I did not expect to ever spend a Saturday in a hotel basement surrounded by people wearing camouflage while a man in an ill-fitting suit stood addressed an audience, bellowing “Make America Great Again!”
That was before I found myself watching the Cosplay Contest at the first-ever MGSCon at the Los Angeles Airport Hilton on July 15th as a man dressed as Senator Armstrong from Metal Gear Rising Revengence took the stage, sandwiched between a Sunny Gurlukovich and a full-sized recreation of the D-Walker portable mech.
Metal Gear has had a rough go of it recently. It has been years since the release of Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain, the last major release in the series, and that game’s contentious development led to the departure of series creator Hideo Kojima from his longtime home at Konami. Kojima went on to form his own independent studio, releasing Death Stranding with the help of Sony, while Metal Gear has laid dormant since the release of Metal Gear Survive in 2018 to middling critical and fan reception. But judging from the energy in the room during the convention, this drought of content has not tempered the passion of the fan community.
Funded via Kickstarter in March 2023, MGSCON was the brainchild of content creator Amanda Lemon and a small team of four. “Amanda really saw how much the community was still around even though there hasn’t been a game released in eight years,” said organizer Joe Vella. “We really wanted to do something to bring that community together.”
The crowd at the convention showed off the breadth of that community. Series veterans who have been online trying to decipher the Metal Gear storyline since the first game’s release mingled with younger fans who just started dipping their toes in this year, while young families attempted to get their babies to look at the camera as they posed for pictures with their favorite voice actors. “It’s not just your average shooting game,” said cosplayer Landon as they stood next to a large customized cardboard box. “There’s a deeper message to the stories.”
It’s not just the fans who share such a deep bond over these games. Mid-afternoon’s Voice Over Q&A panel took on the energy of a Great British Bake Off finale as cast members from across the series came together to share their genuine love for the series. Starting initially as a conversation between actors Vanessa Marshall (Olga Gurlukovich) and Cam Clarke (Liquid Snake), more and more actors joined the stage as the panel went on (While the Hilton had been warned ahead of time to expect a copious amount of military personnel, even putting up pictures of MGS cosplay in the service corridors so staff would know what to look out for, the lobby cafe clearly wasn’t keeping up with the lunch rush). Halfway through the panel, the telltale sound of an incoming codec transmission revealed an unannounced Zoom appearance by Jennifer Hale (Naomi Hunter) and Solid Snake himself, David Hayter.
The cast comfortably traded jokes back and forth while also speaking candidly about the struggles they face as actors in a field with no residuals whatsoever. Greg Eagles (Grey Fox) spoke passionately about SAG and the WGA’s fight for a fair deal, while Hale said “We’re all boiling frogs” in regards to the disparity between worker and CEO pay across all industries. Many of the panelists thanked Hayter for fighting for higher wages for his fellow actors as the series went on. The crowd was receptive, with several audience questions ending with a call of support to the actors and writers.
So what is it about the series that has made so many people, from casual gamers to professional voice actors, want to throw on a tuxedo or chicken hat and spend the day in an extremely hot function hall? Nitroid, one of the hosts of the Kojima Frequency podcast, says that the community has embraced the series’ silly side, coming together over the deeper themes wrapped in an overcomplicated shell. “People from all over the political spectrum can make an argument that Metal Gear reflects their ideology,” he said.
Vella says the team hasn’t yet discussed the potential of making MGSCON an annual convention, but it’s clear that the affection the community has for the series’s story, characters, and overall weirdness shows no sign of slowing down. Even without the hand of Hideo Kojima guiding the franchise, people still love and care for these games. Vella notes the coincidence that Konami announced a full-on remake of Metal Gear Solid 3 just months before the convention. It remains to be seen if Konami can hold onto those elements that make the series so beloved to these fans, but one thing’s for sure. They’ll be there day one.