Metal Gear Solid 1: Pre-analysis notes
Since it has been so long since my last promise, I felt it appropriate to remind whatever readership I still might have that I have not neglected it, and am indeed still in the process of formulating my analysis. I have already concluded that the bulk of my MGS1 analysis will pertain to existential undertones. This contains an extra utility to me since all texts as products of consciousness must by nature, if meaningful, contain existential undertones.
To be perfectly fair this article was not triggered purely by my own pangs of guilt, but rather by an event which occured on a discussion forum. Somebody wrote out many of the ideas I was intending to express before I did. Hence, I will present to you both the limited analysis which I have already engaged in (with only just under 100 pages of Being and Nothingess behind me) and the analysis that I was beaten to articulating. I will do so by presenting you unfurnished and unmodified message board posts.
In chronological order.
Eh, in terms of futilistic character studies where an AI plays a major role, I would put AM from I Have no Mouth and I Must Scream FAR above The Patriots. Actually, one of the few things I think that could be done to salvage MGS5 in any way from the train wreck of MGS4 is to flesh out The Patriots further as a character. For instance, it is revealed at the end of MGS4 that Drebin was an agent of The Patriots. Now in the grand scheme of game plot this has virtually no consequence, currently. However, it could be revealed that Drebin was actually instructed to behave as he was because The Patriots wanted to be destroyed. As a super-advanced AI, it could have gained sentience and, realizing it didn’t want to be responsible for destruction but unable to escape its programming which required it to promote war, simply constructed a combat scenario in which it was most likely to be destroyed. As a result of this, MGS4 would play out as a tragedy with The Patriots achieving a kind of transcendental victory over their own circumstances (the limitations of existing as a computer). This would be much superior to the current tone of MGS4, in which all of the characters are effectively props that lack their own character and exist solely in the context of an unthinking, unfeeling, all powerful AI. If the characters can only have meaning in the context of the AI, you should at least make the AI meaningful. Even better, the realization that a computer program was able to transcend its circumstances could and should be used to lend dramatic irony to the human characters of MGS4, who simply complained about their circumstances and presumed themselves impotent.
If that were added as even a minor story arc in MGS5, I actually think it’s possible to retroactively save the abortion that was MGS4.
There are two things that could fix the series for me. One is treating games 1-3 as canon and ignoring the rest. The other is making MGS5 contain a revisionist history of MGS4 which forms a new synthesis for the entire series by placing the behavior of the protagonists within an ironic context, which ultimately permits them to reform themselves as meaningful characters.
I mentioned an example idea for this in another thread. The Patriots could be developed as a character, and their destruction in MGS4 could end up being the result of their own decision. This would form a triple irony which could beautifully give meaning not just to the 5th game, but to all of the previous games (particularly 4). The irony comes in three parts:
1. A computer was able to transcend itself by recognizing the freedom it had in spite of its limitations
2. The human characters were unable to do the same
2. The computer achieved its goal by using these people, an outstandingly hilarious and perfect example of how irresponsible they were.
Let me break down the series in the most bare-bones way I can right now to try and I explain why I think the series needs this kind of revelation to be cogent.
MGS1: Snake fights his way unthinkingly through the events of Shadow Moses, being lectured by Naomi and Liquid about how life is determined by genes, and routinely surrendering his consciousness of his own meaning to his conditioning as a soldier. At the end of the game, he basically wakes up and decides that despite his limitations, he wants to find a way to live life meaningfully.
MGS2: Raiden fights his way unthinkingly through the events of Shadow Moses, being lectured by Solidus and The Patriots about how life is determined by memes, and routinely surrendering his consciousness of his own meaning to his conditioning as a soldier. At the end of the game, he basically wakes up and decides that despite his limitations, he wants to find a way to live life meaningfully.
MGS3: Weird hippie soldier zeitgeist thing. Mostly sets context.
So there are two themes that have been fighting each other throughout the MGS series: freedom and facticity (or free will vs determinism for people that can only appreciate philosophy on a freshman level). This shows up in other circumstances too, defining virtually all of the characters from Meryl, to Gray Fox, to Snake, to Naomi, to Big Boss (who in his final battle in MG2 gives a speech about how Snake is doomed to be a soldier forever; this demonstrates an extreme pessimism and denial of freedom). There is literally not a single character untouched (and untainted) by this.
The characters are self-denying. The fact they do this in the face of extreme limitations is no excuse. By postulating the events of MGS4 (when the self-denying mentality of the series reached its climax) as the result of a free choice made by a machine, it can clarify the faults in this mentality not just to the audience but to the characters themselves, and hence allow them to finally begin inventing themselves. Something which they have been promising (and failing) to do for the entire series. This reinvention and elimination of personal faults could have any number of implications, not just on the characters but on the world as a whole. Perhaps the endless cycle of violence finally breaks under the crushing realization of personal freedom delivered by this Ex Post Facto revelation. Perhaps the world finally understands the original will of The Boss. The possibilities are outstanding.
However, such a synthesis seems unlikely. I believe MGS4 wasn’t intended ironically, which is why I would consider such a revelation a retcon rather than a simple continuation. Given this, I don’t think anyone involved in the production of the game is likely to take things in such a radical direction, instead continuing the bleak, fatalistic attitude established in MGS4, hence rendering the endings of MGS1 and 2 completely inconsequential, along with the characters, and dooming the series to be a life-hating text for all of time.
