Metal Gear Solid 2: Analysis and Review

It is rare that a sequel generates as much interest as the work which preceded it, yet such is the case with Metal Gear Solid 2.  In fact, that is an understatement.  This game has received more critical attention than virtually any other game in the history of interactive media.  While much of the discussion has been bland and two-dimensional, a number of impressive and significant examinations of the subject have been conducted.

Given this existing scholarship, I feel it would be negligent of me not to include a response to some of the more noteworthy approaches to Metal Gear Solid 2.  However, I also wish to avoid compromising my own analysis.  In an attempt to balance these demands, I will divide this article into roughly three sections, with additional subsections as needed.  The general outline follows.

  1. Extended Synopsis

    1. Single Sentence Synopsis (or S3 for short)

    2. Supplementary plot function (How MGS2 handles MGS1)

  2. Analysis

    1. Character Analysis

    2. Response to themes and arguments

  3. Response to existing scholarship

    1. Dreaming in an Empty Room by Tim Rogers

    2. Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty as a Post-Modern Tragedy by Chris Zimbaldi

    3. Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty Ending Analysis: Gene and Meme by Artemio Urbina

In my responses to existing scholarship, the approach will be much less dileneated, utilizing a more organic approach.  This outline is merely a rough organizational rubric.  It is not possible to approach the subject material in all cases without adopting premises external to the work.  Hence there will be moments which require me to delve into subjects which would not be presumed, from the outline, to be touched upon within the context of the section given.

(As a helpful reference tool, here is a complete text dump of the game, courtesy of Artemio Urbina.  Also of use is this complete collection of scenes from the game.  Feel free to use these as a supplement or substitute for the synopsis.  If you are sufficiently comfortable with your knowledge of the events of MGS2, feel free to skip the synopsis altogether.  If you wish to have an overview but can’t be bothered to read very much, I have made a much briefer synopsis available as well.)

1. Extended Synopsis

(If for some reason you neglected the possibility of spoilers, you ought to be aware that they are rather comprehensive.)

The game begins rather noirishly, with Solid Snake narrating.  He explains, in the past tense, the circumstances and decisions behind the events that the player is currently being shown: Namely him, using a very melodramatic method to board a ship in Manhattan bay.  Since the events of MGS1, Solid Snake and Otacon have formed an NGO dedicated to the eradication of Metal Gear technology.  They have received intelligence that a new type of Metal Gear is under covert development and is being housed on board the ship.  Their intention is to obtain photographic evidence of the existence of this project and leak it to the media, in order to trigger a public outcry.  While Otacon has suspicions about the nature of this intelligence, neither party realizes that it was leaked to them willfully by The Patriots, a secret organization and shadow government whose power is virtually unilateral.  They orchestrated Snake’s presence on board the ship to facilitate payback, because the events of MGS1 were not in their interest.  More on that later.

When Snake first boards the ship it is under US Marine Corps control, as is the weapons project he is trying to document.  The marine commander, Scott Dolph, is trying to win favor for his Metal Gear project over a competing project from the Navy, which we later discover to be Arsenal Gear (More on that later).  However, Dolph intends to use the project to foment an insurrection against The Patriots.  This can be deduced from his speech to his men, at which time he informs them of the existence of “interference from a major player” and “a force at work in our own government”, tells them that former President George Sears was forced to resign from his position after the Shadow Moses incident, and announces that they are there to “rid themselves of this corrupting influence”.

The Patriots ostensibly knew about all of this before hand.  Hence, they arranged for the ship to be hijacked by Gurlukovich soldiers, an ex-soviet special forces unit turned mercenary.  They are capable of influencing them to this task because they have Revolver Ocelot as an agent, and through various dealings on his part he has familiarized himself with Colonel Gurlukovich, the leader of the unit.  These soldiers take over the bridge while leaving the holds unperturbed, meaning most of the Marines are unaware of the enemy presence aboard the ship (and the liberal placement of explosives on key structural points of the ship).

Snake makes his way to the holds.  In the meanwhile we learn that Olga Gurlukovich, daughter of the Colonel and herself an active soldier within the unit, is pregnant.  This turns out to be important later.  Snake arrives in the hold, obtains photographic evidence of the Metal Gear program, and sends it to Otacon.  Then Revolver Ocelot and Colonel Gurlukovich make their presence known, as well as the presence of explosives on the ship.  Gurlukovich announces his intentions to hijack the Metal Gear weapons system, at which time Ocelot informs him that he has been used.  Gurlokovich is incensed by this revelation and Ocelot and himself exchange gunfire.  Both Gurlokovich and Scott Dolph are mortally wounded, Ocelot is left untouched.  (We later learn that he was impervious to gunfire because he was equipped by The Patriots with an electromagnetic shield which deflects bullets.)

Ocelot detonates the explosives placed throughout the ship and begins to hijack the Metal Gear system.  At this point, Snake makes his presence known to Ocelot.  This triggers a reaction from him, which must be referenced in two distinct capacities.  The first is with the hindsight of only a full playthrough of MGS2, the second is with the hindsight of MGS4.  Strictly within the context of the game, it is assumed that Ocelot is being controlled by the spirit of Liquid Snake, the dead protagonist of the first game.  This is enabled by a rather curious, and not just slightly unclear mechanism.  Ocelot had his arm cut off in the first game, you see, and with Liquid dead he simply borrowed his right arm. Liquid’s spirit apparently resides in the arm, enabling him to control Ocelot.

(In the context of MGS4, we learn that Ocelot is faking this possession.  That will not be touched upon until an analysis of MGS4 is conducted.)

Ocelot/Liquid hijacks the Metal Gear system.  Snake is seen escaping from the sinking tanker, breaching the surface of the water.  This is where the cutscene ends.  We later learn that Snake, as well as Olga (and perhaps a few of the Gurlukovich soldiers) were rescued by Otacon, who had procured a boat and been ready nearby as part of the original extraction plan.  Snake and Otacon, realizing that they were set up, procure Liquid’s corpse (sans arm) and plant it near the wreckage.  They take this measure because the two Snake’s are identical on a genetic level.  Hence this allows them to convincingly fake his death.

A few years later, the navy’s Arsenal Gear program has nearly reached operational status.  Its development has been facilitated in secret by the construction of an offshore oil cleanup facility, which camouflages the massive underwater vessel.  The construction of this cleanup facility was enabled by another cover story; the public was told that the marine ship which sank was actually an oil tanker.  Revolver Ocelot/Liquid Snake leaks information about this new Metal Gear program to Otacon and Snake in order to get them to come to the facility.  He uses the pen-name EE.  These are the initials of Emma Emmerich, Otacon’s estranged step-sister and a key figure in the software development of this new navy program.

A tour of Arsenal Gear is being conducted by the U.S. President, and a number of other important figures who are there to see the project on the eve of its completion.  However, dark machinations are at play here as well.  An elite anti-terrorist unit known as Dead Cell, estranged from the government after being left to take the fall for various terrorist incidents, is present at the facility.  They are acting in collaboration with ex-president George Sears, who is actually related to both Liquid and Solid Snake; for this reason, his nom de geurre throughout the game is also Snake (Solidus Snake, to be specific).  In point of fact, the creation of this unit was the result of one of his actions as president.  So as well was the Shadow Moses incident.  In two capacities, in fact.  Firstly, the development of Metal Gear Rex was initiated by Sears in collaboration with the DARPA chief Donald Anderson and various other parties.  Secondly and more importantly, Sears was a familiar of Revolver Ocelot.  He used Ocelot to provoke Liquid Snake (the implications of this and other revelations of MGS1 will be addressed separately).

The Shadow Moses incident also infuriated The Patriots.  As Ocelot is functioning as a double-agent, pretending to be in line with Sears while actually serving The Patriots, he used this position to manipulate Sears into hijacking Arsenal Gear.  Sears is unaware of this, as is the player until the final chapter of the game.  Using Dead Cell and being joined by the Gurlukovich unit, Sears kidnaps the president and other important figures.  The Gurlukovich unit is involved in the takeover for two reasons: the first being they are getting paid for it.  The second being that Olga Gurlokovich’s baby daughter was kidnapped by The Patriots.  They are demanding she cooperate to serve their ends or else they will execute her daughter. She does so, keeping this second motive concealed from her men.

In response to the terrorist takeover, Navy Seals are deployed to rescue the President and reacquire the nuclear football that he and his entourage had with them.  Around this time, Snake infiltrates the facility by swimming to a submarine bay.  Otacon infiltrates the facility posing as a security systems expert, ostensibly there to help the Navy Seals.  There is another party who makes an infiltration through the submarine bay, following shortly behind Snake:  Raiden, a soldier who was formerly part of the Army’s Force XXI trials and has been submitted to rigorous Virtual Reality training.

Raiden believes he is following orders from official channels, but is in fact being led into combat by The Patriots.  More specifically, an artificial intelligence aligned with The Patriots.  (In the context of MGS4, we learn the two are actually the same thing.)  It is sending him codec messages while simulating a military colonel.  Raiden is a test subject.  The Patriots want to know if human behavior can be modeled with 100% predictability.  This is of interest to them because if it is the case, human beings and hence society on the whole can be reliably manipulated.

There are two Seal teams.  The first are killed by Vamp, a blood-drinking, knife wielding member of Dead Cell who apparently cannot die.  At around this time, Snake acquires a Seal uniform in order to pass for a member of their ranks.  Raiden arrives on scene just in time to watch the Seals killed, at which time Snake enters through a far side door.  Vamp toys with both men, before being called off by another Dead Cell member due to some unknown matter of importance.

Snake introduces himself to Raiden as Plisken.  He asks Raiden who he is, at which point Raiden tells him his military background and informs him of the orders he has been given.  Snake is unimpressed, but tells Raiden to keep in touch.  He then goes to sleep on the stairs.  Raiden proceeds to where the second Seal team is located.  They are trying to rescue the President from Dead Cell.  One of the Dead Cell members is Helena Dolph Jackson, a woman who lost her husband and her father to the machinations of The Patriots.  She is involved with the takeover because she wishes to obtain vengeance.  It is believed that she is impervious to gunfire due to some cosmic collusion of circumstances, and as a result she has been given the alias of Fortune.  In fact, she is impervious to gunfire because The Patriots have outfitted her with the same electromagnetic shield as Ocelot.  They intend for her to be there.

They intend for all of Dead Cell to be there, in fact.  They are using them for the purposes of the experiment to which Raiden is being subjected.  In order to be confident about their ability to model and generate human behavior, they need their subject to be able to perform in even the most demanding of roles.  To that end, they have created a Shadow Moses facsimile.  George Sears stands in for Liquid Snake, and Dead Cell stands in for Fox-Hound.

The second Seal team are all killed.  At this point, Raiden proceeds further through the compound and encounters Peter Stillman, the foremost bomb disposal expert in the world.  He is present to dispose of the bombs that have been planted throughout the facility by the Dead Cell member known as Fatman.  What he does not realize is that his presence was part of an arrangement that Fatman made with The Patriots.  Stillman taught Fatman everything he now knows about bombs when he was a child.  Out of some bizarre sense of rivalry, Fatman agreed to take part in the big shell expiriment in exchange for Stillman’s presence at the facility.  He wanted to play a game of wits with him.

At first Raiden is suspicious of Stillman, but Snake appears and calms him down.  Stillman is at this point presumed to have a bad leg.  He is informed that both Seal teams are dead.  With this knowledge, Stillman recruits both Snake and Raiden to dispose of the bombs planted throughout the facility.  The pair split up to the two distinct sections of the facility and disable all the bombs planted throughout the facility.  Stillman calls out to Snake not to disable the last bomb, but is unheard.  Two other, much larger bombs that have been hidden come online.  They were rigged to become active once all the other bombs became disabled.

Snake offers to diffuse one of the bombs, but Stillman refuses to allow him to do so.  He reveals that his leg is in fact perfectly functional.  He pretended that it was injured after failing to defuse a bomb planted within a famous church.  Many people died from the bomb after Stillman ran away.  He couldn’t bear the thought that he had survived untouched, and certainly not the thought of explaining to families why he was in perfect health when their loved ones were dead.  Stillman makes his way to defuse one of the bombs, and Raiden makes his way to defuse the other.  As Raiden is nearing the location of the bomb, Stillman calls him and tells him that the bomb he is faced with cannot be defused.  He gives Raiden a few words of encouragement and then the bomb detonates, killing him.  Raiden successfully defuses his bomb.

Snake is knocked unconscious by the explosion.  Raiden proceeds back to another section of the facility, when he receives a call from the faux-colonel.  He is told that the terrorists retaliated for the bomb defusal by killing a hostage.  His orders to rescue the president are reiterated to him, and he proceeds to act accordingly when he is interrupted by Fortune.  She initially mistakes him for Snake, whom she hates because she believes him to be the killer of her father, Scott Dolph. Upon seeing that he is not Snake, she engages him in battle anyways under the hope that he will be able to kill her.  She wants to die so that she can be reunited with her family, and views her invulnerability to gunfire as a curse.

Raiden is unable to harm her and simply evades her attacks.  The faux-colonel calls him and informs him that Fatman has placed a bomb on the heliport.  He specifically asked for Raiden.  After completing the call, Vamp arrives and initiates a conversation with Fortune.  He offers to take over for her and kill Raiden.  As she is preparing to leave Raiden fires a number of rounds towards her.  Their trajectory is altered by Fortune’s electromagnetic shield and they strike Vamp.  He appears to be killed.  Fortune then kneels over him and begins to cry, allowing Raiden to escape.  However despite a bullet through the head, Vamp regains consciousness.

Raiden proceeds to the heliport where he battles Fatman.  He kills him and defuses all of his bombs, and then prepares to continue his mission to rescue the President.  At this point an individual in a cybernetic suit appears.  In point of fact it is Olga Gurlokovich, but her identity is unknown to Raiden at the time.  In addition to being forced to lend the services of her unit to the experiment, she has additional orders from The Patriots to function as support for Raiden.  She gives him a Gurlukovich soldier uniform and tells him where to find an AK-47.  She also tells him where to find Richard Ames, a DIA agent who knows the location of the President.  When asked why she is doing so, she responds that she is under orders from the “La-Li-Lu-Le-Lo”, a nickname for The Patriots.

Raiden acquires the weapon and infiltrates the area where hostages are being held in order to find Richard Ames.  He succeeds in doing so, and is informed of the location of the President.  He also learns more about the motives and goals of the terrorists.  They want to detonate a nuclear weapon in the upper atmosphere over Manhatten in order to fry all electronic equipment.  It is their belief that this will weaken The Patriots grasp on the area by (among other things) removing their ability to use media to influence the public.  Unbeknownst to Ames, Raiden and Dead Cell at the time, this itself is a diversionary operation which George Sears has conceived in order to buy him time to track down and kill the individual members of the organization.

Raiden also learns that the President has been cooperating with the terrorists.  He is tired of being a puppet for the shadow government, and seizes the opportunity to give the terrorists access to nuclear detonation codes.  The manner in which the codes function relies on a timed confirmation of physiological data from the President.  In other words, he enters the codes and then simply has to be alive, undrugged and untortured at various points to serve as a reconfirmation of the validity of the codes.

