Video games consistently get a bad rap for violence and inappropriate content, but how often are they recognized for sending positive messages? In Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain, creator Hideo Kojima stirs our souls by dramatizing the plight of child soldiers in Africa, and urging us to do something about it.
As a whole, the Metal Gear Solid franchise both amazes and baffles me with its eclectic mix of realistic military action and sometimes bizarre sci-fi Japanese anime. In this fifth installment, I find it particularly intriguing that within this mash-up of fiery juggernauts, fantastic bi-pedal mechs, and teleporting enemies, the writers still managed to embed some disturbing truths about modern-day conflict zones in Africa and around the world.
A high-ranking official within the global child-advocacy organization UNICEF was quoted as saying “Children should be in school, not on the battlefield.” This was in response to civil conflict in the Sudan which has seen the exploitation of child soldiers as recently as 2015.
After playing through this emotionally moving section of the game, I stopped to ask myself a few questions: Why don’t we hear more about the plight of these abused children in our mainstream news and media? What can be done to change the situation? And most disturbing of all, what would my life be like right now if I had been born in the south Sudan?
The answers to these questions are haunting and complex. And these are the kinds of thoughts that we often seek to escape from when we play video games or immerse ourselves in entertainment media.
But I for one am glad to know that content creators aren’t afraid to raise these issues, and to create thoughtful, conscience-stirring moments in their gaming narratives.