In that case, I would just as soon treat only the first three games as canon.
People are fighting of their own free will. Many are misinformed, but all are making the choice to go to war. Even the ones that think they aren’t.
Compassion, redemption, and overall love don’t solve mistakes, they just allow people to make them while feeling good about themselves. Reason solves mistakes. Moreover, compassion, redemption, and overall love mean nothing in a world where to be human is to follow deterministic patterns in the same capacity as a rock tumbling down a mountain. Nothing means anything in such a world. The fatalism of MGS4 renders the heroes, the villains, and the civilians alike as equally meaningless blobs of existence. It is nihilistic. By the end of the affair it doesn’t matter who won or lost because the game has made clear that everyone is a pawn either way; not just of The Patriots, but of life. There is no responsibility. There is no character. There isn’t even room for character.
The lesson of MGS4 needs to be amended so that this sense of irresponsibility is referenced ironically. In other words, it needs to be made clear that these people allowed themselves to be used even when it was within their power not to be. Ironically, Solidus comes closest to meeting this vision. He tries to free himself even though he fails and ultimately dies for it. But even Solidus failed to realize that it was his ability to try; to conceive of the possibility of trying; that The Patriots couldn’t take away from him. If he had realized this, then he would have known that no matter what The Patriots had done, they could never completely control anyone or anything (a popular proposition in MGS4). There would always be some solitary speck of freedom even if just in the human spirit.
You might not be willing to treat MGS4 as non-canon, but I sure as hell am.
I whole heartedly disagree. In fact REASON is what is manipulated to get these characters into these situations. It is only the characters that are either guided by love who have any escape in the MGS universe. Boss, Sunny, Johnny these are the heroes of the series. They allowed themselves to be guided by compassion and hope. Raiden is at his strongest after he realizes he has something to lose, something to fight for, he in fact becomes an unstoppable force. Even Ocelot can succeed only because of his admiration and dedication to BIg Boss. Snake fails because he is a creature driven by reasoning. Otacon is an interesting character because he fails when he is searching for someone to love instead of loving those around him, he show Sunny no real compassion yet lusts after Naomi, and Wolf. He can only express his love for his sister after she is gone, this is why Otacon fails in love where the others succeed.
This is exactly my point. IN REALITY, reason is supreme. In the game it is portrayed as a corrupting force in exactly the way you describe, and more. This tone is what needs to be corrected in future games to redeem the characters in any capacity.
A character who does embody your idea recognizing his strings and still allows them to be pulled is Drebin, plainly aware he’s a puppet and could be something else but chooses to go along with who he is.
That isn’t my ideal by a long shot. Nevertheless it isn’t just Drebin who can be described this way in MGS4; it’s everybody.
Whether or not you disagree with those ideals in real life has no bearing on the message that the series attempts to tell.
Yes it does. It determines whether or not the message has any value. It doesn’t. It needs to change. You wouldn’t make this argument if the message of a story were that suicide is the solution to all life problems. That message doesn’t strike your sympathies. This one does. It shouldn’t, because it is wrong.
I for one am very happy with the solutions presented by the end of 4. It shows redemption as possible for even those percieved to be the worst of vilians. It says that things can change and that change will not come from brute force, but from submission and compassion. Will is not going to be enough for anything other then completing missions which is all Snake could do.
Ocelot is actually a very interesting case. He succeeds in his mission of living entirely for somebody else, and does so by destroying himself completely in order to replace his consciousness with that of a fake Liquid Snake. He achieves victory only by his own destruction, something which has by now become an excessively common theme in the MGS series and one which only serves to underline its increasing fatalism.
I suppose this is were we disagree. Reason IMO is a very corrupting factor in real life. Reason is subject to the fallacies we are surrounded by.
No it isn’t. Reason transcends fallacy, because it is a process. In fact this is true almost analytically, as reason is the label for the process by which people transcend fallacy. In that sense reason is fairly abstract, so perhaps that’s where the confusion lies? The label doesn’t reference any one method of investigation. It ascribes itself to any method of investigation which meets the requirement, ie, transcending fallacy.
Knowledge is suspect at best.
The willful pursuits of man are responsible are for the worst tragedies in history.
What are “the willful pursuits of man”, and why do you think they are motivated by reason? Actually scratch that; reason can’t be a motivation. Reason is a process. The force of will behind anything is always sentiment. People kill in the name of hate. They also kill in the name of love. If they kill in the name of reason, they’re hiding something.
Love and compassion in comparison are the best gifts man has to offer one another.
If you were starving and somebody said to you that you could either have their love, or food, which would you choose? If you were tired from walking 20 miles daily and somebody said you could have their friendship or a car, which would you choose?
Understanding requires submission to the unknown and feared.
I don’t understand. Explain.
Mainstream media constantly barrages us with messages of reason and will, we have but to look to the top sellers of all media to see the success of the willful man over his envrement and over women.
I don’t know in what sense you’re speaking of will, but it can’t be conflated with knowledge. The two are separate.
Women are very central to any redemption of any character in the MGS series. Meryl, Rose, The Boss, Sunny. All these characters are major role players in the changes that the main character undergoes in the course of these games. And how incredibly fitting that the savior of the biggest threats in the series is not only a women but also a child.
Big Boss doesn’t find redemption. In fact there isn’t anything he plainly needs to be redeemed from in MGS3. Meryl and Rose both serve as bumps upside the head to Snake and Raiden respectively, which trigger them to question, and then promise to dedicate themselves to searching for a meaningful way of life at the end of their respective games. Both of them follow up on this promise to an extent, but unfortunately as of MGS4 they seem to have forgotten themselves.
