Recess was over but this boy was not to be seen sitting in his usual place at the back of the class. He was sitting to be sure, but at hazardous altitude, stuck in a variety of different ways and at the mercy of his own tenacity. "I shouldn't have had that extra juice box" he thought as he built up the courage to extricate himself from this predicament.
The statue was famous in grade school. We all called it the elephant; all cement grey and sort of the same shape but designed to be abstract. About 15 ft tall and half as wide. You were famous if you could climb to the top of it and sit in the place where the ear should have been, a god damn hero child. No easy feat by any means. It took months of practice and lazer focus; even then any witnessed failed attempts got you a schoolyard sentence of a few days of merciless ridicule.
Yeah, I was a kid once. I wore my dirty pants and skinned knees as my badge of honor, like a prison tattoo on my face. I walked into that classroom bloody and accomplished with my head high and got detention. As I served my time that afternoon I had a moment to reflect on how I finally managed to mount the elephant. Were there different routes? Could I have done it in a complete recess period with no juice box? Could I have done it without fucking up my pants and having to use Marco Winkles stained gym shorts from lost and found?
See, Metal Gear is my elephant statue.I diagnosed myself with Acute Proficiency Sickness (A.P.S.) when Metal Gear Sold came out in 1998. In fact my APS ebbs and flows with the tide of every Metal Gear release, lying dormant and incubating for years until its inevitable return. I played the game, loved the game and watched the entire end credits out of respect and used the time to reflect on my seemingy flawless performance. The credits ended and I got my rating. "Capybara! The fuck?! Like a giant Guinea Pig? I guess somewhere during the play through I managed to tranquilize my own ego. I felt numb. I never got caught, nobody saw me. How many rations did I use again? Maybe I shot a guard with a bullet instead of a tranquilizer but shit dude, that's war! What does Capibara even mean? I'm not fucking doing that again," he said as he promptly started a new game.
I didn't feel right. The second play through was brutal. I would do the beginning part where Snake has to sneak into the first facility to rescue the DARPA chief dozens of times. I would get caught, the alarm would go off- 'start' - 'restart mission.' If I got into the facility and someone heard me I would restart. Fuck, if I got to the DARPA chief and nothing happened I would still restart if it didn't feel perfect. Hobby turned to obsession very quickly. Back then you didn't really know how well you did until the end of the game. The internet was a novelty still in those days, back then determination and perseverance usually did the trick. Anytime I thought I heard a guard say something I would restart out of fear of lack of proficiency. See. I was sick.
Metal Gear Solid V came out Tuesday and I've been playing it as often as my adult life will allow. When your wife catches you gaming when you know you should be doing some adult shit and you keep playing, that's when you know you’ve relapsed hard. I was completely invested after the hospital sequence. It all came back to me at once though after the first main mission was complete. I got a B grade. Grrrrr. My sweaty thumb hovered over the redo mission option and I'm ashamed to say I pressed it. What would a Capybara do? I did it again and got an A...sadly. Still not good enough. So I sat there in my man cave and had a bit of an epiphany. It's never good enough, it's not Metal Gears fault and hiding under a cardboard box wont solve this.
The Metal Gear Solid series raised me in a way. I'm quite meticulous with tasks in my life, I tend to take missions like going to the grocery store as a challenge. All items acquired rank S achieved! (You're not even playing the entire game! - J.) And I always crawl to pickup claymores on my way to work. And I always save my cardboard boxes just in case. No matter how I played the game I felt compelled to proficiency at the cost of enjoyment. Other games have captured the same spirit, the Hitman series comes to mind, but none of those games captured me at such an early age.
That margin between enjoyment and a challenge can be so muddled that even the mighty Capybara could lie to itself. The other day as I stared at my mission stats screen at the end of a relatively difficult mission I caught myself laughing out loud. At the top left of the screen I saw a ‘restart mission’ penalty. We are now penalized for restarting a mission. A Metal Gear Miracle.
My Christmas came in September this year and it took a few sit downs until it dawned on me. In MGSV the main missions are ranked but all the side missions are not. Kojima you dawg you! You beautiful Daimond Dog. So now, finally, I can blow shit up, run around pumping 80's tunes through my Walkman? Call an airstrike on a fool just because I feel he’s in my way? And I'm not graded? Thank you! A thousand times thank you. That mechanic alone was all I needed to get healthy again.
I think what compelled me to play better was a feeling that the game was watching me play. Judging me. And I liked the game so I felt I had to do well to prove something to the game but also myself. I believe all we're really searching for is some sort of affirmation for our accomplishments, in any possible fucking way we can get it. I’ll settle for a Capybara any day.