Ocelot notices Raiden conversing with Ames, and confronts him.  Ostensibly this is simply a matter of suspicion.  In reality Ocelot, Olga, and Ames are all agents of The Patriots and hence all possess some idea of who Raiden is, as well as having orders on how to deal with him.  Ames however was kept in the dark about his true function, partly because he betrayed The Patriots by leaking vital information to his ex-wife, Nastasha Romenenko (an important member of the support staff from MGS1.  This issue will receive attention in the prescribed section of the article).  His real purpose is apparently just to die in a perplexing fashion.  In order to more closely simulate the events of Shadow Moses, you see.

To that end, The Patriots simply disable his pacemaker using nanomachines.  After his death, Ocelot unmasks Raiden and reveals that he is not a Gurlukovich soldier.  He acts as though he is going to kill him when Olga arrives, on cue and still clad in a suit which conceals her identity, and creates a distraction which enables him to escape.  Raiden manages to avoid detection and proceeds to acquire a sniper rifle.  This is necessary to destroy IR sensors which are rigged to bombs, blocking his passage over a bridge to the section of the facility where the President is being kept.

After destroying these IR sensors, Raiden receives a call from Snake.  They discuss using a helicopter to rescue and evactuate the hostages.  At this point, Snake reveals the presence of Otacon at the facility.  Otacon has appropriate training to fly the helicopter, which is why Snake introduces him.  However, Raiden has been briefed about the Shadow Moses incident and knows of Otacon’s involvement.  Putting two and two together, he begins to suspect the man he knows as Plisken of actually being Snake.  Ending the conversation, he begins to cross the bridge when George Sears appears.

Snake and Otacon also appear in a helicopter.  George Sears announces himself as Snake, to which Snake responds by yelling that he is not Solid Snake, then accuses him of impersonating Liquid Snake.  Sears calls him brother.  All this is particularly perplexing to Raiden.  After a brief battle between the two Snakes, Sears boards a harrier jet.  Snake gives Raiden a stinger missile launcher and tells him that he has to destroy the harrier, then Otacon pilots the helicopter out of harms way.

Raiden succesfully shoots down the harrier.  George Sears loses an eye but is otherwise unharmed.  At this point, the hijacked Marine Corps Metal Gear system surfaces and is used to extract Sears to Arsenal Gear.  The upper facility is shelled, as it is not needed for the operation of Arsenal Gear.  Raiden then calls Snake and accuses him of being Snake, an accusation which Snake combats by immediately affirming it.  Raiden learns of the ruse that Otacon and Snake used to fake their death, and they have a brief conversation about how one should balance a sense of purpose with ones function as a soldier.  He also learns the motives Snake and Otacon have for being at the facility.

Raiden is somewhat upset at Snake’s conduct, and confers with the faux-colonel. The two briefly discuss a few of the things that Raiden discussed with Snake. The colonel, being an AI, tells Raiden that he should avoid interactions with Snake to the greatest extent possible, because he was “not included in the simulation”. This statement is flabbergasting to Raiden, although in context we recognize it as an admonition given to try and keep the experiment uncompromised.

Raiden proceeds to the location where the President is being kept. He has to use a remote-controlled missile launcher to destroy a circuit breaker in order to get past the security measures keeping the President captive. Initially, the President believes Raiden to have been sent to kill him as punishment for his betrayal. However when Raiden relays his orders to him, the President somehow infers that Raiden is a test subject in an experiment. Keeping this knowledge to himself he chooses to play along. First, he explains the role of The Patriots to Raiden, who has been more or less clueless about their nature until now. He explains that he cooperated with Solidus because he wanted to use the threat of Arsenal Gear to bargain his way into The Patriots. However, Solidus does not want to bargain with The Patriots but to destroy them. The President feels this will cause a power vacuum which would be worse than the existence of The Patriots.

He also explains the relationship of George Sears, Liquid Snake, and Solid Snake. He tells Raiden of the role of Sears in the Shadow Moses incident, and explains that the cleanup facility they are in is actually camouflage for Arsenal Gear. This was unknown to Raiden until now. He also elaborates on the nature of Arsenal Gear, explaining that it has a complex computer system with the ability to censor information. The Patriots feel that a plenitude of information will severely harm their ability to control people and society. Arsenal Gear is also guarded by a number of production models of the Metal Gear system developed by the marines.

The President then tells Raiden where to find Emma Emmerich, the key figure in the software development of this information control program. He gives Raiden a cd containing a program which will disrupt the control system of Arsenal Gear, and tells him to give it to Emma. The President then orders Raiden to kill him in order to prevent the final confirmation of the nuclear codes. There is a brief struggle between the two as the President tries to force Raiden to shoot him. Revolver Ocelot then arrives and kills him. In his capacity as an agent of The Patriots, he cannot allow Sears to have access to a legitimate nuclear threat. Ocelot’s role is still unknown to Raiden, Solidus, and Dead Cell at this time.

Raiden confers with the faux-colonel, not knowing what to do now that he has failed his primary mission objective. The colonel tells him to follow the instructions of the president and prevent Sears from bringing his plans to fruition. He heads to the location of Emma Emmerich, swimming through a section of the compound that has been flooded as a result of the explosion that killed Peter Stillman. Halfway through this journey, he is interrupted by Vamp, who explains his motives a little more clearly. Dead Cell was left to take the fall for various terrorist incidents, and this was not taken well by them.

The two fight and after a lengthy battle, Vamp falls into a pool of hyper-oxygenated water, a fluid with buoyancy too low for swimming. He sinks to the bottom and Raiden believes him to be dead. He then proceeds to where Emma Emmerich is located. She initially believes him to be one of the terrorists, but he proves otherwise by demonstrating that he has nanomachines; the terrorists are not equipped with them. He informs her that they have to swim to safety, at which point she reveals that she is afraid of water. She nearly drowned in a pool when she was young. She and her father were involved in a pool accident. At the time her step-brother, Otacon (Hal Emmerich), was in his room preoccupied with something else. Otacon was upset with himself for letting this happen, and ended up leaving the family. As a result, the two became estranged and Emma developed a fear of water.

Raiden manages to convince Emma to ride on his back while he swims through the flooded section. The pair make it back to the main section of the facility. The bridge Raiden crossed to get to his current location was destroyed when the facility was shelled. As a result, they must journey over an oil fence to get to the computer room in order to upload the virus. At around this time, Snake confronts Olga and convinces her that he was not responsible for her father’s death on board the tanker. The two make a bargain; as an agent of The Patriots, Olga wants Raiden aboard Arsenal Gear. Snake wants to be aboard Arsenal Gear as well. She arranges to get Snake aboard the vessel in exchange for being delivered Raiden.

Believing the oil fence to be too weak to support the weight of two people, Raiden sends Emma across while he and Snake provide cover by means of sniper fire. When Emma is nearing the other side of the bridge where Snake is located, Vamp appears. He holds her at knife point, stabbing her in a vital organ. Raiden shoots him until he lets go and disappears into the water. Emma collapses and Snake extracts her, taking her to the computer room. However, the virus is with Raiden. He makes his way as quickly as possible to the computer room, where Emma uploads the virus. The upload stops at 90% completion. Emma Emmerich and Otacon then briefly exchange familial affection before Emma dies. Otacon is very upset.

The hostages have not yet been rescued at this point. Snake tells Otacon that it is his job to do so, and sends him to complete the task despite his shaky mental state. The facility is about to be destroyed as it is no longer needed to camouflage Arsenal Gear. With Otacon gone, Snake and Olga then spring their plan. Raiden is knocked unconscious and delivered to Sears. Why this is Olga’s method of getting him aboard Arsenal Gear is unknown; perhaps it is to more accurately simulate Shadow Moses.

Raiden awakens strapped to a torture bed, where he is briefly interrogated by George Sears. Sears reveals that Raiden was a child soldier in the 80’s, in some civil war torn region. At the time, Sears was involved with the conflict in some capacity and decided that he would adopt Raiden (real name Jack) as his “son”. This involved not extracting him from the conflict zone, but teaching him how to fight. After telling him this, Sears then leaves. Olga appears and removes Raiden’s restraints, explaining the bargain that she and Snake made. Raiden then receives a call from Rose. Rose has been a member of Raiden’s radio support team since the beginning of the exercise. She is his girlfriend, and this conflict of interest has lead to some rather peculiar conversations throughout his mission.

She calls him, distraught about what Sears has said. She wants to know if it is true, because Raiden has kept it concealed from her. He says that it is; he wants to forget his past, though, and not share it with anyone. It is too much of a burden for him. He especially does not want to be viewed by other people within the context of his past. Raiden escapes the torture room and makes his way to a rendezvous with Solid Snake. At this time, the faux-colonel calls him repeatedly and issues him bogus orders, insults him, and relays random bits of trivia. Ostensibly this is because it is effected by the virus that was uploaded earlier.  The AI he has been talking to is housed within Arsenal Gear, you see.

Raiden receives a call from Rose in which she explains that she is an agent of The Patriots. In fact, it is not just her status as mission support staff that was arranged. She was ordered to keep tabs on him and behave in the capacity of his girlfriend in anticipation of the experiment. However, she claims that her love for him is real. Unconvinced, Raiden mocks her. She reveals she is pregnant before radio communications mysteriously cease.

Raiden retrieves his equipment and clothing from Snake, having been stripped of it during the interrogation. Snake then gives him a sword as per Olga’s instructions. The two begin to make their way through Arsenal Gear, but are spotted by enemy soldiers. They fight their way through until they reach a ladder, which leads to the deck of the vessel. Raiden is still receiving transmissions from the faux-colonel.  Confused about the earlier messages caused by the virus, he asks Otacon to find out more about the Colonel.  Otacon reveals that the colonel is an AI.  This leads Raiden to question the truth of the situation he is in, and to question whether certain aspects of his life were even real. Snake tells him to calm down. After fighting a few more enemy soldiers, Fortune appears. She is still convinced that Snake killed her father. Snake tells Raiden to go on without him and that he will handle Fortune. Raiden then climbs the ladder as Snake and Fortune begin their battle below.

On the deck of Arsenal Gear, Raiden is greeted by George Sears as he speaks from an unknown vantage point. Sears explains that he found data within Arsenal Gear which confirms that Raiden has been used as a test subject in an experiment conceived by The Patriots. However, Sears incorrectly believes the experiment to have been conducted earlier and been merely a VR training regiment and passes this information along. He then has Raiden attacked by AI controlled production models of the Marine Corps Metal Gear system. Raiden fights them for a period using a stinger missile launcher, before collapsing from exhaustion. At this point, Olga jumps in front of Raiden. She is completely uncamoflauged. Sears expresses satisfaction. He had only intended this battle to flush out the spy that he had deduced was among his ranks. He kills Olga and prepares to kill Raiden when the production model Metal Gears begin malfunctioning, ostensibly because of the virus uploaded earlier.

Sears destroys the machines. He then begins to choke Raiden unconscious, and as this is happening he sees Snake being lead in handcuffs by Fortune. She presents Snake to Sears. When Raiden awakens, Sears briefly interrogates him. Fortune and Sears then have a brief discussion, in which Sears reveals that the original plan presented to Dead Cell; frying every electronic circuit in Manhattan, liberating it, and using Arsenal Gear to foment a rebellion against The Patriots; was just a diversionary operation.  The names of The Patriots are apparently contained within Arsenal Gear’s computer system.  Sears only wanted this list, so that he could track down and kill the individual members of the organization.  However as Fortune believes herself to be immune to death, she is unphased by this revelation and states that she will continue ahead with the plan.

At this point, Revolver Ocelot laughs and reveals that Sears and Dead Cell (and everyone else) have been manipulated for purposes of conducting an experiment conceived by The Patriots.  He explains how it was designed to bear similarity to Shadow Moses, the most challenging military operation ever completed by a single individual.  However he does not realize that the hypothesis this was designed to test is the abstract principle that human behavior can be modeled with 100% predictability, then generated using various forms of manipulation.  Instead, he believes it to have been merely an exercize to produce a soldier on par with Solid Snake for purposes of various wetworks operations.  Ocelot himself has been misinformed by The Patriots.

Neither Fortune or Sears take Ocelot’s revelation well.  Fortune shoots at Ocelot, but the shot is deflected by his electromagnetic weapons shield.  He then shoots her in the chest, her own shield apparently having been disabled.  She is not particularly distraught at being shot, since death was what she was after all along.  She is distraught about the revelation that she could have died sooner.  She is also upset that the death of her family was orchestrated, and confused that her powers seem to have vanished.  Ocelot explains their true source to her.

Sears then fires at Ocelot.  All of his rounds are deflected.  Ocelot climbs into one of the Marine Corps Metal Gear units and begins operating it manually.  He tells them what his orders are: to retrieve Arsenal Gear and kill everyone present on the deck.  His first attack is averted by Sears.  He then opens the missile bay on the machine.  Fortune stands in front of the others and holds up her hands.  Sears tells her not to bother.  The missiles are fired, but as they approach they all branch away as soon as they pass over Fortune.  (The implications of this are left unknown.  I will discuss them in their appropriate section).

Fortune then dies.  Ocelot suffers another apparent onset of possession by Liquid Snake.  At this point, he explains that his spirit resides within his arm.  He also reveals that he was the one who leaked information about Arsenal Gear to Snake and hence led him to the facility.  This was not within the scope of the original plan for the experiment.  “Liquid Snake” states that he intends to use his possession of Ocelot to acquire information about the identity of the individual members of the Patriots, and then kill them.  He pilots the amphibious Marine Corps Metal Gear system into the water.  Snake breaks free of his handcuffs and dives after it, planting a tracking device on the unit.

Arsenal Gear, without Ocelot to man the controls, crashes into Manhattan.  Sears and Raiden are dumped onto the roof of Federal Hall.  Solidus finds this occurrence humorous.  He launches into an explanation of his motives to Raiden.  He had intended to destroy The Patriots, and give birth to a new nation of liberty.  It seems he believed that despite being a diversionary operation, the liberation of Manhattan would ultimately be successful.  Their location, coupled with the present date (April 30th, the date of George Washington’s presidential oath) is all overwhelming to Sears.  For him, all of this is quite a way to celebrate an anniversary; particularly one he believes in.

Raiden accuses Sears of simply being power hungry, an allegation which Sears invests a good deal of energy into denying.  He launches into a tirade in which he argues that freedom of information is necessary not only for liberty, but for a meaningful life.  Since life is finite, he holds that information is the only way people can give their values and ideals any sort of immortality.  With The Patriots censoring information to serve their own purposes, this immortality is denied.  Elaborating, he explains that the traditional method to pass on information is to have children.  However, Sears is unable to have children.  Coming to terms with this apparently led him to the madness which drove him to kill Raiden’s real parents, adopt him, and send him into a war zone.

Following this revelation, Raiden receives a call from the faux-colonel.  He is perturbed because he believed the virus to have destroyed the AI that was simulating the colonel.  The colonel reveals that there are more AI’s than just the one housed aboard Arsenal Gear.  He is apparently now being simulated by a different AI.  It seems computers are not incapable of flowery rhetoric, so the faux-colonel precedes to explain what The Patriots are by appealing to various metaphors which aren’t actually substantive.  It then explains its actions.  It states that human cultures, memories, and ideas are contained in information and not genetic structures.  Social progress is a product of this information.  However, it feels a plenitude of information will slow social progress by preventing bad ideas from dying.  The information age allows anyone to write whatever they want, ignoring reason, and have their opinions and arguments represented in an easily accessible form, forever.  Therefore, it argues, censorship is necessary to maintain progress.

