The Metal Gear Diaries #9: The Baffling Life and Bizarre Death of Emma Emmerich

The setup for these posts is simple: I've never played a Metal Gear Solid game before, and I want to change that. I'm going to be writing my on-going reactions to the games as I go, and sharing them with the world. The Metal Gear Diaries are somewhere between a full critical essay and twitter gut responses, and will form an honest document of my shock, frustration and surprise at the events of, say it with me now, "Metal Gear?!"

Last time, it was revealed that Raiden is in fact not a bad enough dude to save the President, and we were left wondering just how much longer Sons of Liberty can keep going. Now, it’s time to enter the storage room, and find Emma Emmerich…

Oh, You Were Doing So Well

This message just landed in Matt’s skype inbox: “EMMA SHOWED UP AND MGS 2 GOT GROSS AND WEIRD.”

I’m going to take a moment and just sigh loudly, let it all out.

Anyway. The Emma stuff was all going so well until now. It gave Otacon a really interesting backstory – that of a guilty brother who was unable to help the people that he loved because he didn’t even realise they were in trouble. It was – and still is, I guess – building towards a confrontation between the two of them, where they work out their issues and come to a place of common understanding and recognition of mistakes made along the way.

And I wanted that! Otacon is a character that doesn’t have much in the way of internal conflict at this point, and was always in desperate need of a backstory beyond “programmed Metal Gear Rex.” But then there was the moment with the glasses, in which Emma refers to them as a gift from “someone more important than her first boyfriend,” and talks about how Otacon and her used to play house when they were younger. It’s alright, they were step-siblings.

Then, as the turd topping to this delightfully shitty series of developments, Rose and Raiden have an argument about whether Raiden’s attracted to her. Rose is jealous because Raiden never opens up to her (on account of him not existing), and expresses this jealousy in a strange way that I can only describe as “written by a man.”

It’s like all of Metal Gear’s worst elements decided to come out at once and make me sad. No wonder this is the part that nobody talks about! All I know is that Guns Of The Patriots ends with a wedding on the tarmac of Shadow Moses, and I’m fairly sure that Otacon is the groom. If that’s where this is going then I’m gonna be the grumpiest saddest person, don’t do me like this game – go back to being a goofy game about the perils of capitalism! Please!

There is one positive element of this scene which I want to comment on – Emma’s phobia of swimming is never treated as weakness. Her trauma is given respect, and her phobia portrayed as a natural response to such a trauma. It was nice that Raiden never treated her as a burden, and she was never seen as lesser.

Granted, Raiden’s “treating her like a human being” reaction may just be fuel for conflict between her and Rose so maybe this is about to go from being a Great Game to being a Trash Game.

I know there’s going to be moments like this throughout Metal Gear though – I’ve heard about the ending of Ground Zeroes, for example. And whenever I come to moments of extreme grossness or shittyness I’m not going to defend them in anyway, they’re bad and even as someone who still likes the game and is ready to see it through, I’m not going to sit here and try to ignore it. It’s in the game, it’s as valid a part of the text as any of the elements that I enjoy, and I have to be honest about that.

It ain’t half disappointing though.

More Exposition

I’m always a fan of when Metal Gear explains something that I realised about three infodumps ago, it makes me feel super in tune with what the game’s themes are. Emma just dropped one about the Patriot’s fear of information in the modern age, and elaborated on the role of GW – it’s a giant censorship device that only works because people forget what the truth is. All of this was clear to me from The President’s initial reveal, but it’s nice for it to be a little more explicit.

Especially because, well, I’ve been on twitter this last year and it’s really strange watching history get rewrote in real time by deliberately biased algorithms that refuse to acknowledge large groups of people protesting the repeated police murders of unarmed black men, despite the collective amount of people talking about them.

GW is a strikingly prescient creation in terms of genre fiction, considering things like it actually exist, just without the secret codified group that runs the world and more with white supremacy and capitalism. And in the game it’s framed as a massive unthinkable creation - albeit one commenting on real world ideologies and attitudes - so it’s sad and scary for systems like that to widely be in place on various social media networks on the internet today.

I want to make a quick note to say that the conversation about genre fiction’s invoking of these systems of violent oppression in a manner that separates them from the humanity of the victims of those systems in the real world (and make no mistake, Metal Gear falls into that) is an important conversation to have. Metal Gear uses its genre-enforced distance to comment on systems of capitalism and control in a manner that makes it easier to engage with, but so does Hunger Games, and both are deafeningly silent when it comes to race.

That’s a deeply ingrained problem when it comes to genre fiction – even Star Trek, which I love to death, has this problem. Hell, they did a movie about Racism in which the main “black” character was played by Christopher Plumber. In the nineties.

