280: Psycho Mantis, Qu'est-ce que c'est?

Brendan Main

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Psycho Mantis, Qu'est-ce que c'est?

Standing apart from thousands of phony psychics, Metal Gear Solid's Psycho Mantis really can see something others can't - the parameters of the very game he's in.

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DTWolfwood

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Oct 20, 2009
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Yes sir, Psycho Mantis is my favorite boss in MGS.

Just curious tho, am i the only one who didnt swap out the controller and simply shot the flying busts out of the air to achieve the same thing? Cause you know, im lazy and breaking those didn't involve me getting up XD

There was another 4th wall breaking in MGS2 or 3(been too long >.<) where snake or raiden was escaping naked after being tortured. Campbell (in all his skull face glory) kept hounding you to stop playing the game. I thought that was an excellent lvl as well.
 

Veldel

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Psycho Mantis is and always will be the greatest boss of all time to me when I was a child and he did all that I litterly freaked out and was liek what the bloody blazes is going on?
 

Unesh52

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I'd forgotten how many different things Mantis did in that game. I played the GC version a few years ago, and this was my favorite fight by far. Such a cool game.
 

BlueInkAlchemist

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Jun 4, 2008
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I love the hell out of Psycho Mantis. He's a fantastic boss with a memorable encounter and a hook that sticks with you long after you shut off the console.

Great article as always, Brendan!
 

ThrashJazzAssassin

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This article spent too much time simply describing what Psycho Mantis does in MGS, and not enough time actually commenting on or analysing it. The same basic premise could have been explored in the same amount of space in much greater depth, in a more entertaining style and without risking annoying readers who haven't played MGS yet by spoiling it for them.
 

twm1709

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Mantis showed up again in MGS4, but he kind of felt like a parody of himself. Although I did appreciate his compliments on my new hardware and rumble support :p
 

teknoarcanist

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I'm not sure I agree with the conclusions of this analysis. I don't think Mantis's aim was 'break immersion over his knee' and mock the player for taking the game so seriously *. Rather, I think the effect was to enhance immersion by expanding it into dimensions the player had not previously had a game expand into.

You're right when you say that Mantis had 'wormed his way out of the game and into your space'. The entire point of the Psycho Mantis sequence was not the artistic accomplishment of Mantis saying, "So I see you like Castlevania" in and of itself--ie, a fictional psychic character doing something nifty. More, it was the response incited IN players: that gut-level "WHAT THE FUCK" reaction which we all had playing that sequence for the first time. The aim (and accomplishment) was to give players the same blunt-force trauma of having your mind invaded by a malevolent psychic monster which Snake himself might be feeling.

The turning-point here is the switch from action to reaction; receptivity to proactivity, on the part of the player. Like a good Batman fight, the player is overwhelmed in the first act, and must withdraw, regroup, and figure out a new strategy. By the end of the fight, the player has taken back control and beaten Mantis by his own means. As a result, the elicited sense of vindication is more rewarding than any amount of XP or power-ups any game could ever offer.

Leading hundreds of thousands of players to the same emotional response is the epitome of what makes games unique as an artistic platform. While not particularly subtle (and even joked about today) the Mantis sequence is remembered fondly because it was a very powerful baby-step in the right direction -- and while it's popular to put Kojima down for his winding monologues and convoluted narratives, I think it's important to recognize that his games have achieved such a strong legacy because they offered more of these moments between them than you were likely to find anywhere else. The french word 'frisson' comes to mind.

* The Campbell sequence at the end of Metal Gear Solid 2, I think, serves as a better example of this. It offered less of a sense of personal invasion, and more drew the player to feel surrounded/trapped/betrayed. You were being humiliated like Raiden was being humiliated.
 

The Artificially Prolonged

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Love psycho mantis in MGS. I even loved when he made a cameo appearance MGS4 when he tried the same thing but couldn't do it because of the sixaxis controller and no memory cards, very funny.
 

RollForInitiative

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I didn't know about the whole second controller deal for beating him, so I just spent a very, very long time whittling him down with melee until I won. Looking back, I would have done the same thing even if I'd known; I love a good challenge.
 

Brendan Main

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teknoarcanist said:
I don't think Mantis's aim was 'break immersion over his knee' and mock the player for taking the game so seriously *. Rather, I think the effect was to enhance immersion by expanding it into dimensions the player had not previously had a game expand into.



