This is the first year anniversary of Usualjay Plays Games. If you look over the archives you’ll probably note a dearth of updates over the last seven months or so. Lots of drafts and post stubs but nothing that ended up worthy of being added to the ether of the internet. C’est la vie. But I had the one year birthday of this blog planned out in advance. So in honor of the Metal Gear Solid 2 meta that caused me to start this in the first place, I started reading the book that purportedly served as one of the inspirations for the game: Kangaroo Notebook, the last novel by surrealist Japanese author Kobo Abe.
I knew from what I had read about the game’s development that only some imagery from the 1993 book made it into the final game; particularly the vampire stuff. In fact there’s another work – City of Glass by Paul Auster – which had even more direct impact on the fluff of the game (setting, character names, etc). But I’ve been curious to see what’s in the novel that may have gotten Hideo Kojima’s creative gears turning for Meta Gear Solid 2. Sons of Liberty did end up as one of the most ambitiously bizarre games made in the last 15 years. It’s kind of a mystery, really. One would think, given the runaway success of the first game in 1998, that MGS2 should have been a fairly straight forward example of cash-in mega sequel. In terms of hype, sales, and money it certainly was. But, that story. Controversial back then and something of a punchline today (Trolljima), it gave us the infamous character swap, featured a dense and at times incoherent narrative, and nearly all of its connecting arc points with the first game were either cursory or unsatisfying, to say the least. It was compounded by the fact that the gameplay itself was superb, and it was a technical achievement for its time, just it’s all wrapped up and weaved into a profoundly weird story. You couldn’t have one without the other. It all leaves you with a slightly uncomfortable feeling of “what the hell..” which, ironically, is the last line of dialogue in the game. Any hints to what shaped the creative process behind the story would be nice.
Hence, a Kangaroo Notebook reading.
I’m not that familiar with Japanese literature, I think I’ve read only two or three Japanese books before and they certainly were not in Mr. Abe’s wheelhouse. So this is something of a new critical literacy exercise for me. That said, I’m only about 30 pages into it so far and it does give one a similar feeling to that breathless, down-the-rabbit-hole sensation that permeates Metal Gear Solid 2. The antagonist wakes up one day to radishes growing on his shins, and when he seeks help from a dermatologist, he ends up on a gurney rolling down the street, his destination subtlety marked down as “hell.” It’s a breezy read thus far and I hope to finish it this weekend, at which point I’ll share some thoughts.
With regard to the actual game, my PS3 has been in mothballs for some months now, but it may be time to get it hooked up to a TV again and give Sons of Liberty another playthrough. With a respectful nod to confirmation bias, I’ll be looking for any narrative similarities between the book and the game.