On How We Are All Alike
Today, I did something odd that I think most people do. I looked at myself in the mirror, speculatively, as crisp morning air filtered through the blinds. I noticed the goosebumps on my neck, rising and falling with the pulse, with the dancing beat of my heart in my neck. Sometimes I get stuck just thinking about 7 billion other people who have a dancing heart just like mine.
I spend a minute noticing how much smaller my eyes were through the lens of my glasses. My eyes are so round. Were they always that round? My nose, once again, doesn’t quite hold up my glasses, so they slip down my face a little. I imagine myself as any other person, trying to memorize the curve of my own cheekbone, noticing how transparent my eyelashes are in the sun. I am one of 7 billion people alive, and in many ways, we are all alike.
We all fiddle with our eyebrows and notice stray hairs. We all gaze, bemused, at the peach fuzz on our faces. We all glance, amazed, at the dancing heart beats in our neck that never stop celebrating being alive, at least, not until they do stop.
I try to approach life with this in mind, and talking about our culture of threats, outrage, and weapons makes this approach, the approach of empathy, all the more important.
Godzilla is What Happens to a Culture Changed by Nuclear Destruction
I watched a newer version of Godzilla with my husband recently. It was utterly uncomfortable for me to watch and realize what a culture of people, permanently changed by nuclear bombs, could come up with as one of the most monstrous, feared, and repeatedly reimagined monsters in history.
Get this: Godzilla is literally the incarnation of nuclear ambition gone wrong.
Godzilla is literally what happens to innocent lives when people play around with things they don’t understand.
In this rendering of Godzilla, the United States gets involved, assuring the Japanese government that they are the ones that can destroy this creature with—GUESS WHAT?…Nuclear warheads.
The Japanese are understandably upset about receiving this ultimatum that they get their people out of the city, or they get destroyed along with the monster by the bombs. Their culture is practically built around a fear of nuclear weapons, a hatred of them, a desire for peace. But, in the end, the Japanese agree that there is no other way. The city is evacuated, and they prepare for nuclear war on the hibernating Godzilla as he recoups his strength for another blow on the city.
Scientists involved with coming up with a way to defeat Godzilla won’t have it, though. They refuse to leave. They continue orchestrating a plan to defeat Godzilla before the bombs can touch down. It’s not an easy fight, and it involves a great deal of resources, math, and quite a bit of death from the people fighting, but science wins the day.
Godzilla ultimately does not fall to nuclear war heads. Why would he, anyway? He’s basically made of the stuff. He falls to science, to perseverance, dedication to a cause.
I’m not a huge Godzilla fan, but I’ve been especially attuned to anything “nuclear-related” these days, as I’m sure you can imagine why. Ever since I learned about Hiroshima and Nagasaki as a relatively young girl, I’ve had an unmitigated hatred of gigantic weapons that destroy without conscience, without intelligence, without discrimination.
Metal Gear Solid: Priming Gamers to Choose Peace
Another interesting tidbit for you: Japanese games also reflect a changed culture and disdain for nuclear weapons.
My husband is an unabashed fangirl of a man named Hideo Kojima.
Kojima is one of the most innovative game makers in the world. He is brilliant, eccentric, and does not hold back his metaphorical punches.
Kojima is primarily responsible for a series of games called Metal Gear. There are five of them up to this point, and any further Metal Gear games will not be associated with him, as he left the company that owns the rights to them.
Kojima didn’t want to make a war game, but that’s what he was recruited to do all those years ago when his Metal Gear journey started. But, never fear. If he was going to make a war game, he was going to do it HIS way.
In the Metal Gear games, the dialogue is renowned for bits of life-altering knowledge and mind-game-like changes in perspective that force the player to examine themselves while playing. This can be in instances where the villain directs his inquiries to you, the player, not you, the character.
Because I love my husband, I’ve watched several videos going into deep explanations of the purposes behind stunts like this. Despite myself, I find it incredibly interesting.
So, what would be the purpose behind scaring the wits out of the player. In this instance, you, the character, are facing the villain, Psychomantis. The villain, instead of addressing this “fake” you, this “fictional” you, address YOU, you. He digs into the history on your game system and talks about what other games you’ve been playing. In my opinion, this is the classic, put a mirror in a room to cause self-awareness scenario.
In case you’re unfamiliar, many psychological studies involve having someone undergo testing in a room with a mirror. This has been proven to cause people to be more self-aware, reflective, introspective. In other words, being self-aware is a positive thing and it can be forced by implementing tools like mirrors (or Psychomantis).
Video games are meant to take you out of your own mind. You get to pretend to be someone else. You adopt someone else’s thoughts and principles. Not here. Kojima wanted to player to realize as he was facing down a villain and a threat that this wasn’t a normal interaction, and what was about to go down was meant to be directed at the player.
