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“The Phantom Pain” and the Pleasure of Pageantry

By Samuel Woodruff in Original Pieces

So now we all know what we’ve suspected since its announcement in December: “The Phantom Pain” is Metal Gear Solid V. Now, full disclosure, I am a bona fide Metal Gear Solid freak (One of my criterions of friendship is how a person responds to “Who are the Patriots?”) and while I am positively giddy about the prospect of not just one, but TWO new Metal Gear Solid games, I am a little melancholy at the revelation. Not because the trailer isn’t amazing (it is) but because I’m going to miss the speculation that came from all the little tastes Kojima gave us. Or rather, Joakim Mogren gave us. Now that we have the news of a new Metal Gear, we can start anticipating just what it’s going to be, but that won’t fill the void of what is gone: pageantry.

Kojima is exactly what a game designer should be, and if there are any in the industry that could safely be labeled an “auteur” he is the one. He is a singular voice amongst a sea of undecipherable noise. His game announcements are nearly as entertaining as the games themselves. But here is where he truly excels as an all around mandarin of the gaming world: his announcements themselves are interactive.

It would be one thing for him to tease us with a countdown clock (which he’s done in the past), and then simply release a kick-ass trailer that gets your blood pumping and turns your agony up to eleven at the thought that you’ll have to wait to play this game. But this whole “Phantom Pain” cycle has truly elevated him to the level of magician. The man has showmanship.

Has there ever been a more dissected bit of gaming intrigue? Even though it didn’t take more than a few hours (or maybe even minutes) for the speculation to be right about “The Phantom Pain” really being MGS5, that didn’t lessen the impact it had on all of us. After all, everyone knows that the magician doesn’t really saw the woman in half, but that doesn’t stop us from trying to figure out how he did it. At one point, speculation about the game reached such a fever pitch that there were some who questioned the reality of an interview with the so called “Mogren.”

Some thought that the bandaged figure might have been a CG creation made to show off Kojima’s new FOX Game Engine. The magician’s work is to simply allow people’s imaginations to run wild, and then sweep the rug out from under them. And in the greatest move of all, Kojima proved us right, and we feel validated and proud of ourselves that “we knew all along.”

Showmanship is a dying art. Viral marketing, while sharing some of the characteristics, is an inadequate replacement. Orson Welles had showmanship. Alfred Hitchcock had showmanship. Stanley Kubrick had showmanship. The David O. Selznicks and the Louis B. Mayers had showmanship. And Hideo Kojima has showmanship. His name belongs among those names, for what he does is just as relevant and memorable. And it is also a hell of a lot of fun. That it has come to an end hopefully does not portend a phantom pain of the pleasure that has gone.

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