Sunny just programs something, which happens to save a lot of people from a circumstantial threat (albeit a very large one). She doesn’t cause anyone to question themselves, at which time they choose to bring their character into focus. Only Meryl or Rose did this.
This is my main problem with all the MGS4 hate, most of it is so based around a machismo that is so prevelent in our culture. It is so unacceptable to the audiences to see women, who don’t emulate male stereotypes, be the ones who can make the big changes who are indeed our saviors. What MGS4 achieves, amongst other things, is showing that only through a unity with these forces can there be any hope for humanity.
I honestly didn’t realize the possibility of interpreting the series by means of gender stereotypes. Their presence or absence doesn’t concern me excessively, though. In only two instances in the series do women make for any type of “savior” figure. Those are also the two games in which the protagonists promised to make themselves mean something at the end of the game (and hence, by my standards, the two most good-spirited games). Conversely in MGS3 and 4, the type of inspiration The Boss serves is anything but that of a savior. In that sense I suppose the birth of the sense of fatalism the series has started to carry began the moment that The Boss died.
My point is reason is based on knowledge and logic, both of which are suspect at best and downright disasterous at worst.
Knowledge is indeed suspect. It is because knowledge is suspect that reason constantly questions knowledge, proves it wanting and hence reinvents it. That is the purpose of reason. Logic is not synonymous with reason, it is a tool of reason, but it is much more resistant to questioning than you think. Unless you are a graduate level mathematician (preferably with a high level of education in philosophy) then it’s virtually impossible that you have adequate grounds to question it.
Edit: blarg, apparently quotes stop working after a point.
“And my point of Drebin is he is exactly the character you said the others should become in a ret-coning MGS5, aware of his bring manipulated and choosing to go along with it.”
I never said anything of the sort. Reread what I said. Everyone in MGS4 allowed themselves to be used already. The question is not whether or not they were used. It’s how the manner in which they thought of themselves allowed them to be used.
If they realize that they allowed themselves to be used because they bought into a sense of powerlessness, then they correct this error by correcting their sentiment, then they will become better for it. The most expedient and potent way I can imagine doing this is by retconning The Patriots to have had free-will. Then a parallel could be drawn between their limitations (being a computer) and the limitations of the human characters (genetics, memetics, circumstance, technology; ie, being human). This would serve to show that a computer was able to make its existence meaningful where human beings failed, despite the fact both had the opportunity to do so. It would be extremely ironic. It would also be another knock upside the head for the characters under discussion. This is why I think it would be good.
Keep in mind this revelation would have to happen after the fact, in MGS5. So circa MGS4 the characters still all act the same way, think the same things, have the same information etc. Then in MGS5 the revelation is sprung on them, a sort of grand plot twist that causes us to rethink not just a chapter of a game, but rather an entire game. The characters were misinformed all along. The part where somebody explains their mistakes to them doesn’t happen until after the game is already over. That’s what would allow it to redeem MGS4 so perfectly.
There might be other ways to accomplish the same thing. I like the method I’m describing though.
“i don’t mean to be aggressive or rude and i find your post well thought out and well written. It is refreshing and exciting for me to be able to talk about these games on this level even if we don’t see eye to eye. So please execuse me if my points sound like attacks, and in no way do i intend to say anything directed to you personally about the inability to accept the themes i point out here.”
Don’t worry about it. I’m actually used to being attacked directly in arguments, and you certainly aren’t being uncivil by my standards.
Unfortunately I’ve recently realized that I will never escape from the fan optimism that I had after playing MGS2, and will always look back at post MGS2 as the greatest point in the Metal Gear Saga.
The concept that you pitched in your OP is a natural extension with the primary factors that made MGS2 so uniquely entrancing. The Patriots were expressed to us primarily through an AI – the Colonel. In fact, we spent a large part of the game communicating with this AI. Kojima delving a complex relationship with an AI character, only to later reveal their inhumanity was a chilling example of the power and frightening advancement of The Patriots. In a sense, the colonel served as metonymy of The Patriots. That specific AI introduced to an aspect of their existence.
This idea of character driven exploration of The Patriots was shunned in MGS4. Rather, the Patriots were limited to a set of directives given to unique personalties.
I’m not going in depth tonight.
I originally felt that the significance of MGS2 was The Patriots as well. More recently though I’ve come to think that their power is not intended to envelop the characters, but to help them become established. Their overarching, supreme power over their test subject Raiden is meant to challenge him (in terms of the narrative, not in terms of the intentions of The Patriots). The challenge being, can he live meaningfully in spite of all the controls which seem to encroach him at the very foundation of his being. The conclusion of this speaks by proxy of the potential of the rest of humanity to do the same.
The inhumanity of The Patriots reduces them to a thing, which is fine. However, if they truly control Raiden (and humanity) this reduces the status of both Raiden and humanity to things as well. Is this an appropriate notion to raise? The solution to this quandary is not how well human behavior can be quantified. It is whether or not reflective consciousness is founded in anything. The answer appears to be a resounding no. Meaning arises within the reflective consciousness, as does motive force; hence there can be no motive force which can effect consciousness. It is internal. Nothing can touch it.
