Metal Gear {Essay} 4: Guns of the Patriots

~ essay on Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots (2008)

Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots, released in 2008 for the PS3 (but playable in the modern era on PlayStation 4 or PC via Playstation Now, which is how I played it!), like each of the iterations before it, is a masterpiece. I think this is a fairly uncontroversial opinion at this point. It is also a game that almost did not get made; Metal Gear creator and resident gaming auteur Hideo Kojima tried to retire from the series after MGS2 (2001, PS2), and then again after MGS3 (2004, PS2), but in both circumstances returned to write and direct the next installment within his franchise, nurturing his baby’s canon as only he could envision. He returned to the development of MGS4 in the hopes of ending the series once and for all, sending off the canon and the saga of Solid Snake in as satisfying a fashion as possible. Kojima’s own career can be likened to his hero Solid Snake’s — a well-respected industry veteran, a “legend” of the space, nevertheless largely known for one thing (making artful tactical espionage masterpieces / performing black op wetwork infiltrations), who is continuously asked to return for ‘one last job’ after ‘one last job’, always getting it done, gaining more respect and accolades, but also always increasingly more jaded by the less-than-ideal circumstances, the superstructures governing his work, and at-times the lack of control, or reward, given to him by his superiors (Konami / the U.S. government). Much of the game, the last within the in-game fiction’s chronology taking place in 2014 (beyond Metal Gear Rising taking place in 2018, which is canon but centers on Raiden and not Snake), is about closure. MGS4 is about the *terminal* stage — of modern warfare, of technology and society, of our beloved characters, {of our beloved franchise}. Though MGS4 was not the last game in the series (Peace Walker, MGS5, Rising), its storyline is certainly the most complete, providing an endnote upon the mainline Metal Gear mythos as we have experienced and enjoyed it up to this point.

Video: Making of Metal Gear Solid 4 – Hideo Kojima’s Gene

Much the same, this essay is meant as a similarly effective endpoint of my analysis and continuous fascination with the Metal Gear series. Beginning with Metal Gear Solid V a couple years ago — my first true blue experience with a next-gen Metal Gear game (beyond Metal Gear Solid on the Game Boy Color which my brother and I played with wide, canon-less eyes as children) — and continuing with each major numbered game in the series, exploring their themes, characters, and artfully cinematic constructions of “Tactical Espionage Action”, I have attempted to capture in my writing on these games why they are so profoundly… good to me. Here, I hope to again explore the narrative, ideas and real-world connections of Metal Gear, with analysis and commentary upon Guns of the Patriots, written so as to efficaciously present these ideas to both diehards and to the uninitiated alike. Enjoy!

Meryl, Snake, Raiden
The cast of MGS4

On the “War Economy”

“In the not too distant future. On a tired battlefield. War has become routine.”

Early on in the narrative of MGS4, “Old Snake” — Solid Snake cursed with accelerated aging from his cloned genes and the FOXDIE virus — meets a merchant upon the battlefield. Sent into the Middle East to find and kill Liquid Ocelot, the brilliant, unholy polymerization of Liquid Snake and Revolver Ocelot now weaving a new nefarious plot, Snake comes across Drebin, a sly weapons dealer who speaks to him of the “war economy.” He becomes an ally throughout your adventure, mostly for business purposes — as he is the one who you can sell your on-site procurements to and buy your bullets and unlocked weaponry right back from, the personal locus of MGS4’s primary new feature: an in-game, real-time equipment shop. Gearing up with a these varieties of weapons and gadgets becomes Old Snake’s individualized participation in the ‘war economy’, though its sprawling presence throughout the world can be felt elsewhere…

OLD SNAKE!
Drebin, weapons launderer, “green collar”

~ Old Snake meeting Drebin, weapons wholesaler x arms launderer, on the “war economy”

Drebin: Oh hold it, watch where you pointin’ that thing.

Snake: “Who are you?”

Neither enemy nor friend. {same words from Cyborg Ninja Frank Jaeger 9 years before…}

“You’re not with the militia, and you’re not PMC.” {PMC = Private Military Contractor}

I’m a weapons wholesaler — all shapes, all sizes. But there’s no need to worry, ’cause all my shit’s been laundered.

“Laundered?”

You see, I take ID guns like the PMCs use and make some mods. Then you can use ’em without having to match IDs. In other words, I’m a gun launderer. You can call me Drebin. … They use that for all of us.

“There are more of you?”

All over the world. Not that I ever met any of ’em personally. Me, I’m Drebin number 893. You ain’t a registered PMC employee, are ya? You need a guy like me. Consider it a welcome gift. Take it. {hands Snake custom M4} The M4. The official carbine model used by the US Army. Developed from the M16 service rifle. This one’s a top-of-the-line model. Real popular with the big PMCs. High precision, not like that government issue shit. It’s free-floating, of course. Relax, that barrel’s clean.

That’s strange. Wait, I got it. I bet you are using an older generation of nanomachines. Sometimes they don’t really jibe with the new System.

“Seriously, who are you?”

Whoa, slow down… My day job’s working at AT (ArmsTech) Security. So I get my hands on the ID chips before they’re even registered. It’s a side of AT the public don’t see. From the looks of it, you ain’t with any state army. But you ain’t exactly green, either. You’ve got last-gen nanomachines. So I’m guessing… former US Army? I don’t know what you’re here for. But you’ll wanna be well-equipped, am I right? Can we talk business or what? You won’t regret it.

~

Snake: “What’s your take on him [Drebin], Otacon?

Otacon: I don’t particularly like the guy, but it looks like we’ll need his help with those ID guns. Sunny’s been doing a little sleuthing for us. Drebin. A well-known gun launderer in war economy circles. He’s a businessman who deals mainly in selling black-market firearms to small PMCs and local militia. Somalia, the Balkans, Lebanon, Darfur, Chechnya, Timor, Peru, the Punjab, Kashmir, Colombia. This guy really gets around.

“How does he pull it off, anyway?”

You can create a non-ID gun by replacing the ID recognition chip with a counterfeit version. This enables you to bypass the ID recognition process and use the gun. The problem is that there’s still a record of the chip being replaced on the System side. Drebin’s an employee of AT Security. He must have connections on the inside erasing records of him.

“You think the Patriots are involved somehow?”

I’m not so sure. If the Patriots were running the System from behind the scenes, then a weasel like Drebin would be a real pain in their collective ass.

“Can he be trusted?”

Remember, Drebin’s a green collar. He makes his living off the war economy. He doesn’t let emotions get in the way of business, and he never gets his own hands dirty. The only thing he trusts is money. I share your concern, but what if we keep him at arm’s length? Use him only to get intel and the supplies we need? Keep it strictly business.

“All right.”

~

Drebin: So… we ready to make a deal, or what? … Ok, let’s talk business. This is a war zone. There’s product coming in here by the truckload. And you’ll be picking up a lot of guns out in the field, I’m sure. Whatever guns you don’t need, I’ll take and buy ’em off ya. That’ll earn you points you can cash in for services.

Snake: “Like what?”

I’ll launder your ID guns — no more locks. And I can also sell you the guns I’ve got in stock. Let me show you… To ensure you can use non-ID guns, I’m gonna have to suppress the old nanomachines you’ve got in ya. Otherwise, they’ll interfere with the System. Here. Stick yourself with this. It will suppress the old nanomachines. Relax, it won’t hurt… You scared of needles or something? See, no sweat. Now you can use non-ID guns, no problem. From now on, when you picked up an ID gun that says “LOCKED”, you just let me know. You name it, I can launder it. Of course, it’ll cost you. The going rate depends on the war price at the time.

“Looks like you’re doing pretty well for yourself.”

You might say that. What with the war economy and all… And the System clamping down on things. System codes are the law now. And control’s essentially absolute. Paving the way for fat profits, if you’re willing to bend the law. Demand keeps on growing thanks to the war economy. I sell ID guns to the PMCs and state armies. And naked guns to terrorist groups and paramilitaries. And these ID guns can’t be sold on the black market. System’s practically a license for us arms dealers to print money. Privatizing the military has made the PMCs big and bloated. And the fatter the PMCs get, the line between civilian and soldier is gonna get real blurry…

Sooner or later, the whole damn human race is gonna be green collars. More like, we’re all gonna be fighting proxy wars… But hey, this war economy puts the food on my table. You’re a green collar too, aren’t ya? Yeah, it’s in your eyes. You’ve seen a lot of combat.

“What makes you think you know me?”

Nothing to be ashamed of. I’m the same way. I grew up here, too. I got no interest in the outside world. Alright then, if you need me, holler. We specialize in speedy service. Catch my drift? Eye. Have. You.

~

Drebin, who launders next-gen weaponry by freeing restrictive ID-locks upon their triggers, effectively allowing them to be used, bought and resold by anyone, ends up providing some of the most compelling conversations and ideas that MGS4 brings to the table. In a game full of cutscenes, perhaps the most like a film of any of the Metal Gear games, which are all overtly cinematic, it is the scenes between Drebin and Old Snake that showcase Kojima’s contemporary commentary on war’s purpose and participants, the implications of novel surveillance technology’s utility within it, and the economizing factors undergirding it. Clearly influenced by the real-world history of the wars in the Middle East, specifically the “Iraq War” (2003–2011) ongoing concurrent with the game’s development, MGS4’s conflicts and revelations surrounding its principal villains — Liquid Ocelot, The Patriots’ *System* — deal less with the purported objectives and ideological endgames of such American wars (“spreading democracy”, “displacing dictators”, or even seizing strategic locales or energy assets), and instead examine war itself as a tool to be used by those in power to further their control, perpetuating geopolitical and most importantly, economic conditions favorable to them. For the governmental superstructures tasked with waging war, for whatever reason it starts with (such as a terrorist attack), between the long-time weapons manufacturers (ex: Lockheed Martin, Raytheon, etc.) the Army buys their wartime assets from and the newly christened “private military contractors” (ex: Blackwater, etc.) being employed to fight upon the battlefield for their side, there is a whole new economy borne. Flows to and from these governments and multinational corporations — and eventually, among individual opportunists, such as Drebin and the collective of entrepreneurial underground launderers that take advantage of the scraps — bear out a whole new marketplace, lucrative, prolonged, and escalating into commensurate booms as the conflict does {in-game, based on the heat of the region you are currently deployed and fighting within, prices of the weapons you sell to Drebin will flux emergently…}

As MGS4’s narrative displays, and Drebin speaks upon as a not-so-neutral observer of the ongoing conflicts between American forces and regional rebels, as this “war economy” is borne and the money passes like clockwork between all these powerful players within the military-industrial complex, the war itself changes, the incentives go wayward, and the strategic objectives and original purpose of the mobilization into these foreign lands becomes lost. Regardless of the blood spilt along the way, the war crimes committed, and the lives lost — importantly, for the foreign or domestic forces upon the battlefields — these economic flows become too valuable to cease anytime soon, via a push toward final victory, or an eventual acceptance of defeat. The end of any given war, under the dominance of the “war economy”, then becomes a matter of business, and not a matter of tactics, strategy, life-preservation or anything else.

