To define meaning, I would say it’s the subtext or underlying context one tries to convey when they create something. Like an artwork with meaning will generally create it’s own context and tell a story, whether it be one for the consumer to relate to, or to learn about. A meaning can convey an experience of sorts as well, such as an emotion, they can be deeply seeded into a work, or on the surface level, as blatant as it can be. Take George Orwell’s 1984 for a surface level meaning, it contains a prediction for a bleak future where surveillance and law restrict everything, where one organisation holds all the power, it’s meaning is a warning, an idea that’s not deeply buried, it lies on the surface.
A deep seeded meaning can be seen in works more akin to Vincent Van Gogh’s Starry Night (1899), this work contains a deeper meaning, as on the surface it’s a beautiful painting but upon deeper inspection one can see it’s about his emotion, it’s about Van Gogh’s depression and trying to overcome it, it’s about his ultimate struggle with mental illness, but at a glance you’d never know, yet in Orwell’s book, it’s the central theme. 1984 contains more meaning deeper, but it serves as a good example for something with a prominent surface level meaning.
Hideo Kojima is pretty renowned as game director, predominately for his work on the Metal Gear Series, and most recently his upcoming title Death Stranding. In his works many things can be interpreted as he uses artworks and film as his inspiration for a whole different medium of work.
His title, Metal Gear Solid V The Phantom Pain, is at it’s surface, a standard video game, with a simple format and story befitting a modern game, but it takes much inspiration from film and series like Twin Peaks in it’s camerawork and symbolism. Much of the games cut-scenes are made to aesthetically match that of a handheld camera. Beneath this though the game uses many layers of symbolism, some subtle, some ‘loud’.
An example of this is the characters code-names, Ahab, Ishmael, Pequod, and the use of a whale at the start to represent the story. This symbolism is a not so subtle foreshadowing of a huge component of the game, who the characters are going to be revealed to be, and how it will play out.
The Game’s central theme however is Language, and Lingua Franca, a disease breaks out that kills those who speak a certain language, and it’s going to be used to kill everyone who speaks English, as it’s the “uniting” language of the world. Through the game-play however you recruit soldiers who speak hundreds of languages and many don’t share this common tongue. The game uses this as a metaphor for a new kind of Lingua Franca, a commentary on man, and his common tongue of war.
The Soldiers can come together under one banner despite not being able to communicate, because they share a common cause, a common entity other than language to bind them. Hideo’s work really plays on this throughout as each character can only understand one another through action, rather than words. This not only leads to a more compelling work overall, but the meaning really can drive it’s point home.
A direct representation this meaning lies in one particular character, Quiet. She’s been afflicted with the language disease for her native language of Polish, but at this cost, she gains immense powers to aid as an assassin. She represents the cost of that common ground falling away, making you an enemy to many because they can no longer relate. She doesn’t share the lust for war, the lust for power, she’s an alien in her own right, and she is alienated by language.
The soldiers you command are afraid of her, they lock her up and want for her death because they don’t understand her, our central character ‘Big Boss’ is unique in his role as he doesn’t actually do what he does for war, but to end war. So he and Quiet gain a mutual understanding without words, without direct communication, they form a relationship based on understanding, an understanding that together they can end wars without even a word.
This is also a commentary on common cause, and how it can unite, under almost any flag.
So in summary, the central meaning of MGSV is a commentary on language and common ground for humans to relate and communicate with one another, and how we treat each other when that falls apart. It’s about war as a means of communication, which is all too real a theme, it’s about understanding and how we as humans want to deal with things we don’t understand, things that are alien to us.