Categories: Opinions | 24 comments

David’s Deepest Game Ever: Metal Gear Solid

There have been almost too many games to count that have caused me to think, wonder, question, and sob. I left my faithful comrade behind to a terrible fate in Star Wars: Republic Commando. I questioned my own soul when the tragic tune began playing after killing my first colossus in Shadow of the Colossus. I lost all sense of equilibrium and direction at the end of Half-Life 2, and was left questioning the state of the world, and of myself, during Andrew Ryan’s stirring speeches throughout Bioshock. But the games that have taken me furthest, made me think hardest, and cut me the deepest, are without question the Metal Gear Solid titles.

Metal Gear Solid

Metal Gear Solid, for those unfamiliar, is a stealth action series described as “tactical espionage action” by its creator Kojima studios. It is most famously known for trend-setting stealth play, industry-leading mechanics, lengthy, film-quality cutscenes, and artful direction. And it is rightly praised, as playing any MGS game is a treat. However, Metal Gear Solid at its core is more about the journey of its main character Snake, and the bitterness of the world the surrounds him. Snake and his predecessor (known also as Snake, and later Big Boss), chronicle the events of an alternative arms race, beginning with MGS3: Snake Eater, and the first of it’s kind long range missile delivery system known as the Shagohod. This weapon system is defeated by Big Boss, but the technology later evolves into a mobile nuke launcher infamously called Metal Gear Rex which is left to be fought over by his two clone “sons”; our hero Solid Snake, and his destructive clone “brother” Liquid Snake, or simply Liquid. Although Rex, Liquid, and the terrorists are defeated, the technology continues development in the form of Metal Gear Ray; the fully submersible, undetectable, mass produced version, causing Snake, and new protagonist Raiden to take action in MGS2. After success in their campaign against Ray, Snake is called back into action for a final time in MGS4 to stop Liquid from taking control of “the system” which is a poignant commentary on the meaning of warfare and population exploitation.

Metal Gear Rising Revengeance

MGS1 explores all sorts of ideas that make you ponder. The nature of heroics versus duty for example. The famous Solid Snake claims on several occasions that he is no hero, to the contrary opinion of all the starstruck allies he accumulates throughout the game. A recurring accusation surfaces as well about his enjoyment of all the killing he does. His nemesis, Liquid, claims that it is destiny that draws him to his current position, rather than duty. Rather than loyalty. So why then is Snake at Shadow Moses trying against all odds to stop the coming nuclear storm? Honor, glory, or Patriotism? For the greater good, or his own twisted devices? No one, Snake included, can seem to agree. It really bugged me as I finished the game and moved to the sequel.

Expecting answers in MGS2 was rewarded with more questions as Snake was replaced by Raiden as the main character of the game. It was there however that the idea of “the system” was introduced; a mass control of weapons through ID tags, run by an artificial intelligence and group of faceless bureaucrats known as “the patriots”. It did seem at the time like a run-of-the-mill “government is out to get us” conspiracy story. Still, the conflict was being driven by this big-headed, dramatic, boisterous philosophy that refused to be simple or straightforward. It was alluding to something bigger.

MGS3 thickened the plot by going backwards as a prequel. Like letters appearing in no particular order, the message began to form. Here we saw the beginning of things. Not only of the arms race, but the beginning of Snake and his sins as he was forced to not only defeat his mentor and the greatest soldier who ever lived, but to then execute her, and take on that title himself. It was from this event that Snake came. Similarly, he was forced to walk down a river full of the images of all of the people he had killed. It is for this that Snake had to atone.

Metal Gear Solid 4

Finally, in Metal Gear Solid 4, at the end of Solid Snake’s Journey he is dying of an illness that makes him rapidly age. “The system” has full control of global warfare, and is run like a business more than an army. It is a really cool take on future warfare, but more than that it is the logical conclusion of the concept of an arms race. When weaponry plateaus and is mass produced, what is there left to control in battle to tip the scales but the battle itself? Snake represents the tragedy of a soldier whose life is a fight from the day he takes up arms, until the day he dies by them, unknown and forgotten. He and Liquid represent two halves of a whole; loyalty and sacrifice; anarchy and destiny. In the end you don’t know if you should topple or preserve the system. You don’t know if Snake should even live or die.

