So, in honor of my previous post about Metal Gear Solid 5, I thought I would look back on one of my favorite PS2 games and one of the most controversial entries in the MGS franchise: Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty.
MGS 2 is widely regarded as the game in which Hideo Kojima first hopped onto the train to weirdo-town. The substitution of the mysterious (and often annoying) Raiden for our hero Solid Snake for the last 2/3rds of the game alienated lots of folks, for example.
But the game’s irritations were purposeful, designed to get us thinking about our culture’s desire to worship warlike heroes from the comfort of our own couches.
Jeremy Parish writes
More than a statement; MGS feels almost like an elaborate troll. It’s a game that seems to dare you to like it. At every turn, it practically mocks the player. Every inch of the game revels in deceiving its audience, from the basic premise of the story to the interlocking Celtic knot that is its plot to the marketing that surrounded the game from its debut. The MGS2 narrative consists of 10 hours of ruses, double-crosses, shocking revelations, and subversions. It was sold to audiences on very nearly false pretexts.
And that’s the entire point of MGS2. It inveigles the player as a means to make a statement, one that seems remarkably prescient a decade later. Ultimately, MGS2 isn’t about saving the President or preventing the proliferation of super-weapons; it’s a missive about the mutability of information in the digital age. When all forms of communication are digital, everything exists as data, and data can be altered. Text can be edited; video can be manipulated; audio can be masked and sampled. Digital information is unreliable, and as a video game MGS2 consists entirely of digital information. It is inherently untrustworthy, and its producer played up this fact by weaving falsehood throughout and around the game.
And Rich Stanton at Eurogamer calls MGS2 “the first postmodern video game:
Raiden was intended to represent the player, specifically the type of player who enjoys war-themed games like MGS. The events at the Big Shell closely parallel the events at Shadow Moses, with one big difference.
The first time you control Raiden, with his mask off and blonde locks flowing freely, the location is designed around a bespoke effect: lots of bird shit. Walk on it and Raiden pratfalls, an initially amusing animation that soon becomes a little tiresome as you search for the way forward.
It’s a little thing but, boy, do they pile up. MGS2 in ways big and small undermines Raiden at nearly every turn, constantly reinforcing to both him and the player that he is not Solid Snake. The Big Shell is Raiden’s first combat mission, and no-one misses the opportunity to remind him of it. When Snake meets Raiden he calls him “green” and “rookie.” Raiden’s first boss fight, against Fortune, cannot be won – and she taunts him for not being Snake. Where Snake stoically bore torture, Raiden ends up crying.
The final section in which it is revealed that…
SPOILERS FOR A 14 YEAR OLD GAME SO HONESTLY GET YOUR ACT TOGETHER
Raiden is not actually on a heroic mission at all but is actually being run through a kind of training exercise designed to test if it is possible to control people’s actions by exerting total control over the information they have access to. In Raiden’s case, all the data he has about himself came from virtual reality simulations designed to turn him into the next Solid Snake and the Big Shell Incident is simply his final test, a recreation of the Shadow Moses incident depicted in the previous game.
The game’s “malfunctioning” reinforces this by making visible the seams in the VR simulation we are running on our home video game consoles. I remember being terrified of the nightmare versions of my beloved commanding officer, Roy Campbell, and Raiden’s girlfriend, Rose.
There is so much more to say about this game, so I’m going to hand things over to folks who’ve done some amazing analysis.