The faux-colonel proceeds to support the argument by pointing to various hypocrisies present in society, and also to a few it perceives to exist in Raiden.  This culminates in the colonel claiming that Raiden lacks the “qualifications to exercise free will”.  Following this, it explains to Raiden the reasons for the experiment.  It was not to produce a super-soldier, but to determine if people can be reliably controlled.  The colonel declares the experiment a “success” and issues Raiden one final order: kill Sears.  Raiden initially refuses, but is reminded that Olga’s daughter will die if he dies.  Rose will also die.

Sears reveals that he wants to kill Raiden to retrieve the list of names of The Patriots.  With the Arsenal Gear computers fried, he can no longer acess the list normally.  However, Raiden has been talking to a Patriot AI.  Through some mechanism not fully described, this means that Raiden’s nanomachines are the key to accessing the list.  With no way out and valuing his own life and the life of Olga’s daughter and Rose more than the life of Sears, the two begin to fight.

After a heated battle, Raiden delivers a sword blow to the spine of Sears.  Stumbling, he mumbles something inaudible before tumbling from the roof.  He lands by the base of the statue of George Washington, and appears to expire holding onto the pedestal.  Police rush to the scene, no doubt both motivated and perplexed after a gigantic battleship tore through New York and an ex-President in battle armor came crashing down from the sky.  Raiden makes his way down into the street and is met by Snake.  Snake admonishes him not to worry about the last words of the faux-colonel.  “Nobody quite knows who or what they are” he says “The memories you have and the role you were assigned are burdens you have to carry.  It doesn’t matter if they were real or not, that’s never the point”.  Continuing, Snake tells Raiden that absolute reality doesn’t exist.  Raiden then asks what he is supposed to believe in, if that is true.  Snake tells Raiden that it is up to him to find something and have faith in it.  It’s up to him to decide what’s worth living for.  He tells him that he recognizes he didn’t have many choices during the course of the faux-mission human experiment he was just subjected to, but that everything he thought about and felt during the mission belongs to him.  He has the power to do what he likes with those thoughts and feelings, and ultimately that power is his alone and no one elses; not even The Patriots.

Raiden responds nicely to this.  He throws away his dog tags, as they symbolize a person he doesn’t want to be.  He then states that Sears and Dead Cell taught him some good things, to which Snake responds that freedom is inherited from all who fight for it.  Remembering Olga’s child, Raiden brings up the subject.  Snake responds that he will track her down and rescue her.  The discussion then reverts back to issues still left over from earlier events.  Snake reveals that he put a tracking device on the Metal Gear system that Liquid Ocelot commandeered.  He also shows Raiden that he has the original disc containing the virus that was used to destroy Arsenal Gear’s computer system.  This disc presumably has the list of names of The Patriots, because it must define the parameters for the information it is programmed to destroy.  Raiden expresses interest in cooperating with Snake to track down the individual members of The Patriots, but Snake doesn’t want him to.  He would rather Raiden fixed his relationship with Rose, and he also wants to keep him out of harm’s way so that Olga’s child remains alive.

Raiden paces around aimlessly for a bit.  Suddenly, Rose arives.  Raiden asks her if she knows who he really is.  She says she doesn’t, but that they can find out together.  Raiden agrees.  Rose asks Raiden to see her for what she is, to which Raiden agrees.  Then Raiden remembers that April 30th was also the day that he and Rose first met.  The two laugh about it for a bit.  Raiden remembers that Rose is pregnant, and also what Sears said to him about children.  He tells Rose that he wants to find things worth believing in and pass them on to the child.

At this point the credits role.  Following the credits, we hear the voices of Snake and Otacon who are presumably back at the headquarters of their NGO.  They have analyzed the disc they recovered and found the list of names.  They’re all on Manhattan, and one of them is actually one of their organization’s biggest contributors.  Except; they all died.  Over 100 years ago.

1a. Single Sentence Synopsis (S3)

A shadow government coerces and tricks various people it doesn’t like into creating a dangerous circumstance, which if successfully managed by a person of their choosing will serve as experimental confirmation of the premise that human thought and behavior can be controlled.

1b. Supplementary plot function

The primary recontextualizations of the events of Metal Gear Solid 1 are found not within the game proper, but a text document included with the game titled In the Darkness of Shadow Moses.  This document is given to the player with the idea that it was written by Nastasha Romenenko, the staunchly anti-nuclear weapons analyst who served as support staff to Snake during the Shadow Moses incident.  In it, she presents the events of the game from her perspective.  In that capacity, In the Darkness of Shadow Moses adds a great deal to our understanding of the events of the first game, and it would be foolish to neglect it.  (A complete copy of the text can be found here.)

The key revelations are as follows.

  • Solid Snake was used by The Patriots

At the time of the Shadow Moses incident, Snake was retired and living in Alaska.  His recruitment was sold to him by putting Colonel Campbell, a close friend and old commanding officer, in nominal operational control.  Campbell himself was manipulated into taking the assignment.  His daughter was transferred to Shadow Moses island shortly before it was overtaken by terrorists.  Apparently, The Patriots had suspected that an incident was going to occur.  Most likely they were tipped off by Ocelot, who managed to gain the confidence of the leader of the insurrection, Liquid Snake.  (In fact, Ocelot was attached to the same unit.)

  • Nastasha Romenenko was coerced into helping Snake

In the first game, there is absolutely no indication of this.  In the Darkness of Shadow Moses reveals that Romenenko was pressured into the assignment by her ex-husband, DIA and Patriot agent Richard Ames.  He broke into her house and immediately began setting up communications equipment with the help of armed men.  Romenenko also accepted because the nature of the mission involved addressing a nuclear threat, and she had a strong personal interest in averting it.

  • The original proponent of Arsenal Gear was killed

This is not profoundly relevant to any plot issue in the first game, nonetheless it is touched upon.  His death prevented the project from getting funding and likely freed up the money which was used to develop the army’s Metal Gear Rex.  There are possibilities here which are tantalizing in scope, although the issue is too ambiguous to comment on.

  • Richard Ames slept with Naomi Hunter

This is about as trivial as it gets.  However at one point during the events of MGS2 proper, Raiden mentions Ames to Snake.  Snake appears to recognize the name.  This means there were at least two opportunities for Snake to have met or learned about Ames.  The first was through Nastasha, the second through Naomi.  Nastasha apparently became involved in the NGO group run by Snake and Otacon following the Shadow Moses incident.  It is also heavily insinuated that Snake broke Naomi out of a military prison following her arrest during the incident.  However, these are mere possibilities with no consequence towards existing canon.

  • Richard Ames betrayed The Patriots

At the end of In the Darkness of Shadow Moses, Ames gives Nastasha an optical disc containing sufficient data about the Shadow Moses incident and Fox-Die virus to guarentee her safety.  In fact, this is the information she uses to write the book.  This betrayal was not gone unnoticed, and there are fairly overt cues that The Patriots were unhappy about it.  Within MGS2 proper, Raiden mentions the book to the faux-colonel who responds vitriolically and derisively.  It is not difficult to see the death of Richard Ames as a political killing, regardless of what other role it may have served.

  • Liquid Snake intended to kill The Patriots

During the period after Metal Gear Rex was destroyed where Snake was knocked unconscious (and hence the explanation for it not being in MGS1), Liquid took the opportunity to speak to the radio staff.  He manages to guess that Snake is being manipulated by The Patriots, and takes the opportunity to relay a message to them: that he will kill them.  This is quite a revelation, as Liquid’s original motive was portrayed simply as a desire to create a plenitude of conflict so that “warriors” would always have something to do.  This combination of motives will later prove problematic for MGS4, and you can look forward to a heavier discussion of it in that article.

  • Jim Houseman was killed as part of a coverup of the incident

At the end of MGS1, the Defense Secretary Jim Houseman calls Snake and informs him that he is going to bomb the base into oblivion, destroying all evidence.  This will be passed off as an accidental detonation of a bomb after the careless actions of the terrorists.  However, the presence of bombers and an AWACs near the island could not be covered up.  Ames calls Houseman and tells him that The Patriots are unpleased with this course of action.  He is informed that he will be left to take the fall for his decision.  It will be passed off as an overreaction to a relatively minor threat, caused by a mental breakdown.  (In fact, this is also required to account for the presence of the nuclear submarine which delivered Snake to Shadow Moses in the waters near the island).  Houseman is told that he has two options: retire quietly or face execution.  Apparently he doesn’t take the first option.

Those are all of the implications of In the Darkness of Shadow Moses.  I will now examine the implications of various statements made by characters within MGS2 proper.

  • George Sears used Revolver Ocelot to provoke Liquid Snake into bringing about the Shadow Moses incident

It seems that Revolver Ocelot is everywhere, and in alliance with everyone.  In this capacity, he was trusted by both Liquid Snake and George Sears.  It is believed that at the time of the incident he was an agent for The Patriots.  If this is true, it makes it difficult to conceive of  a situation in which The Patriots would have been ignorant of the role Sears played in the terrorist plot.  However despite having his health “scheduled to fail him”, Sears managed to evade execution with the help of none other than Revolver Ocelot.  This is one of the least adequately explained plot details in Metal Gear Solid 2.

  • The Shadow Moses incident and Solid Snake’s triumph were both not in accordance with the plans of The Patriots

We already know that Solid Snake was selected by The Patriots for the Shadow Moses mission.  Given that, it seems spurious to claim that he was not intended to bring down Liquid Snake, a potential threat to the supremacy of The Patriots.  However, the original plan involved using Snake as a carrier to spread the custom engineered killing virus Fox-Die among the terrorists, thus bringing the situation to a speedy end.  When that is understood, it seems that it was not Solid Snake but rather Naomi Hunter who acted against the will of The Patriots.  It is also conceivable that Shadow Moses was not in the interest of The Patriots, but that they allowed Liquid Snake’s plot to go ahead because they felt the Fox-Die method of resolution to be their best bet.

Frank Yaeger, Naomi’s brother, also appears to have been there of his own accord.  Upon a cursory inspection, Snake does not appear to have done anything that was against the will of The Patriots other than survive, which technically wasn’t even his fault.  In the scene of the game where Otacon is speaking to Raiden about the incident, we hear the claim that The Patriots were unhappy about two more things.  The first was the revelation of the existence of Metal Gear Rex.  The second was the ascendence of Snake to status of legendary hero and cultural icon following public awareness of the incident.  Neither of these things were Snake’s fault, which makes the whole bit rather peculiar.

A complete re-examination of MGS1 with these facts in mind is beyond the scope of this article.  However due to the nature of the story of MGS2, a comparison of the two games will often be appropriate and therefore used.  In the cases where such a comparison occurs, I will do my best to make reference to these revelations.

2. Analysis

Much like MGS1, the principle issue of importance in MGS2 is agency.  This analysis is divided into three parts.  This first section will identify key sections of the plot which display significant relevance to the issue of agency.  The importance of addressing general didactic themes is lessened as the game does not contain many.  Just the same, several will also be touched upon.  The second section will delve into a discussion of characters who display attributes or behaviors which can be substantively discussed in reference to the overall themes of the game.  Lastly, the implications of many of the concepts presented in the work will be discussed and, when appropriate, argued against.

There is little which can be thoughtfully reflected upon until the second chapter of the game.  It would also be easy to misrepresent where the authorial voice rests by imbuing the dialog of certain characters with precedence.  For that reason I had intended to keep character analysis separate from primary analysis.  However upon reflection, it seems that the story is almost entirely character driven.  Therefore I will use this section to mark the issues which I will touch upon within a discussion of each character, then provide a very general overview of recurrent concepts.  The permitting distinction will be that the recurrent concepts touched upon in this section will have been expressed by multiple subjects who are not in complete agreement.  Presumably this increases the likelihood that a thought process represents the authorial voice.

The character analysis section will include a discussion of:

  • Olga’s sense of personal meaning
  • Raiden’s VR training
  • Raiden’s sense of personal meaning
  • Sergei Gurlukovich’s nationalism
  • Rose’s relationship to Raiden
  • Rose’s sense of personal meaning
  • Peter Stillman’s relationship to Fatman
  • Peter Stillman’s personal sense of meaning
  • Fatman’s sense of personal meaning
  • Fortune’s sense of personal meaning
  • Emma Emmerich’s sense of personal meaning
  • Otacon’s sense of personal meaning
  • Snake’s sense of personal meaning
  • Ocelot’s apparent possession by Liquid Snake
  • George Sears arguments on liberty
  • George Sears sense of personal meaning
  • Patriots arguments on liberty
  • Patriots arguments on nature of personal meaning

The issues which are recurrent enough to warrant a discussion in this section are the nature of reality, the nature of truth, and the existence of free will. In many cases these are presented as interdependent. When it comes time to address the themes of the game, this will receive much interest. For now I will attempt to examine the subjects independently.

  • The nature of reality

This subject is touched upon by Snake, Raiden, and Sears.  Therefore it feels appropriate to assume it is a general theme which belongs to the story proper, and not simply to the intellect of any given character.  The first round of discussion centers around Raiden’s VR training.  He tells the faux-colonel that this training has made him feel like some sort of legendary mercenary.  Later, Snake chastises him for his training regiment, calling him a virtual grunt of the digital age and claiming that VR training desensitizes its subjects to the realities of war.  He is particularly adamant about the difference in consequences.  A few soldiers die each year in live training exercises, and permanent injuries also occur.  In contrast, VR training only simulates pain; and what’s more the subject is aware of the difference, which detaches them even further from an accurate sense of the consequences of real-life conflict.

Later in the game when Raiden is being interrogated by Solidus, the issue of his past as a child soldier is examined.  He mentions “image training”, the use of hollywood action movies to condition these children into killing machines.  Just prior to Raiden’s battle with the production model Marine Corps Metal Gear units, Sears admonishes Raiden by telling him that he has been led back to war by something less than real.  Finally, the game concludes with a speech by Snake in which he tells Raiden that there is no such thing as absolute reality.  (Snake also tells Raiden not to worry about words, but to find the meaning behind them.  For the sake of attempting to interpret a consistent message from the game, we will have to try and do the same.)

  • The nature of truth

This theme extends even into the first chapter.  It is very pervasive throughout the game, and is supported in a very general sense by repeated revelations that commanding officers have given the protagonists disinformation.  In a sense MGS2 simply takes existing tropes from thrillers, noir and espionage stories and amplifies them until they take on a more abstract level of importance.  It is not simply the protagonists who have been mislead, but also the antagonists, the general public, and all of the minor supporting characters.  It is through this extrapolation that otherwise innocuous plot twists take on the character of a philosophical message.

However, the game is more specific in how it approaches the issue.  This subject is discussed by Snake, Raiden, Rose, The Patriots and Emma Emmerich.  In one of the numerous instances when Raiden talked to Snake about himself, Snake gave a pejorative description of the concept of a legend.  This was prior to Raiden’s realization that Snake was himself; the protagonist of Shadow Moses; and not Plisken.  Snake explained that a legend is “nothing but a story” and elaborated by saying that there was not much difference between a hero and a madman.  Raiden at one point screams that the conflict he is witnessing feels like a bad dream he can’t wake up from, which is made all the more precious since a Navy Seal earlier said the exact same thing.  When Emma Emmerich reveals that Arsenal Gear’s computer system was designed to aid in the censorship of information, Raiden responds incredulously.  Emma then argues that it is inevitable that people will simply believe what is told to them.

