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[In the heat of the moment, we decided to bring Pixie’s blog on MGS up front. Hope you enjoy it. While I’m at it, check out Band of Bloggers, under new management, starting with Hideo Kojima games! ~Strider]
[Heads up: I’m spoiling most of the MGS series here. No main series entry is safe.]
Solid Snake is said to be the protagonist of the Metal Gear Solid series. It’s a notion I’ve come to question over the years. I first met Snake on the NES with Metal Gear and later on was reintroduced to him on Playstation with Metal Gear Solid. As a kid, Metal Gear captued my imagination for it being so different from other games, as it was a game where hiding and avoiding detection were more essential to success than gunning down every enemy you saw. Even on the NES and MSX, Snake had his trusty cardboard box to fool enemy soldiers and security cameras alike. It was a fun idea.
it was also the first game to betray me. Turns out that guy I was taking orders from was actually the bad guy, so I had to put a stop to his plans with that Metal Gear thing.
As the series progressed, it took on more serious themes and adopted complex narratives, ones convoluted on the scale of a DC Comics crossover event, but it never let its 8-bit roots go and I have always loved that. MGS a series that can drop serious knowledge about the politics of the Cold war and then have you sneaking around jungles, sticking up enemy soldiers with bananas. Then you kidnap them with balloons to build your own army and fight nuclear tanks that squawk, roar and even sing a nice melody every now and again.
But Metal Gear Solid is also a series that loves to subvert all expectations. Even the “Solid” part of the series plays into it. I have come to feel “Solid” is used less in reference to Solid Snake and more to remind us what happens when solid meets liquid. Displacement seems to be among the franchise’s recurring themes, but one that is seldom touched upon.
Metal Gear Solid, on its own, is a classic hero’s journey. It plays out not unlike Batman Begins and was essentially a reboot to get players up to speed on the events of Metal Gear, Metal Gear 2 and flesh out the lore between characters like Big Boss, Grey Fox and Solid Snake himself.
Through the story, though, Snake never defines himself, his actions and the words of others ultimately do that. We get the legend, but Snake never really bears what would appear to be his own ideology until the end of the game. It’s his allies and enemies alike that characterize him more than anything he says. Bruce Wayne and Batman are treated the same way. actions and the words of friend and foe alike define him more than his words do.
Even so, all the events of Metal Gear Solid are said to be born from and by defined Big Boss, whom Solid Snake and Liquid Snake were cloned from. The Genome Soldiers and the weapon, Metal Gear Rex, are also products of Big Boss’s legacy.
Even so, it’s the hero’s journey that empowers the player a great deal. With everyone around Snake boosting him up, it’s pretty hard not to feel awesome yourself, just like how Batman is seen as awesome even though Christian Bale is a laughable Batman and a respectable Bruce Wayne. Ra’s, The Joker, Gordon, Alfred, Rachel, Lucius and Alfred build Bruce’s legend with their words. So do Mei Ling, Campbell, Meryl, Otacon, Sniper Wolf, Vulcan Raven and Liquid with Solid Snake.
Metal Gear Solid 2 subverts much of this, displacing Solid Snake as the playable protagonist and stiffing players with Raiden with no enemy or ally boosting his image. Raiden is subjected to a situation designed to simulate the events of MGS,, meaning he’s not really the character of his own story so much as he’s living out Solid Snake’s greatest hits. Even the antagonist of the story, another clone of Big Boss, Solidus Snake, ends up pantomiming the life of Big Boss Raiden and Solidus are displaced by the legends of Solid Snake and Big Boss.
Meanwhile Solid Snake is out of the player’s reach along with the real antagonist, Revolver/Liquid Ocelot, and you can’t play as Snake or fight Ocelot. The original hero is displaced, so is the new one and the antagonist is, too. Even Revolver Ocelot’s body occasionally gets taken over by Liquid Snake’s personality (because nanomachines from grafting the deceased Liquid Snake’s arm onto his as a replacement when Grey Fox lopped it off), meaning the other antagonist is displaced by a dead guy.
Then Metal Gear Solid 3 comes along, promising us some history on and the chance to play the man who would become Big Boss, Naked Snake. We do get to play as Naked Snake and MGS3 is still undoubtedly still the pinnacle of the series in both gameplay and narrative, but the story isn’t really about Snake after the first hour of the game is up. MGS3is about his mentor, The Boss.
The Boss sets the tone for the narrative and two critical parts of the gameplay – CQC and camoflage. Her politics actually may end up influencing your use of these techniques, encouraging the player to hide or employ non-lethal takedowns to minimize detection and harm to opponents. When you see your enemies as only enemies in relative terms, as dictated by the times, why kill them?
I mean, sure, you can run around, killing enemies if you want, but the game really shines when you find alternatives to that. It gains an edge when you know you only have so long to move on to the next area undetected before an enemy wakes back up and radios for a sweep of the area.
Over the course of the “Virtuous Mission,” The Boss defects to Russia, betraying America and Snake as she allies with Colonel Volgin of the GRU. She brings Volgin two tactical nuclear warheads and Volgin uses one to destroy a Russian scientific facility, framing The Boss further as an enemy to America and now the world. Presidents Kruschev and Johnson have a chat later and Kruschev demands Johnson solve the problem, preferably a solution where Volgin and The Boss die.
Snake is given the new mission, “Operation: Snake Eater.” He’s to take down Volgin, The Boss and her Cobra Unit.
