By Dane Thomsen
The Individual And The Society
A textual read of the elements of the first three Metal Gear Solid games reveals an analysis of the creation of both the individual and the societies they form with others. So complete was the deconstruction that they exist thematically separate from the entries that followed, in essence comprising their own complete trilogy. But there was a problem: there was still much story to be told.
With the close of this first ‘identity’ trilogy, Hideo Kojima embarked on a second, expanding on the epistemological convergence between the individual and the society as he’d already explored them – politics. Starting with MGS4, the series worked towards completing its narrative loop while examining the rise of a new type of political strategy that came into vogue in the modern era with the development of a workable model of proxy warfare. Though there are recurring themes throughout these three works, most notably the ideas of transformation and rebirth, the concept of political proxies is the thread that ties them together, first portraying its characteristics and then showing its range of applications.
As the series starts with the end of Solid Snake’s story arc, the lynchpin to this analysis is the recognition of history in the many forms it takes. Guns of the Patriots, Peace Walker, and The Phantom Pain are all examples of Metal Gear Solid acknowledging history; of the lives of its characters, of itself as a series, and of the real world in which it exists.
Solid Snake narrates the state of the world that opens Metal Gear Solid 4, his weary, grizzled voice telling us how war has changed as a shipment of rebels arrives in a PMC controlled part of the Middle East. The battlefield has evolved into a system in which all action is monitored, analyzed, and controlled, where the human element of combat has been reduced to the point where it’s facilitated an amoral war machine endlessly consuming life. As a hooded Solid Snake jumps off the truck, we see a wrinkled face and grey hair. Snake has been many things, had many faces, but now he’s Old.
In typical Kojima style, the metaphor stands on half a dozen levels, but it’s an important close for the theme of the series thus far. Because the Les Enfants Terribles project collected DNA from a middle aged Big Boss, the clones are afflicted with advanced aging, with a remaining life expectancy of a year. We also discover a new cinematic device that is as simple as deep, flashing still shots from the previous games to contextualize the unfolding situation. In addition to acting as contextual references, these ‘memories’ add characterization for Snake, an old man remembering his life when confronted with the imminence of his death. But if you realize that these events made him the man he is today, cultivating in him a sense of intuition based on his experience and instinct, then they helped make him into a great soldier. For the fight ahead, he’s going to need to be.
The war economy was the product of the conflict between weapons control system SOP and the advent of Private Military Companies. In MGS2, soldiers’ weapons were fitted with ID tags that would only operate for the right owner and SOP turned it into a ubiquitous military system, a societal alternative to the Cold War’s strategy of mutual deterrence. At the same time, PMC’s, elite rentable armies that can be mobilized globally free of government and ideology, have become so common that the biggest rivals even the United States military. This multinational corporation, resurrecting the Outer Heaven brand, is run by the four members of the Beauty and the Beast Unit, executives under their CEO Liquid Ocelot, the body of Revolver Ocelot completely overrun by the Liquid Snake persona.
Through its gameplay, MGS2 explored how mechanisms in the social structure can shape behaviors of the population. By shifting and constricting the range of beliefs and thoughts an individual was allowed to have, the politics of the group would be molded. In a similar fashion, MGS4 uses the combination of the ID system with the PMC’s to create a self-enslaving war machine, as the only defense against the violent system was to voluntarily enter it. When Snake finally tracks down Liquid, it’s in time to witness his first offensive against SOP. The result is chaos, with every soldier unleashing unrestrained emotion, laughing, raging, crying, and screaming. Soldiers’ nanomachines had been numbing them to the reality of their violence, making them better warriors through apathy.
As is often the reaction to regulation, a black market emerged allowing repurposed weapons to have their tags laundered. The first time we see the four members of the B&B, they have slaughtered a squadron of rebels, leaving in their wake a corridor of bodies and their guns shining like gold. There’s an undeniably dark cynicism in this scene and how the war economy values weapons more than human life but it shows how heroes have little choice but to become outlaw scavengers in order to fight back.