When Rose calls Raiden to tell him she was assigned to monitor him and that their companionship was not incidental, a sizeable chunk of dialog is exchanged.  Rose explains that she changed her appearence and behavior in order to appeal to Raiden.  Whenever he expressed love for her, she felt pained because she viewed what she was doing as a lie.  Raiden responds to this with sadistic glee by telling her he is glad; at least this way there was reciprocity in the untruth.  “I was trying to be someone I wasn’t by loving what wasn’t real”, he states.  Later when he learns that his orders have come from an AI rather than a flesh and blood colonel, he begins to question the truth of his life in a general sense, and not just the truth of the statements related to the mission.  There is the final dialog between Raiden and the AI, the voice of The Patriots.  Then there are the admonitions given by Snake at the game’s conclusion.

The manner in which this game handles the subject of truth is decisively different from any scientifically minded approach.  Ultimately the issues of importance belong to the characters, not the events of the game.  The form of truth under examination is fundamentally human meaning.  In other words, this game lends itself more forgivingly to an existential examination than a materialistic examination. (Unfortunately, I am not forgiving in matters of philosophy.)  Since it is given at this point that the game is being treated as an apology, the argument given by the story about truth can be classified as epistemic nihilism.  The issue of importance in human relationships is opacity, and the issue of importance in the examination of truth is human meaning.  No examination of ontology is conducted, because the game firmly rebukes the use of any tools which could serve to analyze it.  This produces curious consequences for the significance of the first examination; the nature of reality.  It ceases to be in any literal sense what it is portrayed as.  Look forward to a closer examination of this.

  • The existence of free will

This subject is addressed in less depth than any of the other major subjects present in the game.  I include it principally because of a deep-seated belief in the significance of the issue.  The characters who present it are Snake, The Patriots, Ocelot, and President Johnson.  The existence of Liquid Snake as an entity who controls Ocelot is also a matter of great importance here, in much the same capacity as Psycho Mantis was within the context of MGS1.

In a way, the most prevalent confusion in the interpretation of this story is generated from a single misunderstanding about the presentation of this issue.  There is a clear demarcation in opinions.  On the one hand are The Patriots, who argue that Raiden’s performance during the experiment establishes his lack of free will.  On the other is Snake who tells him not to worry about it, and that humans are the masters of their own destiny.  Blending the two perspectives and attempting to cast them both as representative of the authorial voice leads to a rather brutal series of contradictions.  This approach can be used to reinforce the nihilistic tones of the game and stretch them well past the point of good faith.  Placing the authorial voice squarely with The Patriots produces a similar effect, although it does so without contradiction.

Ocelot mostly only repeats the information he has been given as an agent of The Patriots.  In this capacity he presents little.  Instead, it is through his possession by Liquid Snake that he serves as a case study of sorts into the general ontology of the game world and the issue of whether or not it precludes free will.  It is worth noting the difficulties of such an examination given the presentation of the game.  The issue is too important to neglect, however.  Since this falls under the rubrik of character analysis, it will be addressed there.

Lastly President Johnson.  He has but a single line of interest, but is it ever of interest.  “Without free will, there is no difference between submission and rebellion”.  These words are spoken by Johnson as he lays dying.  If a person chooses to extract the epistemic nihilism of the story into ontological nihilism, it is possible for them to simply dismiss this claim as meaningless.  In point of fact it may be the most important line in the entire game.  If you assume it to be true (as I do), then it literally sets the player up for the later war of perspectives between Snake and The Patriots.  In other words, given the truth of the statement it functions as a very direct signal to the gamer of the two possible interpretations not just of the game, but of the fundamental reality of human existence.  Namely: existentialism, and unfettered nihilism.

2a. Character analysis

Now that the general themes have been handled, the individual characters will be examined more closely.  I have my own ideas about where the authorial voice lies, but just the same each character seems to have something to them which can be interpreted meaningfully.

  • Olga Gurlukovich

First appearing on the marine tanker, Olga Gurlukovich is a fairly interesting sort.  While fighting Snake, she tells him that she associates the entire significance of her life with her career as a soldier.  The only people she considers important in life are her comrades in arms, and everything they experience is shared.  Throughout the story she continues to display the same degree of camaraderie with her family and her unit.  This takes the form of a thirst for revenge in the second chapter of the game.  However, Olga is more dynamic than this initial front leads us to believe.

The first inkling we get of a change in Olga’s behavior is when she speaks with George Sears over the radio.  She tells him that after the conclusion of the mission, she and her men will return to Russia and start living for themselves.  This is a significant departure from how she appeared originally.  The driving ideology behind the Gurlukovich unit is seen best in Sergei and not Olga.  It was a desire to rebuild Russia in the image of the Soviet Union.  While Olga defies her father at the beginning of the game, it is worth noting that this is in order to stay behind and continue fighting for the cause!  To see her bluntly casting aside ideology (“The world is a different place now”) and her life as a soldier gives us an insight into great changes in her character.

Ultimately however, we learn that she sold out her men in order to protect her daughter.  This harms any degree of certainty we could have about her motives.  It could be that various bits of dialog were intended as part of the simulation and hence were disingenuous.  This seems like a bit of a stretch to me though.  I am inclined to believe that her transformation was genuine, and that her interest in her daughter is actually in sync with this.  Her daughter is the first Gurlukovich not touched by war.  She is a blank slate, so to speak.  In trying to think of what Olga wanted for her daughter, I believe she was forced to evaluate the ideology that drove her unit.  Ultimately she found it wanting.  Thus she wants both her daughter and her men to be able to find a life without war.  The conflict of emotions she feels over having to harm some of her men in order to save her child stems from the sense of camaraderie she has carried with her since the very beginning of the story.

  • Sergei Gurlukovich

A hard-line nationalist, Sergei is a man with a vision of rebuilding Mother Russia.  As the leader of a former Russian special forces unit turned mercenary, he has very particular ideas about how to go about doing so.  Principally, he believes the strength of the Russian military will dictate the success or failure of the state.  During the events of MGS1, he had intended to collude with Liquid Snake to make use of Metal Gear Rex for this purpose.  Unbeknowst to him, Liquid Snake was planning on betraying him, but the destruction of Metal Gear Rex and the death of Liquid Snake precluded this from becoming an issue for him.

The fine details of his ideas about how to achieve his goal are left unspoken.  They will not receive a discussion here.  However, it is made very clear that he felt the collapse of the soviet state to have resulted in capitalistic exploitation.  When marine commandant Scott Dolph asks him why he is hijacking their Metal Gear system, Sergei rattles off a particularly vitriolic account of Chelyabinsk 70’s history following the end of the cold war.  It was “bought out by the Americans.  […] Land, friends, [and] dignity all sold to the highest bidder”.  Despite his hatred towards the United States, he asks his daughter Olga to leave the tanker mission to him and start a new life there.  He even goes so far as to call it a land of liberty.  It is curious that such a devoted ideologue would behave in such a fashion.  Not much can inferred from this except that he cared for his daughter; and that her changes in character throughout the game brought her closer to following his wishes, not further away.

  • Rose

In perhaps the most complicated role of any of the characters, the mere presence of Rose within the experiment offers much insight into other characters; namely, Raiden and The Patriots.   Her assignment to the mission was sprung on Raiden at the last minute, with very little being given in the way of explanation.  What is given as explanation is extremely peculiar.  The faux-colonel explains that Shadow Moses taught them “…the power of the operative’s will to survive.”  Rose is there because Raiden values her.  That this value belongs to Raiden, as opposed to his mission objectives which are values brought into existence by The Patriots, is absolutely critical.  In a sense, Rose is simply that which Raiden values.

However as time goes on she begins to feel extremely troubled by this role.  Raiden and Rose began seeing each other after Rose was assigned to watch him.  She changed her hair, clothes, and manners of speech to suit his tastes in order to do so.  Her love for him became real though.  Throughout the course of the mission, she continually references the date of April 30th: that was the day the two met.  She wants him to remember the anniversary on his own so that she feels there is some real connection between the two of them, rooted in a value that belongs to him and not just a lie that she produces and he readily consumes in the absence of his own values.

Also interesting is her refusal to call him by his code name, Raiden.  Instead she constantly refers to him as Jack.  She does so despite the repeated insistence of the colonel that she call him by his code name.  In fact, Jack himself prefers to be called Raiden.  This will prove to be of interest in our exploration of him.  Rose is told at the beginning of the game that she does not have to follow the colonels orders outside of her immediate duties.  While this could be a lie (and hence compromise the certainty we have in an analysis of her character), it seems prudent to accept it as truth.  In a rather peculiar sense, it appears that her primary mission duty was simply to continue presenting herself to Raiden as she always had.

Ultimately this leads to a rather extreme cynicism on her part, wherein she hates Raiden for the form of their relationship.  At one point Raiden attempts to compliment her by saying “I guess women really are strong” to which she responds “It’s not women that are strong — it’s me”.  This thread continues until the end of the game, when Rose chimes in along with the faux-colonel to mock Raiden for his behavior.  It’s at this point that we see the real peculiarity; she wanted him to value her, and so did The Patriots.  However, The Patriots thought this would function as part of their larger confirmation that human beings lack free will.  This duality of interpretation will prove to have extremely important implications for the game.

  • Raiden

Ah yes, the main character.  Also the central figure in the grand experiment which is designed to answer the question of whether or not human beings have free will.  Quite a burden if you think about it.  Therefore it is unsurprising that an inspection of his character would tend itself to revolve around this question.  When he is first introduced we are given to believe that he is a rookie, unseasoned in war.  His training for the mission consisted of an intensive VR regiment.  Prior to that he was a soldier in the army’s Force XXI trials.  This is in fact not his only experience, but for the moment we will play with it.

While the game seems to be insistent to the contrary, it isn’t readily possible to accuse Raiden of not living in reality (In fact such an accusation doesn’t even seem to make sense.  This will be discussed in the appropriate section).  What is worth noting is that even at the beginning, we are presented with a Raiden who exists independently of consequences.  When Raiden tells the faux-colonel that his VR training has made him feel like some sort of legendary mercenary, this is an attempt to attribute experience to himself that was attained without cost; through simulation; and without the possibility of any consequence for failure.  Without any lasting consequence at all, for that matter, outside of that which Raiden makes for himself of the experience.  Except that with this statement from him, we see that he is not treating his experience as merely training.  He is treating it as a statement of his character.

Therefore the issue appears to be not so much reality, but authenticity.  This is reinforced by the nature of the expiriment.  Raiden is routinely given orders in the exact same words as Snake was during the Shadow Moses incident.  While we could simply treat this as a creative failure on the part of Kojima, I don’t feel that would be appropriate.  It is much too deliberate.  As Raiden matures over time, we learn of two issues of importance: his past as a child soldier, and his relationship with Rose.  The former is something he tried to conceal from others.  He wanted to live life without having to acknowledge his past, especially in the sight of others.  He wanted to exist only in the capacity he chose, without having to account for how others viewed him.  In doing all this, he was attemting to reject the notion that the world could have consequences on him.

Therefore the truth that Raiden conceals from Rose is also a truth he conceals from himself.  He is attempting to feel omnipotent by denying the consequences of the world on him, while overemphasizing the consequences his character holds for the world.  Except, the second part of this leads to problems when Raiden encounters situations he can’t change.  When Raiden learns at various points in the game that he has been duped, he immediately ceases taking responsibility for his actions.  “Wherever I go, I get used” he tells Rose when she breaks the news that she is a spy.  “Sometimes it’s hard to tell the difference between reality and a game” he says to Snake.  The result is a quintessential hypocrisy, one which The Patriots are more than happy to point out in the final act of the game.

So pervasive is this hypocrisy that we see both sides of it played out simultaneously throughout the game.  Upon being told by the Colonel that the passageway to Emma Emmerich is flooded, Raiden bluntly states that he’s fine with swimming.  Seconds later when Snake calls him, he reports his situation as “wet and miserable”.  In fact, Snake has quite a deal of significance to Raiden.  You may recall that the reason given for the presence of Rose was to foster “…the power of the operative’s will to survive”.  She was there because The Patriots thought she would remind him of his values, and hence his reason for living.  You may also recall that Snake was not supposed to be involved with the experiment.  At various points throughout the game, Raiden enters discussions with Snake about his values.  In fact there is some considerable question over whether Raiden’s “will to survive” was fostered more by Rose or by Snake.

Consider quotes like these:

I look back on what I’ve done here so far and things like training and sense of duty alone won’t get you through a sneaking mission like this.  You need something — higher. I can’t think of the right word, but…  it has to be pure will, backed up by — by courage, or ideals, or something like that.  I’d stake my life on it.  The Solid Snake that saved Shadow Moses couldn’t turn into a terrorist.”

With quotes like these, it is clear to see that Raiden holds Snake in very high regard and even appears to gain a new sense of motivation for the mission.  In contrast he largely ignores Rose, failing to remember even their anniversary despite frequent prodding from her.  Near the end of the game we learn that he didn’t even know who she was.  Raiden’s relationship with Rose was troubled because he was living life dishonestly.  He wasn’t willing to acknowledge the impact that the world had on him, let alone share it with others for he would then risk starting to exist in a different light to them.  He also wasn’t willing to commit to his values.  When Solid Snake appears Raiden witnesses someone who does all of those things.  He begins to idolize him, although Snake repeatedly tells him that he isn’t a hero.  Snake has a much more exact sense of how much his actions really say about his character; nothing, or close to it at least.  This is especially significant because Snake has existed with consequences for some time before he met Raiden.  Nevermind that though, it will be examined more closely when we discuss Snake.

The main questions about Raiden’s significance aren’t pondered over by him though.  They are put to him by others, namely Snake and The Patriots.  These two entities present him with arguments that are in diametric opposition.  Pay attention to this because it is important.  The nature of Raiden’s character and the message of Metal Gear Solid 2 depend entirely on this one question: who is right?

  • Snake

(Once again I would suggest cycling to the bottom of my MGS1 pre-analysis notes and reading Supergourkizard’s character analysis of Snake as it is very informative.  You may also want to read my own Metal Gear Solid 1 analysis.)

After the events of Shadow Moses, Snake and Otacon formed a non-profit organization devoted to the eradication of Metal Gear technology.  This mission took them aboard a USMC tanker in order to obtain photographic proof of a new weapons program, although the information given to them about it was bait.  By all accounts The Patriots had intended to frame Snake for the sinking of an oil tanker and then kill him.  He managed to survive, however, and later made an appearance as an unscheduled interloper in their experiment with Raiden.

What is interesting about his encroachment is that the experiment was designed based on events he himself experienced.  While much could be said of all the analogues between Shadow Moses and the experiment, nothing much would be resolved by doing so.  A person could identify every similarity between the first and second game and still not “get” MGS2.  In fact, this error is present in the compound collection of misunderstandings comprising most interpretations of the game.  Instead I will point out a similarity that was not designed by The Patriots.  At the very least, there is no evidence to assume that it is.

