… Or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Realized Solid Snake Wasn’t Real.
Time to get into the real meat of these opinion pieces, the intricate system of themes, motifs, metaphors, false flags, symbolism, post-modernism, and possibilities of Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty.
Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty was written and produced on the coat-tails of one of the greatest games ever made, and this is made all the more intentional and evident when looking at Hideo Kojima’s design document and realizing that this meta-sequel was supposed to raise a lot of important questions about the previous entry, video games in general, the culture that Metal Gear created in its wake when coming into the current-gen, and the repercussions of our new information based society. On the surface, Metal Gear Solid 2 is about Solid Snake’s passing on of his ideals to another generation, Raiden coming into his own and choosing to follow a path of his own making (regardless of whether his past is fabricated or not), and the importance of message and culture, artificial or not. Here’s the key, all of those names in my previous sentence could be replaced with “Hideo Kojima” and “us” coming into “our” own, and I think that it was all done intentionally.
The game opens, immediately following the “Tanker” situation that I’ve already covered in my demo focused article, with Raiden (or Jack) entering into a “Plant” that was artificially created, allegedly, to mask some illegal activities and shadow government conspiracies surrounding the tanker that capsized during Solid Snake’s portion of the game. Raiden’s mission intentionally begins the same as Solid Snake’s PS1-era mission and Raiden even has codename Solid Snake for a short period of time, but then the first twist occurs. Hideo Kojima has the player input their own information into a terminal, for the first time in a Metal Gear game to date, and surprisingly so the terminal menu bears a strong resemblance to Metal Gear Solid 2‘s own main menu. One could argue that the menu was skinned this way as to keep consistency with the look and feel of the title as a whole, but I think the same evidence could be used to argue that Raiden is inputting our information to further solidify (pun intended) his role as the player or player’s avatar and that the menu shares the same graphical design as the game’s main menu because it hammers home the fact that we’re playing a simulation in a simulation, a game within a game.
Moving on from there, Raiden (with us towing the line behind him, both physically and metaphorically) is re-introduced to Col. Campbell, Solid Snake, and a lot of stand-ins for the same roles we saw in the previous title. A lot of Metal Gear Solid 2 is our re-introduction to a lot of the same motifs, both in a way to point at the structuralism of Japanese games (see Zelda, Metroid, Castlevania, Final Fantasy, etc.) and to really draw our focus to why these events are seemingly recurring. For the same reason that handicam-style shooting is used in films to draw attention to the movement, I think that the game resembles Metal Gear Solid in its plot and pacing to draw attention to the fact that it bears resemblence to Metal Gear Solid. Kojima is criticizing himself, by having less fleshed out bosses that are more driven by singular reasons and emotions in order to lampoon the previous bosses, stripping the variety of the environments to plain corridors and hallways to draw attention to the sterility of the previous game, and by subtly criticizing his own fan-base and, in a lot of ways, testing them.
The “Ascending Colon” portion of Metal Gear Solid 2’s plot is always the sequence that people cite as being “weird”, “scary”, and “self-referential”, but you can look to a lot of evidence before the closing portion of the title to see the self-referential and post-modernism facets of the title. Clicking in the thumbsticks during Codec calls will result in the player hearing the thoughts of the game’s characters, on top of being able to manipulate the camera angles, thus giving the player another sense of being an omnipotent being in this world. A lot of the dialogue in the game is intentionally ambiguous and there are many Codec conversations that raise some very interesting questions, often literally, but then never answer them. But yes, the “Ascending Colon” really tackles all of the subtlety of the rest of the game in a ham-fisted, “THIS IS WHAT WE’RE TRYING TO TELL YOU” kind of way, and yet many players just shrugged the whole sequence off as absurd and just a cool, fleeting, moment.
Solid Snake tells Raiden, and the player, that he has infinite ammo and his bandana flails in an imaginary “wind” whilst in the “Ascending Colon”, but even before then Solid Snake does everything in his power to keep the player focused on the mission, because that’s what he represents. Raiden, much like us, has completed the Shadow Moses simulation (and it could be argued that we were playing as Raiden playing the Shadow Moses simulation in MGS1) as well as 350 VR missions, which were the exact number of VR missions included in the VR Missions bonus disk. The Solid Snake that appears in MGS2 plays on Raiden and our pre-determined belief of who Solid Snake is and what he should say, and he acts and speaks just like we want him to, when we want him to. Solid Snake represents the hero that we want to be in these fantastic scenarios, and it was a conscious decision to have him not be the protagonist for this game.
This train of thought extends to all parts of the game. Col. Campbell may or may not be real, but he is a relic of MGS days of yore, pushing the player in a direction because the player demands being given a mission. The floor pattern when fighting the massive, unrealistic, horde of Metal Gear RAYs, which is absurd even by Metal Gear standards, is the exact floor pattern from the photo sessions in the VR Missions game, and its all accented by Solidus Snake, Fortune, Solid Snake, and Ocelot all just appearing out of thin air and flying around, breaking handcuffs, and dodging bullets. Sure, Metal Gear always rode the fine line between realism and absurdity, but Metal Gear Solid 2 raised the stakes in massive quantities to make a point and this was supposed to shatter our suspension of disbelief… but sadly, a lot of players rode the wave and didn’t question a thing.
Food for thought: replay Metal Gear Solid 2 replacing all instances of Raiden’s name with your own during Solid Snake’s final speech in the streets of New York as an ethereal population appears out of thin air and walks in slow motion around a building that was just destroyed in the middle of the city by a giant robot battleship. All of this information is pretty “heady”, and I accept that, so for the final part of my Metal Gear Solid 2 analysis I want to field some questions. If you are at all interested, please tweet @acsummerfield and I’ll try to answer any and all questions. There is a lot to Metal Gear Solid 2 and I tried to cover a vast majority of it, but there just isn’t enough digital paper and ink in the world for me to go in-depth with everything in the title. It’s super ambitious, it says a lot of different things at the same time, it’s fun, and it’s one of my favorite games of all time, but I also think that it’s a very misrepresented and under-appreciated game, and I don’t mean because folks don’t see the same things in it, but because people don’t take the time to really tear it apart and talk about its pieces. I think that that’s why Kojima made such a masterpiece, to spark conversation about games and game convention. We owe it to him and ourselves to at least talk about these things.
I’ll catch you guys next week.