Unlike movies or TV, the video game industry doesn’t have many auteurs. Big-budget video games, the kind that ostensibly aspire to be like movies and TV shows, require such big teams and employ so many individual artists with their own styles and sensibilities that it’s kind of impossible for one person to have such a clear effect on a game that it is undeniably theirs. Hideo Kojima, creator of the Metal Gear Solid series and 2019’s intensely underappreciated masterpiece Death Stranding, is the exception to this rule.
Kojima doesn’t solely write or design his games, but to varying degrees, they’re all marked with his fingerprints—like his apparent fondness for whiplash-inducing tonal shifts or heavy-handed narrative themes.
One of those themes, threaded through the first three Metal Gear Solid games, is about determining how and why we are who we are. Kojima’s approach to the nature vs. nurture debate is actually three-pronged, somewhat awkwardly summarized as “genes” (this one’s obvious), “memes” (as in memetics, the idea that we are shaped by the information we’re exposed to, not funny photos with captions), and “scene” (the time period in which we grow up).
Those same three prongs, especially the second one, serve as the basis for The Creative Gene, Kojima’s first book—a collection of essays about the various cultural objects that had a dramatic influence on his life.
Like everything Kojima does, this concept could be pretentious and naval-gazing, the sort of thing that might only be interesting to him, but Kojima imbues the book with such an obvious affection for art and culture that it’s hard not to get swept up in his enthusiasm.
In an early essay, Kojima explains that he goes to a bookstore every day, even if it’s just to walk around and see what catches his eye. Each piece in The Creative Gene is about one book (or movie or TV show) that he has really connected with. This is far from being a recommendation guide, though, with Kojima even making a point in his intro to say, essentially, “You might not like the things I like, but that’s the whole point of liking things.” The book is a testament to liking things, with Kojima’s preferred lens being the way that his favorite books and movies have left a unique impact on him.
Anyone looking for a more explicit take on Kojima’s creative process (perhaps because of the title) might come away disappointed, in part because a detailed account of his tumultuous career over the last few years would make for a fascinating read. But what’s in The Creative Gene is arguably a lot more valuable. Its best moments are glimpses into the mind of a visionary artist who just happens to work in a medium that isn’t always known for its capacity for visionary art.
Though each section is about a specific cultural object, many of the essays use their ostensible subject matter as an entry point into something else. A piece about landmark anime series Space Battleship Yamato, for example, is really about Kojima’s father—a man who “had an unequaled taste for alcohol” and loved to build model battleships because he was never able to join the Japanese navy.
Similarly, an essay about Bewitched, Little House On The Prairie, and Shin Chan (another long-running anime franchise) is more about Kojima’s desire for a more traditional family after his dad died. As he got older, these shows became a model he could base his life on, with the essay going into how proud he is of the family he’s been able to raise and, in one of many surprisingly emotional bits of self-reflection, the disappointment he feels in not living up to the kind of father he wants to be.
The book’s most delightfully audacious choice is a section on the novelization of Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns Of The Patriots. Writing a loving essay about a book based on his own video game is pure Kojima. But like some of his video games—especially Death Stranding, the one about Norman Reedus traversing an apocalyptic wasteland with a baby in a pod strapped to his chest—he displays a masterful ability to take something that seems laughable on paper and make it resonate.
The novelization, as Kojima explains, was written by Satoshi Itoh (a.k.a. Project Itoh, author of Genocidal Organ), who was “rushed to the hospital” immediately after their first meeting about the book. He died from cancer a little over a year later. Kojima seems deeply touched that a story he created was reshaped by Itoh and released in a new form that could connect with new people long after both of them are gone.
That, essentially, is the point of the whole book. It’s not simply a memoir by way of “memes” (to use his word), it’s about the experience of being inspired or influenced and loving the artifacts that make that possible.
Kojima never lets on that that’s what he’s doing, though, remaining so dedicated to each essay’s framing device that it seems almost accidental when he hits on something heartfelt or profound to say about the works of Agatha Christie or 2001: A Space Odyssey.
It’s an artful trick, and while it might not give you a deeper appreciation for the things he loves, the way he describes their impact on his life just might give you a deeper appreciation for the things that you do.
Author photo: Charly Triballeau/Getty Images