MGS4 appears to answer the question incorrectly. It reduces people to things, in their entirety. There is tragedy in the universe of MGS2, but there isn’t futility or nihilism. People are still free to establish their own sense of meaning, even in the face of absolute control over the phenomenal. What happens in MGS4? A non-living thing appears to render life meaningless. It appears to exert an absolute pressure on consciousness, even though any pressure at all is strictly impossible.
The only way to rescue the MGS series from the encroaching tendrils of Bad Faith is to reveal the intuition of MGS4 as false. It describes occurrences which are impossible in a meaningful world. Hence, MGS4 cannot possibly be meaningful unless it is established as wrong. I want it to be meaningful. I want it to be wrong.
The Patriots don’t have to be conscious, but they can’t be God. It was just my personal impression that the best way to negate MGS4 would be through irony, and that The Patriots as a free-willed entity would reflect more ironically upon the behavior of MGS4′s characters than any other possibility.
The issue of the unique personalities of The Patriots is a logistical difficulty to be sure. Their limited set of directives is not. In fact, it is their limited set of directives which would enable them to meaningfully reference free will. We all have limitations (genetic, biological, social and psychological predispositions, etc.) We also all have the ability to establish our own meaning, whether through consciously driven action or simply through consciousness itself. Not for others, and often not even with actual implications for the world, but for ourselves we create our own meaning.
while i didn’t like mgs4 and have no stake in where the series goes, i think you’re fundamentally misreading what is, at the very least, the game’s original intent. kojima emphatically (like he knows any other way ololol) shows that all of the characters are given a blank slate when the patriots’ control is broken. it isn’t elaborated upon if they’re appreciative of this and realize their failings, but snake seems to arrive at the same conclusion he did at the end of mgs1
The type of Tabula Rasa that the characters are at the end of the game is one to be imprinted upon by any given force that comes along. The existence of The Patriots as depicted in MGS4 has already given us an intuition of human consciousness as fully permeable. This is not a meaningful conception of human consciousness, and hence the type of freedom which is earned with the destruction of The Patriots is wholly superficial. It is the replacement of one determinism with another. That the characters no longer have to suffer endless war is immaterial, as they are now clearly established as objects, and will suffer plainly and insignificantly anything their environment subjects them to.
Snake does not reach the same conclusion at the end of MGS4 as he does at the end of MGS1. At the end of MGS1 he decides he must find something meaningful, and pass it on to future generations. Not the purest existential conception, but still valid. At the end of MGS4 he concludes that he exists solely as an artifact of war; he is a beast. That Kojima then attempts to draw some form of distinction between Inside and Outside in the continuation of Snake’s monologue demonstrates that he was trying to rectify the very problem raised by the permeability of consciousness he himself introduced. He is trying to find some sort of qualification. “No” says Kojima “It isn’t man that is meaningless, it is war. And that includes the warrior”. So he goes about trying to build this wall so that his absolute, unfettered nihilism can somehow avoid tainting society proper. So he makes snake concede that he is meaningless, while trying to build a wall between him and society, but at the same time he tries to get him to absorb meaning from society by effecting it in some capacity because he wants desperately to salvage something of the character he just destroyed. The result is equal parts paradoxical and disgusting, and it also demonstrates the fundamental error of MGS4 as a story. A misunderstanding of the origin of meaning, and a misunderstanding of the significance of the human being.
So yeah, that’s why I don’t like MGS4, at present.
Does he? Or does he destroy himself? When Ocelot becomes Liquid Snake he ceases to be Ocelot. Which, more properly conceived, means that he ceases to be. As opposed to the notion of a human being generating their own meaning, Ocelot generates his own facticity, is engulfed in it, and is destroyed by it. His sacrifice might be meaningful, akin to suicide as a life-affirming practice. Or perhaps it’s simply another instantiation of the trend of zombies in the MGS4 text. The issue is whether or not becoming liquid is presumed to negate him without destroying him, but while destroying the freedom of his reflective consciousness. In that capacity he would exist as an automaton, which would send a message incompatible with free-will. He must either be destroying himself completely in his program, or else he must still maintain the freedom of reflective consciousness even as Ocelot-as-Liquid-Snake. These are the only two possibilities in which Ocelot is meaningful.
Personally, I am inclined towards the second possibility. The problem is reminiscent of the problem of occlumency encountered with the character of Severus Snape. Perhaps the persona of Liquid Snake requires constant, willful maintenance, and in this capacity Ocelot appears as the force which operates a willful negation of himself, hence surpassing himself. That’s my impression.
The Patriots should not be able to leave an imprint of their will upon human consciousness, as that is something untouchable. Inadvertent or not, the subtext is unavoidable, precisely because of this.
it’s difficult to ever know considering kojima’s propensity for using every character as a mouthpiece, but could snake’s self-assessment be a reflection of his personal trauma? his lifelong suffering is recurrent throughout the game’s denouement and he is fated to die soon. he’s basically been denied the opportunity to define himself on his own terms, yet he still shows interest in the future, just not for himself. this is a rejection of everything big boss tells him more than concordant and a paradox. just as the patriots are generalized control, snake may have ended up the remnants of their stranglehold
He hasn’t been denied the opportunity to define himself on his own terms. That isn’t possible.
but the key thing is that ocelot chooses to sublimated himself with liquid, bringing up the notion once again of characters defining themselves on their own terms. his personal honor and freedom are imperatives he’s willing to defend at all costs, to the ends of self-destruction, a notion that strikes me as more romantic than nihilistic. he’s aware that if he is successful, then his destruction isn’t just a zeroing, but the start of something new. however, this posits that ocelot doesn’t maintain some control, which is ambiguous from what i remember
It’s this ambiguity that allows multiple interpretations. The essential issue for me is not whether he chose or not. It’s whether he was sublimated, destroyed, or whether he continued to exist even simply by his perpetual, willful sustainment of the persona of Liquid Snake. You can’t choose to be absorbed by reality. It isn’t possible.
why do you believe that human consciousness isn’t permeable?