The continuous conflicting between proxy forces waging their “war” all across the world can be seen within MGS4’s universe, as Liquid Ocelot uses his collective mercenary forces to sow chaos in regions amenable to it, with awaiting resistance against foreign oppressors, while reaping the economic returns in such bloody transactions in the form of additional military contracting as the battles necessarily escalate. This situation — this process — is the perfect mating of militarism and capitalism ~ this is imperialism, as Lenin proclaimed “the highest stage of capitalism,” made automated and self-sustaining. All can be seen as the undergirding motive behind the real-world ‘forever wars’, stretching now into the 21st century, that the American empire engages in and that critics of America speak of as especially oppressive and abominable; the wars churned for profit and for land occupation x indigenous exploitation and for cynical domestic political scheming, and not for legitimate national defense or opposition to foreign tyranny or to stop the production of “weapons of mass destruction.” This regression of modern warfare can be seen over the course of the 20th century — another theme throughout Metal Gear, in its evolving timeline mirroring our own, with the comparison between modernist hero Snake and postmodernist agent Raiden and the battles they are tasked with taking part in — with the reasons why World War I and II were fought, the reason and nature of the decades-long Cold War, and the rationalization of next-gen wars such as the continuous conflict within the Middle East.

~ The Private Military Contractors of Metal Gear Solid 4

~ Snake operating in the Middle East
Meryl Silverburgh and her squad of UN military inspectors

The origin, building, and maintenance of American hegemony, or empire, can be seen through the touchstones of these wars over the last 80 years of world history {simplified here but revealing} — fighting against fascism (World War II), fighting for capitalism and against the opposing ideology of communism (Cold War, CIA black operations), fighting to maintain the establishment of empire, of entrenched military expenditures, of globalistic “economic interests” (21st century modern “forever” warfare via proxy forces and surveilling, automated technologies). It is important to understand that America’s prime position within the world order, as an economic and *military* superpower throughout the 20th century to the present day, did not come without its costs (or again, war crimes). Or its implications regarding our culture and economy. Continuous, conscious actions were required to keep our place, such as the specific allocations of our national resources available to us. For the best real-world example, consider the United States’ historically exorbitant military spending post-WWII versus the rest of the world, and then consider the absence of strong nationalized {public health-serving, life-saving} social programs such as universal healthcare in comparison to the rest of the world.

MGS4’s fictional universe of automated and systemic control over United States geopolitics via Artificial Intelligence in the form of The Patriots, posits that while the effects of war are obviously regrettable and tragic, the causes of war (manufactured from whole cloth or not) are constant and necessary and will not be going away any time soon. Post-9/11, fighting against the everpresent boogeyman of international terrorism, usually with more than a tinge of Islamophobia attached, and for the sake of democracy, and for our “freedom!” more generally, become the clarion calls of propaganda for the 21st century American military and media machines. MGS4, carrying similar real-world foundations to this conflict that Snake intervenes in, reveals that The Patriots and the political x corporate elites overlording the nation’s foreign policy ultimately see war as nothing more than a tool, a means to an end, a *useful* process to perpetuate their own power via controllable economic exchanges, with soldier’s lives as currency to spend, the geopolitical and business rewards consistent and more than remunerative to the destructive undertakings. Simply put, modern warfare is an investment. All of its industrious flows ultimately consolidate into the prime heads of the hegemon’s hydra — the Pentagon, the politicians, the “defense” industry, the PMCs. And then, as a not-so-unwelcome byproduct within the aftermath of campaigns of war, those willing to fill the power vacuums left behind within the devastated countries easily build support from the dispossessed survivors and seek vengeance, willing to incite more conflict and start the whole process over again…

~ Liquid Ocelot, big bad guy

Liquid Ocelot, much like Solidus Snake and Big Boss before him, know the score, fully understanding that America’s modern wars are without fundamental meaning, their role as soldiers now akin to pawns upon a chessboard and not as liberating “heroes” fighting against real threats (ala the Allied forces in WWII fighting against the Nazis). This is why each of their plots over the course of the saga involved either the creation of a real threat, via Metal Gear-backed nuclear brinkmanship to negotiate with their former state through, or the breaking away from governmental control altogether, a newfound autonomy for their own military agency gained in which they might be able to finally choose their own wars to fight in.

The sigil of Outer Heaven
There’s no peace to be found anywhere.” ~ Big Boss
Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain‘s “Mother Base” ~ the twin of Outer Heaven

When one considers the United States’ position in the world — in the Metal Gear fiction or out of it — our long-time and internationally revered “success” as a democratic, capitalistic, wealthy and altogether transcendently powerful nation, Drebin’s words hold a more terrifying tint to them when you realize the U.S. then naturally becomes a model for all other nations to emulate in one way or another:

“Sooner or later, the whole damn human race is gonna be green collars.”
~ Drebin 893

{Read: “Green collar” = one that profits from war}

War Economy” ~ The war economy, also known as the war industry, was an economical global structure that emerged in the 2010s, turning war into a lucrative business. State economies became solely dependent on war with an immediate need for private military companies.

The Patriots *are* America

“They’re the law of this world, created over the course of history. They’re what holds this world together… Keeps this whole mess in check.”
~ Drebin on The Patriots

The Metal Gear series has always dealt with the role of advancing technology and its inescapable role within the socio- and geopolitical reality of the world. Namely, with Artificial Intelligence — these themes are explored most pointedly in Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty (2001) {‘how might AI influence the processing of data and information streams within the 21st century Digital Age?”} — and in Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker (2010), from a Cold War retrospective — {‘how might AI play a role in nuclear deterrence, in assuming total automated control over the respective doomsday machines of the major nuclear powers?’} In Guns of the Patriots, technology’s role to play in modern warfare is explored; The Patriots, the collective of AI’s introduced in MGS2, now overseeing the PMC-dominated forever wars, utilize their total surveillance apparatus to control the flow of the battlefield, the ‘war economies’ surrounding it, and to a large extent, the world and human society that are are mired within these endless wars. By Drebin’s words, we are led to believe that The Patriots — this AI ‘System’ of complex resource allocation and decision-making — ARE America, the digital manifestation of the shining city on the hill, tasked with keeping global order, protecting and growing its already superior interests, maintaining its own power at all costs. {This AI collective, misnamed ‘patriot’ in form and function, is also a reference to the infamous U.S. Patriot Act and its resulting consequence of widespread privacy-violating surveillance of common Americans…}

~ Drebin on the Patriots ‘System’

Snake: “Drebin, I thought no one was supposed to be able to hack into the System. Are you with the Patriots?”