When Snake makes contact with resistance forces under Big Mama, he finally meets Eva from Snake Eater, who had been the surrogate mother for the Les Enfants Terribles project. She tells Snake how after The Boss died, Major Zero obtained the rest of the Philosophers Legacy, and with Big Boss, Ocelot, Sigint and Paramedic, formed the Patriots to make her ideals of a united world free of borders a reality. When the organization collapsed in disagreement on the interpretation of those ideals, Big Boss and Zero went to war, each believing they had the answer. One decided to build a nation that would provoke endless conflict, while the other chose to implement invisible controls in the fabric of society to guide actions and beliefs.
The theme of transformation has been present since Old Snake’s reveal, but is explored with almost every character. Look at The Beauty and the Beast Unit; Laughing Octopus, Raging Raven, Crying Wolf, and Screaming Mantis, women ruled by the very emotions SOP was meant to curtail, each turned into animals by a horrific past, their mechanical exoskeletons juxtaposing the young, beautiful figures inside. A different but equally significant change happened with Raiden, utilizing the same technology to become the most advanced Cyborg Ninja yet, his organic parts replaced by implants and chrome. This is what the war economy does- it strips people of their humanity and turns them into monsters.
The balance maintained between the two forces completely topples at the mid act two flip. In the background of the first half is a progression that covers a complete military takeover of invasion, subjugation, and occupation, instilling the fear that every nation is being conquered systematically. The concern turns real when Liquid finally hijacks SOP, locking down every modern gun save his own which he aims at the defenseless United Nations’ forces that have rallied to oppose him. The turn of events exposes the very real danger of centralizing power and puts the freedom of the entire world at stake.
A second progression had begun to form in act three but was initiated before. There were many familiar characteristics about Laughing Octopus beside just sharing the codename with the FOX-HOUND agent- her tentacles and gun are similar to Solidus armaments and her elated laughter during combat are reminiscent of The Joy. The sense of déjà vu is reinforced in the 60’s era spy aesthetic of the third act and the motorcycle chase with Eva that harkens back to the Shagohod fight in Snake Eater. While it gives the strong appearance of going through a greatest hits remix of the series’ events, it’s more importantly about Snake reliving his past.
Memories are the representation of a person’s history. The return to Shadow Moses to claim Rex’s pre-ID tagged railgun opens with a perfectly emulated version of the helipad from the Playstation’s original Metal Gear Solid in all its 32-bit glory. When Snake wakes from his dream, he’s being air dropped at the outskirts of the Alaskan military base rendered in hi-def on the PS3 hardware. Over the course of the decade between the two games, everything has changed. More than simply being commentary on the reliability of memories, it’s a sharp lesson on technological obsolescence and the march of time.
But the steel beams of Shadow Moses have rusted over; its once state of the art systems woefully out of date. As MGS explored the concept of genetic manipulation, it was implicitly aided by the Playstation’s tech and the polygons that allowed for greater versatility than the 2D sprites it had relied on thus far. MGS4 contrasts the hardware powering these games to show how Solid Snake, and arguably the place that made him famous, are now cultural relics. By running Snake through his memories, the game is reminding you of the path that led you here and telling you it’s impossible to turn back.
So far, each entry in the series has used its enemy squad as an element of the theme that must be defeated before Snake can tackle the final leader and complete his mission, and the design continues here, albeit in a different way. Every member of the B&B is a combination of the enemies from each of the previous games, creating an amalgamation of the threats ingrained in Snake’s memory. In a real sense, he is fighting his past.
Snake is fighting a war of proxy agents indirectly exerting their will over the population by strangling individual liberty. In loose terms, a proxy is an agent that stands in and acts on another’s behalf, an example being a soldier fighting on behalf of a government. On a societal level, the Patriot A.I.s are proxies for Major Zero’s social structures as Liquid’s PMC’s are trying to realize Big Boss’ dream of a world united by battle. On an individual level, a person is a proxy for the components of biology, culture, and experience that shaped them. By unshackling himself from his past, Snake is becoming free to oppose a social system that wants to control everyone.