I’ve left out about a hundred times what I’ve included when it comes to the depth of concept in Metal Gear Solid. While long-winded and silly at times, more often than not I would set my controller down and just reflect. As a society are we past the point of right and wrong? Is there any stopping the military machine? What does it mean to take a life, and what life is there left for someone who sacrifices everything? It’s hard sometimes to believe that all these thoughts stem from a video game.

What’s the deepest a game has ever taken you? Let us know in the comment section.

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  • http://lepetitprincedublog.wordpress.com jonjondotcom1312

    It’s funny. For as much shit that Kojima and MGS get for being ridiculous, long-winded, not-so-subtly homophobic/racist/Japanese; I can’t think of a major blockbuster, combat-oriented game that pays so much attention to the value of life.

    The river scene in MGS3 literally made me question my agency as a vidya gamer. There was an awesome “Address the Sess,” where some grad student brings up the topic of leudonarrative dissonance, where the story, character development, and emotional charge lead you to believe one thing and then the gameplay has you doing something else. Kojima serves up a game where the neckbeard skeptic can only be angry at himself for the blood of 1,000 Russian soldiers/mercs.

    As I’m typing this, I’m starting to question the role of the LND in MGS.. Snake being a soldier and a literal tool of the powers that command/guide him. I’m wondering how the role of killing serves to guide the conversation around LND in MGS?

    • http://Batteredjoystick.com David

      That’s an incredibly interesting point, specifically because of a point I forgot to bring up which is the option throughout the game to stamina kill, and simply not actually kill at all throughout the games. It almost makes the player the killer, not the character.

      Thoughts?

      • http://thathomestar.tumblr.com Michael

        Overall the MGS series has always been clearly anti-war.

        MGS1 has obvious anti-nuke themes, plus the whole “you enjoy the killing thing”.
        MGS2 straight up draws a connection between Raiden, a child soldier trained in VR, and the player, someone who had likely been playing violent games since they were a kid.
        MGS3 has the famous Sorrow fight where you have to face everyone you’ve killed up to that point.
        MGS4 paints a frighteningly real world where war becomes an everyday thing to make a profit on.
        MGSV is going to have broken men fighting fights for the wrong reasons, child soldiers, and “race” is the theme. You can see where they’re going with this.

        Somehow the series has taken shockingly real things and laid them out for us to see and think about, while also being a really fun game with interesting plots and characters. Honestly, I don’t know how they do it.

      • Mike

        wow. you are right. In most games you kill or be kill as a character. But in the MGS series for the most part YOU, as the player, have the option to not kill and still live and proceed.

      • Alexandre

        Indeed, as the book in the Legacy Collection says, Metal Gear has a pacifist message at the core of its gameplay.

      • Farez MI

        I’ve been playing metal gear series from the beginning and I always thought about whether to go out and knocking every enemy I found or really just stay quiet and move from cover to cover. The game really let you choose your own action and to my own opinion, it kinda shows your own personality in taking the actions.

        But one thing though, I always thought about what The Boss’ question to snake (Big Boss), “Loyalty to the end”. That is one question that sounded simple but have a really deep meaning or interpretation to someone. And the game really shows the struggles people in real life experience.

        This franchise is really my top choice in gaming.

      • Diogo

        When the river subject was brought that was exactly the first thing I thought, you can chose to not kill anyone during the game, which rewards you with a better for example, and on the river scene no soldier is seen if you don’t kill anyone, only the cobra unit appears cause they explode after defeated. It was a nice play to show the other side of the coin where the “old villain” is seen as a hero!

  • http://www.batteredjoystick.com/2013/10/10/davids-deepest-game-ever/ Elin Castro

    I agree with everything that u’ve said Metal Gear is a ton of emotional, and that is what makes it the best game ever made! Metal Gear foreva!

  • Alex.a

    I am a fan of many games that span many genres, but MGS is truly the greatest of any video game in history. MGS has moments that still to this day make me cry (i am a man, age 30) and i’m not ashamed to admit it. I was 15-16 after finishing MGS1 and when the song started to play -The Best is Yet to Come- my eyes started to be watery and after a bit i burst into tears. I gad in a way accumulated Snake’s feelings over the course of the gameplay and at that moment i could literally feel what he had. It’s also worthy to mention that i had not previously saved Meryl cause i wasn’t sure if could handle it and skipped that part. I can assure you that never again i let her down. All that from and for pixel/fictional characters…

    For me, Solid Snake represents what is the most important attribute of humanity. The will power to move on, right or wrong. Solid Snake IS willpower.