I agree with nearly all of what you argue, but I thought I might respond to a couple points.

This depends on the slipperiness of a word like "immersion," and how we've come to use it. You're right, for example, that Mantis' controller spazzing and save file reading enters into a new space, with new boundaries and dimensions - I'd call this tactical and spatial immersion, of the sort that VR technologies have been sawing away at for some time now. But what about narrative immersion, the more casual usage that describes how 'real' a game scans at any given time? This requires internal consistency and contiguity - we might forgive Roy Campbell for patiently explaining to Snake what the A button is, but there's simply no in-game analogue to Mantis busting your balls for liking Mario. It's specifically fictional.

These are very different values, but they aren't at cross purposes - in fact, you can fiddle with one to directly heighten another. I disagree with the common notion that when it comes to the vidjagames, 'immersion' is the catch-all value that describes how well a game succeeds. Mantis is a mindfuck exactly once (or, I guess, never, if you're like that guy two posts up who thinks I ruined Christmas) but after that, the fight still works... just on different terms. In all my playthroughs of MGS, that's the moment I look forward to most, even though I know how it's going to shake out. It's fraught, yes, but it's also a little silly, and I appreciate that it blows off some steam. Maybe I like a little fiction in my fiction.


teknoarcanist said:
* The Campbell sequence at the end of Metal Gear Solid 2, I think, serves as a better example of this. It offered less of a sense of personal invasion, and more drew the player to feel surrounded/trapped/betrayed. You were being humiliated like Raiden was being humiliated.
The difference here, I think, is that though the theme of 'virtual vs real' runs through all of MGS2, the ending crushes it in a wave of solemn triplethink. Right after the Naked AI Meltdown bit, you're treated to no less than three speeches, all of which reframe the events of the story. The whole "this is just a game" thing is quickly contextualized by a string of explanations - Roy's circuits was melting down from the virus, and Raiden as VR-trained child soldier isn't so great with the whole real vs false stuff. But with Mantis, there's no 4th wall buttressing: No one shows up and says, "Oh, yeah, that was all nanomachines." He gets to do his freaky voodoo shit, and nobody says boo.

But there's one point that I simply can't contest - ninja-flipping around naked in MGS2 feels really, truly bad. In the words of my biological father, Inigo Montoya: Humiliations galore!
 

Koeryn

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I liked the article, the Mantis battle really effected me as a kid. I also really like teknoarcanist's comments, as well as you're reply to them, Brendan. Nicely said on both sides.
 

omegawyrm

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I really appreciate that the Metal Gear series doesn't focus on immersiveness as an important aspect of a video game. Psycho Mantis is a good example of that. I've never really cared about immersion in video games, that's not something the game has to worry about. Personally, I always see it as my own responsibility to be on terms with the game or movie or whatever.
 

shogunblade

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I guess I hadn't thought about it before, but Psycho Mantis had this truly disturbing way of getting into someone's head, and it worked very well, although, as a younger gamer, I was more or less taken in by the Sniper Wolf fight, honestly.

Though less psychology is in Wolf's fight than Mantis's fight, and obviously a good reason to write about him.

A Great piece to read about.
 

bimbley

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Jan 31, 2009
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One of the truly great moments in gaming history, this. It's rather difficult to recreate the effect of experiencing it for the first time all these years later, since it has become a part of gaming culture.

For me the purpose of Mantis is exactly the same as that of Bertolt Brecht's 4th wall breaking theatre. He called his technique Verfremdungseffekt or 'alienation effect' and Brendan does a good job here of discussing the various ways Psycho Mantis prescribes to it. For Brecht the intention was political, he felt that true immersion allowed his audience to detach the play from their own world and thereby remove themselves from its politicized message. He therefore set about reminding his audience that they were watching not experiencing events, and force them to act as critics.

We know that Kojima has a tendency to waffle on, one which unfortunately became somewhat ridiculous. The first two Metal Gear Solid games, at least, managed to maintain a semblence of a clear train of thought, exploring the relationship between reality and identity as developments in science threaten to undermine both. Mantis therefore acts to involve the gamer in this discussion by decaying immersion and forcing critique. As someone said above, this was a baby step for gaming into the realms of artist relevance.

-Bim