The use of video games to recruit and train military cadets is no longer the stuff of science fiction. In fact, ever since the world’s first computer game Spacewar! was developed at MIT in the 1960s (with funding help from the Pentagon), the U. S. Military has looked to the digital simulations to help plan and execute the defense of the United States. For example, the online multiplayer game America’s Army has been giving teens “the feel of being in the Army” since 2002 in hopes that they eventually might sign up. Games like UrbanSim and Virtual Battlespace 2 allow recruits to practice battle command and decision making skills while programs like the Bilateral Negotiation Trainer and the Operational Language and Culture Training System aim to help them to get ready to win hearts and minds. Even battle itself is becoming increasingly video game-like as remotely piloted drones begin to take the place of ground troops in armed conflict. Meanwhile, security experts are now saying that cyberwarfare is an even greater threat to the United States than terrorism.
Some commercial games franchises embrace the apparent synergy between video games and combat training. For example, the Call of Duty games are sometimes referred to as a part of the “military-entertainment complex” due their jingoistic portrayals of warfare.
Others question it, turning the digitalization of war into a plot device and putting the player into the role of a virtual trainee. For example, Hideo Kojima’s Metal Gear franchise revolves around characters who have been profoundly affected by their exposure to such training regimens. In fact, some of the protagonists in the series, like Metal Gear Solid 2’s Raiden, have had their entire personalities “programmed” by their repeated exposure to violent scenarios (a fact that becomes all the more disturbing when the player realizes that, over the course of playing the game, they are also interacting with a sort of tactical simulations program for long periods of time).
The franchise has dealt with everything from espionage and assassinations to private military corporations to super weapons (the eponymous Metal Gears, giant robot tanks capable of firing nuclear weapons). However, the most recent entry in the series, Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain, might very well contain the first World Peace Simulator in the franchise’s history, or at least that is the theory held by some players.
The rumor that this latest installment might allow for such a happy ending began when a player rooting around in the game’s files discovered a hidden cut scene that no one had yet unlocked over the course of regular play. The scene (which is aggressively being removed from YouTube by the game’s publisher, Konami, every time someone uploads it) depicts the total disarmament of every nuclear weapon in the game, a task that sounds do-able to anyone who has ever met a gamer determined to achieve 100% completion. However, the task is complicated by the fact that players can actually build their own nuclear weapons for use in the game’s multiplayer mode. According to the gaming news site Kotaku,
Nukes can come into play within the game’s multiplayer mode. Players who have nukes can use them against other players, or they may choose to steal nukes from one another. These nukes can then be disposed of. The benefit of a nuke is that only players with nukes or high enough heroism can strike back against you. Because of this mechanic, there are probably a lot of nukes floating around in Metal Gear Solid V. People are probably building new nukes as you read this right now.
And thus the task becomes exponentially more difficult: to unlock the ending, or so many players believe, every single gamer the world over will have to cooperate together to rid the game world of nuclear weapons.
The scenario brilliantly models the profound difficulty and complexity of nuclear disarmament efforts. How are players invested in unlocking the ending going to convince or coerce other players to work towards their vision? Is it permissible to use warlike methods in pursuit of peace? What if complete disarmament isn’t actually the means to trigger the cut scene? Is such a task even worth pursuing given the extreme unlikelihood of it ever being completed? Gamers are already organizing into loose political alliances around these questions. The Metal Gear Philanthropists are working towards the goal of disarmament, whether it be through diplomacy or through force while the Metal Gear Patriots are attempting to increase the number of weapons of mass destruction available in the game, calling the Philanthropists’ mission an unethical attempt to consolidate power in the hands of a single faction.
It remains to be seen if the world is capable of successfully completing this particular piece of VR training. But whether or not we do so, we at least have the opportunity to gain some insight into the interpersonal dynamics that might someday lead to peace.
Update: Konami has now confirmed that all of the nuclear weapons in a console’s region must be dismantled in order to access the secret ending.