Ahhh, the plot twist, how many times have we read a book or watched a movie thinking we know all that is going to happen? Only for the plot twist to rear its head and suddenly, we the audience, no longer have any grasp on what to expect. Depending on the story (and how it is presented) plot twists can have different effects on the audience. If it is foreshadowed enough, we may have seen this important change coming a mile away or it can catch us completely by surprise. From my understanding, a good plot twist is foreshadowed with subtlety, enough to make you realize that all is not what it seems, but is just mysterious enough to keep you from figuring it out until it is finally revealed. Then of course there are plot twists that come right out of nowhere, but while those are shocking, they never really seem to improve the story and are just there to confuse you. To me, what makes a plot twist really work is that it has always been present in the story, but the audience fails to recognize it before it is too late. Some best examples of a plot twist like this would be Agatha Christi’s “And then there were None,” and need I forget one of the most infamous movie plot twist, the revelation in Star Wars that Darth Vader is Luke’s father (The latter was definitely hinted at throughout Empire Strikes Back, take a look if you don’t believe me). As great as this literary device is in books, movies and television shows, there is a medium that takes the plot twist and makes it much more personal. That’s right, you guessed it. Video games.
Video games have been using plot twists in their narratives for as long as they have been creating stories around gameplay. A majority of plot twists I’ve seen in classic games and even some modern titles are used to level up the drama creating a new sense of urgency to finish the game or trying to provoke a certain emotion in the player. Heck, a majority of jaw dropping plot twists from my early gaming experience came from the Final Fantasy series, six and seven to be specific. Since RPG’s were always the more story oriented games, it was all the more likely that a few unexpected revelations/events were bound to occur for any of the reasons above or simply just to flesh out a character. However, while the use of the plot-twist in video games can be just as good as a film or book, I know it can be much more than that. Video games are designed to be an interactive medium, where the audience can be more involved with a story and characters than ever before. With that in mind, how can a video game make a plot twist in a story so much more personal to the player? Simple, by making the player a part of the story.
Now the game that I grew up watching, not playing, that really gave me intense sense of shock and awe through plot twists was Metal Gear Solid. Gamers should know the infamy this series has with its plot twists and how crazy they can be. However for the gamers who become familiar with the series through this game should know what I am getting at here. For those of you who don’t know, I’ll get you up to speed. Metal Gear Solid is a game where the player takes control of a super spy, codenamed Solid Snake, to sneak through a huge military base that has been taken over by terrorists that are threatening to launch a nuclear missile through the use of a gigantic walking battle tank (Metal Gear Rex). Snake’s mission, as well as the players, is to sneak into the base, rescue two hostages and sabotage the terrorists. Pretty straight-forward right?
Every time Snake comes close to satisfying one of his objectives, a new complication arises that not only shocks you but leads the player to doubt their actions in some way. For example, you find the hostages, they share what they know about the goings on in the base, you get ready to get them to safety…only for them to die right in front of you from what seems to be a heart attack. I remember being the tender age of 9 when I watched my older brother play this game, and that these moments straight up terrified me. Yet, as scared as I was, I wanted to know what had gone wrong, a mystery that would continue to stay that way until later in the game. Metal Gear Solid is a game that handles its plot-twists with a genius level of expertise, yet even still takes it further than anyone ever thought possible of a video game at the time. Throughout the game, Snake communicates with a support team stationed from a sub far away from the military base. One member of this team is, of course, Snake’s direct superior. Once things start going wrong with the mission, he begins to behave differently, like he knows much more about the situation than he lets on. Now as a person, the player knows something is not right making them uncertain about continuing, but as a video game, the only way to beat it is to continue to follow orders.
This involves more sneaking around the base, eliminating all threats in your way. From the guards that spot you to terrorist leaders, former members of an elite mercenary unit codenamed FOXHOUND. Through all the surprises and hardships, Solid Snake is able to destroy Metal Gear and prevent the nuclear strike. That means you beat the game right?
Miraculously, the terrorist leader is still alive and kicking, eager to have one final showdown with our protagonist. But it is here where the culmination of all of the player’s doubts of events leading up to this point comes to ahead.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TyzKQhmxqVo (First 3 minutes of this video)
The cutscene is shot from Snake’s POV looking up at the terrorist leader, Liquid Snake (There is a reason for that code name but that is beside the point), as he gives his “I want to create a world of war” monologue. Snake denies wanting to live in a world like that, only for Liquid to call his bluff. Liquid looks directly at the camera and asks, “So why are you here then? Why do you continue to follow your orders while your superiors betray you? Why did you come here?”
Snake doesn’t answer, only for Liquid to answer for him.
“You enjoy all the killing! That’s why….haven’t you already killed most of my comrades? I watched your face as you did it. It was full of the joy of battle. There’s a killer inside you, you don’t have to deny it.”
It was at this point, even as a nine year old, that I turned to my brother and said, “I think he’s talking to us.”
In a matter of a few seconds, Metal Gear Solid had torn the fourth wall wide open, blaming the player for all the deaths that had occurred in the game thus far. This includes the death of the hostages, guards you may have killed along the way and the members of FOXHOUND. Being the goodie to shoes that I was as a child, this entire scene left a huge impact on me and how I saw video games. Not to mention it continued to make me question on how “good” I really was. I could have stopped watching the game at any point in time because I didn’t agree with the killing that can occur or just because there was plenty of things that scared me. Yet…I continued to come back. I wanted to see what else was going to happen and how the story was going to end. Did that make me a bad person? Was it wrong for me to just watch all these bad things happen and just accept it? Did that mean I actually enjoyed it?
Even long after the game had been beaten and turned off, these questions still lingered in my head. Being as young as I was, I really didn’t know what to make of it. Again it wasn’t until much later in life that I realized what I had experience and its importance in a story. Due to this experience however, I will always remember that first plot twist. That moment where my perception of events was completely thrown on its head and taken for a spin, leaving me to question not just the game but myself as well. Its interesting to think, that I may not have had the same reaction if my brother and I did not have the same level of control throughout the story.
This is how far video game plot twists can go if handled right. I know Metal Gear Solid is not the only game to do this (I’ve heard there is quite a big one in Bioshock), but to my understanding in a huge array of games that use the plot-twist use them simply as other mediums do. Although it has its place, I think it is much more important to give kids and even some adults the idea of what to do when a preconception is found out to be false. A mature life lesson on how the unexpected can affect you on a deeper level. I will not be so bold as state a video game can teach you how to handle a feeling or situation like that better than real life experience (since honestly it hasn’t been done yet), but it is important to teach kids through either their parents or school on how to react to it and sort through those feels through discussion. Like I have stated before, kids feel these mixed emotions just as adults do, the problem is (like it was with me) that they are not sure how to say it. Talk to your kids, get an understanding of what they understand and what they don’t understand about the stuff they experience on a daily basis, whether it is through media or everyday life and try to fill in the gaps.