  • http://terryplays.blogspot.com Terry

    It’s not a popular option, but I think Peace Walker might be my favorite in the whole series. Every game involved me emotionally, but PW is the only one to make me cry.

    • Danny Boy

      4 didn’t make you cry? Really??

  • Solidmixer

    I don’t think games will ever come quite as close to a piece of art as Sons of Liberty will, nor will a game ever be so hyped, misunderstood, reviled, and later finally revived. It was the first one I anxiously awaited the release for, and still to this day remains my favorite in the series for its postmodern construction and social commentary, not only on the world of gaming but on us as gamers and what our expectations were and what we did in reaction.

    If you’re interested in learning more about it, I suggest any of these links below:

    SuperBunnyHop’s Critical Close Up:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T-2YuPGYabw‎

    Junker HQ’s Ending Analysis:
    http://junkerhq.net/MGS2/

    Dreaming In an Empty Room:
    http://archive.insertcredit.com/features/dreaming2/

    Mr. Wolfe’s Complete Deconstruction:
    http://metagearsolid.org/2012/04/mgs2-review-chapter-1/

    How many video games have had this many literary/critical analyses written about them? Gaming, as any other medium of storytelling, can be a real art form, and sooner or later I think it will have a lot more respect than it does even today.

  • Andrew Nelson

    I loved it. Great point made about the player being the killer. Something I never thought of before.

  • Braulio R. Urbina

    Very well thought out article, I completely agree. The game made me reflect a lot as well. Just one comment though about an inaccuracy I noticed. I don’t know if it was intentional but in case it wasn’t, Snake didn’t suffer from an illness in MGS4, he was designed to be that way when he and Liquid were created. All in all though, excellent analysis.

    • David Stoneburgh

      *SPOILERS*

      Just brushing up, I believe Snake was actually afflicted with an illness- Werner’s Syndrome- which caused his ailments and physical aging. The FOXDIE in him had begun to decay and was threatening to make Snake a biological weapon.

      • Braulio R. Urbina

        Actually, and I’m sorry if it sounds rude or anything as that is not my intention, Otacon says in the beginning that his symptoms look like Werner’s but that’s it, he never confirmed that was the case. Then later on in the game when you meet Naomi before facing Laughing Octopus her explanation confirms that Werner’s is not the case because Solid and Liquid were genetically engineered. Here is the transcript of the conversation with Naomi in which she explains everything: “Naomi : Snake, do you remember what I told you in my video mail?
        About the first generation of nanomachines?

        Snake : The ones you stuck me with at Moses?

        Naomi : Yes… The nanomachines are recharged by your body heat.
        They won’t stop functioning until they’re all extracted…
        Or until you do. Most of them were lost through bleeding and
        excretion… But around 30% still remain inside your body,
        attached to your cells. The first generation were never
        ID-registered, so they don’t react the same way as the SOP
        nanomachines. But they may be interfering with your body,
        and with your heart.

        Snake : So does the aging have something to do with FOXDIE, too?

        Naomi : No. Your telomeres were intentionally set up to be short,
        regardless of the age of the original. One of the genes that
        inhibit reproduction and aging – the Klotho gene – was
        intentionally mutated as well. But more importantly, your
        chromosomes, like Liquid’s… Were provided with terminator
        genes to prevent them from making copies.
        Snake : Why?

        Naomi : You are clones created for one purpose – war. And so in
        order to prevent you from being abused by clients or stolen
        by the enemy… They shortened your lifespan and removed
        your ability to reproduce. It was a safety device to ensure
        that the seed of Big Boss didn’t end up in the hands of
        others. THE REASON YOU’RE AGING SO RAPIDLY ISN’T BECAUSE OF DISEASE, OR FAULTY REASEARCH, OR FOXDIE. IT’S HOW YOU WERE BORN. IT’S YOUR NATURAL LIFESPAN.”
        I can see how it’d be easy to miss a couple details, especially if you weren’t looking for a different cause to his problem cause you accepted the theory of Werner’s, I’m just happy to help clear it up. :) Awesome game and story, my words don’t even do it justice.

        • David Stoneburgh

          There it is, awesome. Thank you for clearing that up!

  • Amaan

    Couldn’t agree with you more.