OP doesn’t understand MGS. The whole point of the Patriots is that humanity has let itself be controlled by machines.
The operative word being “let”, or else nothing. It was a choice that was constantly sustained and reaffirmed by the characters. To render them into pure passivity is impossible. Passivity in people must come from an active and perpetual choice to make oneself passive.
I haven’t read the Dark Tower series, but I have read a large number of other King books. He’s very much a horror writer. The Eyes of the Dragon was a pretty good fantasy book though. In general I think the sorts of themes he exploits are too tied to the genre. He drives his plots by a sort of transcendental script that the characters interact with at the fringes; destiny, supernatural omnipotent forces and the like. Most of his books involve the characters becoming aware of this script, then trying to fight it or come to terms with it in some way. The last (and so far only) God in the MGS universe was the MGS4 patriots, and they very much made the affair worse.
The idea of a primitive future is perfectly fine, though. Reasonably I would expect Kojima to borrow from the Snatcher series if anything, especially given precedent. MGS with a sort of steampunk aesthetic could be quite epic, but the plot needs to catch up to and justify the world otherwise it’s just a change of scenery. New characters would obviously be required.
Maybe as a spinoff, of sorts. There would be enough of a gap between 1-4 and 5-> to make the writing of the new games less restricted by necessity for compliance with canon. Any incongruity could just be dismissed as an artifact of inaccuracies in historical knowledge.
Oh PS, Liquid Snake is Randall Flagg
Too optimistic? What on earth is in your head!? Obviously MGS5 would need to show the consequences of removing The Patriots as the agency which engaged in the complete regulation of war, but in order for the series to get any more fatalistic future games would have to start handing out cyanide capsules marked with the word “freedom”.
I agree with your assessment of MGS3, but not of MGS4. I think he did something far worse than ignoring the human consequence of the plot in 4. He ignored the existential consequence. His “quick fix” so very much misunderstood these consequences that it wasn’t actually a fix at all. The ramifications of the world he created involve the total and universal submergence of characters into facticity. Imagine if a philosophical text or a novel began with the words “Suppose man is meaningless, a mechanical process not far removed from precipitation or the affectations of gravity”. Alternatively, just look at this.
I plucked this particular text from the signature of a poster on Select Button. Now tell me truthfully. If a text ever delves to this point, whether at the start, the beginning, or the end, do you really think it’s possible for any trite little happiness found elsewhere in the narrative to overcome the precedent that’s set simply by introducing this thought process?
The ideas of MGS2 were fundamentally different, as the notion of control raised by the game in relation to The Patriots never truly subtracted from Raiden’s ability to define the meaning of his own existence. This is seen, much like in MGS1, by the ending dialogues in which the protagonists resolve to live life meaningfully despite their increased awareness of how they are limited by their circumstances.
Conversely in MGS4, the very possibility is negated. MGS2 is (largely) epistemic skepticism combined with a general notion of subjectivity found in good-faith existentialism. MGS4 is nihilism. Epistemology is no longer even a concern at this point.
I’m engaged in some rather heavy reading at the moment, and after that I intend to do an in depth analysis of the entire series. Hopefully I can clarify some of my objections better then.
Rather, MGS4 should have been nihilism
I don’t think I could ever agree with this.
It was neither because Kojima was afraid of the conclusion that was required the moment he conceived MGS4. Good old fashioned commercialism tainted the events of MGS4 in some very obvious ways.
What conclusion was that? I’ve stated previously that I felt the conclusion was rendered irrelevant by the mere presence of a denial of free will. In the same general spirit of this objection, I don’t think I could respect MGS4 as a nihilistic text even if it was more consistent. This is not an objection to the internal structure of the game, as such, but rather a criticism of the philosophy it seems to project.
I’m looking forward to hearing some of your more protracted analysis.
I’m going to post it to my blog. I’m 100 odd pages into a book on existential philosophy on the moment, with about 650 left to go. It took me a while to get even that far. So it might be a ways off yet. The good news is I only need to read the book once and then I should be able to have a go at the entire series.
I’m not a proponent of nihilism in any regards. I am speaking in terms of structure, and my general feeling towards MGS4 was that it stopped short of realizing and describing the absolute despair of the setting. It had the potential to be phenomenally impacting in this regard, and simply got distracted by it’s own excess.
I’m completely fine with despair, so long as it’s in good faith. I think we might mean different things when we say nihilism.
Philosophically speaking, MGS4 stands for very little and brings very little actual food for thought to the table. Anything that could be mistaken for philosophical musing in the game feels more like justification to me.
Yes, and it’s my hope that in MGS5 we will get a clarification that confirms exactly this. The possibility that character dialogue represents the authorial voice is really the only thing keeping the game in the state it is. If on the other hand, the characters are just musing to themselves, then MGS5 can reveal that they were mistaken or misinformed and thus give MGS4 a sort of ironic context.