Snake is to Raiden what Grey Fox was to Snake; a wiser figure who has given thought to how to live life honestly as a soldier, and who passes it down to the latter of each pair in a way that leads them to question and begin to understand their own lives .  Given the nature of the experiment which Raiden participated in, The Patriots had already chosen an analogue for Grey Fox; Olga Gurlukovich.  Indeed her death is met by sadness in much the same fashion as Fox’s death was met by Snake (although perhaps less energetically).  Nonetheless Olga did not pass on any information to Raiden about how to live life.  Snake did.  So if it was really necessary for “…the power of the operative’s will to survive” to surpass the level provided merely by training and a sense of duty, it appears Snake served as a catalyst for this change in Raiden.

In other words, Snake may be the only reason for the apparent success of The Patriots experiment.  They incorrectly gauged the significance of Rose, and Olga did not appear to have any profound effect on Raiden’s ideas about life.  It is also worth noting that Grey Fox was present during the Shadow Moses incident entirely because of his own values, and in spite of the best laid plans of The Patriots for that round of action.  This admittedly opens up the rather insidious possibility that Snake was intended to be involved in the experiment.  The lack of one-to-one correspondence between the Shadow Moses incident and the expiriment make it difficult to tell.  Indeed, Gray Fox was supposed to be dead in much the same capacity as Snake.  So even here, the story of the game is not sufficient to determine that either Snake or The Patriots are correct.

Given that this issue cannot be resolved, I’ll turn to another.  What are the sorts of arguments Snake makes?  He claims that his existence as “a legend” is a fiction; this is simply the way people chose to view him, and not actually him.  It is their own imposition of beliefs and values on his figure.  He explains to Raiden that Grey Fox taught him to fight for his own values, and recounts the defects in his own character prior to the Shadow Moses incident.  He argues that people have a responsibility to the world and to future generations.  An in-depth inspection of these claims would reveal that they are, much like those given in MGS1, somewhat impure conceptions about human existence.  They are not strictly speaking invalid though.

Certainly there is a common thread here.  Snake lives with consequences, Raiden does not.  Snake fights for values, Raiden fights because of orders.  Snake recognizes that he has choices for the future regardless of his past, Raiden constantly refers to himself as if his existence is static.  Gradually, Snake mentors Raiden until at the conclusion of the mission, Raiden is making attempts to live in a more honest capacity.

What does Snake say at the conclusion of the game?  Well to be honest, I’m starting to tire of simply repeating sections of the game.  Therefore I would request that you simply watch this clip from 8:15 to the conclusion.  Then, watch the first four minutes of the video I have embedded.

Some of this video will inspire later yelling from me.  However at present, it is sufficient to end by simply noting that the relationship Raiden had with his code name throughout the experiment is much the same as the relationship Snake had with his code name throughout the events of Shadow Moses.  It was a symbol of his willingness to fight without asking questions or acting out of his own conviction.  However Raiden also outgrew an even worse relationship with his name.  You may recall that at the beginning of the game he preferred his code name to his birth name, Jack.  Raiden liked being a pawn, because it made life easy and made it seem like it had a fixed meaning.  Therefore when he throws away his dog tags, this carries a much stronger symbolism than when Snake simply told another person his real name (David).  Perhaps the strength of this gesture is amplified, in narrative terms, by its particular relevance in american cultural history; especially anti-war movements.

  • The Patriots

The most mysterious of all entities in the MGS universe, this group is portrayed in MGS2 as a secret cabbal that runs the world from behind the scenes.  Their nature is significantly elaborated upon within the story of the later games.  For now I will simply treat them as they appear within MGS2.  Most of our knowledge of them is given to us second hand.  Ocelot, Snake, Otacon, Rose, Emma Emmerich, George Sears, President Johnson, Olga, and the members of Dead Cell all tell us something about this organization.  Then there is the dialog presented by The Patriots themselves, through the AI Colonel.  Much of this serves to confirm what was already told to us by other sources.

Through Snake we learn that The Patriots were responsible for the sinking of the marine corps tanker, and also for his portrayal in public as a terrorist who sank an oil tanker.  Through Emma Emmerich we learn that The Patriots were responsible for the development of Arsenal Gear, and learn of its utility in information censorship and social control.  Through Ocelot and Sears we learn that Raiden was subjected to an experiment by The Patriots which was designed to test their hypotheses about behavioral control.  Through Johnson we learn that The Patriots have had effective control over all existing government and economic infrastructure for some time.  Through Olga we learn that The Patriots kidnap children, and through both Dead Cell and Snake we learn that they frame people for terrorism, and also kill parents and husbands just to manipulate people more effectively.

It is safe to say that The Patriots are the bad guys.  Yet, this sentiment goes largely unexpressed throughout the game and there is at least one person, President Johnson, who feels they are valuable to society.  Rose also collaborates and even expresses many of the same opinions as the AI colonel about the role of The Patriots and their social utility.  It is difficult to read any motivations into her character beyond those expressed already, so her speech on the subject will only here be used for an examination of The Patriots.

So what is the value presented to society, and why does anyone think it justifies murder, theft, kidnapping, and coercion?  President Johnson believed it was simply an issue of preventing the chaos of a collapsed state.  However the issue runs much deeper, and ultimately we need to look at what was said by The Patriots themselves through the AI Colonel.  The primary argument the AI colonel gives for the utility of The Patriots is that they are necessary to maintain progress.  It states that human cultures, memories, and ideas are contained in information and not genetic structures, and social progress is a product of this information.  It also thinks that a plenitude of information will slow social progress by preventing bad ideas from dying.

The most immediately telling attribute of this argument is that it does not address the conduct of The Patriots prior to the development of Arsenal Gear.  From MGS2 and its associated documents we know that The Patriots were active for some unspecified period of time prior to Shadow Moses.  During this period what was their function?  They acted to protect their own interests during the Shadow Moses incident, but truthfully we can tell little else about their motives.  Certainly there is no immediate evidence that they conducted any large scale information censorship, and given the nature of the Raiden experiment it seems they would have lacked sufficient technical knowledge to do so.  From this information we are presented with a group or entity which completely commanded all existing government and economic infrastructure from behind the scenes, making heavy use of coercive tactics, and doing so for an unknown motive which is evidently other than the one stated at the conclusion of the Raiden experiment.

Therefore without the profoundly vague and generic appeal to social necessity given by President Johnson, there is absolutely no justification for the actions of The Patriots prior to the completion of the experiment.  The weakness of Johnson’s argument will be addressed in the response section.  For now I will focus more closely on the argument given by the AI colonel.

It is stated that problematic information is preserved in the digital age.  For the moment I will ignore issues pertaining to a lack of clear criteria for distinguishing problematic from unproblematic information.  Suffice it to say for the time being that rumors, misinformation and slander are non-issues within the context of epistemic nihilism.  This is not to say that they don’t exist, but rather to say that there is no potential available to discern them from their counterparts.  If that is the case though, and if MGS2 unflichingly carries this philosophical tone, then what could a censorship program possibly hope to achieve?

One big clue comes attached to the AI Colonel’s claim that information is not being censored but actually contextualized.  When Raiden reacts quizically to this claim, the AI Colonel elaborates by giving examples of logical inconsistencies within people’s own value systems.  I will ignore for the time being the possibility of these examples being insufficient.  What is noteworthy about this branch of argument is that it is ultimately concerned not with material truths, but with values and the character of those who create them.  Therefore we once again diverge unilaterally from issues of reality and find ourselves discussing authenticity.  The nature of Raiden’s relationship with Rose is a prime example of this.  It is argued that Raiden has a shortcoming of character for not seeing Rose as she sees herself.  Why it is proper for him to do this, but not for Rose to see Raiden as he views himself (i.e. outside the context of his past as a child soldier) is never explicitly stated.  However there is strong implicit argument here: Rose was representing herself in opposition to how she viewed herself, and ultimately so was Raiden.  He never stopped remembering his past as a child soldier although he chose not to share it.  Therefore Raiden’s recognition of Rose and Rose’s recognition of Raiden are ultimately portrayed as two instances of the same phenomenon.

The opposing phenomenon in this case; hypocrisy and inauthenticity; is extrapolated to the general populace.  Therefore what The Patriots are really arguing is that they are necessary to make people whole.  Speaking in her capacity as collaborater, Rose issues this statement: “Building a legacy involves figuring out what is wanted, and what needs to be done for that goal.  All this, you used to struggle with. Now, we think for you”.  The Patriots are in all possible senses of the word, Fascists.  Their heavy use of coercive tactics makes them Fascistic by means of consequence, and their ideological commitments make them Fascistic in spirit; they seek to take the maxim “everything inside the state, nothing outside the state” and extrapolate it to its greatest potential.  They want even human will and consciousness reduced to mere products of the establishment.

Of course, all of this presupposes values.  Truthfully it concerns itself with nothing else.  So when the existence of free will is proposed by Snake in contradiction to these arguments, it is not treated in any sense as the foundation for values or the condition which makes them possible.  Instead it is simply treated like an alternate, non-fascistic possibility for restoring authenticity to being.

I have done my best to present this issue as neutrally as possible.  When the time comes it will likely be the one which I address most fiercely.

  • George Sears

George Sears is an interesting character.  Some have gone so far as to call him the unsung hero of the story.  He served as President during the Shadow Moses incident, a position he was appointed to by The Patriots.  This favoritism was shown to him because of his nature; he is one of three clones of the legendary soldier Big Boss, the other two being Solid Snake and Liquid Snake.  Although that alone does not explain his rise to (nominal) power, it is not until MGS4 that anything specific is said on the subject.  I will therefore ignore it for the time being.

We also know that he was largely responsible for the Shadow Moses incident and that he killed Raiden’s parents, adopted him, and trained him to be a child soldier.  The first part was discussed already in section 1b.  I will now address the second.  In order to understand his motivations for doing so, we must first listen to the arguments he gives about his own personal sense of meaning.  These arguments are given to Raiden prior to their final battle.

Solidus begins with a fairly obvious statement to the effect that all life is finite.  Therefore, he argues, life is a grace period for passing on genetic material. With this statement hovering in the air, it appears he considers genes to be the substrate for values.  He explains that as a clone he lacks the ability to reproduce.  He then wonders to Raiden what his legacy would be if he cannot have children; how will he leave behind evidence of his existence?  Ultimately he comes to the conclusion that child rearing does not simply involve passing on genes.  It also involves passing on information.  Therefore information exists as a substrate for values.

With all this in mind, it is easy to see what Sears hoped to accomplish by adopting Raiden.  As a clone of a soldier who was created by the government to serve military interests, he lived his life in the capacity of a soldier up until his transition to politics.  His identity then is seen to be very closely tied to his career.  Therefore the values he sought to pass onward were, for lack of a better term the values of a soldier.  Sears viewed himself in this capacity, therefore he sought to pass on proof of his existence in this capacity.  That’s what Raiden was to him; a blank slate on which to impose his own values, and achieve immortality.

However, Sears makes another claim of interest.  He states that he adopted Raiden because he wanted to know if people were really the creation of other people.  In his capacity as a clone, he wondered if his own values weren’t simply values imposed on him through genetic predisposition.  Seeing information as an alternative substrate for values, he did his best to impose values upon Raiden.  He wanted to discover the precise extent to which he could shape another person.  Therefore the relationship of Big Boss to Sears and the relationship of Sears to Raiden actually all share something in common with the relationship Raiden has attempted to avoid with Rose; namely, existing in some capacity dictated by others.

Why then are the three Snake’s attempts to escape this form of existence portrayed as noble, while Raiden’s attempts to escape his own past are portrayed as ignoble?  Once again it seems we have uncovered a hidden notion of authenticity.  Solid Snake, Liquid Snake, and George Sears exist as soldiers throughout the course of the entire series.  They fight for what they believe are their own values, and simply wish to be able to conceive of these values as belonging solely to them.  Their genetic past and in some cases their subservience to their commanders hang over them as an oppressive threat, one which would seemingly negate the significance of their choices.  Conversely, Raiden attempts to deny what he is.  He doesn’t try to claim his sense of meaning for his own, but instead simply denies that it is his at all.  (That such a portrait of people is problematic will be addressed in the appropriate section.)

We therefore understand what Sears thinks of his own meaning.  It is now prudent to inspect his conceptions of liberty.  He speaks in fairly broad strokes, arguing in favor of freedom, civil rights, and opportunities.  It is not necessary to speak of these things except to characterize them all as lacks.  Freedom and opportunity are the lack of restriction and oppression.  Civil rights are the lack of government intervention in whatever specific area is conceptualized as a right.  So an example of a civil right to property would be the fourth ammendment, which precludes unreasonable search and seizure.  With this is mind, it does not appear that Sears presents any immediate ideological argument against The Patriots; until you re-examine his arguments about personal meaning.

Thus we come full circle.  Sears is opposed to oppression because it precludes him from attaining his personal sense of immortality.  With The Patriots taking actions to not only censor information but control human will and consciousness, it is impossible for Sears or indeed anyone to imprint their values upon the world.  In the first place the substrate of information is now monopolized.  In the second, oppression becomes unilateral.  If The Patriots can impose their values on people with perfect efficiency, then it superficially appears to be the case that purely personal values are impossible.

  • Otacon

Another survivor of the Shadow Moses incident, Otacon’s character is much the same as it was in MGS1.  He serves to embody Oppenheimerian angst.  I have expressed my feelings on this subject in my inspection of MGS1, although I will touch on them again when I reach my response.  The bulk of this sentiment comes racing to the surface during his conversations with his step-sister, Emma Emmerich.  However, through these interactions we also learn more about how Otacon views himself.  He does not exist purely as a scientist.  We get to learn about his past.

Our initial revelations about him unsurprisingly come from Emma Emmerich.  When Raiden prepares to extract her from the flooded section of the plant, we get to learn about her fear of water and what caused it.  She nearly drowned in a pool when she was young. She and her father were involved in what seemed like a pool accident.  In reality, it was a (succesful) suicide attempt.  At the time her step-brother, Otacon (Hal Emmerich), was in his room preoccupied.  Emma apparently never learned why he was preoccupied, although it is heavily insinuated that he was busy having an affair with his stepmother.  The existence of the affair is ultimately revealed by Otacon himself after the death of Emma, and is fully replete with utterances of “It’s all my fault”; a statement which is practically Otacon’s motto.

After the pool incident, Otacon left his family behind and set out to live independently.  What does this say about his character?  First of all, it reveals that he sought to escape being viewed by someone else in light of the details of his actions.  However the issues underscoring and arising from this escape attempt are significantly more complex than those of our main character, Raiden.  To begin with Otacon’s sense of personal responsibility and meaning stems from a recognition of his own actions rather than a denial of them.  He understands that he is responsible for his fathers suicide and the near drowning of his step-sister.  Whether or not it is factually correct that he is responsible is not an issue to be addressed here.  For purposes of understanding him we need only understand him in his own terms.

With that in mind, what is it that he is truly trying to escape?  The answer is as obvious as it is morose.  He is trying to escape from the love of his sister.  Since he recognizes himself as responsible for her suffering, he views himself as being unfit for the relationship.  More specifically, he no longer thinks that the love his sister displays to him is compatible with his existence.  He cannot value it because he does not feel that it is truthful to him.  Indeed, Emma continues to love him in ignorance; even after he leaves her.  With the death of Emma, Otacon must come to terms with the fact that by not allowing Emma to share in his own sense of personal meaning, he allowed a lie to continue.  It was not a lie perpetrated by him, but it was permitted by him.  Whereas Raiden fled from himself, Otacon fled from his sister and from every possibility she offered him.

After witnessing the death of his sister and suffering a nervous breakdown of sorts, Otacon enters a monologue which is ostensibly aimed at the player.  He explains that both Emma and himself wanted to be loved and waited for people to love them.  However, he also explains that a person can’t actually do this.  They have to go out and find love.  So once again, Otacon blames himself for not acting in tandem with his values.

The aspects of his character which pertain to his existence as a scientist are much less interesting than those which pertain to his relationship with his sister.  For the most part they are simply a retread from MGS1.  However there is a curiosity which I ignored in my inspection of MGS1.  It gains more importance here solely because of Emma Emmerich.  Namely, it is the history Otacon’s family has with weapons development.  When Emma reveals that she has been working on the Arsenal Gear program, Otacon chastizes her for adding “another dark page to our family’s history”.  Given the nature of the underlying themes of the work, it is simple enough to interpret this as a statement to the effect that genes comprise an element of facticity.  More importantly however, it reveals a desire on the part of Otacon to not be limited by his circumstances.  If weapons development is an inevitability for the Emmerich family, this forces Otacon to exist in a capacity he would prefer not to.

  • Emma Emmerich

What is there to say about Emma that could not be gleaned simply from our inspection of Otacon?  Within the core cinematic elements of the game there is virtually nothing.  Unfortunately this is an issue unique to games.  It seems the most significant dialog for our purposes here is completely optional.  For that reason I will make heavy use of direct quotation.

Conversation one:

Otacon: Why did you get involved in weapons development?  A lot of people will get hurt… even more will die!  I’m talking about the destruction of homes and cities… radioactive contamination for years to come.  You of all people should know the horror of nuclear weapons!  You know about our family’s dark history! Why, E.E.? Why!?

Emma:  You left me… you made my life a living hell!

Otacon: I didn’t have a choice!

Emma: Don’t lie to me! The pool… you could never look me in the eye after the accident!  You took the easy way out, so you wouldn’t have to face me!  That way, you could avoid responsibility every day…  You ran… you ran away so you wouldn’t have to face the pain!

Otacon: No… that’s not why I left…

Emma:  You left me and took the easy way out…

Otacon: That’s not true. I left the house because…

Emma: You’re a criminal! Just like me!

A little bit of context is needed here.  Much of what was said in this conversation serves only to express concepts already touched upon in our inspection of Otacon.  However, with this last sentence we arrive at something novel.  So what does Emma mean when she calls Otacon a criminal, and what does she mean when she calls herself a criminal?  This conversation continues briefly, during which time we learn that Otacon has engaged in the hacking of various computer systems.  However without using the codec to trigger several other conversations, we would not know enough about Emma’s past to understand this statement.  In point of fact, she herself is a hacker.  She was originally recruited by the government after successfully bringing an entire NSA facility to a halt.  Her motivation for this was apparently sibling rivalry.  She became a scientist because of her love-hate relationship with Otacon.

Conversation two:

Emma: Hal’s wrong. Science doesn’t exist to benefit the world.

Raiden: Then what is it for?

Emma: Science is for the individual. For me, it’s a way to realize my

Raiden: That sounds pretty greedy.

Emma: You can’t realize your dreams without greed.

Raiden: And what’s your dream?

Emma: Take revenge on Hal… to beat him at his own game…

Raiden: Revenge?

Emma: I’m gonna make him regret the day he left me… I’m going to make
him realize he was wrong!

Raiden: Of all the idiotic…

Snake: …I think that’s enough.

Emma: Idiotic!? It’s my goal! My reason for being alive!  Hal is wrong! He’s only being used by his country! He’s pitiful!  Even you guys are using him!  Me… I’m using science to achieve my own dream!

Snake: Real bright, lady! That’s exactly the line that scientists are never meant to cross!

Emma: Right! I sold my soul for revenge! I will never forgive him!

Snake: I’ll pretend this conversation never happened…

Emma: No! You tell my brother exactly what I said! You…

Snake: Emma!

Emma: W-What…?

Snake: You’re speaking your mind… not your heart.  Just leave it at that.

Emma: Um… okay…

There is quite a bit here, and much of it is brand new to us.  First there is an argument about science.  Or rather, about the ideal purpose of science.  In point of fact this has very little to do with science at all.  It is treated in an extremely broad fashion as a force for change or progress, with the manner of change dictated by the values of those engaged in it.  From there we hear Emma tell us what her values are; revenge.  She goes on to call Otacon disingenuous for the way he practices science.  Finally, Snake jumps into the conversation and tells her that she isn’t being honest with herself about what her real values are.  That she concedes suggests he is correct.  The one being disingenuous is Emma.

Conversation three:

Emma: Up to now, scientists have continued to be active participants in war. What’s your opinion?

Otacon: There’s no doubt that war has been an ideal event that fuels the progress of science.  But therein lies the trap…  We scientists must establish some form of work ethic.  It’s a tragedy that both the government and the military act as sponsors to modern science.

Emma: The atom and hydrogen bombs were born from laboratories owned and operated by universities and private enterprises…  Los Alamos and the Lawrence Livermore Labs were run by universities…  there’s nothing strange about that.

Otacon: Weapons development and universities…  This may come as a surprise but science requires that information be exchanged freely.

Emma: You’re referring to the will of Professor Oppenheimer, aren’t you?

Otacon: For me, science and weapons always existed at different levels.  I never thought that my research results would bring about misfortune to others.  That was until the Shadow Moses incident…

Emma: I have no regrets…

Otacon:  That’s where you’re wrong. We scientists know the dangers of a nuclear threat.  It’s up to us to protect the people. We can’t allow it to be exploited by nations or their politics…  Man and nuclear weapons cannot coexist.  Mere mortals were never meant to handle nuclear fusion.

Emma:  Science defines me… My government respects me…  Can you tell me what’s wrong with that!? Can you!?

This is where things get particularly thick.  We start with Emma’s claim that scientists are historically active participants in war.  However, within context it isn’t possible to take this statement literally.  There have been no Mengele like figures in the MGS universe.  So what is meant by participation?  We have to start by returning to the broad conception of science given by the game.  It is a force for change, utilized in conjuction with the values of its practitioners.  With this in mind it becomes clear that being a participant in war is simply using science in conjunction with the values driving a given conflict.

From there we are given a reiteration of a claim made in MGS1, that science has thrived on war.  Otacon goes on to state that it is tragic that science has often been sponsored by institutions which have vested interets in war.  To this, Emma responds that nuclear weapons; the big fish of the abuse of the scientific method; were created by private universities and enterprises.  It is difficult to make sense of this claim at all.  To the extent it has any substance, it is as a revelation of the nature of culpability.  The actions of institutions which are only nominally private do not present us with any argument about the structural properties of institutions.  Therefore there is no insight to be gleaned from attempting to interpret the issue of interest as the literal distinction between public and private institutions.  So what are we to do in order to understand this claim?

First, we must recognize it not as a demarcation of structural properties of institutions, but rather as a demarcation of institutions themselves.  In other words, Lawrence Livermore Labs must be recognized as an institution distinct from the US military.  From there we must recognize each institution as the product of the individual human beings who comprise it, their actions, and their values.  Therefore Emma is accounting for the phenomenon of military sponsorship.  It is a form of collusion which preserves the values of both parties.  This teaches us much more about Emma.  We learn the exact meaning of her statement that she has sold her soul.  She acted in her own interests, imposing her own values on the scientific process.  She was interested in change for the sake of change.  Therefore, she gleefully cooperated with the first institution to enable her to actualize her values; the government.  By cooperating she advanced the values of the government.

On the heels of this, we receive a statement from Otacon that the scientific process requires information to be exchanged freely.  Once again it appears superficially to be a statement about the nature of science, but once again it only takes importance in the context of human behavior.  To be blunt, the rapid segway from this statement to a discussion about responsibility leaves me having difficulty interpreting the significance of it.  The conversation concludes with Otacon stating that scientists have a responsibility not to collude with government.  Immediately after that, Emma responds with a baffling outburst, claiming that science defines her and her government respects her.  She then demands that Otacon tell her what’s wrong with this claim.  While Otacon might not be able to do so, I can.

  • Peter Stillman

The foremost bomb disposal expert in the world, Stillman is present to dispose of the explosives that have been planted throughout the facility by Fatman.  What he does not realize is that his presence was part of an arrangement that Fatman made with The Patriots.  Stillman taught Fatman everything he now knows about bombs when Fatman was a child.  Out of a sense of rivalry, Fatman agreed to take part in the big shell experiment in exchange for Stillman’s presence at the facility.  He wanted to play a game of wits with him.  The relationship of Stillman to Fatman echoes the relationship of Emma to her government.  These are two different individuals who carry with them their own sets of values and their own sense of meaning, who collaborated for the sake of furthering them irregardless of morality.  Stillman represents the quintessential scientist figure of the MGS series.  He values knowledge and acts in accordance with that interest, often to the exclusion of other concerns.

Unlike Emma, however, Stillman has an additional interest in Fatman.  In the course of various conversations (many optional), we hear him explain that his prestige was very important to him.  He explains that this is especially true becuse he doesn’t have a wife or children.  His identity is seen to be very closely tied to his career.  That’s where Fatman came in.  He represented a blank slate on which Stillman could impose his own values, and achieve immortality.  The values he sought to pass onward were, for lack of a better term the values of a scientist.  Stillman viewed himself in this capacity, therefore he sought to pass on proof of his existence in this capacity.  An astute reader will quickly note that this aspect of the relationship mirrors the relationship between Sears and Raiden.  Therefore we see through Stillman the extrapolation of not just one but two statements about the nature of human behavior.  There is an investigation into the nature of collaboration and an investigation into the nature of parenthood.  These two themes will get their treatment in due course.

It is worth noting as one final observation about Stillman’s character, that Snake and Raiden both became surrogates for his values in much the same way as Fatman initially did.  In the course of defusing bombs, the two of them tacitly acknowledged and deferred to his expertise.  At one point Stillman describes demolition as a type of ideology, and in his final moments he speaks to Raiden and encourages him to complete the task of bomb disposal.  This is a task at which Stillman himself failed.  Therefore it is put to Raiden to carry Stillman’s values beyond the point Stillman himself was capable of carrying them, and this in no less than two distinct senses.

  • Fatman

Once again we have an issue of overlapping information.  What can be said about Fatman that couldn’t be gleaned from the examination of Stillman?  In his own right he is not a very complex character.  At the age of 10, he built an atomic bomb using information he found on the internet.  This resulted in quite a bit of attention for him on the part of police and military men.  At school however, the only attention he received was negative.  During a discussion with Raiden, Stillman went so far as to describe Fatman as a hero.  I could only surmise that by building the nuclear weapon in question he revealed deep flaws in the nations defensive system, and was hence treated as a whistleblower rather than a menace.

As a result of this assymetrical level of attention he was receiving, he dropped out of public school and ultimately enrolled in naval school explosive ordnance disposal at Indian Head.  He accelled at the curriculum and after working his way through it chose to join NEST, the Nuclear Emergency Search Team.  However he proved to be brash and arrogant and didn’t work well with others.  It was at that point that he joined Dead Cell, one of the units responsible for the takeover of the offshore oil facility.

We therefore have a character who appears to be motivated solely by a thirst for attention.  His own words reinforce this perception.  When Raiden finally encounters him in person, he explains himself quite plainly by stating that he desires to be famous.  Although death would seem to be a fairly large obstacle to enjoying fame, it is crucial to understand that he is not concerned with his own perceptions but rather with how others regard him.  A telling piece of information is given to us by way of metaphor.  “Life is short,” he exclaims, “Bombs tell the time with every moment of their existence, and nothing else announces its own end with such a fanfare”.  He recognizes that he will die.  His ideas of immortality, much like those of Sears and Stillman, center around trying to get others to share in his perceptions and values; particularly his sense of self.  When Raiden tells him that he will be remembered as a common criminal, Fatman becomes extremely agitated.  It is at that point that they begin fighting.  Not much else can be said of him.

  • Fortune

As a character, Fortune is slightly less complex than Fatman.  Her husband, Father, Mother, and child all died from either the direct or indirect actions of The Patriots.  Her motive is quite plainly vengeance, although she is also suicidal.  She believes that if she dies she will be reunited with her family.  After her loss she joined the military to further her goals.  It was at that point that she was revealed to be very “lucky”, although her invulnerability to gunfire and explosives were actually a product of technology.  The Patriots equipped her with an electromagnetic shielding device without her knowledge, with the intention that she eventually take part in the Raiden experiment.

If one places any sort of narrative emphasis on Fortune’s character, it is possible to use her as an examination of conceptions of death.  Such conceptions are ultimately very perverse; we are after all presented with numerous individuals in the MGS series who sought death.  To understand their motivations like those of actual people would already reveal perversions of thought, but they would at least belong to the characters in question and not the author or narrative proper.  Either way, I am choosing to address this issue later.

For now I will simply use her for an examination of the role that the supernatural plays in MGS2.  It is given that all instances of “luck” presented during the experiment were the result of technology, with the exception of one.  When Revolver Ocelot attempts to kill Raiden, Sears, Snake, and Fortune, his missiles appear to be deflected.  There are three distinct manners in which to interpret this.  The Patriots might have simply reactivated her electromagnetic weapons shielding.  She might also have legitimate supernatural powers.  The third option makes a good deal of sense mostly when accounting for MGS4.  If one understands Ocelot as he was portrayed in MGS4, then it is possible that he himself diverted the missiles at the last moment.  What interest he might have in doing so is unclear.  Only speculation is possible.  He either had some specific interest in preserving the lives of the aforementioned individuals, or some interest in creating the illusion of supernatural phenomenon.

  • Revolver Ocelot

Half as mysterious as The Patriots but twice as opaque, Ocelot is practically a living Deus Ex Machina.  From the story and supplementary texts of MGS2, we know that he masqueraded as an agent of Liquid Snake, Colonel Gurlukovich, and George Sears.  All the while he was apparently following orders from The Patriots.  In MGS4 even this assumption is challenged, though that will not be discussed here.  With his motivations unknown, and his actions fraudelent until the very final chapter of the game, there isn’t much to say directly about his character.  This is not to say he is superficial or one-dimensional, but rather that nothing can be brought to bear on him.  Therefore I will use him in much the same capacity as Fortune: for an examination of the role that the supernatural plays in MGS2.

Much like the issue of Psycho Mantis in MGS1, the issue of Liquid Snake’s possession of Ocelot produces difficulties.  If this were possible, it would have dramatic implications for any traditional conception of free will.  Given this, I will adopt the minimal possible position which allows for an existential analysis; a compatabilistic account of free will, perhaps such as Bergson’s.  Once again I am afraid a sufficient treatment of this subject is outside the scope of this article.  If later examination reveals that even a compatabilistic account of free will is insufficient to justify the existence of a possession, then I will be forced to write off MGS2 as an example of bad faith.  Worse yet, one which co-opts themes of human agency.