So, I hope if Metal Gear’s going to be tackling these issues of capitalist power structures, censorship that shapes public opinion, the effects of the War between the powerful on those without power, it also starts to portray race and gender without being the worst but I know that’s not going to happen. There have been four black characters across these two games – three of them are dead already and if Fortune makes it through this game alive I will eat my hat.

There’s still games ahead of me. I know at some point there’s a black arms dealer with a talking monkey.

Damn It, Escort Missions

This blog post may as well be titled “Everything That Sucks About Metal Gear.”

Whooooo.

The Shit Got Real

The single most beautiful shot in the game may be Raiden and Emma climbing down the tower with the sun setting behind them. The cutscene has no purpose aside from to look good, to give a moment of calm beauty in a game which has relatively few.

It’s followed up with a really long sniper sequence, which I enjoyed primarily because it brought back a thing that had been conspicuously absent for the last few hours: everybody shitting on Raiden. If the threats are too much to take out yourself, you can call Snake and have him shoot with you – the game makes you go out of your way and ask – who then taunts you and tells you to watch how a real sniper does it.

In any other game that doesn’t trade in the themes that Sons of Liberty does, this would be a moment of masculine bravado, the game mocking you for not being good enough to shoot the men yourself. Instead, it’s to point out the distance between me – me Raiden and me the player – and Snake, the person we thought we signed up to be. So much of the game has been forcing us to watch Snake from a distance, to perceive him without deluding ourselves that we our him.

Rose and Raiden talk as I save about this difference, Raiden saying he’s nothing like Snake at all. Snake fights for something he believes him, Raiden’s just there to fight. He enjoys the act of killing, he takes pleasure in this game. (His words, not mine. Sons of Liberty is not a subtle game).

In the midst of the game clarifying and going deeper on its scathing critique of its own fanbase, Emma gets stabbed by Vamp. Maybe she’ll survive, but it looks like she’s not going to make it, and her death is just going to fuel Otacon and Raiden’s sadness. Which is a shame, because “Otacon’s sister making the same mistakes as him because he abandoned her” is a fantastic plotline and, well, this game has handled it about as poorly as it is possible to handle.

So good job, everybody involved. A round of applause to all.

The Beginning Of The End

Emma’s death scene is a rollercoaster. Not only in terms of emotions, but due to the wild swings it takes from total inexcusable garbage to alright, this doesn’t seem too terrible. It starts off salvaging Otacon’s character, making it clear that this attraction is very much one way, and to Otacon Emma is just a sister. Then it drops the reveal that Otacon was sleeping with Emma’s mother, his new step mother, which is why his father killed himself.

What the hell is this video game, ahhhhhhh.

It goes back and forth even more times, but ultimately ends up in a place where I’m mostly okay with it; it’s still gross and weird but it’s far less gross and weird than it could be. It treats both Otacon’s relationship with his step-mother and Emma’s attraction to Otacon as something that comes out from a place of deep pain, and a need to be loved no matter what. Which is a far healthier ending to this unthinkably misguided plotline than I could ever have expected. It’s still got some awful implications, but Christ am I glad that it’s over.

More interesting in this scene is what it does for Otacon’s character as someone desperate to find love and purpose in life, but who keeps watching the people close to him die – a point it drills home with a flashback to Sniper Wolf. Otacon is a survivor, but rare in this series, he’s not a survivor who represses his emotions and humanity. He feels everything, far too much, and is still able to reach a place where he can keep going. I find this element of his character really inspiring, and I’m glad that despite everything, that is still able to land. I cheered when he and Snake hugged! What kind of a monster wouldn’t cheer?

And then something happened. Snake turns on Raiden, bringing out Olga (I called it! I feel so smart!) to knock Raiden out. It’s not clear who he’s working for – I’m sure he’s working for the Philanthropy still and is totally a good guy – but what is clear as usual is how little importance the player is. You thought you were best friends with Snake now? Where do you get the ego?

There’s a grander plan going on and you’re a tool in it. Now play your part, pick up the controller, and finish the game.

*

We’re really into it now. I hope people are finding these diaries an enjoyable way to join me on my ride through Metal Gear Solid, because fuck me there’s going to be a lot of them. They were meant to be small documents of my reactions to the Metal Gear games, just a few notes, maybe 1000 words per game, but it turns out that my Metal Gear feelings have ballooned into something far more dense and indulgent. And really, could anything be more fitting for the subject matter?

Our next post will be the final post on Metal Gear Solid 2. All the plotlines are coming to a head, and it’ll probably serve me better to stay out of reacting until the final post-credit scene has rolled. So I’ll see you on the other side.

Next: The end of Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty...