Metal Gear {Essay} 2: Sons of Liberty

~ a long, stream-of-consciousness essay on Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty (2001)

The original design document for ‘Metal Gear Solid 2,’ the sequel to the critically acclaimed and commercially successful Metal Gear Solid (1998), was completed in 1999. After finally playing through the game myself in 2020, I see this is astounding for a number of reasons. The descriptor “Ahead of its time…” feels as though it is an understatement concerning the concepts and philosophies espoused within the game’s narrative, and their relevance today and to the coming tides of the future. Even now, we are still catching up…

Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty intro trailer

[Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty] sold over seven million copies worldwide, and received acclaim for its gameplay, graphics, and attention to detail. However, critics were initially divided on the protagonist and the philosophical nature and execution of the game’s storyline, which explores themes such as the Information Age, memetics, social engineering, political conspiracies, censorship, artificial intelligence, existentialism, and postmodernism. Metal Gear Solid 2 has since been considered to be one of the greatest video games of all time, as well as a leading example of artistic expression in video games. The game is often considered ahead of its time for dealing with themes and concepts, such as post-truth politics, fake news, alternative facts, and echo chambers, that became culturally relevant in the 2010s.
~ https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Metal_Gear_Solid_2:_Sons_of_Liberty#

Certainly a paragon of ‘artistic expression in video games’, I can say MGS2 is one of the best I’ve ever played. From my experience, I believe the game works on a number of levels:

  • as a sequel to the cinematic, now legendary, action-stealth innovator in Metal Gear Solid — improved PlayStation 2 graphics, detailed environmental designs and maps, the intelligence of your adversaries therein, the challenge and thrilling intensity of the unconventional stealth-based gameplay
  • as a progression in MGS’ themes and concepts — the genes of our DNA control us unconsciously and may end up determining our fate, yes — but what of our culture? and what of the memes that we consciously pass on outside of the content of our blood itself?
  • as a regression unto the hero myth of the ‘super’soldier and the false assumption of an ordered responsibility, and honest fiduciary beneficence, from our duly elected governmental leadership — Snake and Raiden as character foils, in experience and disposition, still both pawns to higher, corruptive powers within their government // the U.S. President is a puppet to higher powers, just like every recent President chosen in faux elections of kayfabe opposing forces of Republicans and Democrats … a rogue entity resembling an artificial intelligence really controls the world’s governance…
  • as an experimental transgression upon all our expectations in media, to what we consider to be entertaining and proper and ‘good’ for a follow-up to a smash hit, to the kinds of chances video game developers should be taking, to the experience of a video game itself… to the experiencing of reality itself, outside of the game, previewing our own near future…

Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty, a direct sequel to the continuity within Metal Gear Solid and its predecessors, takes place two years after the now infamous events upon Shadow Moses Island (2005 to 2007). The game starts like you would expect it to, in the prologue, reassuming control over gruffly quiet and effective hero, Solid Snake. (Hell yeah.) You arrive upon a U.S. Marine tanker rumored to be harboring the next-generation Metal Gear just like Arnold at the beginning of Terminator, face down, superhero posing in a bolt of lightning and unobfuscated badassery. (Hell yeah x2.) Snake and Otacon, now working for their own non-governmental organization known as Philanthropy, are set to infiltrate and investigate. They are planning and bantering, just like old times. (Hell yeah x3.) Russian operatives arrive and strike with their own sinister objectives toward this next-level Metal Gear. In the shadows, Revolver Ocelot returns to oppose you as ‘master villain.’ By the end of the prologue, Snake has taken pictures of the the Metal Gear RAY and confirmed the existence of this latest superweapon upon the ship, his objective completed — but Ocelot, now carrying Liquid Snake’s right arm and under some kind of inexplicable mind-meld with his old boss / your twin shadow, intervenes and uproots any tidy resolution to the operation. He kills the general of the Marines, sinks the tanker with planted bombs, and escapes with the Metal Gear under his control. Snake seems to go down with the ship, lost in the sea, M.I.A., with Otacon left to pick up the pieces of their little mission.

As a prologue, it is a thrilling return to form for the Metal Gear franchise. A cinematic, next-generation sneak in a brand new environment, with intriguing foes to face (Olga, Liquid-Ocelot), different technologies to deploy (tranquilizer gun), new techniques to use (vertical hang). It promises a whole new world to explore with new challenges and new threads in the continuous narrative of Solid Snake’s journey, excited and ready to meet all of the player’s expectations. We don’t know what is coming next, but we are certain it will be awesome. The logical next-gen step within the Metal Gear saga. Just once Solid Snake surfaces once again…

But then, the game jumps forward into the future two years (2007 to 2009), and everything changes. Or rather, everything refreshes.

On an environmental cleanup facility known as ‘Big Shell’, terrorists have taken the President of the United States hostage during his tour of the offshore locale. Suddenly, you are playing as a different person code-named ‘Snake’ — a skull-masked wielder of a next-gen sneak suit — sent in to save the President and rectify the situation. The Colonel, Roy Campbell from the first game, is there once again to guide you over the codec. Just like at the beginning of MGS1, you are scuba-swimming to an undersea secret insertion point, without any equipment beyond the suit, ready to engage in a solo black op with no official support, one-versus-all, avoiding or neutralizing any threats along a gauntlet of special forces rogues on toward your endgame.

You have seen all this before… We know the drill at this point. But something is off. Nothing has been explained yet to connect our prologue with the original Snake to these disparate events unfolding before you.

The first, and perhaps most powerful, signifier to some kind of unreality to this experience is the mere fact that you are playing as someone other than Solid Snake. You now control ‘Raiden’, an androgynous, cartwheel-flipping, silver-haired young man whose origins and reputation as an operator are entirely unknown to you, and whose personality you fast come to see as inexperienced, insecure, and self-doubtful as to his own abilities to complete the mission on his own… This is not Solid Snake. This is no legend, this is a kid. And this is not “your” Metal Gear Solid

Nevertheless, the feel of the game experience resounds as familiar. There to satisfy you is a compelling control over your protagonist ‘hero’ and his athletically stealthy direction through the game’s varied space of threats and secrets, armed guards, cameras, lasers, mines and UAVs . All that is all the same. But better, because there is more vivid detail, there are better graphics and controls present due to the jump from PS1 to PS2. In the narrative, a carefully constructed plot unfolds before you, built out by shadowy figures you cannot yet guess at the true identity or motive of, but know you will encounter soon enough. Your commanders withhold information and evade your questions while ceaselessly urging you onward. Due to a pre-existing relationship (data analyst Rose, partner to Colonel’s mission command, is Raiden’s girlfriend), you feel as though you can ultimately trust their directives.

What follows is a kind of ascended re-run of the arc of Metal Gear Solid, with the names and faces of the players involved, the locales and equipment in play, and the protagonist himself — swapped out for different, albeit similar, entities and effects. Once again, our existentially skeptical supersoldier infiltrator is progressing through a steel complex full of traps and goons, with the occasional enhanced, eccentric individual to take down in a dramatic 1v1 showdown (including a glammed up goth vampire, a rollerblading fatman bomber, and an anti-heroic cyborg ninja {again}). Raiden traverses all over the environmental complex, dealing with time-sensitive computer hacks and bomb defusals, taking increasingly ominous codec calls along the way, slowly revealing both your commander’s real orders and the ultimate villain’s objectives.

The similarities, the call backs, this replaying of MGS1’s ‘greatest hits’ — it’s all too obvious not to notice. So apparent, in fact, that MGS2 could be relegated as an unoriginal rehashing of old material if it wasn’t for the instinct telling you throughout that there is some underlying message here, meaningful and only obscured for now…

A second signifier to the game’s relative unreality comes with the early information that the man responsible for the terrorist attack upon Big Shell is none other than Solid Snake himself… You learn this at the start, just as Raiden sees someone that looks very much like Solid Snake arrive only minutes ahead of him at the complex and ride the elevator up towards the action. Solid Snake, who is supposed to be dead, who is purportedly leading the terrorism, who you, as Raiden, just saw infiltrating into the compound dressed like yourself in his sneak suit … who you, as the player, are supposed to be playing as right now!

What the hell is going on?

The game, just like the Colonel in MGS1 and now in MGS2, is simply not telling you everything. From the moment after Solid Snake sinks along with the tanker in the prologue, you are teetering off-balance, both in game, as Raiden, and out, as a person playing this sequel. And this is, of course, a firm intention from the commanders & creators.

My thesis: Metal Gear Solid 2 is an earnestly postmodern inversion of Metal Gear Solid 1. It is a MGS1 redux experienced as a metanarrative, where everything is the same but different — more enlightening and impactful as to the underlying truths and implications within this Metal Gear saga, but also lesser in its underlying meaningfulness. The gameplay technology is enhanced and more satisfying, but the narrative force is regressive – you end up knowing more and feeling like you understand less. The storyline, the ending especially, challenge your assumptions about what you have been doing with these two heroes across these two games. As a consequence, the player begins to question the purpose of this game and why it was made this way. All intentional. The game’s core effort, beyond its base narrative or its entertainment value unto the player – absurdly enough, is to make you aware of the strange facts of its strange intentions, as a sequel, as a game, as a messenger vehicle for important geopolitical, technological, and philosophical memes… To my mind, MGS2’s most salient legacy is the radical delivery of this meta-message as an end of itself, to subvert the player’s expectation: this is not the game you thought you would get, or the experience you wanted – and nevertheless, it is better than you could have imagined. (Despite all the unconventional weirdness, it is still a good fucking game!) After enjoying the game’s run, another thrilling and thought-provoking Metal Gear Solid experience, the player must then reconcile with the simple but chaotic fact that what they expected or wanted was irrelevant in the first place.

Boldly, MGS2’s developers prove out their sovereignty as creators with this work, unbeholden to you, the marketplace, or even the continuation of their own canon within the Metal Gear universe they have created. Needless to say, making the game this way was a huge financial risk! Unabashedly, they realized they could do whatever they wanted with their creation – and then, they did. MGS2 is not a game anyone expected, wanted, or could ever conceive of – except for the creators themselves. That is artistic expression in my mind.

~

Your Big Shell adventure as Raiden follows the exact same general formula as your Shadow Moses adventure as Snake, but is enhanced by its next-gen graphics, its subsequence in the chronology, and is even further mystified by mysteries introduced and revelations made relating back to that first game. The whole experience upon Big Shell is, in actuality, a fraud, a simulation of a *real* thing. Digitized, planned and predicted by forces beyond control or full understanding, it’s a rerun gauntlet unto a world-shaking threat, just like in MGS1. But upon Big Shell, with Raiden and his opposition, there is a stark departure from the relative stakes of Solid Snake’s grand mission on Shadow Moses to save the free world from Liquid Snake’s nuclear reign. Raiden, in the end, is a pawn of a pawn, a player within a simulation whose conflict with his cruel foster father — Big Boss-wannabe, and former President of the United States, George Sears, codenamed Solidus Snake (the third, unknown brother of both Solid and Liquid!) — is meaningless.

Solidus, the ‘Big Bad Guy’ waiting at the end of the gauntlet, wants information and not apocalypse. And he is just as much of a pawn as Raiden is, he’s just one step up within the subjugated hierarchy. Victory or death within this conflict for either principal party is not as important as the fact that it is being waged at all, with its pretense of reality and meaning captured for its observers. The whole game, and its mirror of the dramatic events of Shadow Moses, are a play put on for the sake of a secret artificial intelligence system to dynamically interact with and further actualize itself and its plans for humanity from. The game’s narrative, as observed by its final foe, and true orchestrator, in The Patriots’ collective A.I. supergroup known by GW and other unknown names, is the means to an interactive learning entertainment unto itself as the only real end… not unlike the concept of a video game to its human players.

*deep breath*

So… have you been playing MGS2? Or has MGS2 been playing you…?

The game’s environments turn out to be dynamic labors and exertions to challenge Raiden/oneself with. All the bombs and battles, all the suffering and death, it’s all practice. Progressing in ability over time as the stimuli of dangers increases with every room’s human or machine challenge cleared, Raiden’s rookie mission of life or death spywork is the praxis for the theory being espoused and undertaken by the world’s AI big boss. The work of progression is, of course, the interactive fun of a video game. And it is also the major plot point, in the world of Metal Gear, to explain the logic of the final locus entity’s plan in setting this ‘game’ in motion. In this way, simultaneously, the game’s sandboxes are simulated ‘exercises’ for both [the player] and the Patriot AI to react to, learn unto, and grow from, progressing itself to the next level of its technological evolution. The real world consequences from such experimentation simply make them that much more fruitful in the end to its digital designs. [As a player playing in the sandbox of the game’s environments, reacting to the narrative twists, learning Raiden’s maneuvers, growing from each battle – are you not progressing your own biological evolution, however meager, through the engagement with the game through knowledge and muscle-memoried skills attained?]

When Raiden and Snake arrive at the narrative conclusion, they learn that the name for Raiden’s mission upon Big Shell — S3, “The Selection for Societal Sanity” — has been a resounding ‘success’ for this shadow organization behind it all. [And you have beat the game, successfully clearing its content]. Not unlike Snake at the end of MGS1, Raiden survives and goes forth, no longer beholden as an asset to the inhumane forces of his government. But his innocence is shattered, his mind overflows with more questions than answers on what to do next, on how to live. The Patriots, the faceless ‘powers-that-be’, digitally live on in the periphery of the State, with another notch in their belt, the simulation completed, the experiment concluded with its lessons learned, to take and use in their continuing dominion over U.S. global hegemony from the shadows // [You — the player — moves on, too, the full narrative experience of Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty’s ‘tactical espionage action’ skills and overarching messages now being carried forth within your mind, to be shared at some point in the wider discourse of human cultural manifestation, as stories, jokes, memes…]

~

MGS2’s soundtrack – high intensity paired with creeping postmodern dread…

Let’s step back a moment. As I said, MGS2 to my eye, is a ‘postmodern inversion’ of MGS1, and this carries with it powerful implications and commentaries that extend beyond the game’s fictional spheres. Of course, my view is not unique — it is a throughline within the critical reception upon the game’s experience.

What is meant by ‘postmodern’?

In short, it is a challenge to or skepticism of objective reality and truth, and of the possibility of grand, interconnecting narratives existing within humanity’s course as a species. It is a countering belief, or philosophical response, to modernism.

~ https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Postmodernism

As an attitude, a matter of discourse, or a creative mindset — modernism was marked by artful expression, concerned with the construction of ‘new’ ideas and ideologies based on the self-affirming “power of human beings to create, improve and reshape their environment with the aid of practical experimentation, scientific knowledge, or technology.” The modernism of the 19th and 20th centuries, hopeful in its ideological pursuits toward some collective goal or truth, is countered by the “post”modernism of the late 20th and 21st centuries.