But perhaps I am getting ahead of myself.  From MGS4 we learn that Ocelot may have simply been faking possession; or rather, faking possession by the ghost of Liquid Snake.  Even within the context of MGS4 there is still the strong possibility that he was controlled and subsumed by some force.  This presents us with the exact same issue as a possession by supernatural powers.  Only the etiology has changed, not the structure of the phenomenon itself.  Therefore let us examine the possibilities, for the first time including MGS4 as a significant item of discussion.

Supposing (falsely) that Liquid Snake is possessing Ocelot, we have to account for how this is possible.  To begin with it is necessary to search for an analogous phenomenon, some mechanism by which free will is lost.  A comprehensive examination would reveal only one: death.  Therefore for Ocelot to be possessed by Liquid Snake, he would have to be akin to a zombie.  Simple enough.  Yet how then do we account for his re-emergence (or for that matter, the re-emergence of Liquid Snake)?  Death is capable of negating free will because of its finality.  If not for this, then how can it do so?  Only slightly less important is how we account for a continuity of perspective following an interjection of such conditions.

Supposing the conditions provided to us by MGS4, we subtract the supernatural aspect and thereby halve the concern of re-emergence.  It now concerns only Ocelot.  However, barring the supernatural aspect also precludes a justification for this phenomenon!  Whereas it could have perhaps been written off as outside the realm of human knowledge before, yet still possible, we are now forced to find in mere positive plenitude some phenomenon which not only disables but subsequently re-enables free will.  I will not discount the possibility of doing so.  It is most certainly outside my present range of ability.  For that reason I will simply move on to consider another possibility in the light of MGS4.

It is given that Ocelot has subsumed his identity to that of Liquid Snake in any case, yet it is not expressly denied that this state of being requires on his part a constant willful maintenance.  In the absence of some rather tricky metaphysical inquiry, this must be our assumption in order to interpret the MGS series as a work which is in good faith.

2b. Response to Themes and Arguments

I am now confident that I have presented the raw material of the game with as little bias and in as much detail as I could.  Where to go from here?  I expressed earlier that I have my own notions about where the authorial voice lies.  While I recognize that the nature of the game allows for a large number of logical interpretations, I would propose that there exist two principle interpretations or modalities of interpretation.  These take precedence not simply by the frequency of the appearence of supporting detail, but by the fact that they are fully compatible with many other interpretations and principally only exclude each other.

These two interpretations center around the arguments given by Snake and the arguments given by The Patriots, respectively.  Both arguments revolve around the question of whether the Raiden experiment was a success.  In order to accurately understand the issues this question involves, we must begin by looking at a number of phenomenal structures.  First we must investigate the etiology and nature of values.  Then we must examine the epistemological consequences this has.  In the course of this investigation it will become apparent just how MGS2 presents these issues, and the extent to which this presentation differs from the actual state of affairs.  It is safe to say that these differences comprise the bulk of the problems with the narrative.

To begin with, it is necessary to assume the existence of free will in order to provide for the existence of values.  In this sense free will is characterized as a lack; specifically, a lack of destiny.  Therefore values arise in nothingness.  To attempt to render values as a positive substance, therefore, is to preclude free will.  But while it is easily recognizable from this that such an attempt negates free will, it is not readily apparent why it precludes values.  The answer is fairly simple.  In order for values to belong to people, they must be chosen.  This ownership is important.  It precludes the potential for authenticity, because the converse would be required for such a phenomenon to exist; people would have to belong to their values.  Such a belonging is impossible. Yet we still have on our hands the attempt to render values as a positive substance.  The question then becomes, by what mechanism do values rendered in this capacity exert pressure over the individual?  As a discrete, positive substance they are inert.  Therefore values rendered as positivity cannot even account for the appearance of the individual.  They are simply one object among many, and it becomes impossible for any phenomenon to render any collection of objects as a unity.  In other words, without the existence of values as a phenomenon rooted in free will, it becomes impossible to assign any greater significance to the positivities of processes which comprise the physical human creature.  Why are the biological processes that comprise the human animal more significant than the physical processes behind precipitation?  For that matter, why recognize the dileneation between the two as significant at all?  A plenitude of positivity in the absence of the lack which is free will collapses to physical nihilism.  This is not to say that the world ceases to be actual but rather that no dileneation is possible, not simply in the realm of values but in the realm of objects.  There is only positivity, vast, unending and shapeless.

With this in mind, an immediacy is granted to the consequences of the claims made by The Patriots.  If true, they preclude values.  This truth is in diametric opposition to the claims which they present, both directly and indirectly, throughout the course of the game.  In their arguments for censorship, they begin by attempting to model information as a non-inert positive substance which acts as a substrate for values.  By controlling information they hope to restore authenticity to being, by providing individuals with “appropriate” values.  Yet such an action if possible would preclude free will, and would therefore preclude values.  Thus the claim of President Johnson, “Without free will there is no difference between submission and rebellion”.  Such an action is not possible, however.  Is this a mis-step on the part of the narrative, or does the error belong solely to The Patriots?  Strictly within the context of MGS2 there is insufficient evidence to come to a conclusion on the subject.  This absence of information should be treated with more respect than any single detail presented in the game, for it is by the absence of this information that the game avoids collapsing to nihilism.

Therefore it is given that The Patriots, if correct in their assessment about the nature of information, would not make their world more meaningful but completely meaningless.  Thus we have our first interpretation of the events of the game.  It is perhaps succinctly characterized as “The experiment was a success, therefore human meaning is an illusion.”  Supposing the converse however, we reach issues which trouble us for an explanation (even if they fail to trouble us in the manner of the aforementioned interpretation).  Our concern is then this:  How do we rectify the truth of the opposite claim (“The experiment was a failure, human meaning is real”) with the very real changes we saw occur in Raiden’s character throughout the course of the game?  In order to answer this we must look at the arguments which were presented, both directly and indirectly, by Snake.

When Snake speaks to Raiden at the end of the game, he tells him that the role he was assigned in the experiment and the memories he has from throughout his life are simply “burdens he has to carry”.  In this sense Snake is expressing a concept of facticity, albeit in a folkish capacity.  When he goes on to state that absolute reality doesn’t exist and that what is real is only as real as one’s brain indicates, it is necessary to avoid taking these statements literally.  Absolute reality certainly exists.  In fact without such a thing as absolute reality, any conception of facticity seems impossible.  Therefore it is a requirement in order to justify the statements Snake himself has made.  So how then may we interpret these statements as logically consistent?  We must again abstain from treating them as statements about material truth and handle them in the capacity of values or personal meaning.  It is also necessary not to take “brain” to actually mean “brain”, because a brain is strictly a positive biological process.  I will not attempt here to decipher every statement made by Snake on the larger subject of values.  In the first case it is largely redundant at this point, and in the second it does not address the question of principle concern: was the Raiden experiment a success?

Therefore I will move on to those sections of his speech which are directly relevant to this question.  The principle quote of importance is this one:

I know you didn’t have much in terms of choices this time, but everything you felt, thought about during this mission, is yours, and what you decide to do with them is your choice.

Snake is here proposing that there exists some aspect of Raiden which is beyond the control of even The Patriots, and that this attribute allows him to own his own values.  What could this possibly be except free will as the precondition for values, in the manner described above?  Therefore Snake is rejecting the possibility that the experiment was a success by pointing to Raiden’s values as belonging to Raiden, rather than merely an imposition.  What is particularly brilliant about this is that it asks the player to consider their thoughts about the other characters in the game.  This is true not simply in the sense of whether or not they felt sad when Olga died, for example, but also in the sense of whether or not this sadness was a result of the narrative or of decisions made, however minutely, on the part of the player.  Kojima has stated that he intended to use MGS2 to tell a story that could only be told in a video game, and in that I believe he has succeeded.  However he has not overcome the limitations of the medium.  While this is a digression, I feel it is important and will therefore elaborate.

The strong empathy that is fostered in the player for the main character by way of controlling them allows a special potential for the video game narrative.  Appeals made on the part of other characters to the main character can bridge the gap and become appeals to the player.  Such is the nature of Snake’s final speech to Raiden.  Utilizing this mechanism shows a solid grasp of the nature of the medium.  However, the empathy between the player and the main character is also based on a lie.  In those sections of the game which are merely game, there are no messages or values to be found.  In those sections which are plot, however, there are.  Any sense of ownership of the values of the main character is an attempt to co-opt the feeling of agency given by the interactive elements of the game, and to fill the accompanying void with those values proposed by the author and written into the character in the narrative segments of the game.

In point of fact, I believe Kojima understood this or at least had an inkling about it.  When Raiden throws away his dog tags at the conclusion of the game, it is worth noting whose name is on those dog tags.  Provided the player behaved as expected of them, it is the name of the player.  Therefore Raiden is discarding an imposition of values upon him.  In a sense the player represents The Patriots, or at least the threat of The Patriots.  That this threat is impossible does not preclude the symbolism.  Following this disposal, there are no more segments of player control.  Therefore this action could be interpreted as an attempt by the author to restore narrative integrity to his character.  That Raiden speaks of starting a new life adds veracity to this interpretation.  However such an action cannot restore honesty to the player-character relationship, and is an after-the-fact imposition.  It is for that reason that this symbolism, while clever and important, still fails to make the game overcome the limitations of the medium.

We have now, in rather basic detail, the outline of the two primary interpretations of the game.  Is there any specific, textual evidence which could sway us in one direction or another?  The simple answer is no.  While the events of the story are not strictly speaking illogical, their significance is left highly ambiguous.  In a sense this is the whole point of the story.  I referred to this ambiguity earlier as a philosophical argument for epistemic nihilism.  I suppose that it is time to be more specific.

To simply declare that the game is about personal meaning rather than material truth would be a bit brash.  To understand why it must be interpreted this way, it is necessary to examine the narrative mechanism of ambiguity.  There are admittedly many uses for it, but the most philosophically sound of them is quite simple; it serves as a device to bring characters into sharper focus by forcing the reader to neglect the environment.  Throughout the course of MGS2, misinformation is given to Raiden not simply about the environment, but about the character and motivations of his enemies as well as his commanding officers.  Even his own role is unknown to him.  This misinformation is simultaneously given to the player.  As a result, Raiden is seen to be following orders without any effort to get to the bottom of the truth of his circumstances; or rather, without yielding any results from his efforts to do so.  This absence or disregard for truth is passed on to the player, so that ultimately both Raiden and the player are concerned not so much about the circumstances as they are about the character of Raiden himself.  Is his sense of personal meaning legitimate?

This is the sense in which the game arrives at the issue of personal meaning through epistemic nihilism.  It renders certain claims, such as Raiden not living in reality, as less than literal descriptions of an actual phenomenon.  Now that I have given a textual justification for supposing the aforementioned duality of interpretation (in addition to general justifications), there is admittedly little else for me to do.  I will state my own personal interpretation and then speak on a number of lesser issues, then I will turn the conversation towards other perspectives on the work.

  • The Kilroy Interpretation

In addition to the strong vested interest I have in interpreting the story as an apology for existentialism rather than nihilism, I feel that a crucial bit of information snuck past the haze of ambiguity which the story is shrouded in.  This information once again centers around Snake.  More specifically, it centers around Raiden’s perception of Snake.  More specifically still, it centers around Raiden’s perception of Snake as an example of personal values which were not anticipated by The Patriots.  You may recall I went into this issue earlier, in the character analysis section.  The Patriots assigned Rose to the support staff because they believed it would allow them to manipulate Raiden more effectively.  However, Raiden wasn’t half as moved by the presence of Rose as The Patriots seemed to expect him to have been.

So supposing that Raiden completed the mission because of his own values appears to directly contradict the possibility of a success on the part of The Patriots.  Their experiment to control human thought and behavior could not have succeeded under such conditions.  Why then did The Patriots report a success?  In hindsight the whole thing seems preposterous.  The experiment itself appears to have far too many variables to quantify, and there is no evidence that they were all taken into account.  At minimum Snake and Otacon were not, and this can be stated almost definitely.  However even assuming that the large scale information processing capabilities in the fictional world of MGS2 were capable of quantifying all variables, it appears they failed.  In fact not only were Raiden’s values variant from expectations, but the presence of the supernatural factor also seemed unexpected.  In light of revelations from MGS4, this second part might have important implications for canon.  For now it will not be inspected.

That Raiden had values independently of those expected of him by The Patriots gives his character an intrinsic sense of seperation from control.  Earlier I argued that the subjective experiences of the player served this role.  They still do, however now it appears there is also a narrative justification for the position.  This forms a strong rather than weak textual justification for interpreting the story along the lines suggested by Snake.  It no longer seems to be simply a matter of perspective; provided that we are correct about Snake’s presence being unexpected.  The converse possibility is ultimately the only thing precluding certainty on the issue.  Once again, this is an absence of information which should be treated with more respect than any single detail presented in the game.

  • Minor Criticism

It’s time to move on to issues which aren’t central to the interpretation of the story.  Principally this equates to complaints.  I will try to keep this short and to the point, beginning with…

  • Scientific Angst

Returning from MGS1 we have a continuation of this phenomenon.  Is it in good faith?  Quite plainly the answer is no.  If we accept the premise that human beings are responsible for their actions, then we cannot do anything to compromise the integrity of that statement.  Is Otacon really responsible for the actions of his government?  How about the actions of his father?  If we answer yes to either of these questions, then it appears that we subtract responsibility from others.  Given that these are their own actions we are talking about here, such an action is absurd.  There is no way of going about this without arriving at contradiction.

This extends not so much to Emma, who collaborated in a very direct capacity to produce technology which she knew would be utilized.  In the course of her career she engaged in censorship and illegal activities with full understanding.  It does extend to Peter Stillman, however.  That a child should decide to commit crimes at some point within a 20 year period after their education, doesn’t reflect profoundly upon the character of the educator.  This is an instance of gravitas being taken so far beyond the point of good faith that it becomes absurd.  Which brings me to…

  • Death as authenticity

The terrible thing about death is that it changes life into destiny.  At the moment of death all possibilities cease.  This is why death is the only phenomenon which can negate free will.  So how does the MGS series approach death?  By and large it does so by having characters die in the exact same capacity as they lived.  While this might be harmless, the consistency is troubling.  When Sniper Wolf dies it is as a soldier, when Grey fox dies it is as a soldier, when Fortune dies it is as a soldier.  In this capacity these characters are all seemingly rendered, top to bottom, as soldiers.  It’s a romantic portrayel of death that’s every bit as ludicrous as it is ostentatious.

The phenomenon is so pervasive, in fact, that when Stillman dies from the explosion I can’t help but wonder whether it was suicide.  There is absolutely no textual evidence for this conclusion.  Yet, if he were a real person and I were pressed to explain his death, I might jump to that conclusion.  What is this portrait of death if not precisely identical to the ideation present in every suicidal?  People kill themselves to restore their sense dignity or integrity, and in the course of doing so they are implicitly making a bargain with the world; please remember me as something whole and beautiful.  It’s a garbage sentiment, an ultimate hypocricy; an attempt to preserve a sense of personal meaning and even extend it to infinity by means of self-destruction.

Moving on to…

  • You call this facticity?