Drebin: No sir. I ain’t no la li lu le lo. I mean… I’m no Patriot.

“You can say ‘Patriot.’ I guess that means you’re clean, right?”

The nanomachines I got in me are different from the military kind. No speech restrictions for me.

“What the hell are these Patriots? Are they human?”

Not anymore they ain’t. They’re the law of this world, created over the course of history. They’re what holds this world together… Keeps this whole mess in check. {GW: “We are formless. We are the very discipline and law that Americans invoke so often.”}

The Patriots are America, the world’s greatest military power. They ARE the war economy. Which makes you and me just cogs in a much grander schematic. I mean, someone obviously had to start the whole thing at the beginning. But now their [The Patriot’s] law has taken on a life of its own.

“A life of its own?”

Yup. The country. The war economy. It ain’t run by people. It’s run by the System. No need for high-level decision-making authority. It’s all handled by a massive yet simple information processing system. An AI. It works just like natural law. The world’s a much simpler place than most folks realize. Every aspect of the Patriots’ System is closely monitored by three peripheral AIs and a core AI that ties them all together. The SOP System is one part of that. It’s all backed by a foolproof control system. So not even yours truly can sneak inside the Patriots’ AIs.

“What if, hypothetically, someone found a way?”

If they could fool the IDS (Intrusion Detection System). I guess they could it as a haven to lay low.

“Haven?”

You know, like a tax haven. In the Internet society, we have net havens, data havens. A haven is someplace where social conventions and the rules of net don’t apply. Back in the 20th century, the super-rich would open bank accounts in countries without income tax laws. Not a bad way to evade paying taxes. Now we’ve got us a society where everybody’s DNA and personal info is totally controlled by the nanomachines inside their bodies. Won’t be long before people start using havens to escape from ID control. I guess you could say my gun laundering kind of borrows from the haven concept, after a fashion. Even so, good luck finding a way to access the Patriots’ AIs from the outside. It’s absolutely impossible. No chance in hell. Like I said, there’s no breaking into those AIs. From the outside.

“But Liquid’s got something in mind. You sure there’s no way?”

…I’m just a gun launderer. Only reason I’m interested in you is ’cause you start a lot of fires.

~

The originators of The Patriots ~ Big Boss, Dr. Clark, Zero, and Donald Anderson
GW (George Washington) was an optic neural AI designed to maintain the Patriots‘ system of control over the United States. Named after the first U.S. President George Washington, the AI was programmed to censor all forms of digital information, including communications, Internet traffic, and media broadcasts. It could also control all weaponry, nuclear and conventional, of the four branches of the U.S. military through a tactical computer network. As of 2009, GW was said to be the only system in the world with a parallel processing capacity of 980 trillion hammets.

In MGS2 and MGS4 there is a general theme, rather depressing to consider despite its logic, of the superiority — and preferability — of “systems” over people concerning power. The Patriot AI, speaking through Colonel Campbell in the end phases of MGS2, implores Raiden to understand that humanity is not evolutionarily built to parse complex information, especially concerning their own lives, their own futures. Thus, there is a necessity for a dispassionate, supremely logical though inhuman, intermediary to consolidate the global flows of data into more comprehensible packages, leading to more benevolent, long-term decisions. Presciently presented in a 2001 PS2 game, we see such real-world worshipping of statistics and algorithms and the novelties of new technology throughout the 21st century, in everything from social media to drone warfare to baseball (sabermetrics!) — as computer precision is favored over human instinct and intuition, for better or worse. Similarly in MGS4, nanomachines are now injected into every soldier — Snake and Liquid the precursors to such widespread biotech adoption from a generation past. These nanomachines serving as ancillary cells within the soldier’s bodies now ameliorate their physical and psychological capabilities; the augmented soldiers are stronger and faster and can endure more pain, more trauma. It is posited, in one splendid action cutscene via Meryl’s nano-squad and their one ‘all natural’ rookie, that the nanomachines inhibit PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) from ever taking effect within the soldiers, so as to keep them fighting at full tilt upon the battlefield despite their bloody experiences. More than just a supersoldiering boon to the fighters’ abilities, however, the nanomachines also provide The Patriots, and the commanders of these PMC merc forces, with a potential totality of control, in real-time, over the the soldiers’ mental and physical states. This designed loophole – called the “Sons of the Patriots” system – eventually gives Liquid Ocelot the power to control every battlefield he comes across — including the ability to “shut off” any soldier he likes, or force them to kill any target he commands.

The SOP System was created to monitor and control soldiers.
Liquid Ocelot assuming control over the Sons of the Patriots

This total surveillance and control over the senses, actions and lives of the soldiers upon the continuous battlefields of these meaningless forever wars … is the ultimate nightmare for the Boss’ legacy and the Snakes of the Metal Gear mythos. Beginning with The Boss, Naked Snake / Big Boss’ beloved mentor, and moving on through to Big Boss himself and then Solid Snake, Liquid Snake, Solidus Snake, and now with Liquid Ocelot — the prime directive of every hero and villain within this long military drama saga spanning from 1964 to 2014 has been the resistance against the U.S. government’s power to objectify soldiers. Every Boss and every Snake decries absolutely the use of them and their comrades without concern for their own hearts and minds, consistently fighting back against their various commanders’ penchant to abandon them when convenient and throw away their lives for the sake of cynical political maneuvering or ivory-towered godlike games of ideological nation building. The “System > People” theme of MGS4, and its manifestation with The Patriots and their nanomachine-jacked faceless PMC peons slaughtering Middle Eastern and South American rebels, is really the consolidation of these character’s collective telos ~ of the liberation of soldiers via revolution against their commanders, and their nations. Eventually, these dreams always ended up aiming to build a communal, egalitarian nation of shared trauma and experience — a “haven” of their own. This was Boss’ dream, and the passed-down goal of Big Boss in his construction of Outer Heaven. And it is the endgame of Liquid Ocelot’s plot, in his embarking upon “Outer Haven” in MGS4.

