Look up the letters "TUS" in Google, and the first result you will see is for Metal Gear Solid: The Unofficial Site; perhaps not for long though, since the website is now defunct. 404'd and apparently gone for good. Now we reflect on what made it special, and what its demise tells us about the state of the series.
A million Internet Years ago, between the releases of MGS2 and 3, the website now known as "TUS" was launched by a handful of fans who saw it as an opportunity to unite the vast Metal Gear fanbase under a single glorious banner: "The Unofficial Site." Operating out of pocket and without a plan, this gang of amateur coders, designers and reporters began to build a framework that would soon become home to some of the most dedicated and loyal followers that somebody could ask for. The series was riding huge waves of popularity, and so the time was right to create a hub for all things MGS.
The goal of TUS was not only to report Metal Gear news, but also to provide reliable information about the series, screenshots, opinion articles and — most importantly — a forum, which would serve as a gathering place for fans all around the world; where discussion and camaraderie could thrive under the supervision of enthusiastic moderators. In time it accomplished these goals, and became a well known source for pretty much anything MGS related. But there was a dark side too, and one that would grow into disastrous proportions more than a few times, ultimately consuming it from the inside out.
What casual visitors did not realise was that, behind the Metal Gear rhetoric, what truly bonded the site's creators together was not a love for the series, but a vision of stardom and power which effectively leveraged the love for the series. This was the real motivating force behind the site's polished appearance and robust features; this was the glue that held the directing members together as an elite cadre.
Thanks to an overriding belief that the website was a sacred cow, every friendship and conflict was considered a serious matter by TUS zealots. The website was not simply "another forum" to be taken lightly, but a representative of the Metal Gear series and Kojima himself. It was their ticket to greater renown.
|"...what truly bonded the site's creators together was not a love for the series, but a vision of stardom and power which effectively leveraged the love for the series..."
Thus, the community was naturally divided into a neatly staggered hierarchy, with "true believers" at the top and casual fans at the bottom. Those on the bottom were expected to conform to the attitudes and views of the top, even on topics completely unrelated to the games themselves; bullying and sycophantism quickly followed en suite. An atmosphere of elitism was pervasive, because those who supervised and moderated the forums saw it to not only as a privelege, but a kind of sacred duty as part of the team. It's ironic that this delusional mentality was responsible for both the greatest and worst aspects site's "dramatic" history, but it is also a mark of passion.
Indeed, duty was the driving factor behind the most of the projects that the TUS "staff" attempted, from its contests to its podcasts; but it was also what fuelled the petty power struggle behind the scenes and on the forums themselves. Motivation to keep producing content and keeping the site running smoothly turned quickly into feelings of entitlement; a feeling that would be countered by the high expectations of its average visitors. Those who put in work wanted to receive their fair share of praise, but the average member saw it as only a basic obligation; after all, how can you call yourself "The Unofficial Site" if you don't have a full range of features? It was nothing beyond the call of duty. Thus, feelings of frustration and unappreciation were commonplace in all the hardest working members.
As new games continued to be released and change over time, so too did the site re-invent itself and change. New "versions" were created with new features, such as the popular addition of a "reputation" function, used to reward popular members and deter others. But what seemed inoccuous at the beginning was eventually twisted into a massive popularity contest between those who were on the top, and those rebellious members who stirred up controversy. The function was scrapped when too many "rep points" were given to the troublemakers, and not enough to the "elite".
Then came the release of Metal Gear Solid 4.
Being "The Unofficial Site", it followed that the website should wholeheartedly endorse the game; however, by this point many of the original members had lost interest in the series altogether, and moved on with their lives. The fanbase was divided like never before, and this division manifested as a heated argument between TUS members, followed by a gradual decline in activity altogether. The series, and the site in turn, had finally lost its unifying force. Haphazard attempts to maintain interest were offered by the administrators, including a do-it-yourself "Web 2.0" style of content production, but the magic had simply vanished.
And so, with typical drama and in-fighting, former TUS loyalists finally jumped ship and created Kojima Productions Network, much to the chagrin of its owner. Will TUS stay dead? Will "KPN" prosper? At this critical point in the history of the Metal Gear series, it is fitting that these answers are entirely unpredictable. Will Peace Walker manage to revive interest as it claims it will? Will Metal Gear Solid: Rising destroy that interest once again? And what happens if Kojima really does quit the series for good? The fact that the focus of these once-hardcore Metal Gear fans has shifted to "Kojima Productions" instead of to future MGS projects seems to indicate that the days of MGS devotion are dwindling fast, even as sales and "franchise marketability" are sky high.
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