Thursday, August 28, 2008

Can love bloom on a battlefield? - Metal Gear Solid Conclusion

It's taken me a while but I finally finished the original Metal Gear Solid. In terms of plot, so much has happened since our last outing that it's hard to wrap it all up. Hideo Kojima, the creator of the series, really enjoys large, complex plots. Essentially, Snake learns that he has to stop the Metal Gear from firing. He also learns that he's been injected with a genetic virus called "FoxDie" which is a virus programmed only to kill certain people. Snake learns that he was injected with FoxDie which would kill all of the terrorists trying to take control of Metal Gear, but he learns that it is designed to kill him also. Basically his whole mission was a setup by the government from the beginning - in order to cover up the secret of the Metal Gear project, which if exposed could cause huge tensions between the superpowers of the world, Snake was injected with FoxDie. When he came into contact with the various terrorists they would be exposed to it and die (thus why the DARPA chief died of a mysterious heart-attack, because he wasn't the DARPA chief at all, he was one of the terrorists in disguise! Still following?). Snake also learns that the leader of the terrorists, Liquid Snake, is actually his twin brother. You see, they were all part of a genetic experiment during the '70's called 'Les infantes terribles' which was designed to create the ultimate super-soldiers from the cloned DNA of 'Big Boss', the bad guy from the original Metal Gear games on the old NES. They share the same genetic code and that's why Snake will also die from FoxDie. In fact, we learn that Gulf War syndrome is a byproduct of the genetic engineering, because all those soldiers over there were injected with stuff that essentially caused their genetic makeup to change to that of Big Boss's. Oh yeah, that Ninja that Snake encountered earlier turns out to be the brother of one of the operatives on your team, but he's not really her brother, he's actually her parents' killer!!! If you're wearing your tinfoil hat at this point don't be ashamed.

So as we can see, Kojima likes his plots complexo-to-the-maxo. But ultimately (and thankfully) not much of the plot is relevant to our discussion. Metal Gear Solid deals with a lot of themes not usually found in videogames. At the end of the story Snake knows that he's going to die from the FoxDie, but he doesn't know when. In fact, Naomi (who's brother was the Ninja) tells him that he'll die when his time is up, but until then he should "live life!" Kojima explores destiny and fate here. If Snake could die at any moment, then what's the difference if he didn't know he was infected at all? Should he let that control his life?

Kojima also deals here with finding purpose in one's life. Throughout the game Snake is constantly asked "what are you fighting for?" If he's just a mercenary, does he have actual beliefs, or is he purely just a gun-for-hire? During one of his conversations with Master Miller (who ultimately turns out to be Liquid in disguise), Miller says to him "The only difference between a murderer and a soldier is that the soldier has a purpose." Do we need to give ourselves over to something greater to find purpose in life? At the end, Snake escapes from the compound with Meryl (the Colonel's niece) and decides he'd like to finally give his life purpose by giving himself to Meryl. Watch the final cinematic here (skip to 4:15 to get to the actual speech by Naomi addressing this topic).

Speaking of love, the scientist who Snake helped rescue earlier, Otacon, delivers one of the more awkward lines in the history of videogames. During his time being held hostage by the terrorists Otacon falls in love with one of them. Later in the game, after he's been freed by Snake, Otacon approaches Snake and asks him "Do you think love can bloom, even on a battlefield?" Though its hard not to chuckle when you hear this line, it's Kojima once again driving home the point that we need to live life for a purpose, that we can't just live for ourselves, but that we need to live for something greater. Watch the scene here.

So, is Metal Gear Solid art? It's hard to say. The game certainly has a strong message. While most other games in the same league (I'm looking at you Halo) have larger than life heroes and a sense of epicness, their messages are ultimately pretty thin. But with Metal Gear Solid Kojima is actually trying to tell us something. Unfortunately most of this message is conveyed during lengthy cinematic cutscenes which technically aren't part of the gameplay, but more like watching a movie. Perhaps as a compromise we could say that the game isn't art, but the story and message contained within is.

Until next time, I'll leave you with the closing song from Metal Gear Solid 4 - a cover of Joan Baez's "Here's to you" from the film 'Sacco e Vanzetti'. Oh yes - Kojima goes there.

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