~ Big Mama on the history of Big Boss’ Outer Heaven, Zero and The Patriots

Big Mama: Determined to oppose Zero and his plans, Big Boss broke away from The Patriots. He left the States, created his own mercenary company, and drifted around the world.

After Big Boss left, Zero really lost control.

What Zero really wanted was a world governed by rules. His fortune grew through countless wars, and his words influenced decision-making all the way up to the Oval Office. As the world saw the rise of digital technology — IT, the Internet, and genetics — The Patriots’ power grew immense. Their roots spread and took hold throughout the globe. In time, they began to dictate the fate of entire nations from the shadows. And we before we knew it, The Patriots — the proud police of the world — started bringing an entire planet under their control.

~ Big Mama on Big Boss’ Outer Heaven, Zero and The Patriots

Big Boss’ Outer Heaven
Big Boss and Zero part ways

In these operator’s compulsion to break free of the servitude under their nation, such as Boss and Snake, not as a treasonous betrayal to their homeland but as an evasion of an inevitable betraying unto them by that very nation, and also in the conception of The Patriots — this superpowered AI, inhumanely persisting through the generations, controlling governmental administration after administration — Kojima draws a comparison between these futuristic Systems and ‘Nations’ themselves. Just as a System — be it a full blown AI or just an algorithm, or a statistic’s usage within political policymaking — instrumentalizes individual human life, treating it often as means to ends outside of that life — a Nation {or a Corporation} does just the same — treating its own existence and continuity as necessarily greater than that of its constituent personnel, i.e. its citizens or employees. Implicitly, we all understand that a nation is nothing without its people, its people ARE the nation. However, as we see in times of war {or in times of public health crisis via pandemic!}, the “Nation” ~ this symbolic System of overarching history and indefinitely-lived, institutional power ~ always takes precedence over any individual life.

Old Snake and soldiers
Video: Raiden vs Gekko and Vamp HD

We treat our soldiers as worthy sacrifices to the glory of the Nation’s continuity; rarely do we stop to think about the purpose of the war itself, how it might end up harming or benefiting the people at large, or how we might better structure our responses and our campaigns to ultimately preserve rights, life, and health above all else, in spite of nationalistic urges. Instead, we have to “come together,” else you might risk being branded as a traitor {think of the American media’s conformist response to the bipartisan mobilization for the Iraq War at the time}. In my eyes, it becomes easy to see how a Nation becomes like a System, a great organizing, world-parsing tool of both mobilization and dehumanization, an immortal symbol to which a people will learn to supplicate themselves unto, forgetting of their own life or even that of their family, in place of an absolute consideration for the “Nation” and whatever it might mean to them individually, the propagandized ideal strongly held or not.

Liquid Ocelot’s convoluted plot in MGS4, though it involves taking advantage of and using the American enterprise’s forever wars, is simply the final evolution of the consummate Metal Gear hero’s dream of liberty.

~ Liquid Ocelot to Old Snake on the conflicts of the Metal Gear saga, from the beginning

Liquid Ocelot: “Rise and shine, Snake. Look, the war is over. … Stop you? Why would I want to do that? This is just as I’d hoped things would end.” (2014, end of MGS4)

Back before father’s time, before Zero gave birth to the Patriots, The US, China, and the Soviet Union formed a secret pact.

The organization they created was called The Philosophers. Through two World Wars, it spread its roots and extended its reach. After that, The Philosophers splintered, and factions began to squabble over the fortune they’d amassed. They called it the “Philosopher’s Legacy”… A massive cache of funds that would later provide the foundation for Zero’s Patriots. (1964, MGS3)

Zero sought to use his riches to achieve world domination. (1971–1974, MG:PO+PW)

Our father — Big Boss — sought to free himself from that chokehold. His dream was to create an army of free citizens, one that answered to no government. Outer Heaven. But he failed, because of you. (1995, Metal Gear)

Nine years ago, I tried to free us from the control of our genes. (2005, MGS1)

Four years later, our dear brother — Solidus — sought to free us from the control of the Patriots’ memes. (2009, MGS2)

All of that — all of it — was nothing more than a process of trial and error. The end result of which is Outer Haven. (2014, MGS4)

To be free from Sons of the Patriots, the ultimate form of external control imposed on the Patriots’ soldiers. Free from FOXDIE… Free from the System… Free from ID control. Our minds free from their prisons. That is the haven I’ve yearned for.

This is it brother, our final moment… The battle has ended, but we are not yet free!

*one last epic fight between Solid and Liquid*
~ art by Yoji Shinkawa
Video: Old Snake vs. Liquid Ocelot’s full 16 minute fight 

~

Strangely enough, MGS4’s gallery of rogues ~ the B&B Corps ~ are perhaps the perfect amalgamation of Metal Gear Solid’s manifold themes and aesthetics — {and boss fight ingenuity} — including and especially such soldierly dehumanization. The “Beauty and the Beast Unit” are a quatro of supersoldier babes that Old Snake must fight over his journey toward Liquid ~ Laughing Octopus | Raging Raven | Crying Wolf | Screaming Mantis. Each are the products of war-torn environments from America’s imperialist campaigning around the globe; still young but psychologically damaged to the point of a madness resembling their titles, the four beauties take on ‘Beast’ personas as a way of coping, while fighting within customized mecha suits that allow them to perform extraordinarily upon the battlefield. ~ Their character designs are sick!