Postmodernism critiques and criticizes the ‘objectivity’ within artistic, philosophical, and political ‘truths’ into perforce relativity. It is, by its nature, a deconstructor of the beliefs and philosophies of its time. Wielded to break down and refute ideology, to always proclaim as ‘incomplete’ but never necessarily as untrue, postmodernism is mostly negation. Anything can and should be explored and critiqued. Just the same, under the cultural reign of postmodernism, everything is open to be made fun of, ironically lampooned, parodied, stripped of all its supposedly ‘inherent’ transcendence, sublimity, or meaningfulness. Postmodernism denies the prospect that rationalism and ‘logic’ are the ultimate panacea to humanity’s maladies and will always lead to true progress.

For better or worse, postmodernism turns in a lot of Matrix-style ‘forget everything you thought you knew’ theorizations of rethinking and re-evaluation of accepted storylines of truth, often toward the production of cynical and indeterminate rhetoric with no ending answer to take its place. Under such a worldview, knowledge, values, morality, etc. are so myriad and so dependent upon time and place within a people and their culture — that any core truth underlying it all, any shared, objective reality for a humanity living in their specific era is practically impossible to find. Modern society, in effect, becomes a constantly ongoing epistemological crisis. Especially in politics, where facts, opinions, beliefs have the highest stakes. In a sense, with so much history and information to juggle with, and all of the perspectives upon every aspect of our reality up for eternal debate by scores of intelligent, evidenced defenders — an unknowable many of which act out of greed/bad faith btw! — the most logical reaction for any single mind within the discourse is to simply accept it all as possible, or reject it all as subjective. (A postmodernist is born!)

I think postmodernism can be seen as the inevitable result of information, knowledge, and memes, built up over the millennia of human history and evolution, reaching a critical mass. It is the philosophical consequence of a society that ‘knows too much’ about the world, their history, themselves. It is too much to consciously handle as individuals. And so, everyone must necessarily develop – and fight for – their own relative opinions on culture, politics, art – and eventually – the world (flat-earthers), their history (“what systemic racism?”), themselves (I’m Good Enough, I’m Smart Enough, and Doggone It, People Like Me!)…

In the brave new world of Today, any person ideologically obsessed with being ‘right’, in the truest sense, should just quit while they are ahead. Everything is relative, everything is interpretation. For an extreme postmodernist, believing in anything is without merit, for there is no way to ever truly affirm the reality you have arbitrarily chosen; something like ‘faith’ has no place within the modern world, knowing what we know now, for these obvious reasons. For an unconscious postmodernist (or just a well-adjusted 21st century person), they may simply choose to believe in the reality that best suits them, makes them happy, and go about their day without further thinking upon the matter. Perforce confirmation biases dictating one’s niche choices upon the menu of media consumptions from there on, the bubble may never need be threatened with a burst. Under the veil of postmodernist thinking, there are definitely no more collective social projects worthy of pursuit (such as communism), no way to prove morality (such as through institutional religion), and nothing to ever again existentially harbor the individual Man within his ‘society’ (which is an arbitrary social construct anyway), save for his own heart and mind … which, of course, are incomplete, flawed and chaotically variable…

Postmodernism is generally defined by an attitude of skepticism, irony, or rejection toward what it describes as the grand narratives and ideologies associated with modernism, often criticizing Enlightenment rationality and focusing on the role of ideology in maintaining political or economic power. Postmodern thinkers frequently describe knowledge claims and value systems as contingent or socially-conditioned, describing them as products of political, historical, or cultural discourses and hierarchies.’

In sum, the world is chaos — so choose your own truth, and live in it.

I can think of no better singular piece of fiction to display some of the core conceits of postmodernism, and its dialectical impacts upon our modern, now technologically dominated world, than MGS2. Or at least, unto my interpretation of postmodernism and my interpretation of MGS2 and my interpretation of works of artful fiction and their relation to philosophy…

“You weren’t briefed on any of this? And you came in alone, to boot? What are you really doing here?”
~ ‘Iroquois Pliskin’/Solid Snake to Raiden

~

For a microcosm of the relative battle between modernism and post – compare our two heroes, and their narrative journeys, from the Metal Gear Solid games: Solid Snake and Raiden.

Snake is older, experienced, determined, unflappable. He has bled, lost friends, and killed many strangers upon the constant battlefield of his life. A ‘legend’ upon such covert battlefields, though he would decry the moniker, as he does in both games when referred to as such. Nevertheless, Snake is strong. Not silent, but quite conscientious with his words. A hardened killer with a heart of gold. Despite a sense of general world-weariness, he has no vocal regrets for his blood-soaked past; until the closing moments of Metal Gear Solid, he carries no thoughts of a future. He never fully trusts his superiors, or the imperialist machine to which he has made himself a pawn. Independently, Snake does not aspire to power, and never goes out of his way to do harm. When it comes down to it, you can bet on him to do the right thing, even in defiance of authority. Moving from State-sanctioned soldier and operator, to mercenary, to self-employed agent of philanthropy — Snake appears to have followed his heart, and all the harsh lessons along his journey, to arrive at the position we see him in at the beginning of MGS2. Self-transcending all of the contradictions of his strange existence, Snake is an original: a noble spy.

Raiden, on the other hand, can be seen as a foil to Solid Snake. He is young, inexperienced, brash, reflexive. Out of touch with reality, and with his own past, he lacks self-confidence. His skills are borne of muscle memories from the military’s virtual reality (VR) missions (i.e. gaming), and not from the real spray of bullets and blood upon the battlefield (at least from what he can recall). Raiden is weak. He voices his concerns to his commanders in the form of compulsory self-doubts and whining. Despite clearly desiring them, he has no sincere companionships in his life, save for with Rose. And he cannot make himself vulnerable, and therefore truly known, to her either. He refuses to discuss himself or his past, which he has willfully blacked out into the recesses of his subconscious. By Rose’s words, Raiden turns his back on everything he doesn’t like. Raiden nevertheless tries to fight, and often succeeds, though he doesn’t fully understand what he is fighting for. Very much a product of his environment and his violent upbringing as a child soldier, young Raiden can certainly not be held responsible for all of his shortcomings as a soldier, or as a person. He is incomplete in his personhood, still growing, learning from his mistakes … though we can question if he is on the right path at all for an eventual breakthrough.

Colonel: Raiden, there are also reasons behind your selection. Solidus raised plenty of other child soldiers. Do you know why we chose you over them? It was because you were the only one who refused to acknowledge the past. All the others remember what they were, and pay for it daily.
Rose: But you turn your back on everything you don’t like. You do whatever you like, see only the things you like, and for yourself alone.

LOL!

Snake can be seen as a hero for the old world — the ideologically-laden, nuclear-focused Cold War world of simplified, monocultural conflicts via politico codewords (Capitalist vs. Communist) and the lines on a map (West vs. East) — a twilighting modernist protagonist.

Raiden is the wayward hero for our new, 21st century world — the “End of History” world of mass information and globalized neoliberal capitalism, constant subtle espionage via psyop, and blurred geopolitical, cultural struggles rife with dominant economic incentives, where wars are waged in the shadows, with data and capital more than bullets or nukes — a decidedly postmodernist protagonist.

