Pixel Theory Blog

Volume: The Revolution Will Be Televised

by Adi Stein

On the eve of the launch of Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain I find myself lost and confused in a mess of excitement that I feel no part off. You see, I've never been a Metal Gear fan. I haven't played a single game. They've just never appealed to me. The complex, campy, over the top story juxtaposed against such a serious tone and dedication to intense violence just never clicked. I've seen, for decades now, Metal Gear trailer after Metal Gear trailer filled with bloodshed, scantily clad women, mutilated men, and somber music and not a single one has moved me to purchase a Metal Gear game. If anything they've pushed me away.

But my push away from this franchise is strange as I'm a huge fan of the stealth genre. One of my favorite video games of all time, as a matter of fact, is probably Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory. I loved sneaking around in the shadows, watching how much noise I was making, and being excruciatingly careful not to slip into the light as a guard rounded the corner. That franchise eventually went into a more action focused direction, but I loved Chaos Theory because you could truly get through every level without alerting a single guard. It was hard as all get out, for sure, but it was possible.

Which is what, I suppose, really clicked about Volume for me. For those who don't know, Volume is the newest game by indie developer Mike Bithell. Bithell is probably most famous for his geometric existential crisis of a game called Thomas Was Alone (which is a fantastic and unique game in its own right). Volume, however, is an entirely different beast. Where Thomas Was Alone was, at its core, a 2D puzzle platformer, Volume is essentially a topdown 3D stealth game in the style of the first Metal Gear. You have no guns and no weapons for the most part (the exceptions are two items that can be used to stun enemies for a brief moment but they don't take them out permanently) and you are tasked with stealing from future England's most powerful and wealthy. 

But there's a twist. You're not actually stealing from them yourself. You are broadcasting a stream of you running simulations of each of their homes and offices. You are broadcasting, essentially, a walkthrough of how to steal from the 1%. You see, you're playing as the not so subtly named Rob Locksley and you have decided that you're not so happy with the direction future England has taken so you're going to help the poor steal from the rich.

Over the course of the 100 Bithell created levels in the game (I write "Bithell created" as there is user generated content should you wish to dabble in it) we learn about the fall of the British monarchy/democracy and the rise of one even less subtly named Guy Gisborne, a brilliant yet sinister businessman who has taken over the country through the power of his company. There was revolution, faction breaking, drama, and confrontation, but Bithell throws all that to the side. He lets us live in the world after all that has happened, and in doing so allows us to grapple with the issues plaguing our own society today.

We hear all the time about the 1%, about those without fighting to stay alive, about tax breaks for the rich, and about the dying middle class. Metaphors and allegories aside, we are literally watching a billionaire CEO run for president of the United States of America! We are living in a world not far away from the one Bithell depicts in Volume and, honestly, that scares the living day lights out of me. In my personal life, on a regular basis I find myself thinking, "But what can I do? I'm one person!" And yet here is Bithell, saying, "You have everything you need right here. The internet is a powerful loud speaker. Use it! Words and ideas are powerful. Project them through the access you have!"

In a world in which the rich get richer as the poor get poorer- in a world in which violence surrounds our every waking moment- in a world in which we can all feel so helpless as individuals, Bithell is saying that we have the tools. We don't need guns and bats. We need ideas and passion. We don't need to end lives to start over. The internet is strong. It is thundering. It can carry a small sentence across the world and blast it at the loudest possible volume. Let's just make sure that we're all dialed in to hear it.