~ Drebin to Old Snake on the BB unit

Drebin: The B&B’s are here. Things are about to get hairy.

Snake: “B&B’s?”

You never heard of ‘em? They’re ‘Beauty and the Beast.’ Together they’re called the B&B Corps. They’re a squad of enhanced female soldiers — belong to the PMCs. Any time there’s a mess that needs cleaning up, they’re on the scene leading the elites.

“That’s a female?”

Probably freelancers hired by the PMCs. They’re run out of a separate parent organization. Guess it’s time for good ol’ Drebin to let you in on a few things. Ever since you showed up in the Middle East, the B&B Corps has got orders to kill. Their number one priority is to eliminate some guy on sight. A guy named… Solid Snake. But from where I’m sitting, “Old Snake” seems a little more appropriate.

“Old, huh?”

Cheer up. That’s the bad news. Word on the streets says that beneath those ugly-ass suits, the B&Bs are real babes. Drop-dead gorgeous. They also say each one of them’s been traumatized by war. Badly. They weren’t even soldiers to begin with, you know. More like victims of war. They suffered shell-shock on the battlefield. Post-traumatic. It damaged their minds pretty much beyond repair. So the only way they could cope with the reality of battle was to become war machines themselves. The remnants of their human side are buried deep within. The beast… that’s what you see on the outside.

War transforms us, Snake… into Beasts

“War transforms us…”

But deep within that shell, something human survives. A fragile, scarred heart. Without a shell to protect it, it’s like the yolk of an egg.

Word going around is… their natural, flesh-and-blood bodies can’t survive in te open for more than a few minutes. And they’ve been convinced that by killing Snake, their minds will be cleansed. They think it’s gonna free them from all the pain, and all the fury, and all the sorrow…

Which makes these babes pretty much obsessed. With killing you. Four B&B’s have been identified so far. The one you just saw was Raging Raven. There’s also Laughing Octopus, a master of mimicry. And Crying Wolf, she runs on four legs. And finally, the mistress of mind control, Screaming Mantis.

“Mantis?”

Yeah, there used to be a guy by that name in the US military. A Russian psychic, he could control people’s minds. I guess she inherited the title. She keeps the other B&B’s minds in check with her powers.

“Octopus, Raven, Wolf, Mantis…”

You got it. They’re the SNAKEHOUND Unit, and they’ve got you in their sights. Shit, I’d hate to be in your shoes. ~

B&B Unit art by Yoji Shinkawa

~

The fearsome BB Corps {these boss fights are serious business! Supremely entertaining but challenging; maybe my favorites in the whole series} as we learn from Drebin are, in fact, innocents caught in the crossfire of war — girls that lost families, childhood, everything. From their violently intervened upon material conditions, they have been dehumanized, radicalized, driven into battle as a way of building an identity, and potentially, taking revenge against the nations responsible. The BB’s symbolize the proverbial “collateral damage” of America’s forever wars; obvious parallels can be drawn between their role within MGS4 to that of real-life terrorists and their own paths to radicalization coming on the heels of America’s military involvements upon foreign soils.

The beauties the B&B Unit were modeled after: Yumi Kikuchi, Scarlett Chorvat, Mieko Rye and Lyndall~ https://youtu.be/6jUwub80olE

Looking closer, tapped directly with Raiden’s part to the play within MGS4 — as a doompilled mecha cyber-ninja — and his failed but mending relationship with Rose, the motif of the ‘beauty and beast’ can be seen throughout the Metal Gear saga. The Beast and Beauty trope, wherein a monstrous man with a hidden, gentle heart is paired with a conscientious woman who brings out his vulnerabilities by bearing her own, is present in MGS1 with Snake and Meryl’s relationship ~ in MGS2 & 4 with Raiden and Rose ~ in MGS3 with Naked Snake and EVA ~ in MGS4 with Old Snake / Otacon and Naomi / Sunny. More generally, these matchups can be seen as the action flick trope of the rugged hero with the babe he is tasked with saving. But honestly, I think Metal Gear is a bit more egalitarian in its sharing of the heroism within these duos. Perhaps Kojima intended this metaphor to extend to the United States itself, as a schizophrenic manifestation of both beauty and beast ~ from its idealized picture of humanity to the rest of the world {and to him specifically, as a Japanese creator and cinephile lover of Hollywood} as the “land of the free, home of the brave” versus the reality of America’s long history of bloody foreign policy and nationalistic egotism and at-times monstrous inhumanity that goes without geopolitical consequence to this day…

“Ordinarily, our hearts are hardened through experience.” ~ Naomi to Snake

One can try to imagine the recalibration of such a powerful, world-shaping force as The Patriot A.I. System / United States of America superstructure being used, instead of primarily as a war machine, to serve the ends of global public health, the infrastructures integral to food, shelter, medicine, education, life. This imagining comes easier at the conclusion of MGS4, after the battle is over and Sunny has altered the course of The Patriot AI to function for these vital lifelines alone.

~ Otacon on the fall of the Patriot AI System

Otacon: Sunny’s program destroyed JD’s brain, but left the brain stem intact. She analyzed Naomi’s black box and separated the Patriots’ control system from the vital lifelines of society. Water. Air. Electricity. Food. Medicine. Communication, transportation. She cut off the Patriots’ control while preserving modern civilization. Maybe it was her way of avenging Olga…

Or maybe she wanted to shape the future into her own ideal image.

Or maybe… it was just one big defragmentation. FOXALIVE.

The AI is truly a living thing. The Patriots’ reign has crumbled away. And still, our civilization, a civilization that has thrived on war since the dawn of time, lives on.

I wonder if we did the right thing.

{Naomi…}

What did we lose?

What did we save?

