June 14, 2008

Spiegel Online Interview: Hideo Kojima talks about pacifism, movies and GTA

UPDATE: I've translated another interview of the same quality and will post it soon. Kojima talks about art in his games and why a game developer is like a good cook, among other things. Visit again this week and don't miss it!

Originally published in German on www.spiegel.de, June 13th '08.
Questions by Christian Stöcker.


Spiegel Online: Are you a pacifist, Mr. Kojima?

Hideo Kojima: That is a difficult question. I think, I'm neither one nor the other. I do think that war solved a few problems but when I look at history, I also think that it completely failed to solve others. My personal opinion is that war should not be used as a method to solve problems. Therefore I always have anti-war messages in my games. The scary thing with war is: You start one to achieve a certain goal, but then the war develops a life of its own.

Spiegel Online: In the last "Metal Gear Solid" game "Snake Eater" there is a scene in which you as the player character have to walk past all the people you have killed in the game up to that point, they groan and cry. Is this an attempt to educate your audience?

Hideo Kojima: I wouldn't call it education. I wanted it so that the users have to face what they did in the game. What the player character did to survive. It's not so much about war as it is about violence in general. The decisions you made, the casualties you accepted. All the humans in that scene have exactly the wounds the player inflicted upon them, gunshot or stabbing wounds. It is supposed to make the players think. If you want to call it educational - maybe it is, but it wasn't the original intention.

Spiegel Online: The "Metal Gear" games, including the new Metal Gear Solid 4 (MGS4), are in so far unique as they deal with war and violence, yet it is possible to get to the end without killing anyone. However, this is exceedingly difficult - why?

Hideo Kojima: I always include it to bring to mind the avoidance of war and violence. The harder it is, the bigger is the satisfaction if you make it: playing without killing. The hurdle is very high, yet if you jump over it, it is an experience that the player may remember for a long time. That it was a huge accomplishment to avoid violence. This is the message I want to communicate. However, you also get better equipment, bigger rewards, a better rating in the game itself, if you make it without killing.

Spiegel Online: The "Metal Gear" series is now running on various console generations for 21 years. The story is long and very complex - can you manage to summarize it in five sentences?

Hideo Kojima: (laughs, long pause) Things you consider as impossible - around the world and in the game itself - are still possible. In regards to the game's creator as much as to the player. If a player completes a "Metal Gear", he is supposed to question his ideas of what is impossible. The joy, the smiling faces of people who accomplished the impossible - that is what "Metal Gear" is about.

Spiegel Online: So the core idea is on the meta-level? The complex, somewhat convoluted plots, the many characters like Solid Snake, Liquid Snake, Solidus Snake and all the others, how they are related and who is whose clone - it is not all that pivotal?

Hideo Kojima: Below this core idea, to make the impossible possible, there are still other concepts. To surpass one's parents, for example. A central topic is what you hand on to the following generation, to pass on the stick. Life and death and how death creates new life is another topic... but that's not the core of the "Metal Gear" world. (laughs) Sorry, by now I needed 50 sentences.

Spiegel Online: Suppose, you had to explain to someone, who is not interested in video games at all, what you do in a "Metal Gear" game, what actually happens on the screen - what would you say?

Hideo Kojima: It's a game of hide-and-seek.

Spiegel Online: 2008 is an important year for the games industry - not least because of the extreme success of "Grand Theft Auto IV" (GTA IV) by Rockstar Games and the already famous 500 million dollar that were made in sales in its first week. What does this mean for the rest of the industry? Do you surpass the movies now?

Hideo Kojima: In the past, individual games already did yield more than movies. However, GTA of course as a key role this year. Rockstar achieved something big, they gained a lot of feedback from outside the industry as well. There will be other titles that are designed for a similar impact, as a blockbuster.

Spiegel Online: So this is primarily about a commercial effect?

Hideo Kojima: Digital entertainment will grow. Today, there are far more users for it than the "gamers" of the past. Video games use the most current technology, they need technology to grow further. However, if a title like GTA IV unfolds such an economical effect, there will be a second wave in which the people rather pay attention to the contents themselves, not to how often the title was sold. Games are now respected economically, but I would wish for them to be respected culturally - at least as a subculture.

Spiegel Online: "Metal Gear" games are barely subcultural - they resemble manga comics or Japanese anime movies with their highly dramatic plots, that always lead to something huge, to gigantic robots, super weapons, epic battles and so on. Do you think one can also use the medium of the video game for smaller, more private, more personal stories without the megalomania?

Hideo Kojima: The reason why MGS games became so big, as you say, is that they are designed for a global audience. Like Hollywood movies, blockbusters. Always universal in a genre is only action, gambling or sex. Those are immediately understood all over the world. We use action and that is why our games become bigger and bigger - Hollywood big. It is however possible to make smaller, more personal games if you, for example, limit the target region, the gender or the age of the audience. MGS is a Hollywood blockbuster, like GTA. But maybe it is time for something like independent movies, with a smaller target audience, like movies for an arthouse movie theater.

Spiegel Online: Is this your future as well? You already emphasized that it is really your last "Metal Gear" game this time...

Hideo Kojima: It definitely intrigues me. A game, for example, that is based on the life of a small Japanese employee, who works hard in the company and afterwards is oppressed by his wife at home. However, this would probably only work for a Japanese audience. The critics in the USA and Europe would probably say: "This is a great game, very Japanese, very touching" - but it wouldn't become a super-blockbuster. Both kind of games should exist, to enrich the industry.

End of the interview

Source: Spiegel Online - "Action, Glücksspiel und Sex werden überall verstanden"

Having read something about his wife, on which Rose and Raiden's conversations in MGS2 are based on, the game about the Japanese employee could very well be autobiographic. I was especially surprised by his summary of MGS' story, I believed that the core idea was something different. But who am I to argue with him.

What do you think about the interview? If you liked it please leave a comment or digg it! Much appreciated.


gamerz008 said...

Great interview, thanks for translating it. When will we see the other interview?! ;)

Maxax said...

Glad you enjoyed it.
The other one will be up sometime next week, it's almost finished.

Kojima talks about games as art and why a good developer is like a good cook, among other things.

It's definitely worth checking out.

yoshiroaka said...

Yea that interview was really cool.

He treats games as an art and not just a commercial medium that appeals to the lowest common denominator.

Thanks for going through the trouble to translate dude. I appreciate it.