Big Boss & D-Dog from Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain

Sketch Fridays #02: Big Boss & D-Dog from Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain (click for larger version)

It’s no secret that I play games and like to think hard about them on occasion.

I’ve been playing video games for longer than my current students have been alive, and realizing simple facts like that really give me pause about what I’ve gotten out of playing games––and thinking too hard about them, on occasion––for so long.

Given my upbringing––and this may come as a shock, given my occupation––I was not a reader. I didn’t regularly read books for fun until my twenties. Up until then, my literature were narrative-heavy games. I subsisted on role-playing games back when even they carried a stigma within the console game community (“Why would you play a game that you have to read?”). I like the stories well enough, but what these long, text-heavy games provided were diverse, interesting characters. While most of my impressionable years were made up of long-play RPGs, mostly those made by Squaresoft (as it was called at the time)––Final FantasyChrono TriggerSecret of Mana, etc.––in my late teens I was introduced to a character (though “lineage” may be a better word for it) for whom “complex” doesn’t even begin to describe.

With the release of Konami’s Metal Gear Solid for the Playstation, I was hooked right away. I had tangential acquaintance with the series (there were two official games released beforehand, with only a shoddy port of the first one coming to the Nintendo Entertainment System in the mid-’80s), but this basically was an chance to go into a series blind, with no expectations nor biases.

Metal Gear Solid is a series based, in one sense, on espionage and stealth. Every game has been a corker with regard to story, characters, and experience. The plots are tangled and tense and the set pieces are cinematically told, giving the player a strong sense that what they’re doing is important, and not only because the game tells them it is so, but because it feels grand in the truest sense of the word.

On the other hand, the games also bounce in and out of complete and utter absurdity, to the point of nearly breaking the narrative and, thusly, ruining the experience.

The newest release in the series (and, most likely, the last one because the series creator and director, Hideo Kojima, has left Konami, who owns the series) capitalizes on both of those aspects and amplifies them. The player controls “Big Boss” (alternatively “Venom Snake,” alternatively “Punished Snake”…you probably get a sense of why all of my characters have at least three names), a mercenary leading his own paramilitary force as it tries to do good across the globe despite all the things the evil governments (and shadow governments) are forcing him to do through ultimata and duplicity.

Introduced in Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater (even the title hints at the thematic friction), he is a good guy driving to the other side of the line, redefining in the process of what “good” and “bad” mean in the notoriously gray world of espionage and conspiracy. He is immensely sympathetic and interesting (in the new game, he is sparingly voiced by Keifer Sutherland, for what it’s worth). That all sounds great, and it is great.

And then you shoot a dude with your rocket hand.

Or make your horse poop on command.

Or put on a chicken hat because the mission becomes too difficult.

Or, when you punch someone with your prosthetic robot hand, it makes the $6m Man sound.

It’s as ridiculous as it is profound.

With this week’s Sketch Friday––though quick and messy––I really wanted to try to capture that imbalance. You can raise a dog and, eventually, take him with you into the field. D-Dog, or DD as he is called, is a valiant companion and adds some much-needed levity to the very serious game. Balance that with this absurd, but violent, robot arm and a balance is struck. The dog in an espionage-action-conspiracy game is absurd, but it’s grounding and lends a humanistic touch to what could be a very cold game. The robot hand is absurd in its own way, but represents that coldness and brutality that the character must perform to advance through the game.

It’s a fun game and I’m excited to finally see this series to its end after starting with it so long ago with the first release.


Things are clearing up in my schedule for the first time, but for a short time. I will be drawing incessantly during this downtime, so you can expect some new pages soon, pushing toward the close of chapter 2! Thank you again for your patience.