  • Ringallz

    MGS 3 SPOILER ALERT:

    I think you had a small flaw in the text, since Shagohod didn’t evolve into Rex. The scientist you met after the warehouse scene, Granin, had the bipedal tank idea, and a miniature model of Rex in his office. And since Sokolov was the father of Shagohod, Rex and Shagohod weren’t really from the same family tree, if you catch my meaning.

    END OF MGS 3 SPOILER

    Otherwise, very well written. Assassins Creed has made me ponder the consequences of my acts in game, and the righteousness of certain ideas. I even began to question freedom itself.

    • David Stoneburgh

      Yes you’re absolutely right. Evolved might have been a poor choice of words but I was more just alluding to the fact that Rex was the next challenge, rather than a direct descendant.

  • Daniel

    Even though I played all the games in order, it was not until I played MGS3 that I began to consider not killing enemies as I moved on. On my first playthrough (is that the word?) I found that river full of soldiers and animals. That was quite a shock to me. So much so, that I decided to stop killing enemies and started using tranquilizer guns. Such was the shock, that when I played MGS4 for the first time, I decided I would only use stealth and tranquilizer guns as long as I wasn’t in a very difficult situation or cornered by enemies.
    What I mean to say is that this games got me thinking about the ease with which we “kill” in games and makes me wonder if it’s not just an ugly reflection of what it is to come. These games explore the “human side” of war through a solder such as Snake and Big Boss and reach to us from that perspective. More often than not, I have found myself crying over the endings of these games and the messages they convey (apart from the AMAZING OST) and feeling a lot of guilt when being forced to kill a soldier in them.
    Thanks for the article, it’s great!!

  • Laura

    Spoilers:

    I enjoy games that reflect consequence back onto the player. Did anyone NOT hesitate at the end of MGS3 when you are poised to execute The Boss in the field of flowers? I found myself searching for another way, or perhaps just turning off the game and never going through with it. But then Id be deprived of the story behind it.

    I enjoy games where you connect with one character, and follow that character through the game. In the case of Half-life, you ARE the character, because he never speaks and you have been the one carrying out all his actions. So when you are met by others in the game, you feel as if they are talking to you, interacting with you, and you feel the guilt or the victory or the horror more intensely.

    In Shadow of the Colossus you could sense what was coming, there was a feeling of wrongness, being in this strange empty place and fighting these massive titans, and losing a part of yourself as you fought each of them. Although Ill never forget calling for Agro frantically when he didnt make the jump. I needed Agro, he was my only support.

    Heavy Rain puts you in the role of a father who has lost a son and is trying to save the other son from a serial killer. This is a deeply moving game which puts the choices in your hands, hard choices to make. The Last of Us also plays with your conscience, and forces you to bond with the characters on an intensely emotional level. Silent Hill 2… the loneliness and fright felt in the game makes you sympathetic to James much more, and when you face a monster you want to flee as though if he is physically hurt you will be also. Which makes the ending all the more horrible when you realize what he/you had done in the first place. Not knowing how you came to be in Silent Hill or what you had done in the past made it interesting. I think there are alot of games with these moments, you are just playing through the game and suddenly you are given a realization, and then are struck by a real sense of morose regret or sadness. Perhaps not the best examples.

    But when we are talking about long-standing videogame series here, that provoke certain expectations, the rewards are greater. As far as game series’ go, MGS is one of the only loyally unchanged series. Each game compliments and continues the next. Whats amazing is there are so many complex and subliminal meanings to just about everything, its hard to keep track. Its satisfying when you finally figure them out though. Its probably impossible to connect all the meanings and symbolisms together so that everyone who played it could understand and see them. And the moments where you feel moved or perturbed by what you have done are almost constant, and battling one another. MGS is outstanding.

    And Im sorry this ended up so long… I could talk about videogames all day…

  • jack

    I have to say i enjoyed the article
    For me i have to its Spec Ops:The Line that made me think
    It was interesting to see a military shooter start questioning the idea of killing and violence for entertainment.

  • Danny Boy

    The saddest and most powerful moment that truly struck me to the core, was the return to Shadow Moses in MGS4. 10 full years after the release of MGS, MGS4 came out.

    I remember like it was yesterday, when “The Best is Yet to Come” started playing when I entered the abandoned, desolated base. Tears literally ran down my face, and to this day I’ve always questioned why this happened to me. The sheer rush of pure nostalgia was too much for me, and I emotionally broke down. Some people are going to laugh at that, but I honestly don’t care. It’s something that I will always treasure and never forget. It was the moment a video game truly resonated within my entire being.