Perhaps the most peculiar aspect of MGS2 is what it is willing to treat as irrevocable aspects of reality which come prior to the individual.  I’ll buy genetics.  Genes dictate biology, and despite the lack of precise knowledge about the full implications of genes on the human organism, it is still possible to conceive of all manner of physical attributes, instincts and emotions as circumstances which come prior to free will.  That these things are independent from values is not difficult to conceptualize.  However, what of memetics?  How can information be given the status that it is in the course of the story?  While information and textual meaning certainly seem to exist independently of human beings and personal meaning, how does textual meaning come to exert an influence over individuals?  It is certainly not by any property intrinsic to it.  Information is inert.  This is not to say that it isn’t actual, or that it is merely a hypostasization or projection of subjective values upon a given substrate, but rather that it requires people to act upon it to be of consequence.  Given that, much of the business brought to bear by Solidus and even more of that discussed by The Patriots becomes completely absurd.


  • Science and the nature of progress

Yikes.  It’s at this point that no leniency can be given to MGS2.  To begin with the conceptions it offers of science are so broad as to be effectively useless.  In fact science seems to overlap with nearly all human action, to the point that the discussion seems to be not about science at all.  Yet the game insists on treating scientific irresponsibility as some substance distinct from general irresponsibility.  Why does it do so?  Most likely this stems from a misunderstanding of the nature of abstraction.  People often fall into intellectual black holes by trying to build positions from the ground up, starting with an enumeration of as many individual details as possible.  Yet ultimately an abstraction must be offered on top of this data in order to classify it and make sense of it.  This is what makes logic a useful analytical tool.  With it, abtractions can be checked for consistency.  However such an analytic method takes place purely on the level of abstraction and for this reason people distrust it.  Why they distrust it stems entirely from the preponderance of bad philosophy.  This is unfortunate.

In addition to this difficulty which is largely only semantic, we have the primary contention of The Patriots: social progress is a product of information, and a plenitude of information prevents bad ideas from dying.  Well sure.  And in that vein, a dearth of information prevents good ideas from living.  This is a superficial conceptualization of the problems of progress.  Science operates via the critical method.  There are procedures in place for killing bad information, and none of these involve censorship.  That MGS2 segways so abruptly between issues of personal meaning and issues of science only serves to further underline just how ignorant the makers of the game were about what science is and how it operates.  A complete description of science is beyond the scope of the article; likely any article, for that matter.  However if there is enough interest I will construct a more detailed explanation of the workings of the scientific method.  For now I will simply give this advice (in bold, no less): Read Karl Popper

3. Response to Existing Scholarship

There is a commonality in two of the three pieces to which I am responding.  I must state that it is not one which impresses me.  If you do not like criticism then I would suggest that you don’t read my blog.  Nothing is ever learned from agreement, only from disagreement.  With that in mind I will simply come out with it: Anyone who speaks of post-modernity in less than a strictly pejorative sense does not understand philosophy.  They may be intelligent and even have legitimate arguments for their positions, but when it comes time to really piece things together it is inevitable that they will fail.

The writers to which I am responding wrote what they did a long time ago.  It is firmly within the realm of possibility that they have changed their opinions since the time of their initial observations.  I am as they say, behind the trend.  Then again if a subject deserves discussion, is this worthiness really a temporal phenomenon?  I might not win points for being hip and relevant, but I’m also not seeking them.  Let’s get down to it.  As promised this section of the article will be significantly less structured than preceding sections.

3a. Dreaming in an Empty Room by Tim Rogers


Tim Rogers is a wildman of the internet, an unrepentant hipster whose name rolls off the tongues of the would-be gaming intelligentsia with startling immediacy.  This is a man who transformed games journalism from a subject nobody had heard of to a subject nobody cared about, parlaying his newfound fame into columnist work and ultimately a job as a writer for a japanese game development studio, all while apparently running his own business.  In other words, he has done more in his youth than most people will in their entire lives.

Dreaming in an Empty Room begins with a very blunt sentence.  “Metal Gear Solid 2 is highly illogical.”  In a sense, the entire article can be reduced to this sentence.  The primary argument which Rogers advances is that MGS2 was constructed to be illogical in order to achieve an aesthetic goal.  For purposes of expediency I will simply label this aesthetic Japanese Postmodernity.  The problem I have with this argument can be expressed rather simply.  Rogers is using language to describe language, rather than to describe concepts.  This is the case of all discussions of aesthetics.  While I will not suggest that such is inquiry is by requirement unsubstantive, in this case the discussion appears to go in relatively few directions.  But let’s not bicker about that.  What are the directions it does go in?

An especially interesting bit comes in the form of a discussion (beginning on the bottom of page 3) where Rogers tells us that Snake is a person, and that Raiden is a video game character.  Supposing this is true; does a video game character lack agency?  Do they have an intrinsic meaning, and if so how is it possibly enabled?  That these questions don’t appear to have immediate answers demonstrates a problem with the interpretation.  Supposing that it is symbolically valid, it still does not address underlying issues about the nature of the characters in question.  Since the story is character driven, this strikes me as a significant failure.

Trying to strip aside as much unhelpful vernaculur as possible, the other item which caught my attention was this.  Tim Rogers describes the circumstances of MGS2 as lacking in verisimilitude for two reasons.  The first, because we’re in control, and it feels like we’re not.  The second, because we are free to impose our own values and the absence of values feels like superficiality.  It is painful to see him segue directly from this, which is so very near to a genuine existential revelation, to a continuation of his diatribe about post-modernity; a diatribe which he concludes by saying that he himself didn’t understand the point he was trying to make.

Dreaming in an Empty Room flirts with concepts that are very important without actually arriving at a discussion of them.  Much like MGS2, it reads like the product of a man who stumbled over the truth, shattering it into pieces in the process, and then couldn’t quite put those pieces back together.  I find it especially absurd that Rogers is essentially repeating the words of Raiden as if they are the fundamental truth of the game.  “It’s like a bad dream you just can’t wake up from”.  It was preposterous enough when Raiden said it, repeating the words of the navy seal.  At least that belonged to the game.  It made a point about a deficit in Raiden’s character.  To see an actual person carry the sentiment into reality is a joke too bad to laugh at.

If there is such a thing as a victim of the information age, then Rogers might very well qualify.  There was a time when a great philosopher wondered how a man who played the flute could call himself a cynic.  If he had lived to see the culture of today I doubt he would have found that man quite so preposterous.  During my tenure at SelectButton I noticed a user with a signature in such poor taste that I became physically nauseous after viewing it.  I later learned this signature belonged to Tim Rogers.  For your consideration:

This is nihilism.  There is not even the possibility of subjectivity here.  That anyone could advance this position with a full understanding of its implications is preposterous, not the least since there is evidence of later attempts on their part to blithely superimpose the existence of values on top of the ontology they have constructed.  So why bother about the flute.  Today I wonder, how can a man who writes long discursive inquiries into video games which feature more introspection than observation, possibly call himself a nihilist?  And this, the creature who would first deny the existence of values altogether, is the one chosen to represent gaming as a legitimate artistic medium?

It pains me to see such careless flirtations with truth.  The moment it seems that Rogers is about to touch on something of importance, he segues elsewhere.  Why nihilism?  Because he doesn’t understand it, certainly.  It would be nice to have freedom without responsibility.  To realize that this is impossible is a legitimately painful experience.  If you want to know why Rogers exhibits his characteristic hipster insanity, I would offer an explanation.  He is driven by bad faith in its purest form.  He accepts all the privileges of life and none of the responsibilites.  And why not?  To turn his head that last inch would likely suck the wind right out of his sails.  The closer he gets to that final truth the more profound his illness becomes.  So onward brave soldier!  Gaze not too long into the abyss, lest the abyss turn its gaze upon you.

3b. Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty as a Post-Modern Tragedy by Chris Zimbaldi


I actually have a history with Chris Zimbaldi.  No, not that kind.  He originally posted this article as a topic on IGN’s Metal Gear Solid boards.  At the time I was a highly active user there.  Although my interactions with Chris were somewhat limited, he chose at one point to place a quote from me within his signature.  For all I know it is still there.  If it’s possible for there to be a leading Kojima scholar, then Chris is probably the one who meets that description.

What is there to say about his article?  It’s very straightforward, placing narrative emphasis not with The Patriots or Snake but with Solidus.  There are only a small handful of details I feel the need to address.  The first is his justification for interpreting MGS2 as a tragedy.  While I am not a foundationalist and deny any intrinsic need for justification, I feel that the comparitive lack of argument for his position is important.  Through the course of my own article I have gone to great lengths to explain why I feel an existential interpretation of the game is warranted.  Let us then examine the justification Chris gives for his interpretation of the game as a tragedy.

Or not.  Unfortunately there does not seem to be any.  While there are no inconsistencies in his interpretation, he also gives no reason why the concepts he utilizes for interpretation (Hamartia, anagnorisis, The Dionysian and The Apollonian, etc.) should receive precedence over any competing concepts used for literary interpretation.  Thus we have a valid interpretation which lacks any established priority over the many other valid interpretations of the work which could be provided.  This is not even half of an issue here though, so let’s move on.

As is necessary, the article descends to its lowest status when attempts are made to discuss the alleged post-modernity of the work.  It is argued that the replacement of “the powers that be” with mortal figures, whereas in classical literature they were gods, is a staple of post-modern work.  Well what are we really describing here?  To begin with we have an imposition of a framework, which although perfectly valid still falls outside the realm of what can be spoken of as definitive.  From there we have what essentially amounts to the following claim: An abstraction used for the interpretation of fiction used to apply to X.  Now it applies to Y.  That it applies means that both X and Y share identical attribute Z, and all structural properties of fiction have remained constant.

What does this claim resolve?  What does it prove?  If it is narratively significant that “the powers that be” are challenged by an individual, of what specific consequence is their nature?  I am having difficulty understanding the relevance of this course of inquiry.  Once again I fear I have happened upon a use of language to describe language, and one which doesn’t appear to go anywhere.  At the very least though this article contains a great deal more substance than the last.

So aside from those issues, I can offer no real complaints.  I can only once again offer that I feel this analysis could have gone further.  I consider quotes like these:

GW is saying that Solidus and Raiden are just toys being used by The Patriots, which in essence trivializes their lives. This shows how The GW System represents the Apollonian, promoting order over individuality.”

Solidus is making a commentary on the very essence of life, saying that people cannot escape their own destiny, which he believes is predetermined by their DNA.”

It once again strikes me as peculiar that this investigation would stop so abruptly at merely labeling this trivialization of life, rather than examining fully the implications it holds both narratively and philosophically.

One last thing; why the concern about vampires?  This is the second article to offer vamp as proof that MGS2 is “illogical”, or post-modern.  It is also the second article in which the author states an inability to fully explain a concept they are treating as integral to their interpretation.  Of course vampires are illogical, as seen in this proof:

V = Vampire
  | V
1.| V (assumption)

Err, wait a minute.  That can’t be right.  It seems we didn’t get to the actual logic part at all.  How odd.

Well nevermind that then.  At any rate, those are my disagreements.  Any others would consist simply of reiterations of concepts presented in earlier sections.  I expect that even the most diligent readers would grow tired of repitition after a while.  Therefore I will conclude by stating that I respect this article, in spite of its flaws, and am especially fond of its contention that Raiden is a villain.

3c. Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty Ending Analysis: Gene and Meme by Artemio Urbina


Of the articles under discussion, this one appears to have the most detail.  This is especially interesting because it concerns only one portion of the game: the conclusion.  Unfortunately I know nothing about Artermio Urbina, although I must thank him for his text dump as it was very useful in the construction of this article.  At this point I fear I must renege on my promise to keep this section free of structure.  I simply can’t imagine responding to this article without introducing some.  So let’s start with an examination of…

  • Turing’s Test

The first section of the article presents a course of inquiry which I can offer no objection to.  Indeed it presents us with an additional conundrum about phenomenal consciousness.  The Patriots appear to pass the Turing Test.  What are the implications of this?  Do they possess phenomenal consciousness?  Is the appearance of consciousness merely a product of misinterpretation?  If they do not possess phenomenal consciousness, does this serve as an argument for nihilism?  These are extremely important questions, and I would have neglected them if not for this article.  Ultimately I would argue that the Turing Test problem serves to reinforce the ambiguity of the MGS2 narrative.  I will not reiterate my arguments for interpretation.  They have not changed, and have been stated above to my satisfaction.

  • Evolution and Information Evolution

The second section of the article demonstrates that Urbina understands the biological process of evolution.  In the third section, he then attempts to use this understanding to model how information is propogated.  While I have no objection to this approach, I feel that he misrepresents both the etiology and consequentiality of information.  The idea that information is self-propagating lacks justification, and at any rate edges near dangerous territory.  Quotes from Dawkins are included, who states “And this isn’t just a way of talking — the meme for, say, “belief in life after death” is actually realized physically, millions of times over, as a structure in the nervous systems of individual men the world over.”

The problem with this conception has nothing to do with the truth or falsity of the claim that conceptions correspond to physical structures of the brain.  The principle issue here lies in the insinuated absence of phenomenal consciousness.  To hypostasize language as a non-inert substance comes across as absurd, but the real issue is that this reduction leads quite easily to a rejection of values as objects founded within free will.  This rejection leads to the collapse to nihilism I have previously described.  The problem of both Dawkins and Urbina is ultimately the problem of Zeno’s Arrow Paradox; just reformatted to the issue of human consciousness.

The other issue that arises in Urbina’s analysis is that he takes the arguments of The Patriots at precisely face value.  Namely, that information censorship is necessary for progress.  I find it curious that Urbina would understand a multitude of scientific theory in such detail without actually understanding the mechanisms by which science operates.  As stated earlier, there are existing methods in place to destroy bad information, and none of them involve censorship.  The scientific method is the critical method; the use of argument to weigh theories based on their verisimilitude, adopt those which most plainly demonstrate this attribute, and reject those which most plainly do not.  It must be noted here that the word verisimilitude is being used in a very different capacity than the one it is put to in literary analysis.  I would argue that the literary sense of the concept is rather useless, but that is a discussion that cannot be entered here.  Likewise a thorough discussion of the scientific method is beyond the scope of this article.

What else is there to say about this article?  My disagreements here are less energetic, but every bit as firm.  Urbina seems to understand best of any of the three authors exactly how the structure of the game serves to amplify the message of the game, even picking up on things I myself had failed to notice.  In a peculiar sense I object not so much to his courses of investigation but to the extent to which he takes them.  Memetics strikes me as a bogus concept, at least in the way it was expressed here.  If the reader has been paying attention then they should understand why.

Other than that I have only minor quibbles with this article.  None of them pertain to the interpretation of the work in question so I feel no need to bring them up.


Thus concludes the article.

~ by Kilroy del Dancefighter Estallion the First on October 15, 2009.

One Response to “Metal Gear Solid 2: Analysis and Review”

  1. […] Metal Gear Solid 2: Analysis and Review « Philosophy, Vidcons, and Sandwiches: The Personal Blog of… – view page – cached It is rare that a sequel generates as much interest as the work which preceded it, yet such is the case with Metal Gear Solid 2. In fact, that is an understatement. This game has received more… (Read more)It is rare that a sequel generates as much interest as the work which preceded it, yet such is the case with Metal Gear Solid 2. In fact, that is an understatement. This game has received more critical attention than virtually any other game in the history of interactive media. While much of the discussion has been bland and two-dimensional, a number of impressive and significant examinations of the subject have been conducted. (Read less) — From the page […]

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