Children and War

There are some minor spoilers for Metal Gear Solid 5 contained in this blog. Not much regarding the plot is detailed, but if you wish to play that game with a fresh mind, do not continue past the picture.

Metal Gear Solid 5 may not have the most detailed plotline, but it does bring up a lot of interesting questions. Things that deal with nuclear warfare, genetic manipulation and honor are standard fare as far as Metal Gear is concerned, but child warfare is relatively new.

Aside from Raiden in Metal Gear Solid 2, we’ve never seen children on the battlefield or heard of their past. MGS 2 tried to describe how Raiden was robbed of his life because of Solid Snake, but what about kids who never had a chance to experience life in general?

The mission Blood Runs Deep in Phantom Pain tasks Snake with eliminating 6 targets. The client they have taken on requests this so that none of the rebels talk. It’s a dramatic increase from previous missions, but the biggest surprise is hardly the amount of targets.

When you approach the cell that contains the enemy, you find that they are children around 12 years old. It is truly shocking (despite pre-release footage showing them). Kaz gives you a short speech that details how there, “is no Heaven or Hell for these kids.” Snake mutters that there is another choice; Outer Heaven.

This begins a thrilling and nail biting escort mission out of the camp through a guarded river bed. Apart from being one of the best missions I’ve ever played, the game got me thinking about what war must do to these children.

Even when Snake gets them to safety, will their lives be changed? Being raised in a literal battlefield has to have some kind of scaring effect on the psyche of these kids. Is it possible that war is the only thing these kids will ever be capable of?

This is, sadly, a question that is raised often in real life. CNN has a report from former child soldier Ngor Mayol that explains how he is living after fighting at the age of 15. Without any form of rehabilitation, Ngor leads a normal life as a grocery store clerk.

In his own words, “My life experience in the military, I was so proud of it, to defend the territory of South Sudan.” For him, his time on the battlefield was noble. His cause made sense and he regrets nothing.

He has some nightmares of the friends he lost, but he seems to be friendly and calm. One cannot say if he is lucky or if PTSD doesn’t effect children as much, but all hope is not gone. Sometimes, fighting battles at a young age will do nothing to you.

The terrorist group, ISIS, has sent many children into battle as suicide soldiers. Girls are turned into prostitutes or sold as wives and other children are given AKs and told to shoot on sight. A lot of these kids don’t suffer from any mental trauma.

The biggest concern seems to be the never ending cycle of war. If soldiers are readily replaceable with children, then how many lives need to be spent to end a conflict? Can a man instinctively kill a child because the kid is pointing a gun at him? Is that a quandary that any person should be faced with?

Metal Gear never answers those questions. Instead, the game will automatically fail you if any of the children die. There are also later missions where you need to infiltrate a base camp that is entirely composed of kids. In that mission, as well, you cannot kill anyone.

It seems the stance of Mother Base, and Metal Gear as a whole, is that killing children is morally reprehensible. This is in stark contrast to the plotline that details the fall of Big Boss. If he is truly an enemy, why isn’t he getting his job done at any cost?

That isn’t what this blog is about. Much like how Hideo Kojima included children in the Phantom Pain to spark discussion, I’m writing this to ask questions. I want to know what other people feel on this situation.

While I’m fairly certain we all agree that putting children into armed conflict is deplorable, we may not all agree on how their futures will turn out. I don’t know that I would be able to escape the demons of my past if I had ever killed someone at a young age.

It also begs the question; is war natural? Is our species doomed to endlessly repeat a cycle of death and destruction? Animals in the wild will fight each other, but they don’t enlist thousands of comrades to fall under a specific cause. Humanity seems to be the only species which tries to justify it’s actions.

I guess when the going gets tough, throwing kids on the front lines is a quick and dirty solution. It’s similar to cigarette companies and their marketing campaigns; getting them hooked when they are young builds a trust that is hard to break.

Whatever the answer, I’m happy to at least be thinking about something that afflicts our world. Without Metal Gear coming along and placing me in ridiculous and outlandish situations, I’d probably never give a second thought to the war machine and it’s devastating impact on humanity.

Perceived Value

A strange trend seems to be emerging within the review process for games. If something lacks a large quantity of content, the score goes down regardless of the quality. For example, Dirt: Showdown was given a lukewarm reception because it’s career mode is short.

I completely disagree with that assessment. I found the game to be extremely enjoyable and a decent attempt at a Burnout style game from a company known for realism. The physics felt wonderful and the damage modeling looked amazing.

For $60 though, I could maybe see the point. There isn’t a tremendous amount of stuff to do, but the included modes and cars are furiously entertaining. Then again, I got the game in a Steam sale for $5, so maybe my acceptance of it’s “lack of content” comes down to perceived value.

Gamers exist in a world where the generally accepted $60 price point is not the only way to buy a game. That may have never been the case, but every game launches at $60 at retail whether it should or not.

I know during the PS2/Xbox/GCN era, we saw a bunch of B-games come out at reduced rates. Those titles clearly knew they weren’t going to set the world ablaze and kept their MSRP low to garner more sales.

This led to titles like The Suffering and GUN becoming hits despite not being of the best quality. One of my favorite games from the era, Psi-Ops: The Mindgate Conspiracy, was a huge failure due to launching at a full retail price point.