With the executive level of Liquid’s corporation dismantled, Snake enters the final battle staged atop Outer Haven, the massive cruiser that contains the A.I. net that the old Russian had seized. Having infected the system with the anti-virus Fox-Alive, Solid Snake turned to his old nemesis and the final showdown their lives had culminated in. Punch for punch, the two old men waged their personal war. The one that would walk away triumphant was the one that had the will to change, to let go.
Just as genes perish, memes are forgotten, and The Times change, bodies die, culture is displaced, and the river of history flows on. By looking back on his life, Solid Snake was not only able to find peace, but closure. And yet, as he still lives, so will his genes. Standing among the graves of fallen patriots, he reunites at last with Big Boss, a senile Zero in tow. And after taking Zero, Death came to collect Solid Snake, but was fooled when Big Boss stepped forward in his place, becoming his son’s proxy in death to eradicate his destructive lineage, atoning for own his sins in the process. As the closing of the Solid Snake arc, Guns of the Patriots is about taking hold of the freedoms that allow you to be the person you want to be. And so, the hero Solid Snake sheds his codename so that the man named David can create new memories free of battle, with the time he has left.
The modern day concept of the nation came about as a byproduct to the spread of enlightenment ideals across the globe. Based on philosophies that defined individuals as absolute agents of their own lives, it ended the subservience to monarchies and united people along territorial, economic, or ideological lines, pooling their resources to live in an economy of production in the knowledge that their collective abilities would greatly outmatch their separate talents. With the advancements in communication and transportation that made the world a smaller place, nations became actors in global politics.
Haunted by his mission to assassinate his mentor, the legendary traitor-patriot The Boss, Naked Snake and a band of disillusioned soldiers retired to a Columbian beach as the mercenary group Militaires Sans Frontières. One November day in 1974, the young peace advocate Paz arrives searching for a way to rid Costa Rica from a covert CIA action that is arming the Nicaraguan forces, the Sandinistas. Paz is being escorted by her Professor, a man named Galvez that Snake immediately recognizes as the KGB agent he really is. The soviets want to seize control of Latin America and destabilize the U.S. network that linked the American continents. Snake’s objections recede when he’s given a recent recording with The Boss’ voice. With rumors of a monster stalking its foliage, Snake and his Soldiers Without Borders reenter the jungle.
Viewed in their historical context, the Big Boss chapters of the Metal Gear Solid saga spans the new modes of political theory that developed over the Cold War, placing Snake beside its real life players. In that respect, Peace Walker observes the period between the post-World War II stalemate of nuclear deterrence and the lessons that came out of Vietnam that would result in the adoption of proxies.
The strategic advantages of proxy warfare were largely discovered when the CIA engaged a secret military operation in Laos employing thirty thousand Hmong mercenaries to interrupt the flow of supplies to their enemies along the Ho Chih Minh Trail. With the dwindling support for Vietnam both abroad and at home, the CIA had to be careful with how it engaged its operation. Because they couldn’t directly secure funding by traditional means, they established lucrative business ties with local opium drug lords, using their own Air America aircraft network to distribute product throughout the country. By its very nature, the strategy of warfare by proxy allows the original actor to sidestep public scrutiny and diplomatic culpability, but when financed by a black market industry evolves into a self-sufficient model with even greater applications.
Soon after making contact with the Sandinista’s, Snake comes face to face with a massive new quadrupedal tank equipped with a nuclear missile and an incomplete artificial intelligence programmed with The Boss’s imposing personality, meant to be a true, objective party to maintain the deterrence between the Super Powers run by people who might be unwilling to retaliate if it came to an all-out nuclear holocaust. Retro-engineered from a comprehensive list of The Boss’s military records and psych profile, the AI mammal pod adds high level critical thought to the lower level reptile pod controlling its motor functions. To battle this Peace Walker, Snake needs to amass a huge force, the Sandinista’s significantly adding to the ranks of the MSF.
Peace Walker the game evolved MGS4’s in-game economy that traded weapons for currency. There, the ideas contributed to the moral that in a PMC-run war industry, guns were more valuable than the lives of the soldiers that aimed them, a conceit that PW inverts and applies as a primary gameplay system.
