and TV shows that follow multiple characters and incorporated numerous, interweaving subplots. The game shares many conventions with cinema, which enables MGS4 and even the whole MGS series to be studied through a traditional textual lens. For instance, the opening scene of the game is a long cut scene that could be easily viewed as the opening credit sequence to a film (see the similarity between the opening scene of MGS4 and the opening and closing scenes of the film Lord of War). The voice over narration provides context and background story, whilst a non-interactive sequence plays out, employing different ‘camera’ techniques. MGS4 heavily utilizes cut scenes and other cinematic conventions such as flashbacks to convey information about the narrative and drive the story. In fact, shortly after its release, MGS4 reviews described the game as a “playable movie” (Van Ord 2008) given its eight-and-a-half hours of non-playable cinematic footage. Galloway (2006, 11) argues, “the cinematic elements in a game are highly instrumental and deliberate, often carrying the burden of character development or moving the plot along in ways unattainable in normal gameplay.” This is especially true in MGS4 and it’s logical that such a complex narrative should require a large amount of cinematic expression to be effectively communicated and developed. Galloway goes on to define these cinematic digressions from game play as “diegetic machine acts” (2006, 12) where the player is put to the side, unable to affect the unfolding of the game process in front of them. The plot becomes inexorable and unchangeable, filling in the narrative gaps and providing meaning for the player’s action but at the same time excluding them from the process. So what is it about the player that is in such opposition to linearity?