“From the moment we’re thrown into this world, we’re fated to bring each other nothing but pain and misery.”
-Psychomantis in Metal Gear Solid 1
Look at the quote above and imagine a villain saying that. First of all, what an excellent video game character. Second of all, what a way to get someone’s attention. This wasn’t meant to get lose in the swarm of cheesy video game dialogue. This was meant to stick in the mind of the player, as it did with my husband. It was meant to change people.
I’ve never seen these earlier games in action, but I have watched Parker Play Metal Gear Solid V. In the most recent rendition of Metal Gear, I’ve learned there is a game mechanic that plays off this early attempt at self-awareness.
You play as a medic, transformed to look like the character “Big Boss” who is really not a very good guy. But, you, the you underneath can choose to really be “big boss” and kill indiscriminately, or you can play the game as it’s meant to be played, with stealth, without killing anyone, as a medic would. You can choose to be like the person you are underneath: a healer.
As Big Boss, you have many duties. One of them is collecting money and material to make your base bigger, fill it with competent soldiers, and, if you choose, defend it with nuclear war heads. One of the brilliant things about this mechanic is that Metal Gear Solid Five is always online. Other players can interact with your base, can destroy it with their nuclear war heads if they choose.
Why did Kojima put something like this in place? It wasn’t to watch the world burn, if that’s what you’re thinking.
He did it because he wants people to choose peace. If no one has nuclear bombs, then no one fears that someone will destroy them with nuclear bombs, and nuclear bombs are rendered unnecessary.
It’s a guessing game, and a dangerous one. And that’s the point. Kojima doesn’t play around with war games. He has a purpose, and that purpose is to make the player self-aware. That brings us to Death Stranding.
Death Stranding: A Game to Change a Generation
As with Metal Gear, I’ve watched many videos about the upcoming release of Death Stranding. There are a lot of basic things to know about this release, so I’ll try to sum this up quickly and easily:
- Kojima no longer works for the people who made Metal Gear. He has creative freedom.
- Kojima wants to change the way video games are played. This could mean changing the way players interact with each other in a mechanic similar to choose or don’t choose to have nuclear bombs and destroy each other as with MGS5. It could also mean that he intends to change the way players think about themselves in the game as with MGS1 (recall the conversation with Psychomantis).
- Kojima has released several previews for the game, all of which have been heavily, heavily analyzed like pieces of literature. I’ll link to them below, in case you’re interested.
Here are some analysis videos:
Because most of what we have seen of this game comes down to speculation, I’d like to share some of mine.
In the previews, there are some gigantic creatures that I feel are Godzilla-like representations of nuclear power. In one of the previews, Norman Reetus’ character has this thing on his back, powered by a fetus, that is able to pick up on the presence of the monsters, much like a geiger-counter. When it moves, you know one is near, and when it’s near enough, you better not even breathe because it will find you and it will toss you into the death void.
This black, vitriolic substance that the monsters are made of seems to stick to everything. It’s everywhere! It leaks from the walls, it clings to animals, and it pours from the eyes of Mads Mikkelsen’s character.
Here’s another thing you need to know about Metal Gear Solid Five, the most recent Metal Gear game as I mentioned:
If you choose to have nuclear weapons, and the more you kill, the more the piece of shrapnel in your head grows like a horn in accordance with the blood on your hands.
Death Stranding seems to be implying a similar mechanic. My theory is that this black substance everywhere is almost like that horn. It clings to everything, it pours out of the eyes of the tainted villains, it gets control, it forms monsters that answer to no one.
Every bit of this leads back to one thing: Kojima is trying to change the world, and he is trying to create a culture that wants no part of nuclear weaponry.
Twitter Threats and Epithets
“North Korean Leader Kim Jong Un just stated that the “Nuclear Button is on his desk at all times.” Will someone from his depleted and food starved regime please inform him that I too have a Nuclear Button, but it is a much bigger & more powerful one than his, and my Button works!”
Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump)
Japan is under threat again, lying directly in the line of fire between two madmen. As are we all. Japan has become a culture of honor, considerateness, and pacifism more than ever before because of what nuclear destruction did to them.
The messages of Godzilla, Metal Gear, and Death Stranding grow more and more important each moment that we sit and pretend that powerful people aren’t playing with nuclear weapons like they’re measuring sticks of political power.
Nuclear weapons aren’t toys, they aren’t threats, they shouldn’t even be tools. I think Hideo Kojima is right. If we can choose, all of us, not to let the black taint of nuclear ambition, violence, and hatred taint us, keep the ever-vigilant geiger-counter of future generations on our backs, then the world will be better for it.
Be vigilant. And remember. We are all human beings with dancing heartbeats in our necks, and more than anything, we are all very much the same. We can succumb to peace generation by generation.