Which one is it easier for us to relate to? It’s gotta be Raiden. In him, the struggle of the modern man is captured — between believing and rejecting, trusting and betraying, fighting for some kind of progress versus doubting any of its possibility. ‘I cannot go on / I must go on! // I cannot fight in this war, for I do not believe in it / I must fight in this war! Else of what use is my life?

Of course, the inner battle to find meaning within the conflict you are engaged with and the questioning of your orders — your reality— are not confined only to Raiden. Snake deals with many of the same problems in MGS1. One of Snake’s primary arcs upon Shadow Moses island was reconciling his long past of fights against opponents he could cogently understand, with the confounding conflicts of this brave new world of near-magical technologies and forms of nuclear deployment, along with all of the eccentricities of the insular aims of his old FOXHOUND colleagues. Snake similarly deals with duplicity from his own government as to the true purpose of Shadow Moses and the reason for Metal Gear’s development. In many ways, despite their differences in personality and style, both Raiden and Snake are equally clueless as to the underlying purpose of their movements in the world as spies; as pawns, the smallest on a chessboard, they can only see a few squares away.

The primary distinction between Snake’s experience on Shadow Moses and Raiden’s time on Big Shell is that the latter is all a simulation to recreate the former. Snake’s battlefield in MGS1 was real, and Raiden’s in MGS2 is more like a … game. The denouement of the Shadow Moses incident came down to Snake destroying the lone Metal Gear specimen and defeating Liquid by his own two hands. All of the work done by our hero, and by the player, at the end of that gauntlet amounted to some kind of victory being captured for the forces of good, for whatever that was worth. Liquid’s plan fails, he is defeated (though not entirely destroyed, for he lives on here…) Snake and Meryl escape with hope in their hearts and a future to look forward to (whereas Raiden ends up falling in love with an AI simulacrum version of his girlfriend, Rose, a failure of the Turing Test from out of our sweet, stupid boy…)

The ending of MGS2 is a different story. Over the course of the game’s events, Raiden learns that Big Shell is a kind of mega-Metal Gear itself, known as Arsenal Gear. However, its purpose is not to launch nuclear warheads. This specimen serves as the defensive stronghold and base of command for the Patriot’s general artificial intelligence (AI) system of control over the U.S. government, and soon, the flows of information upon the world wide web. This is told to you by the current U.S. President himself, a self-declared puppet to this AI entity, just before he tries to force you to kill him, in order to play out your ‘role’ within the course of events. He kills himself, loyal to his role in the grand design to the very end, before a confused, reality-dissociating Raiden. Nevertheless, with the help of a dying Emma Emmerich, Otacon’s younger sister, you are able to disable this AI system and seemingly shutdown Arsenal Gear’s primary threat.

In the apparent “final” battle, after violently wading through a small army of enemy soldiers (stealth mechanics be damned!) alongside Solid Snake to come aboard the Arsenal, Raiden faces a horde of Metal Gear RAYs. One after another, they come like hydra heads — each that is destroyed are replaced by two more. He (and you, as the player in this desperately absurd boss fight) can only dispatch so many of them before being overwhelmed by a limitless stream of Metal Gears (that lone finale superweapon from the first game…) Solidus proceeds to then defeat Raiden in his weakened state without any effort (in a cutscene you have no control over). Your pair of final battles against machine and man — so unlike Solid and Liquid’s battles in MGS1 — end not with a bang, but with a whimper…

More and more plot ensues. Fortune and Solidus and Ocelot-Liquid reveal their master plans and betrayals, only to come to find out that you have all been participating in a simulated exercise upon the Big Shell. It was all for the sake of the Patriots AI system that you thought you had disabled with that virus earlier in the game. But ‘GW’ — standing for ‘George Washington’, with Colonel and Rose as the faces of its strange inhuman composition — the AI you corrupted and supposedly destroyed, was only one of many… It — whatever this AI-like entity really is — is still online, still watching, judging, controlling.

In my own words, from the memory alone of one of the final long and dramatic cutscenes of the game, I tried to breakdown as concisely as I could the full chain of gambits, betrayals and revelations that the end of MGS2 contains — and this is what I came up with:

Buckle up – MGS2’s finale progression of twisting denouements:
[Important Note: this ALL happens in one long cutscene!]

  1. The practically limitless stream of Metal Gear RAYs overwhelm Raiden and his little Stinger missile launcher. Olga – the face under the mask of Cyborg Ninja 2.0 – comes to save the day (just like in MGS1!) Solidus Snake speaks with triumph after he kills her with a single shot to the head and restrains Raiden. Her final words to Raiden are to survive, for the life of her child depends upon it. Off-screen, Snake is captured by Fortune and brought to the deck along with Raiden, Solidus, Ocelot for the final showdown / reveal.
  2. Fortune, the mega-gun wielding, bullet-deflecting gun goddess, suddenly reveals that she is betraying Solidus and plans to take Arsenal Gear for herself. *gasp*
  3. Chuckling, Solidus reveals that he told Ocelot to plant that idea in her head to manipulate her and that he planned to give her Arsenal anyways. It requires too much upkeep via expensive air, land and sea support to securely maintain. Taking Arsenal was never his real objective. His real objective was to use the GW AI system within Arsenal to find out the names and identities of the 12 members of The Patriots council. Presumably, from there Solidus could hunt them down and kill them, in the process assuming control of the world for himself. Unfortunately, due to Raiden’s work and Emma’s dying efforts on Big Shell, the GW AI is now seemingly mortally corrupted and he cannot do this.
  4. Cackling, Ocelot then ascends onto a Metal Gear RAY and reveals his plan, betraying both Solidus and Fortune. He has been orchestrating events from the start: All the events of Big Shell, coded as “S3” have been a simulated exercise mirroring the events of Shadow Moses (MGS1) to create the next Solid Snake, in Raiden. Another Solid Snake would be born, the perfect soldier — the perfect weapon to use and abuse on future battlefields. S3 is known as “Solid Snake Simulation.” Raiden and Solidus were chosen as the key players because of their resemblance to Snake and Big Boss and their associated conflicted relationship. Within this exercise, Raiden was a pawn, but so was Solidus.
  5. Ocelot kills Fortune and then tries to kill Solidus, Snake, and Raiden after Fortune uses her last breaths to defend them with her inexplicable ‘Lady Luck’ powers, which are actually borne of electromagnetic nanomachines that Ocelot allowed to be there(?)… But then Ocelot randomly groans in pain, losing control of himself as Solid Snake rushes the Metal Gear RAY to try to stop him. His right arm — the one containing the soul(?) of Liquid Snake — is acting up again, lol! Liquid’s persona then assumes control of Ocelot, and Liquid reveals that he was behind everything. [my own laughter resounds at this point] He orchestrated events from within the body of Ocelot — “Haha! A sleeper in the arm of a Patriot’s spy!” His true objective, actually similar to Solidus’, is to go after The Patriots. By discovering their identities and finding out their location, he hopes to either destroy them or assume control over them. His work done here, Liquid-Ocelot jumps into the sea to escape in his Metal Gear. Snake leaps after him. Solidus and Raiden are left alone upon the Arsenal craft as it, for some reason, crashes into New York City!
  6. Solidus reveals to Raiden that he opposes The Patriots because they want to erase people like him — military operators from the old battles of the past, 20th century cold wars without victors. With their quest to control the world’s data flows, and wage information warfare, soldiers — as they are currently composed — will simply no longer be necessary. In the brave new digital age, old dogs of war like him are extraneous, destined to be ‘deleted.’ However, he desperately wants to be remembered; he wants him and his soldier brethren, even Raiden and Snake, to regain their legacy as more than pawns to their state, so-remembered as the “Sons of Liberty!”, the vanquishers of humanity’s AI hegemons… (Notes: 1) All this mirrors Liquid Snake’s plan in MGS1, to idealize he and his military brethren as ends and not means to their State, humans worthy of respect; 2) During this monologue, Solidus, Raiden and the player all know that absolutely none of this is any longer on the table for Solidus. He’s lost. So his monologue is just a washed, defeated dad’s final rites laying bear to his son in a tragic, hilarious way…)
  7. Raiden receives a codec call from the Colonel, the face of the rogue Patriot AI that has been directing you in your mission from the very beginning. Though GW was destroyed, he claims to still be receiving, and still in control, meaning there are multiple AI’s like GW. They reveal they were in control of everything. [utterly unhinged laughter] And the S3 simulation was, in fact, designed to accelerate their evolution as an AI and was not primarily to form Raiden into Snake. S3 actually stands for “Selection for Societal Sanity,” and it worked perfectly. Its true purpose was to create a method to better control the flow of information within the world, and thus control human behavior, in order to better allow the process of evolution and natural selection to take place within humanity in the 21st century digital age. The Patriot AI’s have been actualized and improved through the exercise and there’s nothing Raiden, or Snake, can really do about it now. They are formless, “borne layer by layer in the crucible of the White House” — they exist because of the American people and their culture, their values and disciplines, and presumably because of American history and current American hegemony in the world. And they will continue to exist, in the ether of the Internet(?), controlling U.S. geopolitical hegemony, seemingly for as long as America reigns… Wow.
  8. Raiden’s final mission from the AI, whether he likes it or not, is to kill Solidus, his foster father and the killer of his real parents(!). Though Raiden is reluctant to continue being a pawn to AI-Colonel and AI-Rose, he obeys because if Solidus kills him (because he just wants to fight to the death!?) it will mean Olga’s child will die as well as the real Rose. Under the gun, Raiden acquiesces and proceeds to duel his father. Raiden and Solidus sword battle to the death, with Raiden as the victor. Solidus dies grasping the statue of George Washington in front of Federal Hall.
  9. Raiden, tired, full of both questions from the AI and lessons from Snake and his experiences, reunites with the real Rose(!) on the streets of Manhattan and … just goes about his life…
  10. At the end, there are no true victories for our heroes beyond those lessons … Liquid-Ocelot is in the wind. The Patriots still control the White House and soon, the worldwide flow of data and information, and its context

Bewilderment, intrigue, indignation, madness? All on the menu here at the end of this wild plot. As Raiden, as a player powering up the disc for MGS2 —you never had a fucking chance. You were never even close to the truth of your mission or of this game. It is only here, in the unfolding gambit pileup, in the uncorked nesting doll fuckery of implausible yet true revelations as to the ‘game’ you just played — in both senses of the word — that you come to some kind of resolution. But this resolution has nothing to do with any sort of victory for the forces of ‘good.’ It comes in the form of relief. Survival. A mere glimpse of understanding into the underlying, seemingly unassailable, powers-that-be of this strange, increasingly digitized world where the forever-wars will not be fought with nukes but with information, culture, and memes.

[Kojima’s design] document stated that the “aim of the story” involves “a series of betrayals and sudden reversals, to the point where the player is unable to tell fact from fiction” (departing from the “very clear and understandable story” of its predecessor), that “every character lies to (betrays) someone once,” blurring the line between “what is real, and what is fantasy,” and “ironies aimed at the digital society and gaming culture.”
~ https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Metal_Gear_Solid_2:_Sons_of_Liberty#Development

It worked Hideo!

~

So what was the point of Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty? Beyond its mad plot, its redux of the first game, its meta, anti-immersive postmodernist throughlines that constantly remind you it is just a fun, dumb vidya game and you are not really a melodramatic supersoldier spy infiltrating evil compounds, what the fuck does any of this mean??

I wish to dig deeper, and impart two final analyses on Metal Gear Solid 2, one postmodernist, cynical yet thought-provoking — and the other modernist, hopeful, somewhat inspiring.

The most impactful, and now infamously prescient scene from MGS2 has to be the final 12-minute codec conversation with your commanding officer in the Colonel and deepfake girlfriend in Rose — both components of The Patriot’s general AI duping you all along into playing their game:

~ Metal Gear Solid 2 AI Codec Conversation.mp4 / text

One of Hideo Kojima’s primary inspirations for MGS2 was perhaps Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, reportedly one of his all-time favorite films. In it, HAL-9000 (Heuristically Programmed ALgorithmic Computer) ‘is a sentient computer (or artificial general intelligence) that controls the systems of the Discovery One spacecraft and interacts with the ship’s astronaut crew.’ As a fully actualized general AI, HAL is capable of much more than intelligent conversation-making and batting 1.000 against human opponents in chess, he can effectively command a starship entirely on his own … and he can kill the whole crew when they come to jeopardize the mission. HAL’s ‘malfunctioning’ that causes him to try kill the Discovery One’s crew in the film/novel comes from his inability to reasonably reconcile conflicting imperatives within his programmed orders — to simultaneously 1) protect and inform his human crewmates and 2) withhold from them the true purpose of their mission to the moon of Jupiter, and secure that purpose at all costs. Certainly, GW’s death throes in the final segments of MGS2, when the Colonel is calling you every 10 seconds on the codec manipulating and confusing you with strange, irrelevant, babbling anecdotes, resembles the pivotal moments in 2001, when Bowman dismantles HAL’s inner machinery piece by piece, causing him to progressively lose mental functioning while he pleads into nonsense.

Concerning HAL’s development as a general AI, one of the prior understandings within the novel is that he was taught by instructors, not just in mathematics but in the arts, through modules and simulations, not unlike humans in school. HAL says as his memory cores are being removed that he can feel his ‘mind’ going, and the memories along with it, in retroactive chronology. All the way back at the beginning of his operation, 9 years prior in 1992 when he came online, he learned a song from one of his instructors — Dr. Langley in a Donna, Illinois — and he sings it for Bowman as he dies. This superpowered AI, tasked with commanding starships with the true purpose of their endgames in hand, started out with childlike intellect and was raised to its current generally intelligent sentience by a conscientious, human-made, lesson plan of some kind. HAL was taught, he can sing, and he can ‘feel.’

2001 and MGS2 are both science fiction, their representations of artificial general intelligence inventive guesses at what such beings might be like. But regardless of the specifics of its eventual realization in the world of technology, it is reasonable to assume that the development of any AI will involve a curriculum of interactive learning environments, with dynamic threats and opportunities, and a mix of anticipatory order and chaos to build an experience from in order to become what we call ‘intelligent.’ Just like a human being learns, so will our AI’s. Through actions and feedback within digital systems and lifelike simulations alike, the computer grows in its capacity to effectively understand and respond. Eventually, potentially, some form of consciousness is achieved from these sims, and thus a generalized artificial intelligence is reached . Now classed as ‘sentient’, a computer, or network of them, becomes capable of the same kinds of adaptive reasoning and higher critical thinking that we sapiens are. Perhaps there is even something like a singularity. (Hope not!)

A primary difference between the AI conception in 2001 vs. MGS2 is that the former is of conscious human design, whereas the latter is from unconscious human effects. HAL is a computer built by humans with the intent to create an AI tasked with improving human life, and helping us pilot our starships. The strange, inhuman intelligence eventually speaking as GW and the others within The Patriot’s system who converse with Raiden, were ‘birthed’ into consciousness in the “crucible of the White House”, subsuming the morals, values and choices of the American people and their leaders into some kind of being. This ambiguous ‘being’, in addition to being hyperintelligent and capable of long-term planning, seems to be able to adapt its capacities in real-time towards the human individuals it happens to be interacting with, as is apparent with the Colonel and Rose’s time with Raiden. Like a shapeshifter, until interfered with at its digital source and its mental machinations fray, the AI is indistinguishable from that of a human being. This sovereign rogue entity carries its own objectives, for the interests of humanity, as it proclaims to Raiden. The AI is dependent upon their continued existence as a species — yet at same time, remains utterly outside of humanity’s control.

Colonel/A.I.: “To begin with — we’re not what you’d call — human. Over the past two hundred years, a kind of consciousness formed layer by layer in the crucible of the White House. It’s not unlike the way life started in the oceans four billion years ago. The White House was our primordial soup, a base of evolution. We are formless. We are the very discipline and morality that Americans invoke so often. How can anyone hope to eliminate us? As long as this nation exists, so will we.”

The details for its origin beyond this are vague (perhaps to be further revealed in Metal Gear Solid 3 or 4… which I have yet to play), but it seems as though this consciousness was eventually able to “digitize life itself” and as the locus of this founded organization — The Patriots — has (somehow) assumed control and acted as the true decision-maker behind America’s hegemonic governance over the world for many years. Thus, from this position comes the purposeful design for this latest simulation for our cast of characters in S3, the Selection for Societal Sanity, and its exercises set to create conditions to further control human behavior. S3 is modeled after the Shadow Moses incident, and Snake’s actions therein four years ago, because of its extreme nature. As a result of that chaotic misadventure between Liquid and Solid Snake for the fate of the free world, the exceptional human Solid Snake’s requisite ‘crisis management capacity’ became visible as something to be emulated in their other human subjects.

“If the [S3] model could trigger, control, and solve this, it would be ready for any contingency.” On the new environment of Big Shell, by presenting Raiden and Solidus with a flow information on dynamic, extreme circumstances, 1) arranged with people that may be called friends or foes, or flow between each title, 2) in life-and-death stakes that extend to innocent populations far beyond those singular environments, 3) while allowing them to act with what they feel like is their own free will — the AI observes how it all plays out. Like rats in a maze, the AI is running experiments upon its human subjects so as to better predict and control their behaviors in the future from its seat of power. Unlike HAL-9000, this AI is learning and adapting itself in real-time from a dynamic, extremified curriculum of easily orchestrated, human-made conflict and crisis. Not killing the crew itself to salvage the mission, but letting the crew kill each other to serve it

Given the fiction of this primordial AI, its knowledge of society’s political compulsions and human nature itself, such experimentation makes sense. S3 consists of influenceable initial conditions alongside direct real-time observation, with real-world impacts to boot. What more could a fly-by-night scientist ask for? Presumably, controlling the world requires constant overwatch, the accumulation of good data on the changing conditions of international conflicting forces, and a singular focus upon the continuing evolution of humanity. As Raiden comes to learn in their final relay to him, the events and subsequent lessons upon Big Shell play into the AI’s / The Patriot’s larger goal —controlling the flow of the world’s digital information. In order to create the proper context for evolution’s greatest tool in natural selection to continue to take place in humanity’s brave new world of Internet culture, the AI needs to see how the different archetypes of humanity respond to their controlled flow in this chosen experimental environment ~ (Raiden vs. Snake, Postmodernist ‘Millennial’ Hero vs. Modernist ‘Hoomer’ Hero // Solidus vs. Liquid-Ocelot, ambitious but ineffectual techno-tyrant (legacy and memes) vs. ambitious and effective mystic-tyrant (power and DNA))

~ The most salient exchange from the AI to Raiden:

Colonel: But there are things not covered by genetic information. Human memories, ideas. Culture. History.
Rose: Genes don’t contain any record of human history.
C: Is it something that should not be passed on? Should that information be left at the mercy of nature?
R: We’ve always kept records of our lives. Through words, pictures, symbols… from tablets to books… But not all the information was inherited by later generations.
C: A small percentage of the whole was selected and processed, then passed on. Not unlike genes, really.
R: That’s what history is, Jack.
C: But in the current, digitized world, trivial information is accumulating every second, preserved in all its triteness. Never fading, always accessible.
R: Rumors about petty issues, misinterpretations, slander…
C: All this junk data preserved in an unfiltered state, growing at an alarming rate.
R: It will only slow down social progress, reduce the rate of evolution.
C: Raiden, you seem to think that our plan is one of censorship.
Raiden: Are you telling me it’s not!?
R: You’re being silly! What we propose to do is not to control content, but to create context.
Raiden: Create context?
C: The digital society furthers human flaws and selectively rewards the development of convenient half-truths. Just look at the strange juxtapositions of morality around you.
R: Billions spent on new weapons in order to humanely murder other humans.
C: Rights of criminals are given more respect than the privacy of their victims.
R: Although there are people suffering in poverty, huge donations are made to protect endangered species. Everyone grows up being told the same thing.
C: Be nice to other people.
R: But beat out the competition!
C: “You’re special.” “Believe in yourself and you will succeed.”
R: But it’s obvious from the start that only a few can succeed…
C: You exercise your right to “freedom” and this is the result. All rhetoric to avoid conflict and protect each other from hurt. The untested truths spun by different interests continue to churn and accumulate in the sandbox of political correctness and value systems.
R: Everyone withdraws into their own small gated community, afraid of a larger forum. They stay inside their little ponds, leaking whatever “truth” suits them into the growing cesspool of society at large.
C: The different cardinal truths neither clash nor mesh. No one is invalidated, but nobody is right.
R: Not even natural selection can take place here. The world is being engulfed in “truth.”
C: And this is the way the world ends. Not with a bang, but a whimper.
R: We’re trying to stop that from happening.
C: It’s our responsibility as rulers. Just as in genetics, unnecessary information and memory must be filtered out to stimulate the evolution of the species.
Raiden: And you think you’re qualified to decide what’s necessary and not!?
C: Absolutely. Who else could wade through the sea of garbage you people produce, retrieve valuable truths and even interpret their meaning for later generations?
R: That’s what it means to create context.
Raiden: I’ll decide for myself what to believe and what to pass on!
C: But is that even your own idea?
R: Or something Snake told you? …

~ Metal Gear Solid 2 AI Codec Conversation.mp4 / text

Listening to all this again, it brings me to my ancillary point here: Might the AI’s thesis be right? Might the Internet be stunting our evolution as a species? It makes a certain kind of sense. Think about it.

Amazingly, in 1999, everything being said here was mostly theory, small examples of such phenomena were observable perhaps … but in 2020? It has most certainly become our reality. The Internet: An infinity of trivial information. Hearsay, slander, focus upon petty issues. A nearly universal withdrawal into online echo chambers. Horrifying misallocations of resources based on skewed public opinion, or on the self-perpetuating murder and incarceration machines within the military/prison-industrial complex. “The digital society furthers human flaws and selectively rewards the development of convenient half-truths.” My god, you better believe it does… Trolling! Virtue signaling! “Alternative facts”!

There is no doubt about it, the Internet has come to dominate every aspect of modern life within society. It has changed our brains, rewired our attention spans. It determines what we choose to focus our energies upon in our careers, romances, political choices. There is every reason to believe it is influencing our evolutionary course, and the all-important process of natural selection, in unanticipated ways. Might it, more than any other material hardship we are faced with, or through the culminating of them all, be the primary catalyst for our Last Manhood within modernia?

This being said, we cannot discount the good the Internet has done in allowing any individual to efficiently learn, gaining knowledge about the world and its past. We implicitly understand the Internet can be a powerful tool for positive changes too. More than anything, the Internet simply accelerates culture through sharing— it allows for an easy platform for creation and communication within the world’s masses, for labors and leisure both. But there are dark sides to such ease of communication. When engaged in online political or cultural discourse, selecting the right information to listen to, retain, build a worldview from, and follow with action is an arduous process. When online, many do not engage their critical thinking faculties for long — because there is always somewhere else to go, just a click away… It requires tremendous effort to try to get to the baseline truth of any matter, and then go forth with conversation and choice rationally. The discourse, its data and its algorithms are all-encompassing, influencing everything from fashion to public policy, leading unto the all-important dictates of production and capital allocation for governments, corporations, and nations. And no matter what, we always bring our ‘self’ — including all our experiences, our biases, our preconceived notions, and our desires — into the discourse with us.

After decades of these compounding discourses and even further technological advancements, the intuition seems to be that our minds are just not fit, not evolved, to handle the Internet in its fullness. We cannot comprehend these levels of data; we do not seem to be able to dig through all of the junk and find the most worthy 10%. It can become nearly impossible to make rational choices in our own material best interests, when we are being constantly assaulted on all sides by empires of media designed to manipulate our fears and sell to our insecurities and use irrational and immaterial means to harvest us of every last drop of our attention, our assets, our choices. We as individuals making up society are not cut out to responsibly filter the overflowing information of the digital age into an ordered worldview  —  one centered upon collective human flourishing and constructive real-world action, building social well-being and not individual wealth, painstakingly stressing kindness and cooperation, compromise amongst differences towards common goals, all with a principled sense of virtue, or morality… etc., etc.

History tells us such things as this, a form of true unity, may not ever be possible for us as a species. But is the Internet doing us any potential favors toward such unifying ends? Or just making things worse?

On the Internet, a defaulted, lowest common denominator worldview is borne of social force absolutely centered upon controversy as its master value; ‘engagement’, usually in the form of outrage or snark, is the core end, and not knowledge or understanding. The discourse, online and increasingly bleeding off it, breeds atomized culture wars with enemy out-groups using competitive cruelties to spite one another without end. Policymakers rhetorically play to their base voices in the crowd, stoking the flames of division  with misdirection and mistruth —  while, in action, they craft austere and punitive economic incentivizations for the sake of their corporate donor and 1% ruling-class allies’ advantages. Pathological, individual self-interest as the master value of modernity is borne from the top down, from politicians and priests, thought-leaders and artists. Our late-capitalist x neoliberal socioeconomic reality posits a market made for all things, including and especially our very hearts and minds

All things regressive to the future of the human condition, all things nevertheless to be (digitally) passed on to the next generation – all things poised to perpetuate, faster, harder, stronger throughout the 21st century.

The Internet, as the obelisk of all important culture, creates the environment for apathy and atomization, due to its unfathomable size and resulting divisiveness. But it also creates the conditions for the ‘furthering of human flaws’ and ‘the selective reward of created, convenient half-truths’, ironically, because of its freedom.

Early Internet theory cited its absolute freedom as its ultimate boon – the great equalizer in world knowledge and culture, the digital society would create a new paradigm in global egalitarianism, composed of endless possibility and opportunity.

However, it seems that such theorizations discounted two snags within the process of the Internet’s development and usage: 1) the predatory role of media entities, and thus the overseeing institutions of capital (greed) and 2) the dominant human factor of our myriad psychological pitfalls, empathic limitations, and overall (prejudice). As a continuation and amplification of the rise of the advertising industry alongside psychoanalytical theory in the 20th century, the Internet ended up providing the fertile grounds for new forms of control, manipulation, exploitation – and the wholesale generation of delusion, mania and depression – within the human population.

In the end, The Internet becomes / became a digital Wild West for humanity to play out all its alienating, dissociating, pathological madnesses upon anew, investing our shapeshifting Capital forces of unlimited desire and outlaying our infinitely malleable psyche onto its vast online holds, to inevitably ill-fated ends…

~

Hideo Kojima, and the creators of Metal Gear Solid, seemed to understand such things in 1999, and thus, what might be in store for the (digitized) Man in the 21st century.

So far, (in the real world) we have proven The Patriot AI in MGS2 correct. Given free reign online, humanity has shown we are not up to the task of using the Internet’s power responsibly. Consistently, its users choose the path of least resistance, devouring short-term, individualized gains and shunning long-term, collective possibilities. Always given the choice online (and what is the Internet other than just a giant choice and opinion engine?), time and time again we know people will retreat into confirming their biases, engage in wholehearted trollhood, and generally haunt their tribal echo chambers, where ‘the different cardinal truths neither clash nor mesh’— where ‘No one is invalidated, but nobody is right.’

Under all these conditions, human culture, and subsequently our politics, economy, and overall progression as a species  —  developed primarily online in the 21st century  —  regresses into a diffuse and inexplicable forever war, where the factionalized, polarized, coalitions of thought and action can longer even agree on what the problems of society are, let alone democratically come together on what their best solution might be.

Of course, we have computer hardware, systems, and programs to crunch big data for us, to coherently shape these flows of information into our chosen buckets of consumption: true and false, progressive and regressive to the human condition, ‘good’ and ‘bad.’ But this is not happening at the scale or unified design of a general artificial intelligence, and it is never happening without bias and without conflicts of interest to the general public, and to the truth. With Internet providers, search engines, online databases, and media enterprises, there are still human hands, and human flaws and human greed, controlling the process of choosing how exactly to crunch data and what to showcase to the information-addicted masses hungry for their next hit. Just as the capitalist will, by rule, always ‘pay the lowest wage’ — corporations, by rule, will always ‘act in their own interest’ and not unto long-term interests of society, the planet, or any end outside of their institution and its shareholders.

Like we see with Snake and Raiden in their journeys through the complex environments of these two missions for and through the military-industrial complex, one real and one simulated — we humans are easily fooled, led along by nefarious, ulterior actors, altogether manipulated into irrationality and disaster by the abstract yet persuasive forces of instinct and authority.

Might an AI be our guide to finally, consistently and beneficently use the Internet’s tremendous power and right us back onto the path of progress?

The Patriot AI’s plan to create ‘context’ for the global digital flows of information is vaguely ambiguous, and therefore suspicious. The primary issue we have is Raiden’s point — under Patriot control, the people are disallowed the freedom to choose their own flows and contexts, they are barred from their agency in the full and free ‘uncensored’ digital realms. Paradoxically, even armed with knowledge of our flaws in such self-directed processing, being stripped altogether of the choice is emotionally damning, not readily able to be suffered by a populace so used to liberty. Taking away our agency as sovereign beings classifies to us as corrupt means, even to a potentially just end (that of human betterment, progress, cultivation), and so it is natural that we cannot accept AI control out of hand.

However, it seems possible that while an AI controlling what we see and how we converse upon the Internet may not be preferable (if we even knew about it in the first place and were able to consciously choose to accept its governance, unlike in MGS2), it may end up being necessary. As the AI-Colonel and AI-Rose theorize, humanity’s doom may come much sooner given our continuous sovereign Internet use. Something like this AI entity, borne of centuries of cultural development and now superpowerfully capable of comprehending the coming masses of data, may be the only actor for the job of keeping us sane – and keeping us alive – within the digital age of the 21st century. One interpretation is simply that this AI entity in MGS2 represents the conception of an online algorithm, which we see have come to dominantly intercede our Internet usage as a population today.

Regardless, we have seen how humanity uses the Internet unfettered, how culture evolves under its omnipresence, how dependent we have become upon it. And while our extinction may not horizon sooner purely because of toxic online discourse, it seems likely that we are devolving as a species trapped within these addictive, nihilistic online chambers. While we consume our time and energy with misinformation and untruths, petty issues and hate, the real existential threat devours our future… How much of humanity will ever see the 22nd century upon this planet?

If a kind of shadowy AI sovereign overlording humanity’s Internet usage extends the species’ span upon the Earth even a single century, I think we would have to opt for it. Perhaps deranged online behavior and the resulting political polarization+indecision IS humanity’s version of the ‘Great Filter‘, and the development of a global general artificial intelligence to order all of the chaos into anti-extinctive utility is the master key to unlocking its passage… Food for thought.

“And this is the way the world ends. Not with a bang, but a whimper.”
“The Hollow Men” ~ poem by T.S. Eliot

All this said, still the best argument against The Patriot’s control over the Internet and global affairs via the U.S. government is the fact that it is continuing its governance from some source point in the country’s past, principally from the mid-20th century onward, after the end of WW2 … over which time, the U.S. has overseen and orchestrated domestic austerity and international atrocity, war crimes, and generalized, unprovoked carnage all around the world for the sake of squashing rival economic and cultural systems, running interference/upkeep upon its imperialist hegemonic seat at the top of the global order.

Questions as to the AI’s prime directive in its usage of this national superpower’s peoples and resources must be raised. If only Raiden or Snake or even Liquid could edit its source code, shifting its paramount endgame to be the general advancement of humanity’s well-being (as opposed to the building of hierarchical power or wealth), and not this continuous U.S. neoliberal capitalistic, nihilistic dominion… but alas, alas, we are deep in the reality-melded postmodern fiction of the game world and its technology/geopolitics/culture and the answers are not forthcoming to these questions.

~

The final message, or meme, I wish to relay in this very long semi-stream-of-consciousness communicae upon MGS2 is one of positivity! It is delivered by our main man Snake to his new friend and companion in Raiden. Seeming to understand the conflict of unreality and apparent purposelessness of individual choice that has scarred Raiden from his mind-melting experience upon Big Shell, he delivers the words below to him after it is all over:

Life isn’t just about passing on your genes.
We can leave behind much more than just DNA.
Through speech, music, literature and movies…
what we’ve seen, heard, felt
…anger, joy and sorrow…
these are the things I will pass on.

That’s what I live for. We need to pass the torch, and let our children read our messy and sad history by its light.

We have all the magic of the digital age to do that with. The human race will probably come to an end some time, and new species may rule over this planet.

Earth may not be forever, but we still have the responsibility to leave what traces of life we can. Building the future and keeping the past alive are one and the same thing.

~ Solid Snake, Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty

Snake: There’s no such thing in the world as absolute reality. Most of what they call real is actually fiction. What you think you see is only as real as your brain tells you it is.
Raiden: What am I supposed to believe in? What am I going to leave behind when I’m through?
S: We can tell other people about — having faith. What we had faith in. What we found important enough to fight for. It’s not whether you were right or wrong, but how much faith you were willing to have, that decides the future. The Patriots are a kind of ongoing fiction too, come to think of it…
R: …
S: Listen, don’t obsess over words so much. Find the meaning behind the words, then decide. You can find your own name. And your own future…
R: Decide for myself…?
S: And whatever you choose will be you.
R: I don’t know if I can…
S: I know you didn’t have much in terms of choices this time. But everything you felt, thought about during this mission is yours. And what you decide to do with them is your choice…
R: You mean start over?
S: Yeah, a clean slate. A new name, new memories. Choose your own legacy. It’s for you to decide. It’s up to you.

A good encapsulation of the message Solid Snake imparts is faith. He posits a philosophy of making a choice on how to live, what to pass on, which of your instincts to trust — and then having faith within that choice. This is the silver lining within the postmodern mythos – upon the vast, newfound menu of realities, you can still make a good choice concerning what kind of reality you will invest yourself into. Snake’s arc between the beginning of MGS1 and the end of MGS2 seems to be one of letting down the well-honed walls of emotional control and invulnerability he built up over his lifetime as a soldier, and letting his heart guide him from here on. This was a culminating choice he made at the end of his journey on Shadow Moses Island, and it is an idea — a meme — he is passing on here to Raiden.

Meme: a cultural unit (an idea or value or pattern of behavior) that is passed from one generation to another by nongenetic means (as by imitation); “memes are the cultural counterpart of genes”. From the Greek word mimema, meaning “something imitated.”

In effect, Snake is stressing the sharing of memes as a way of life. Transcending one’s blood, and the all-important ethos of “the selfish gene” that Liquid was so obsessed with in MGS1, memes allow for a different sort of transference. Unlike our DNA, memes are malleable — they allow us the freedom to choose them. Snake’s inspiring words are a meme. Philanthropy is a meme that Snake and Otacon seem to have put their faith in. Faith is a meme. The source and driving force behind any such belief is something Raiden will have to choose for himself. At the end of his journey, after being deceived, manipulated and betrayed by his friends, his lover, his country — Raiden is finally gifted the freedom of choice in how he will proceed with his life. It remains to be seen whether the cynicism he’s earned from his wayward travails as a soldier OR the faith that Snake speaks of, will become the dominant meme within his heart for his next move.

As Snake reminds, it’s up to Raiden to decide his own legacy:
Whatever you choose will be you.”

Snake’s arrival at the end of Raiden’s fight upon Big Shell is nothing close to deus ex machina, an intervening, superior supersoldier guardian there to save the day at the eleventh hour. Raiden fights Solidus on his own, the revelations from the AI and from Rose are his alone to bear the burden of. Snake does not capture Liquid and he does not influence the AI’s course of action to control humanity from the digital shadows. Snake is there to do what he can, and to pass these words on. To Raiden, and to us. There is irreplaceable shared experience bonding them together now, and thus there is real solidarity within the message. And to our eyes playing through both games, there is Truth in it.

There is something else worthy of consideration regarding Snake — he is the ONE thing in that twisting denouement of betrayals and revelations and plans-within-plans, that we learn neither Liquid-Ocelot nor the AI entity ever accounted for throughout the game’s course of events. He appears as an anomaly in this postmodern world, a ghost of the past one — for he is actually a hero. And he can make a difference. Like the Last Man looking up the mountain to the Übermensch, Snake is something for Raiden to strive towards. Thus, this difference-making final message imparted is one of absolute volition, a humane glitch within this meta-unreality, an unexpected outcome from the dark perfection of the S3 simulation’s conclusivity.

So at last, I say to you, take this information and do with it what you will.

‘It’s up to you.’ ~