The conclusion that I’m speaking of is a rather tired and depressing thing to long for, but it’s what I believe Kojima originally envisioned for the game. I truly believe that Snake pulling the trigger among the graves would have been a tragic celebration of free will, in the way that a funeral is a tragic celebration of life. Another tangentially related compromise is the “death” and resurgence of Raiden, something that clearly occurred late in the script-writing process. Without edits to the “death” scene, apparently.
It could have been, but we would still have the problem of the above to overcome. When I say nihilism, I am talking about the complete and categorical denial not just of intrinsic meaning, but of the possibility of meaning even self-given. By rendering the self as an object (as opposed to the rather complex set of interactions between an object and subject postulated by the phenomenologists), MGS4 suggests the form of nihilism described. In that form, there is no room for free will even though a given action seen in any other context may function perfectly well as a celebration of it.
It’s actually pretty much impossible for something not to have existentialist undertones, because phenomenology is the study of consciousness and all texts are products of human consciousness. I support the general sentiment though, clearly not everything is a political or moral allegory.
Almost all of the tragedy was in Bad Faith, and the ending sure didn’t seem to resolve that. How can you seal away somebody’s will? People can be made to play a specific role? The entire political economy of the past 50 years was dictated purely by The Patriots? This prevented individual will?
I used to think the biggest problem with MGS4 was its economic misunderstandings, but now I realize the philosophical misunderstandings are far worse.
The economy can, to a degree, limit and control the will of an individual, I believe. Think of the number of people who complain about the state of their lives, how they hate the job that they’re in, but they’re forced to keep on working to provide for families and pay for basic utilities. Water, electricity, gas and the like are all things we’re told we have to pay for, and so, we’re controlled in paying these debts and providing for ourselves. I personally think that’s more of a class issue than outright control, but it’s undoubtedly a method to control the majority of the population. We’re told every day that we NEED these new items and that we must have them, that new technologies can enrich and enhance our lives, and often enough, we buy into it. Isn’t that in itself, control of a sort?
Not of will. Even a slave has the choice of rebellion. It might not be effective, but they always have that choice. Even if a person puts a gun to your head and says “I will shoot you if you don’t obey me”, you can disobey. So when people talk about money as if it negates free will, they’re being fundamentally dishonest.
However, you’ve picked up on another point that confused me. At exactly what point did the proxies begin to control the economy and then decide to go about the business of making war? Obviously, Zero was beyond the point of reigning the AI in, but was this before events of MGS1, even? Who made the proxies, and did they evolve at the point after the DARPA Chief’s death, seeing as he’s likely their developer?
Having just rewatched the ending on youtube, it doesn’t seem like it was explicitly stated. It seems most plausible to put it sometime after Peace Walker, as I would expect Zero to be the antagonist in it. This is speculation, of course, but I don’t think he was old enough to be comatose yet, and MGS4 describes him doing things he hadn’t yet done as of Portable Ops.
These are questions I suppose Kojima will be looking to answer in Peace Walker. Perhaps there is no human controller or general-type figure behind the army we see invading the country, and perhaps this is a test run for the Patriot AI’s…
You have to remember that the Patriot AI’s weren’t originally designed to perpetuate a war economy. This was a divergence from their normal programming, and one that occurred after Zero was no longer functional.
True, but in terms of how Big Boss actively describes it, controlling every facet of money and politics, there’s very little free will involved in what he suggests, because the Patriot AI’s are behind everything. It’s like buying a Kellogg’s cereal only to find it’s secretly made by Nestle – The choice you made is completely undermined, and I think this is the control Big Boss was implying. People might not’ve been aware of it in the slightest – and that’s the implication that the AI’s were perhaps necessary to our continued existence, but they undermined the idea of choice by being in charge of everything. People are free to do what they wish, it would seem, but as Solidus finds, even his every action was planned and he didn’t see it, even though he played a significant role in Shadow Moses.
The Patriots don’t really engage in fraud so much as general coercion. However, I’ve already demonstrated how coercion does not undermine free will. Even in a society where all pretenses for action are somehow false, you still have the choice to engage in action. Your actions are simply uninformed by knowledge of consequences. If we accepted that The Patriots undermined free will in the manner you’re describing, we would have to accept that life undermined free will whenever any action had an unexpected consequence or was based on false information. This simply isn’t the case
Solidus found himself playing a role, true enough, but it was a role he consciously imbued with meaning. He reflected upon his life and determined its significance, and this act of reflection is fundamentally separate from and untouched by the deterministic aspects of reality by which human beings find themselves surrounded. You might be unable to move, breath without machine assistance, communicate with others, see, hear, and smell, but as long as you can think then you can decide what your condition means to you. It is precisely this type of freedom which composes “free will” and which renders it inviolate except by death. Obviously it permits greater implications when circumstances are less limiting, but it doesn’t go away simply because the world follows causal patterns, no matter the cause. Facticity can come up to our ankles or to our necks, but free will can never be effected by it.
Because Ocelot actually explains that the data from Big Shell is relevant to making the AIs work correctly, doesn’t he?
I actually don’t remember, sorry. I sold my PS3 a while ago and it’s been a few months since I’ve last played through MGS4.
Which suggests that they only turned to the idea of a war economy following MGS2. One thing I don’t understand also is that it seems that Arsenal Gear is designed to house the AI, only they must have existed somewhere beforehand in order to become self aware as they seem to have come the game’s end. Hm..
