January 25, 2012
By J.D. Cook
I recently re-played Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty (MGS2). This was the first game I played on Playstation 2, and the reason I bought the aforementioned system. It was a fantastic blend of stealth, action and gripping philosophical story telling. Yes you read that right, gripping philosophical story telling. For those of you who have seen games grow you know that as of 2001 philosophy in video games was not the norm. In the current game economy there is a much wider group of games which cater to the intellectual gamer. Red Dead Redemption, LA Noire, the Mass Effect series, and the first Bio-Shock game are just a few examples of games with deep political and philosophical subjects. Going back to 2001 games like Crash Bandicoot, Mario 64, and Tomb Raider were the more common type of games on the market.
So what exactly is the philosophy in MGS2? Well, for those of you who haven’t played it in a while I will update you all on a loose outline of the storyline.
A new type of super weapon which is best defined as a walking tank with missiles (called “Metal Gear”) is facing proliferation in a world where designs for the weapon have leaked over the internet. The protagonist of the game, Solid Snake, and his partner Otacon have started an anti-Metal Gear organization. They hear about the Navy developing a new Metal Gear (dubbed Metal Gear Ray) and decide to investigate and leak news of this so that political pressure will hopefully shut down its development. Unfortunately the ship it is being transported on is hijacked by Russian Nationalists led by Revolver Ocelot (an antagonist from the first Metal Gear Solid game). Ocelot betrays the Russians and steals the Metal Gear for himself. Snake is blamed for the loss of the ship and crew. Fast forward a few years and a water treatment plant has been built over where the ship sunk to clean up the leaked oil. This facility was hijacked by a group of militant extremists calling them selves the Sons of Liberty. A lone agent called Raiden is sent in to recapture the facility and rescue the President who was visiting. He does just that, but only after he discovers the facility was actually a ruse designed to hide a massive Metal Gear known as Arsenal Gear.
Ok still with me? Here is where it gets interesting! Raiden discovers a shadow group known as the Patriots secretly control the U.S. government. They were behind the creation of Arsenal Gear. Why was it built? In the modern age of internet technology the Patriots were loosing control of society. They needed a way to monitor and decide what they found fit for people to view and use on the internet. Arsenal Gear was designed to essentially censor the internet using a self aware artificial intelligence! This seems strangely prophetic in the era of SOPA and PIPA – the censorship part, not the artificial intelligence part – although who knows at the rate technology is growing?
On the flip side the enemy of the Patriots, the Sons of Liberty are led by a clone known as Solidus Snake who cannot have children. He has no way to leave the legacy he desires behind him so he decides instead to free the country from the Patriots control before he dies. Unfortunately for him the Patriots know about his goals from the outset and use it for a psychological experiment. They want to see if given the right situation any average soldier can be molded into a Solid Snake (Protagonist from earlier in the game and a legendary warrior) quality soldier. Thus they set up a situation very similar to the one Solid Snake went through in the first Metal Gear Solid game.
Then there is the twist within the twist (this game was way more complex than the movie Inception). Ocelot works with Solidus Snake to fight the Patriots, but he is in fact a Patriots spy. His left arm however is a ‘sleeper in the arm of a Patriots spy’. This is due to the fact that his arm was replaced with one from a clone brother of Solid Snake, Liquid Snake; and because Ocelot’s father was a psychic. Oh and by the way at the very end of the game you find out that the Patriots have actually been dead for a hundred years…
Yes, this game is very very very complex. So what is the philosophy here? Well essentially the Patriots represent control. The Sons of Liberty represent rebellion. Solid Snake is a character just trying to make whatever difference he can in this crazy world. And finally Raiden is just the entry point into the story for the gamer. He is really lost throughout the game, never really getting a grip on the situation. He is essentially a puppet of the Patriots for the entire game. Only in the last scene is he truly freed from their control. His main story is one of nurture versus nature. Can he be his own person? Or can the Patriots mold him into whatever they want him to be? Does he even know who he is?
Solidus’s tale is a simple one. If he dies, what is left of him in this world? Since he is a clone he cannot have children. The digital age allows for people to store things infinitely in cyber space. Thus they never truly die, but the Patriot’s Arsenal Gear’s sole purpose is to essentially serve as natural selection for the web; deleting unfavorable things that will not contribute to the progress of the human species. Ultimately Solidus dies next to the statue of George Washington at Federal Hall in New York City having failed in his goal to free society from the Patriots.
Solid Snake is trying to leave the world better than he found it, and his goal is for the most part to stop the proliferation of Metal Gear’s across the globe. His partner Otacon must deal with the grief of having had an affair with his step mother, an event that nearly cost his step sister her life when he was too busy fooling around to hear her cry’s from help outside in the swimming pool. Guilt and sexual relations always seem to go hand in hand. So there is a bit of personal/sexual philosophy as well as political philosophy.
In the end Solid Snake gives Raiden a bit of advice that has always stuck with me. Raiden is distraught with having been a puppet for the Patriots to use to defeat Solidus, and he isn’t sure what’s been real and false in his life as his memories have been altered. Solid Snake says simply that real and false do not matter. What does matter is what was real to you, what you fought for, and believed in. People have a responsibility to leave something behind; whether that is via culture, language, or even video games. So in the end Descartes classic theorem of cogito ergo sum (I think therefore I am) is addressed in a unique way. Raiden does not know what to believe in and Solid Snake tells him to believe in himself.
In the end, this game has even more complexity then I have addressed. There is the mad bomber Fat Man and his story, along with the story of Dead Cell. I recommend you play this game for yourself as it is now out on the PSN game market place and Xbox Live. You will walk away with deep questions about government’s power and control coupled with an urge to go out into the world and leave something profound behind you.