Guns of the Patriots cynical view of PMC’s is turned into a positive by returning to the idea of the nation harmonized by a central sense of purpose. What starts as the small Nicaraguan resistance soon expands to a Mother Base on a single off-shore platform. Units are either added to the organization by immobilizing enemies, slapping a Fulton balloon to their back and whisking them into the sky, or by accepting volunteers that have heard the rumors of your operation. The concept is greatly reinforced by the online co-op missions, instilling a sense of camaraderie with your team and the people all over the world taking up arms beside you.
The divisions of labor within Mother Base benefit its internal ecosystem, and every department feeds into the machine. While it’s easy to understand how the combat and R&D departments carry their own weight, the Mess, Medical and Intel departments are all for the self-sufficiency of the military corporation and keeping the units fed, healthy, and happy. With these systems, there is a direct connection between the success of your field units and the self-sufficiency of its support system.
Metal Gear’s gameplay has always operated around its two pillars of sneaking and combat, a virtue that had to be revised by the fundamental need to acquire new soldiers and their GMP. Peace Walker’s intent is revealed with a small but fundamental change in its mechanics. There’s no crawling. If Mother Base is an economic system with every unit being currency for production, narrowing the range of gameplay into a linear shooter puts you in direct contact with your exploitable funds. You are rewarded for slapping a Fulton on a downed enemy and given nothing for evading.
The constant investment in your forces builds out Mother Base from its humble beginnings to a sprawling oceanic facility with more than a dozen buildings, a massive arsenal, and a substantial army to be dispatched into conflicts throughout the world. The virtue of the structure is the tangible sense that you are becoming a force to be reckoned with. This becomes particularly apparent against the many armored vehicle battles. Though these open-ended fights support both a full frontal attack and tactical elimination of the accompanying guards, they can seem downright formidable with the early items. But with R&D cranking out new and improved gear, you come to present a significant threat to your enemies.
Unlike the past MGS entries, the main enemies in PW aren’t meant to be metaphors for the story but mirrors for the protagonists, the development of the Peace Walker being a mechanism to chart the similar growth of the MSF. The tank-like Pupa, the insectoid Chrysalis, and the mobile fortress Cocoon; the three phases that preceded the final form all represent the stages that develop an unassuming larva into a free butterfly. But as the two forces represent a different take on political theory, their battle is symbolic, even if their advanced weapons are anything but.
The game of deterrence is put to the test when the Peace Walker simulates an attack on Norad, exposing the fallacious assumption that everyone works on rational self-interest that necessitated the Peace Walker in the first place. Only when The Boss’s completed AI profile, its imago, takes over does Snake have a moment to rip out her circuitry, the very memories that replicated a character so great that it would do everything necessary to save the world, including destroying itself. That killing his mentor again is another gut wrenching ordeal for Snake proves that even though she is long dead, her strength lived on through him. This story beat isn’t just the climax to Peace Walker’s plot, its Metal Gear retiring the political strategy of deterrence that had opened the Cold War to put its successor into practice.
The Soviet’s initial plan to cripple the U.S.’s route through the America’s hinted at proxy warfare’s truly sinister strategic possibilities, but they manifest in the epilogue: subversion from inside a political body. When the MSF’s own secret black project, built from recovered Peace Walker scrap, is hijacked and readies its nuclear warheads, its Paz that Snake discovers in the pilot’s seat. An agent of Major Zero’s shadowy organization Cipher, she manipulated the Soviets to infiltrate the MSF’s ranks and used the same tactics they had planned to separate North and South America in order to frame the military group as a threat to the entire world. Proxy warfare, at its darkest application, facilitates strategic terrorism. This revelation represents a turning point, not just for the Metal Gear fiction, closing the distance between the end and the beginning, but for the state of the real political world that would span from the early 80’s into the new millennium.