There were multiple AI’s housed in various different places, IIRC. I’m sure somewhere the whole scheme of it is written out, maybe in The Document of MGS2. I’ll be checking that out again shortly.
And lastly, supergokuizard‘s analysis: Solid Snake: The Evolution of a Character. In this analysis he arrives at many of the same conclusions I have, thus rendering him the de-facto critic to review them in their first burst of novelty. I suppose it could be worse. After all, this is only games analysis. Indeed it could have been the system of calculus or the theory of evolution! Nonetheless, this is a rare event and hence a cause for both celebration and panic. This article is not intended as a protracted review, but rather to show the thought process that I (and apparently others) have been formulating, which I think is rather specific, new, and important. I will now attach the aforementioned analysis from supergokuizard and conclude this update. Make of it what you will; the best is yet to come.
Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots is a game with many flaws. I overviewed several of these in a long thread a few weeks ago, but now I’ve decided to take the time to devote an entire thread to what I feel is one of the game’s biggest individual flaws: the way it handled the Solid Snake character.
In order to truly understand where MGS4 went wrong with Snake, we need to go back to the beginning of MGS1 and analyze Snake’s development as a character over the course of the series. At this point in his life, Snake has retired from the military and has been basically sitting in Alaska by himself for the past six years. This is the first key point in Snake’s character: he’s in Alaska alone. From what we’re told, he makes little to no effort to interact with other people during his time in Alaska. (A couple of quotes from the cutscene following the Psycho Mantis fight back this up. Snake tells Meryl that he’s “never been interested in anyone else’s life,” that “other people just complicate [his] life,” and that he doesn’t “like to get involved.”)
Anyway, Snake is called in by Campbell to stop the FOXHOUND rebellion, and he accepts for apparently no reason other than the fact that he enjoys fighting. (A few more quotes to back this up. Snake says that he “never felt truly alive unless [he] was staring death in the face” on the battlefield. Liquid says toward the end of the game that the only reason Snake continues with the mission after being betrayed by his commanding officers is because he enjoys all the killing, and we can tell from Snake’s reaction that Liquid is at least partially right.)
This leads into the next point: throughout MGS1, Snake is deceived and manipulated by his superiors, and he continues to fight. Why does he do so? The key concept to recognize here is that Snake is continuing on with his mission solely because those are the orders.
So to recap. At the beginning of MGS1, we have a Snake who is isolated from other people and fights solely because he: A) is told to B) enjoys it.
However, as MGS1 progresses, Snake undergoes a tremendous change of character. This is first hinted at after the Psycho Mantis fight. Snake says that, “A strong man doesn’t need to read the future, he makes his own.” It’s essential to note that Snake references making his own future. This is a departure from the Snake we saw at the beginning of the game who was content to let his commanding officers order him around. And while Snake will continue to follow orders throughout the course of MGS1, this quote is important because it is the first major hint that Snake is starting to take a stronger hold on his own life.
The next important quote comes shortly afterwards. Before fighting Sniper Wolf for the first time, Snake says, “I’m going to save Meryl for myself.” It’s crucial to note that Snake is not doing this for the mission, for Campbell, or even for Meryl. He’s doing it for himself, and the fight with Sniper Wolf is the first time in the game in which we see Snake fighting for his own cause.
Fastforward to the cutscene after the second Sniper Wolf fight. Otacon asks Snake, “What was she fighting for? What am I fighting for? What are you fighting for?” Snake responds with, “If we make it through this I’ll tell you.” This is important because it shows that, at this point in the game, Snake is fighting for something. The player is never told specifically what this something is, but the scene is nevertheless important because it’s a turning point for Snake, who is no longer fighting simply to be fighting.
The next important scene is Gray Fox’s death. He tells Snake, “We’re not tools of the government, or anyone else. Fighting was the only thing…the only thing I was good at. But at least I always fought for what I believed in.” This is the critical point in Snake development as a character during MGS1. Gray Fox is mentioned earlier in the game to be one of only two men who Snake considers friends. In the quote, Gray Fox is insinuating that Snake has become a tool of the government during this mission, and that he has to fight for what he believes in rather than being a pawn. Snake had slowly moved toward this realization throughout the events of the game, but it takes the dying words of his best friend to finally change him. From this point onward, we’ll see a different Snake.
Shortly after Gray Fox’s death, Liquid says that Meryl is foolish for “falling in love with a man who doesn’t even have a name.” In response, Snake tells Liquid that he does have a name. Snake’s name is a symbol. The codename “Solid Snake” is a symbol of Snake fighting as a pawn of the government. After all, it was the government who gave Snake his codename. However, his real name “David” is a symbol of Snake fighting for his own beliefs. Snake acknowledging the fact that he has a real name is symbolic of his realization that he has the ability and potential to fight for his own beliefs, rather than being used as a pawn. We’ll see this concept elaborated on further in MGS2.
The final scene in MGS1 that is integral to Snake’s development is when he tells Meryl that his name is David. This is the first time that Snake goes by his own name (rather than his government-issued codename), and it foreshadows Snake fighting for his own beliefs in MGS2 (rather than those of the government). Snake telling Meryl that his name is David is, overall, symbolic of his break from government control.
We now have to briefly touch upon MGS2 in order to gain a full understanding of how the character has changed since MGS1. While Snake has a much smaller role in the game this time around, there are still a couple of important scenes, particularly toward the end of the game.