~

The Trauma of Aging

Finally, in the in-game year Two-thousand Fourteen, as the hyper-aged, suited up ‘Dave’ salutes a gravestone {presumably, that of Big Boss, his wayward mentor} he is propositioned by Otacon and Colonel Campbell with returning to the fold of international espionage for what will become truly one. last. job. For “Old Snake”, this time it is for real — physically, psychologically, biologically, his clock is at midnight. MGS4, in everything from its musical score, to its overarching tones and extended cutscenes of dramatic revelation, to the strikingly photorealistic ravages of time upon Old Snake’s wrinkled features, is a profoundly sad game. As I said at the beginning, Kojima highlights closure in this final installment of an aged franchise (1987–2008, 21 years) desperately in need of it. Though incredibly successful, Metal Gear is long in the tooth and by 2008 carries the baggage of so much interlocking character canon, narrative loose ends, and retconned realities.

Video: Metal Gear Solid 4 Title Screen (Start Menu) 1080p

The overt thematic confluence of MGS4 is that of the trauma of aging itself, the ‘process’ of death. Old Snake still carries the FOXDIE virus from his time on Shadow Moses {the same virus that killed his twin, Liquid Snake}, the side effects of which include his accelerated aging as well as other debilitating physical ailments, including the eventuality of his own body becoming a walking bioweapon as the virus mutates within his resilient, still-living frame. The undertone throughout Snake’s journey here, wielding an advanced stealthsuit and mecha-eye, hopping between continents, battling the BB Corps bestial mecha frames to the point of revealing their inner beauty, is that of how much he can take, how far he can go. The arc of Snake’s long career is that of continuous high stakes action over several eras of international espionage and conflict; for the first time in the series, MGS4 presents psyche as a factor within Snake’s fieldwork, with enemy detection and gunplay fraying it, and drugs — or therapeutic codec conversations with psychiatrist Rose — building it back up. The question becomes, as Otacon and Naomi and Rose and Campbell {and you} all watch Old Snake stumble, hack, and crawl his way through these missions: how much damage and pain and war can one man take before he dies, or just gives in? Snake has already dodged death a million times before, and perhaps that — more than his ability to ghost through steel complexes or silently kill — is what makes him a legend upon the battlefield. Mere continuous survival upon the battlefield, and not his proficiency as a stealth operator or assassin, is what makes Snake special.

~ Solid Snake over the years / generations
Solid Snake vs. his continuous foe, Metal Gear // “Ironic, isn’t it? You’ve spent your whole life protecting the world from Metal Gear – nuclear annihilation. And now you will become a walking doomsday device.”
~ Naomi to Old Snake
~ “An ordinary man wouldn’t even be standing right now. Snake, the only thing keeping you together is the strength of your will.” ~ Naomi to Old Snake

Our “hero” in MGS4 — though Snake continues to decry the title to the very end — is a sterile old clone with an artificially set lifespan, hobbled by the weight of his past, and still only forged for one purpose in life: waging war. Our other hero — from MGS2 and now making a stylish return to action here — is Raiden, who has become more machine than man, a nihilist ninja who works off the grid and seems more than eager to die in the heat of battle. War, extravagant swordplay, fighting in life-or-death stakes, this seems to be the only place that young Raiden feels he belongs. Snake, whether he states it or not, believes as much for himself as well. As for the BB Corps and for Raiden, the child soldier, war then is the binding commonality in its capacity to victimize and transform and age its elements; the victims of war naturally become its future perpetrators. Pain, Fear, Fury, Sorrow, Ending — these are the emotions and effects produced by war — these are the life-shaping properties that turn Man into something resembling a bestial machine by the end. Frank Jaeger, or “Cyborg Ninja” as he comes to be known, is the model for Raiden and for the BB Corps, his continued existence and actions upon Shadow Moses prove that a broken heart can be nullified, if only temporarily, by technology, by nanomachines. A perfect soldier is born in the dulling of these aging passions, tempered by the chaos of battle. And yet in the end the poetic truth is that he, just like Raiden, is a still human, still capable of alliance and companionship, willing to sacrifice themselves for the sake of a comrade.

Beyond Old Snake and Raiden, death and denouement and closure is observed in consideration of each of our principal characters appearing within MGS4 ~ Liquid Snake is already dead but lives on in spirit, via psychic possession within Ocelot’s body, as a ghost to haunt his twin Snake and the world; Naomi has cancer, her life is prolonged artificially by nanomachines; Vamp, Naomi’s creation and part-time lover, is ‘cursed’ with immortality via nanomachines, he longs for final death but cannot find an opponent strong enough to do it; Meryl & Otacon, in a metagame sense only one of them survived the events of MGS1, each is narrowly saved from death throughout their ordeal on Shadow Moses by Snake, and now again nine years later as they each work with him; EVA, aka “Big Mama”, aging superspy, is willing to die to save her child in Snake; Big Boss, dead for the entire chronology following Metal Gear (1987), we know him best from his past in Snake Eater but only before his turn as the new ‘Boss’ — he is returned, like the central messianic figure in a religion, to deliver the final truths of this saga to Old Snake, his clone-son ~ himself, given a different path. A final dichotomy in the nature of one’s aging, and the violence or nobleness of their life and death, can be seen in MGS4’s beautifully affecting final cutscene between Old Snake and Big Boss in the cemetery.

~ Big Mama on the lore of The Boss, Zero, Big Boss

Big Mama: “I took the apple from the Snake and was cast out of Eden… I met him again [Naked Snake / Big Boss] again in Hanoi. It was around then that Zero used the massive funds contained in the Philosophers’ Legacy to start a new organization — The Patriots, which would carry out the final wishes of a certain legendary hero. The initial membership consisted of Big Boss, Sigint, Para-Medic, and their Commander — Zero. Oh, and there was one more who we musn’t forget. He stayed behind in the Soviet Union to support the group as an informant. Ocelot. Who is now Liquid. After your father rescued me in Hanoi, I went to America and joined their organization.