And actually, I’m gonna gloss over much of the story from here. If you’re familiar with the series, you know what goes on from this point. You know The Boss is actually carrying out a mission for the US government, to get close to Volgin so that she can obtain a piece of microfilm known as The Philosopher’s Legacy, essentially data that shows where billions of dollars an organization known as The Philosopher have stashed all over the world. It’s enough cash to give the US a serious lead on weapons development in the Cold War.
Upon replaying the game, you see just how in control The Boss is of every aspect of her mission, how she allies with and even persuades rival agents to do her bidding, including you. She displaces Naked Snake as the protagonist of the story and Volgin as the antagonist as well. In fact, Volgin turns out to be the biggest patsy of the series. Ocelot might have played Liquid Snake, Solidus Snake and others to achieve his goals well into MGS4 to carry out Big Boss’ wishes, but in this game, The Boss plays him.
In fact, the interrogation scene on the whole shows how in control of situation The Boss really is:
She has EVA and Ocelot working for her, each contribute to Snake’s escape. Ocelot just overstepped things a bit. Even so, Volgin is left none the wiser and believes he’s in absolute control.
The culmination of the story results in a showdown between Snake and The Boss. One must die and one must live. Her mission was to ensure to Philosopher’s Legacy was secured for America and that she not only had give the appearance of betrayal to obtain it but be killed by her last disciple to preserve the narrative of this betrayal in the eyes of the world.
In that scene, The Boss tells Snake everything. It’s here we come to understand why she gave him the codename Naked Snake. She bares her soul to him, shows him her scars, even sheds a tear. These are the final moments between her and the man she sees as her last true son. MGS has always been a series about family, but here we see a bond between The Boss and Naked Snake that we never felt between Solid Snake and Big Boss or Solid and Liquid. A conflict built not only on the dedication to thier missions, but also genuine love and respect,
Here the hero’s journey belongs only to The Boss, but she’s not going down without a fight.
And here’s where her message comes full circle, both in gameplay and narrative. She is an enemy in relative terms, an eventual casualty of the times. She knew to help bring an eventual end to the Cold war she had to die and she does it for her country. You aren’t going to beat her by putting on the fireworks, though. You can’t go in guns blazing. If you do, she will end you. Camoflage and mastery of CQC are the only way to bring her down and finally pull the trigger on her.
After that, we know the rest of the story. Naked Snake wasn’t the hero, this wasn’t his story. In fact, Metal Gear Solid 4 isn’t anyone’s story but hers, either. Same goes fo Peace Walker. She dominates the narrative of the series from MGS3 onward, even retroactively
So what does this mean for Solid Snake and Metal Gear Solid and MGS2?
It changes everything.
Now we know who the center of the MGS universe really is and that Big Boss’ legacy is really only genes and weapons, not heart. Every event from the end of MGS3 forward connects to The Boss on some level, in some way, whether good or entirely misguided by those intepreting her legacy. Big Boss and Major Zero come into conflict over her legacy post-MGS3 and that rivalry seems to come to a head in MGS V: The Phantom Pain. These events somehow bring Big Boss back to America to found the special forces until, Foxhound, and he continues down a darker path.
For now, though, that’s neither here nor there. We know that Big Boss is the legendary hero that falls into darkness and that the will of The Boss is the true light and center of the series. Somehow, her words and ideals come to live on in Grey Fox, who reminds Solid Snake that soliders are not just tools of the government. Grey Fox had a mission – to see Snake succeed even at the cost of his own life. Sounds familar. Grey Fox was not another man with a gun and, from there, it’s Solid Snake who carries on the will of Grey Fox and The Boss. He carries that will into the very end of MGS4, where The Boss becomes the end focus again and Big Boss finally understands the error of his ways.
I have a feeling we’ll see why Grey Fox was able to do that with what we learn in MGS V. All the pieces were laid out in the last E3 trailer. The Mammal Pod that houses The Boss AI from Peace Walker is there, as is a first generation of cyborgs and a lot of talk of a “language” that will make notions of nationality, race and even faces irrelevant. A world where your tongue isn’t needed. It sounds like the kind of goal Zero angled for with Arsenal Gear, GW and nanomachines later on, this is just his first pass.
What did The Boss AI previously do in Peace Walker? Sacificed itself to prevent the launch of a nuke, singing a song by The Carpenters as it sank itself into the ocean to abort the launch signal. So yeah, if you’re going to play around with the human mind and stick a kernel of The Boss AI in them, I figure one of them may really start acting like The Boss later on. My bet is on Grey Fox becoming her unknowing agent.
Metal Gear Solid is a series that gets better (okay, and weirder) with age, It is a series of deception, subversion and displacement. The themes of legacy started out being tied to genetics, but Solild Snake is a man cloned to be infertile and cannot pass on his genes, he can only pass on knowledge which has its own kind of fertility.
Solid Snake comes to bear The Boss’s torch and its that will to pass on knowledge and live is what makes him a hero. He’s not the protagonist of the series, but the culmination of the others, of voices he’s heard less than those that built him up as a legend. What The Boss and Grey Fox pass on to him, he passes on to Raiden and Raiden retuns some knowledge to him as well. He impacts the lives of all he touches, meaning The Boss has touched their hearts in some way, too. Campbell, Meryl, Naomi, Mei Ling, Otacon, Raiden, Sunny – many diffeent lives.
Solid Snake is like a Boss, just not one he had the opportunity to meet. He’s not a legenday hero, but part of a greater legend and one he comes to share with others, even if he doesn’t know who it originated from. The sons of The Boss are many and he’s one of the good ones.