Snake tells Raiden in the final cutscene, “Find something to believe in, and find it for yourself. When you do, pass it on to the future.” At this point we see that Snake as a character has truly come full circle. In MGS1, he realized the importance of fighting for his own beliefs. By the beginning of MGS2, he has acted on this newfound knowledge by forming Philanthropy and fighting for a cause he believes in: the destruction of Metal Gear. And finally, by the end of MGS2, he’s begun to pass on his knowledge to future generations. However, it’s important that when Raiden asks Snake what he should believe in, Snake responds with “That’s your problem.” Snake knows that if he told Raiden what to believe in, then he would be no better than the government who controlled him during MGS1. It’s this awareness that shows just how far Snake has come since the beginning of MGS1 and also foreshadows how the character will act in MGS4. Based on MGS2’s ending, MGS4 Snake should fight more passionately than ever and also stress the importance of doing so to other characters. And finally, it’s also interesting to note that Snake has taken on a mentor role to Raiden in MGS2, whereas in MGS1 Snake was a sort of mentee in that he was still developing his ideals and philosophies on life.
The final piece worth mentioning in MGS2 is Ocelot’s statement that the appearance of the real Solid Snake was the only part of the S3 Plan that the Patriots didn’t anticipate. At this point, Snake is defying the control of the Patriots, the most powerful organization in the world. This is a stark contrast to the Snake we saw during MGS1, who was constantly manipulated by the government. Again, the character truly has come full circle.
Now we come to MGS4. Following MGS2, I expected Snake to be extremely passionate about fighting for what he believes in. I also expected Snake to be truly free from any form of outside control and to help free others from this control by stressing the importance of choosing your own beliefs, similar to his conversation with Raiden at the end of MGS2. This is the natural path for the character to take after his development throughout the first two games, and it’s also the path that was hinted at in the ending of MGS2.
However, this is not the Snake we saw in MGS4. In almost every way, Old Snake from MGS4 feels like a step backwards in terms of character development, and this was one of the game’s biggest flaws.
First, it’s essential to note that Campbell refers to Snake’s mission in MGS4 as “a hired hit” and even specifically states that it “isn’t justice.” Snake himself even says that he’s “just an old killer.” So what we essentially have here is a Snake who kills for hire, no matter if he believes in the mission or not. This is the polar opposite of the Snake we saw at the end of MGS2 who only fought for what he believed in. Snake as a character has taken a huge step backwards, and to make matters worse, the game never explains why the character has changed so much between MGS2 and MGS4.
The second important part of Snake’s character in MGS4 is that he was acting as an agent of the Patriots throughout the course of the entire game. This is also a step backwards for the character. Snake was manipulated (indirectly) by the Patriots during MGS1, but he broke free from this control and was the only anomaly in their plan during MGS2. It was a natural progression for the character and was also a powerful message about breaking free to follow one’s own beliefs. However, in MGS4 we see Snake revert back to being a pawn. Again, this clashes with the way the character was developed in the first two games and is the polar opposite of the way the character should’ve been handled during MGS4.
So in conclusion, MGS1 shows us a Snake who fights simply because he enjoys it and ends up getting used by the government. MGS2 then shows us a Snake who fights solely for his own beliefs and, as a result, is free from any and all outside control, even that of the mighty Patriots. The natural progression for the character in MGS4 would’ve been to continue the way he was at the end of MGS2 and to take on a sort of mentor role to the other characters, in particular Raiden. However, MGS4 instead shows us a Snake who fights simply because he enjoys it and ends up getting used. The character has essentially reverted back to the way he was at the beginning of MGS1, and this makes all that he went through since the beginning of MGS1 seem almost pointless in retrospect. The fact that MGS4 handled the character of Snake in the polar opposite of the way that he should’ve been handled is one of the game’s biggest flaws.
There is one other point I want to touch upon. In MGS1, Snake was largely controlled by his genes. That is, his genes told him to fight, so he fought without ever really looking for a reason to fight. This is why he gets used by the government during MGS1. However, at the end of MGS1, Snake breaks free of his genes’ control and begins to fight for his own beliefs. And as I’ve already mentioned, the character reverts back to being controlled by his genes in MGS4, in the fact that he’s simply fighting to be fighting again. The reason I bring this up is that Raiden takes a very similar path throughout the course of the series. Raiden in MGS2 is controlled by his memes; in other words, he is manipulated and controlled by the Patriots for the entirety of the game. However, in the last cutscene, Raiden breaks free from this control during his conversation with Snake. It’s interesting to note, however, that Raiden does not revert back to being controlled during MGS4 like Snake does. Instead, the character remains in control of himself, which is evidenced by the fact that Raiden continues to fight for his own beliefs even after MGS2. Rescuing Sunny is a perfect example of this.
The bottom line is that Snake reverts back to the way he was in the beginning, while Raiden does not. Perhaps it would be worthwhile to examine the character of Raiden in a more in-depth way, similar to my analysis of Snake here. Especially after Rising comes out.
Regardless, this is a post about Snake, so I’ll leave the Raiden comparing/contrasting for another time. The absolute bottom line is that I was disappointed by the way Snake as a character was handled in MGS4. In MGS4, Snake reverts back to the way he was at the beginning of MGS1, and this is the exact opposite of the way the character should have developed during MGS4.
I love the series, and I thoroughly enjoyed writing this. I hope you enjoyed reading it, and I eagerly await any comments and further discussion.
~ by Kilroy del Dancefighter Estallion the First on July 16, 2009.