Zero’s goal was to achieve a unity of thought and awareness. He believed that was what The Boss wanted. And the rest of the Patriots followed his lead.

“The Boss?”

The Boss was a legendary hero from the Second World War known as the Mother of Special Forces. She had an almost overwhelming charisma about her. The CIA feared this, so they had her eliminated. If she had survived, the world of the 21st century might have been a very different place. We were all influenced by The Boss’ will. It was what drove us to create this organization — to be closer to that spirit.

Zero decided that in order to lead the people, we needed a special kind of icon. So we turned to Big Boss, the last son of The Boss. He shared more of her life than anyone else. It was Big Boss, the true heir to her legacy, who was best suited to play this role.

Zero elevated Big Boss — the hero who saved the world — to the status of an idol. The truth behind Big Boss became riddled with exaggeration, misrepresentation, and outright lies. Zero disseminated these stories among the masses and gathered the rich and powerful to his banner.

Every era needs its symbols to control the people. Whether it be the Stars and Stripes. Or the Hammer and Sickle.

As the times and currents of politics changed, so too did Zero. Eventually, he became a prisoner of his own lust for power. Sparking friction between him and Big Boss, who resented playing the puppet. With Big Boss drifting away, Zero realized he would need insurance. Something that would perpetuate the existence of Big Boss, their organization’s icon. And so, Zero secretly embarked on a new project: Les Enfants Terribles.

Its goal was to create a clone of Big Boss, the ultimate soldier.

~ Big Mama / Eva on her mission in 1974, “Snake Eater”, the legacy of the Bosses and Zero, her relationship with Big Boss and motherhood over Solid and Liquid Snake

~

~ “This all started with a bunch of old fools.” ~ at the end, Big Boss reveals that The Patriots were originally a simple set of *norms* for society ~ a neural network tasked with maintaining the post-WW2 world order and dominant system (neoliberal capitalism) — but then something like an AI singularity happened in the form of the Patriots AI awakening to a new way of growing and perpetuating itself — war and the economy it could generate from its endless reign around the globe.
Old man Big Boss art by Yoji Shinkawa

“Ever since the day I killed The Boss with my own hands… I was already dead.”
~ Big Boss to Old Snake

With these words of admission — already understood by the hardcore Metal Gear player, in playing through MGS3 and Peace Walker — it is confirmed that Big Boss’ true death occurred long before a young Snake put him down in their dramatic finale upon Outer Heaven. Big Boss died, his soul did, when he was forced to kill his sensei, The Boss. Everything else was his own betrayal, a life gone wayward in an ill-fated attempt to capture her dream of a “haven” for soldiers, beyond the clutches of nations and ages and subjugation. Solid Snake, by contrast, in staying the course, “fighting the good fight” as much as a lone soldier can, carries death with him for the long haul. His ‘death’ is long and arduous, a procession that encompasses his entire life. Closure comes for Old Snake at the end, against all odds, with his survival — and the prospect of having to live a life in which he is no longer carrying a weapon with him everywhere he goes, no longer a “prisoner of fate”, or a “seed of war,” a soldier no more.

I teared up at the end of my playthrough of MGS4. Not when Old Snake put a gun in his mouth in the graveyard, not when Big Boss speaks these words, and not when he dies soon after Snake shakily lights his last cig for him. I was most viscerally affected by the words of Otacon trying to explain to Sunny why Snake couldn’t be at Meryl and Johnny’s wedding with the rest of them. He speaks of him being sick, being away and trying to get better, and in a broken voice he sums it all up: “Snake’s had a hard life.” Metal Gear, to me, is about Snake and his arc through a world made from war — one that he acted within for his whole adult life, but certainly one we ALL live within. In the end, there is redemption, there is closure beyond the simple oblivion of a noble death at once exorcising all the ghosts of his past still haunting him. There is hope beyond the battle for survival. We do not know what Snake’s life, retired from being this warrior “legend”, will be like; likewise, we do not know what this new world will become, after the fall of The Patriots. But, as Big Boss says, it is good to know that there will be life. ~

“Ever since the day I killed The Boss with my own hands… I was already dead.”
“It’s not about changing the world. It’s about doing our best to leave the world the way it is. It’s about respecting the will of others. Believing in your own…
“You are no longer a prisoner of fate. You are no longer a seed of war.”
~ Big Boss to Old Snake

~ A rapidly dying Big Boss to Old Snake, on what he and The Boss fought for

{a physically arduous salute to The Boss’ grave in 2014}

Big Boss: It’s almost time for me to go. And with me, the last ember of this fruitless war dies out. And at last, those old evils will be gone.

Once the source of evil returns to zero… a new one, a new future, will be born.

That new world is yours to live in. Not as a snake, but as a man.

{Big Boss and Snake nearly shake hands, Snake catches a collapsing Boss}

Know this… Zero and I, Liquid and Solidus, we all fought a long, bloody war for our liberty.

We fought to free ourselves from nations and systems, and norms and ages. But no matter how hard we tried, the only liberty we found was on the inside. Trapped within those limits… The Boss and I may have chosen different paths. But in the end, we were both trapped inside the same cage. Liberty.

But you… You have been given freedom. Freedom to be… outside.

You are nobody’s tool now. No one’s toy. You are no longer a prisoner of fate. You are no longer a seed of war.

It’s time for you to see the outside world with your own eyes. Your body, and your soul… are you own.

Forget about us. Live for yourself.

And find… a new lease on life.

Boss, you only need one snake… No, the world would be better off without snakes.

{Old Snake lights the cigar and puts it in Big Boss’ mouth}

This is good, isn’t it? ~ Big Boss’ final words.

~

Old Snake and Big Boss at the end