Just like the process that transformed a prototype mech into the butterfly that is Peace Walker, the MSF has gone through its own metamorphosis, uniting under a common cause, gaining strength and emerging as a global power indistinguishable from the man at its heart. If MGS4 was the death of the ‘Snake’ identity, then Peace Walker is the rebirth of the original as Big Boss; commander of an army, leader of a nation, and wielder of the powerful Metal Gear Zeke.
Over the course of the Cold War, the man known as Snake developed from a lone soldier caught in the struggle between Capitalism and Communism to the living symbol of a nation free of ideology called Big Boss. By the close of Peace Walker, he had become a man with two bodies– one physical, the other conceptual. Ground Zeroes, the first part of Metal Gear Solid V, continues soon after, as word arrives that Paz, the Cipher Agent who infiltrated Mother Base under the guise of a pacifist student to frame the MSF as terrorists, survived and is being held at an American prison in Cuba. Fearing that she’ll reveal their secrets and in time for a United Nations inspection of Mother Base, Snake infiltrates Camp Omega. Safely aboard their chopper, they discover a bomb implanted inside Paz. Though disposed of, one Trojan horse begets another- the UN inspection was a cover to sneak Skull Face’s XOF forces, who proceed to blow the supporting columns and collapse Mother Base from inside. Another explosion rocks the chopper, sending it down in fire and metal. Both of Big Boss’s bodies were destroyed.
In its short development, the many possibilities of proxy warfare had become apparent. In the simplest terms, proxy warfare involves one group using another, the unit able to scale from as small as a single mercenary to as complex as a governmental body. The size of the unit, and the strategy it uses, is based on the answer to a single question: is the puppeteer trying to maintain their own power or trying to undermine someone else’s? When a nation becomes a puppet for another, it allows the puppeteer to expand their influence and tip the balance of world power. When a small group enters the general population of a target, they are positioned to corrupt the body from within by sabotaging infrastructure, destabilizing the economy, or disseminating grass roots propaganda, all to shake the people’s confidence in their government. In this way, proxy warfare is well suited to adopting terrorism’s use of fear to create a reaction. Where Paz’s terrorism sought to defame, Skull Face’s meant to destroy. Big Boss, and the idea he represented, needed to disappear.
The Phantom Pain opens in 1984 with Snake regaining consciousness, his eyes slowly making out the details of a sterile hospital room to a cover of David Bowie’s ‘The Man Who Sold The World.’ His doctor informs him that he’s been in a nine year coma and that the explosion took his left forearm and shot a giant piece of shrapnel into his head, protruding out like a beast of hell. The attack on the MSF robbed him of the three elements that define the individual: body (gene), mind (meme), and time (scene). What’s more, to protect his identity, it’s suggested that Snake get plastic surgery and you’re given the task of designing your new face. When the hospital is infiltrated by XOF agents with orders to execute, a bandaged patient that’s been watching over him helps get him through. A single metaphor shows how much he’s lost. Forced to crawl limply along the floor due to his atrophied muscles, he needs to remember: his body to remember its strength, his mind its knowledge, and his skills their training. The two barely escape the presence of a young red-headed boy with a familiar gas mask and a specter whose rage is so intense, he burns everything around in hellfire. Infected by the poison of vengeance, Venom Snake begins to rebuild Mother Base.
Things had changed over the Cold War and socialism, having killed a hundred million people in the name of the common good in Communist Russia under Stalin, China under Mao Zedong, and Cambodia under Pol Pot, found itself displaying the danger of collectivism. Trying to maintain Communism’s sphere of influence, the Soviets invaded Afghanistan to stop a revolt against the puppet leaders they installed in the government. By the time Snake reenters the world, the united Muslim consciousness had been engaged in a jihad for half a decade, supported by weapons and training provided by the CIA. In Angola, Private Forces took advantage of the sustained ethnic conflict of the region between the Soviet backed ruling MPLA and the Western-backed Unita revolutionaries. Proxy warfare let the Cold War recede into the shadows.
Snake reenters the war industry after rescuing Miller, taking jobs as they come. Though the early missions cover mine clearing and intel gathering, you’re soon actively destabilizing the Soviet’s communication lines and eliminating low-level officers. When an entire group of Mujahedeen vanish, Langley fears their new chopper-killer ‘Honey Bee’ will fall into Soviet hands. Making his way into the militia’s camp, Snake is grabbed by a giant mechanical fist, and reunited with Skull Face. Snake barely escapes an attack from the Skulls, the zombie-esque squad whose rock armor and attacks seem tied to the very land they walk, but comes out the other side with plenty of incentive to rebuild Mother Base.
While fundamentally the same as Peace Walker, Mother Base’s ecosystem is given new dimension. Every addition to the ranks increases its collective strength, which manifests in better gear and support. The practical benefits of outfitting Mother Base is obvious early, as getting someone who speaks the native language allows Snake to communicate with the locals. Because Mother Base is an open system where the only prerequisite to admission is your ability, the members of Diamond Dogs come with a diverse background of cultures, races, and specialties to pursue a common goal.
Not long after Snake arrives in Angola he discovers the disease. As he walks through rooms of the dead and dying in one of Skull Face’s research stations, he finds that their putrefying lungs are apparently caused by the speakers forcing recorded messages down their throats. Not long after the discovery, a similar outbreak appears on Mother Base. Quarantining the sick away from the main facility, analysis reveals that the common denominator, the target of the illness, is the Kikongo language.
The investigation leads to the revelation of the vocal cord parasites. These selectively cultured organisms are attracted to the rhythms and sounds of certain languages, manipulating its host to make contact where they talk, exchange their strains and let the resulting eggs eat their lungs. Skull Face kills by robbing people of the organ that generates their voice.
The Phantom Pain’s date is no coincidence. In his classic 1984, George Orwell created Newspeak, a rigorously edited language designed to constrict thought into a narrow range. Based on the theories of linguistic relativity, Newspeak was a tool the novel’s national socialist government Ingsoc used to control behavior. By deleting words to eradicate their concept and simplify surviving words so they provoke base emotional responses, the population was kept placid and subservient to the state. Metal Gear Solid had already analyzed memetic control and social engineering with Sons of Liberty’s S3 engine, an information filter that wove a socially acceptable narrative out of digital data.
When information flows openly through a society, ideas are put through the rigors of debate, challenged from every angle until they reveal truth. By restricting the flow, ideas and opinions are echoed back into the group without question until they become truth. We get a concise lesson on the downfalls of dogmatic belief with the Skulls and their Puppets; one wraps their ideology around them like armor, zealots living in a perceptual fog, while the other is an empty vessel to be controlled, completely unable to think for themselves.
But where MGS2 analyzed from within the confines of a single social system, V’s parasites elevate it to a global scale, where those beliefs must clash with the beliefs of others, naturally leading directly to a culture war. A look at the times shows how identity-based divisions devolve into conflict. The current state of affairs in Afghanistan and Angola are both rooted in cultural identity. In Afghanistan, it was the perceived attack on Islam that united local Muslims to fight the Soviets. In Angola, it was the artificial prioritization of one identity over the other that led them to slaughter each other. The logical conclusion to a primacy of identity is genocide.
Perhaps Metal Gear Solid’s most prevalent theme is interpretation. Throughout the series, the major players all interpreted The Boss’ desire for a unified world in their own ways, reaching vastly different conclusions. Initially, Skull Face developed the project to eradicate all language except English so Cipher could expand U.S. influence, a biological version of The Patriots digital sift. It wasn’t until later that his plan flipped to the opposite, to kill its ideas and sever a global line of communication and cultural exchange. The parasites are a single tool that can be used for contrasting ends- imperialism or segregationism. Zero and Skull Face are similar in that they both chose their own variations of collectivism to recognize The Boss’ goal, trying to force all people into a predefined identity.
If Skull Face’s thoughts are the result of constant adoption and discard of different languages, oversaturating a word with definition to strip it of all meaning, then his thinking is so garbled that it can justify contradictory conclusions, subverting reality so that the confines of ideological imprisonment are seen as freedom from someone else’s oppression. As Skull Face so succinctly puts it, “The world will be torn asunder. And then it will be free.” For someone who peddles separation, its little surprise to see that he alone creates the product that will save it.
Once everyone is separated into groups, convince them that all those outside it are a threat. It’s at this moment that the nuclear-equipped mech Sahelanthropus, modeled after the evolutionary link where biology facilitated language and thus culture, makes a statement that will blanket every nation in the world: you need protection against those outside your borders. Even after the Metal Gear is destroyed, there’s not much to celebrate. Anyone who has played the first Metal Gear Solid knows Sahelanthropus’ message was received, because within two decades, nuclear proliferation will escalate around the world to the point that a facility would be built in Alaska in a futile attempt to dispose of it.
Because Mother Base was an open system where cultures lived side by side, the Kikongo strain could be identified and isolated without crippling the whole. That’s the value of open systems – they don’t consolidate power enough to be attacked or become weapons to attack with, so political takeovers, whether imperialistic or segregationist, largely dissipate. The trick, then, is to manipulate it into centralizing. This is where proxy wars subversive capabilities are applied to culture and identity.
Throughout The Phantom Pain, we’ve witnessed Mother Base gradually transform. As the group’s wealth grew, they became the target of others who wanted to take it and formed a security force to walk the decks. As the conflict with Skull Face escalated, their desperation compounded, their doubt turning to suspicion in tandem to interrogations morphing into torture. Mother Base was radicalizing systematically. Then the quarantine lab went down.
Discovering a new strain of the virus, Snake enters the ravaged halls for survivors. The truth slowly dawns on you – everyone is infected. Room by room, floor by floor, Snake is forced to execute his soldiers, men and women he lived and fought alongside. The horror of this scene is agonizingly drawn out until you have no choice but to deaden your emotions to mercifully spare them the trauma. Even in death, the ghost of Skull Face lingers. Because of their shared grief, the people of Mother Base united into a national consciousness, directed by a single will.
The funeral is the last fire we see. To keep the contagion from spreading, the dead were incinerated. Every Metal Gear Solid climaxed with a fight that tested Snake’s evolution over the course but gave some much needed catharsis for his struggle. That ended with this last entry. With no foe to quench his vengeance, the fire within Big Boss finally erupts from a spark twenty years in the past, a blaze set to scorch the future for the next thirty. By portraying the descent of its hero into a villain, The Phantom Pain is a cautionary tale of losing yourself into your identity. Wearing diamonds pressed from the ashes of their comrades on their sleeves, the men and women of Diamond Dogs carry the weight of their sorrow with them into battle, fueling the flames of conflict for the generations of Snakes that follow.
The Individual Vs The Society
The Phantom Pain’s last story mission has a revelation. Back in in the hospital, Snake wakes from his coma. But when you’re told about the plastic surgery, you’re given a view of your pre-op face, and find that it was the one you’d created long ago – the surgery was to put Big Boss’ face on yours. But the original had remained by your side, helping to get you out of the hospital, and find the strength to pick yourself up off the floor.
Since the release of Metal Gear Solid in 1998, the series has used the interactive nature of videogames to transform you into Snake. In the seventeen years between it and the MGSV, you experienced his missions until you knew his entire history. You contain all his memories. By setting aside your own body, your own culture, you were able to experience his life, be his greatest proxy.
The first three Metal Gear Solid games made a plea to everyone to live their life to the fullest. The last three made a similar but crucially different one, that to get it, you need to give everyone else the room to do the same. We mustn’t hold tightly to our pasts for fear of losing sight of the future, must not let identity be the stick with which we measure someone’s worth. Through its analysis of politics, people and the planet they occupy, Metal Gear Solid believes in liberty for all, showing what it is, how to find it, and how to fight when it’s being taken away. Big Boss’ legacy is a lesson that will be carried on through everyone that ever took his code name.
This essay series would have been impossible without the fascinating Cold War analysis that Mahmood Mamdani provided in his book ‘Good Muslim, Bad Muslim: America, the Cold War, and the Roots of Terror,’ a work that provides deep insight into the evolution of proxy warfare, political identity, and cultural consciousness.