And possibly that “To Be Continued…” ending.

Without the expectation of “$60 thrills,” games like those are allowed to be rated fairly and given a chance to entertain. If Aliens: Colonial Marines didn’t have the audacity to launch at full price, it may have not been as negatively received.

A person’s own perception may shift that idea. Games like Dead Space and Max Payne are fairly short, but have been showered with praise from gamers and critics alike. Everyone seems to think that the general polish and feel of the games is worth their higher launch prices, even if you could get extensive experiences for less.

Bethesda had started talks about this when Skyrim was nearing launch. The director of Elder Scrolls 5, Todd Howard, stated, “I do think industry-wide we would benefit from more games out at $19 or $29. I would try more games. Because I’m not going to try a game for $60. It’s a tough decision.”

That does make sense. Without having a wide range of titles to enjoy, you begin to fall into a rut and give-up on gaming entirely. Without those fresh, different, unique games, one gets jaded to the whole practice.

Valve has done their best to remedy that situation. While Steam sales may not be the best answer, they show that any title can become popular and lucrative if given a better price.

I can even attest to it. While I wouldn’t recommend Dirt: Showdown to serious simulation racer enthusiasts, anyone looking for a rambunctious time slamming cars together will not find a better title.

Yeah, $60 is a bit much, but getting the game for $5 will give you weeks of enjoyment. That lower price lets you feel out whether the game is for you and how the online mode functions. FYI, smashing others online is a blast.

The year is 2015 and we’re still dealing with full retail price. $60 is not going to cut it anymore, especially not when disasters like Batman: Arkham Knight launch on PC and just assume $60 is correct.

I think reviewers should be looking beyond the dollar value when evaluating games. It may be easy to write in that something isn’t worth full price, but don’t let that negatively effect your perception of the game.

A lot of deserving titles will get slammed because their prices are insane. Just because the games market is a broken mess doesn’t mean the title is, too. And to developers; it doesn’t speak negatively of your game to price it at $40.

Briskly Walking “The Line”

So, that Spec Ops: The Line was quite the game, right?……..Right?…….Ugh, sometimes I hate being me.

Just the other day, I finished my journey through Dubai in what seems to be record time; 5 hours. I played on the hardest default setting, otherwise known as Suicide Mission. This game was far from that.

While I found the narrative very ambitious and intriguing, Spec Ops: The Line seems to run at breakneck speed through all of its high points. I mean, in the first hour alone, I conquered 5 of the games 15 chapters. They get considerably longer after that point, but I hadn’t even realized how little time I had spent.

I have no problem with games being short, but I just feel a little short changed here. This game was touted as having a very deep and complex narrative and most of the anecdotes I’ve heard from gamers are how affecting they felt the games “decision” scenes were. I saw them so close together; I don’t even know how the hell I’m supposed to think.

This contrasts with Hotline Miami, another game that brings up questions of violence and does so in an even shorter time span than Spec Ops. I managed to plunk through that little gem in about 3 and a half hours, but the pacing worked much better.

Some missions gave some breathing room in terms of combat and there was even a break from the constant murder for a stealth mission (even if that level was a little crappy). Hotline wasn’t a constant bloodbath and it worked to make me more interested in the combat and plotline.

Spec Ops, though, doesn’t give you a single minute to reflect on anything. Even the cutscenes aren’t that long, with the longest probably being around 6 minutes. You simply deal with a firefight, walk to the next room and repeat. When a decision comes up, you make it in a snap fashion and then proceed to shoot some more.

I can’t say I was disappointed with the game (and I got it for dirt cheap, so how could I truly be?), but I feel like it would have been a greater story if I was just given more time to explore it. Let me sink in the details of the game’s world, let me reflect on my awful actions and give me periods that help build character instead of pushing me directly into the action.

One of the best moments in Uncharted 2 comes during chapter 16. After practically non-stop action, Drake finds himself stranded in Nepal. The only task for the chapter is to walk around and soak in the sights. This gives you ample time to think about how you arrived at this location and reflect on what Drake has gone through.

NaughtyDog understood that packing a game with minute to minute firefights would sully the experience and leave the gamer wishing for a break. While you don’t want to have too much time dedicated to simply doing nothing, even just the smallest amount of leisure or padding can create a sense of relieve and a desire to continue.

For all the flack the Zelda series may get for sidequests and lack of innovation, the padding in that series really drives home the desire to press on. The early games in the series (namely Zelda 1 and 2) suffer because there is nothing else to do. You simply proceed with quest or you don’t play the game. Without any break of alternate activity, the quest feels long winded (even being only an hour!).


This is completely related to saving the Princess…trust me!

So honestly, while I won’t deem a game of lower quality because it’s short, some titles need extra game time to justify their existence. I can’t sit here and whole-heartedly recommend Spec Ops: The Line because I feel like it’s incomplete. It’s too damn short and leaves too much unexplained.

If I only simply had more time to feel the anguish that Captain Martin Walker was going through, maybe I’d be in love with the game. As it stands, it’s a very ambitious experiment, but one that ultimately doesn’t feel as impactful due to a sense of being rushed.