"Only a few more steps to Outer Heaven"
Recently I've been thinking up a new idea for a blog. In retrospect, I still have an unfinished blog regarding the Persona series I wanted to finish before Persona 5 came out but that is premature now. I will have to get back to it eventually. Aside from that I had pondered on something different. I decided I wanted to try and start a blog series regarding some of my favorite video game characters, or characters that stood out from the rest.
The recent tragic pass of John Cygan made me decide to start out with perhaps one of the best written characters by Hideo Kojima, and most memorable villain. Solidus Snake. The brilliance of this charasmatic foe is in no small part due to the voice acting of John Cygan.
I'm one of those few people who holds up Sons of Liberty as one of the best entries in its respective series, despite people's initial dislike of its protagonist, Raiden. In a lot of ways, I feel this is one of the only games in the series that has a lot of character aside from the usual political and philosophical jargon by I-watched-a-lot-Ghost-in-the-Shell-Hideo-Kojima. Solid Snake is a cool character, there's no getting around that. But as an actual character he falls a bit short. Raiden for all of his initially less bad-ass impressions has quite a bit of character. He's very expressive, he's got morals and not afraid to question things that don't make sense to his superiors. In a lot of ways, his role and his character is a deliberate mirror of the player themselves which is also intended as the game subtlety points out when you enter your name and blood type into a nearby console.
Les Enfants Terrible
But we are not here to talk about Raiden, and the meta-narrative aspects will be saved for later. Because where there is a protagonist, there also needs to be an antagonist. Solidus Snake is the foil to Raiden's seemingly good nature, he represents a repressed memory of Raiden's past that still haunts the protagonist. He is in a lot of ways a specter that the protagonist needs to defeat in order to move on.
Solidus Snake is a by-product of the Les Enfants Terrible project that is an important piece of Metal Gear lore regarding the origin of the Snake siblings. A lot of it is grounded in a common overarching theme regarding legacy and passing ones own experiences and memories on to the next generation. Each game compliments the previous game with a story theme that is fundementally based on the one preceding it. The first MGS was GENE--The red herring that passed through most of the game's characters and their motivations. Liquid is a man who is chained down by the knowledge that he is inferior due to him seemingly being given the inferior genes of Big Boss when he was born, Solid was given the dominant genes. Naomi is a woman who desperately wants uncover the identity of her parents and her past through her genes.
From Genes to Memes
The bottomline question that underlines these things in the first game is "How much is a human being defined by their genes?". Are we all just by-products of pre-detmined genetics? The way we act, talk--Is it all written in our DNA before we are born? Or are we products of our environment? The answer is found thorugh both plot and gameplay of the game. It is man’s fight against nature, against genetic determinism. That and the revelation of Solid actually being the recessive clone and Liquid being dominant and even Naomi's own conclusion at the end. While genes certainly make up a lot our very being, like how many arms we have, the colour of our eyes etc. We choose how we want to live, what we like and how we think. We aren't just clones of our parents.
To get into the flesh of a character like Solidus Snake it s important to know a bit about the game's message. The afforementioned philosophy described in the previous paragraph is shared amongst the cast of Metal Gear Solid 2. The complimentary theme of MEMEs. Memes are a construct thought up by Richard Dawkins--It represents an idea, style, behavior shared from one person to the next. It's a unit that acts a carrier of cultural ideas or practices transmitted from mind to another through writing, speech, gestures etc. It is regarded as a cultural correspondent to that of genes in that they both self-replicate, mutate, and respond in accordance with natural selection. So the question is "How much is a human being defined by information?"
The marketing campaign itself for the game is tied to the game's own plot of controlling the information flow. The switchero of labelling Snake as the protagonist in the ads but then pulling the rug from under the player once they finally play it. It is filtering information with the intent of manipulating its intended receiver. All of this information, ideas and concepts are all Memes. They are shared, they mutate as they spread. Ideas are part of what defines the person we are, our thoughts and beliefs, they can be shared through books, film, marketing or story.
The characters of Metal Gear Solid 2 all desire true freedom to make their own future. Raiden initially hides from the things he doesn't want to see but it takes him to beating Solidus and breaking free from the illusion provided to him through the information he's been given his entire life to finally realize it. Fatman's greatest desire is to be remembered as the greatest bomber in the world, even the rest of Dead Cell refuses to be puppets and the President of the United States is tired of being a pawn--A man chooses, a slave obeys, and he was tired of being the latter. Solidus stands on the top with a strong desire of wanting to make his own mark as an exon of history. The enigmatic Patriots desire to control human thought and behaviour through information control, their goal is to filter out all harmful thought, ideas, as a way to control the flow of history and therefore human thought and behaviour. All of the characters in the game are rebelling against that, Solidus most of all.
"All I want is to be remembered... by other people.. by history!"
Solidus is a "slurry, if you will" that consists of both Solid and Liquid materials. It's material that can be molded into any shape or form a pair of hands desires it to be. This made him the perfect tool for the Patriots to use, as it was also their hand that shaped him into the spitting image of Big Boss (a symbolic tool to rule the nation) through the workings of environment and culture. Solidus was represented as a social leader, someone who dictated policy for the good of the citizens of his nation, but only though cover-ups, deception and cheating.
Being cast aside for his failure to contain the fallout of the Shadow Moses incident made him rebel against the Patriots and realize the futility in being a puppet and leader in name only. Solidus inacted his real plan of fully becoming Big Boss not only in name but also embracing his father's dream of an army without a country. A nation free of the Patriots rule of secrecy. His Sons of Liberty as he would name it.
Father & Son
Another aspect that makes Solidus so interesting is his relationship to the new protagonist Raiden. Metal Gear Solid has a lot of themes underlining its complex storyline, and among them there is the theme of Father and Son. A theme that is also grounded in the series other story themes like genes memes, and most importantly identity. Our familial ties are heavily predicated in our genetic code as well as our environment, our ideas, our speech etc. Both Solid and Liquid are haunted by the fact that they are tied to Big Boss, and make it their mission to break free from him. That relationship closely resembles the relationship between Raiden and Solidus Snake.
Raiden was raised by Solidus Snake as a child soldier during the 70s, and unlike Solid Snake, he was haunted by the atrocities he had committed in his name. He chose to runaway and forget it all. This is another aspect of which Solidus is mimicking Big Boss as his perfect clone. At this point, all we know of the Legendary soldier is a picture of an old man with his white hair and trademark eye patch. When we meet Solidus, we can see the similarities and even when Snake shows up Solidus tries to taunt him by impersonating the man he had previously killed, even talking as if he was him "Don't tell me you've forgotten me, Snake." Even during the harrier fight, Solidus receives a serious injury to his left eye, which is later greeted with a smile as Ocelot labels him "the spitting image of Big Boss". He has finally donned the eye patch and completed his transformation into the man he's always wanted to be.
Solidus realizes that the Patriots has only the best interest in mind for society and not for the individual. Individual freedoms breeds isolation, they believe people lack the inability to exercise free will and thus seek to abuse it and settle for half truths, hindering society from advancing. The only way to change that is through the S3 plan, that would present a scenario capable of controlling human conciousness. But not just that alone, they would be able to control the digital flow information thus changing history in a manner they see fit. Solidus sees no future for him and anyone else in their grand scheme of things.
"Unless you kill me and face your past, Jack. You will never escape!"
Solidus greatest desire beyond being Big Boss is to be remembered, as he is a clone of Big Boss and part of the Les Enfants Terrible project--he is unable to carry children. Pile that together with accelerated aging as a contingency plan to prevent rivals from attempting to replicate the program. Solidus is left with a legacy of nothing but being a puppet of the Patriots. Ignoring the atrocities he has committed, and how he plans to launch an EMP nuke to cripple Manhattan and turn it into his own Outer Heaven. Solidus' plans for liberating the United States from the shackles of of the Patriots, in a not so subtle reference to the War of Independence, warrants sympathy.
In truth, while Solidus disposition is that of a desire to liberate the nation of the Patriots, his actual goal is to gain a list of names of The Patriots Wiseman's Comittee. He seeks to kill the Patriots from within. While he's willing to throw away any lackey who's outlived their usefulness in him getting to that goal, he still carries a sense of respect and love for Raiden as a son. He keeps him alive long enough for him to know the truth about the Patriots, telling him everything. Despite that, anyone who works for the Patriots is deemed an enemy in his eyes. Disregarding that, however, he offers Raiden the priviledge of survival by handing him a sword to fight his foster father one last time, determining who shall carry on the fight.
The only way for him to realize his goals is to kill Raiden and obtain the information of the Patriots leadership through the nanomachines installed in his cerebral cortex. Solidus is beaten by Raiden and falls to his death with a pose symbolizing that of George Washington. Although his methods are questionable, his desire to be remembered by history is sound and his plans would leave an echo behind to that of later installments, where it would finally come to fruition. So he truly did leave a mark. John Cygan has passed on but he has left a legacy of his own behind that will be remembered as an exon of video game history.
Thank you so much, John Cygan.