The Metal Gear Diaries #27: Rose, Guardian of the Sad Dads

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?!” They will be packed with spoilers for all Metal Gear games!

Last time, we began Act Two, and sat through the longest briefing sequence in all of Metal Gear, the majority of which was a sad girl trying to cook some eggs. This time, we’re going to move through towards the base.

Open Spaces

The level design is completely different, holy shit! This is really cool. Guns of the Patriots moves straight from the linear streets (linear as in, literally lines, not the videogame meaning), to vast spaces with little cover and various points of interest. It makes exploration particularly difficult, turning the challenge away from navigating through a series of rooms, into testing luck and being more thorough with clearing out what’s in front of us.

After sneaking into Liquid’s base, I’ve had no qualms about killing the enemies I’ve come up against, and playing Metal Gear lethally changes the entire approach. I talked a few entries ago about how Guns of the Patriots works just as well as a shooter as a stealth game, and that remains true, but removed from the corridors and knee high walls of Act One, it is near on impossible to just shoot guys all day and live to tell the tale.

I finally made it through this area, when after dying for the fourth time, I found a Sniper Rifle in a barn, bought myself a silencer and took out the enemies that stood in my way. I made sure to kill someone guarding the prisoners, and incite a skirmish between the rebels and the PMCs; it gave me the perfect path through to sneak without being spotted. After a good fourty five minutes of trying, I picked up most everything the area had to offer, and made it out to the next area without so much as being scene.

Opening myself up to the possibilities of Metal Gear as a stealth sandbox is the best decision I made! I’m tempted to play through all of them again with reckless abandon, just using the tools I can find to get out of scenarios, employing the creative thinking that the series wants you to use.

I wish Guns of the Patriots had VR Missions so much, I want a place to toy with this combat system that isn’t limited to the constraints of a linear story mode, I want more explicit combat puzzles and a variety of situations to get myself through.

“Try Metal Gear Online!” I hear someone yell, from the distant, distant past.

Jack Drowned, Probably

A w-w-what?!?!?!  Whatttttt/????!?!!!!

W H A T!!!!!!???

Rose and Campbell? Are? What is happening?! Is—hang on. No, give me a second, I mean –

Okay.

What the hell happened to Jack? The ending of Sons of Liberty set up Raiden’s life as a small and intimate one, he was now a man that knew what he wanted and wasn’t going to let even The Patriots take that way from him. But now Rose and Campbell are straight doin’ it, and Jack has disappeared? I know something must have happened to him to cause him to become a cyborg ninja man but c’mon.

I like that Snake calls out Campbell’s relationship with Rose as being the mid-life crisis indulgence that it is, as if I’ve just walked into an episode of Mad Men. I want more elaboration on what happened to Rose, because her role in this relationship was yada-yada-yada’d away as “she was sad, I was there, now we fuck.” I was hoping that with how strong Meryl’s reintroduction has been, compared to the spending-most-of-the-game-dead role she had in the original, that we’d be on an upward trend for the way that Metal Gear writes its women, but that was not to be.

Rose may as well not exist as a character. She was a plot device in the first game, and she’s a plot device here. Her only role is to emotionally serve the needs of other men, and provide emotional labour in their times of need. A thing that the game, without any self-awareness or intentionality, makes completely explicit!!!!!!

Her role in the game is to be a battlefield counselor to Snake, to be constantly on call to give him advice on how to raise his psych meter. If it was a deliberate commentary on her role or the dictated role of women (in fiction and society) to exist to ease the emotional burden on men, it would be amazing, but it clearly isn’t, so it just ends up being sad.

Psych, Starring Dulé Hill

The Psych system itself is a re-interpretation of the Stamina system from Snake Eater, but with less of an emphasis on survival and more of an emphasis on careful and considered play. Instead of directly affecting your health, the Psych meter affects all other abilities, the ability to aim straight, the ability to run fast, the ability to crawl smoothly. And it’s always raising or lowering based on how stressed you happen to be.

The idea of a war game trying to systemise the mental stress that is placed upon a soldier is not new, and it isn’t presented in a particularly complex manner in Guns of the Patriots, but it underlines Snake’s fragility, and I appreciate that. This is an old man, not just in terms of his rapid aging, but because he’s seen enough combat to last three lifetimes, and that takes a toll on him. He speaks to Rose of his dreams, of the nightmares that the battlefield leave him with, and it’s one of the most potent moments of humanisation for Snake.

It uses the disconnect between player and player character, the dissonance that comes from playing a war game to enjoy it, to hammer the point home harder. We don’t have these nightmares, we get to shoot as many people as we want, die as much as we want, and the choice as to whether to leave the battlefield is completely in our own hands. But Snake mentioning his dreams, dreams that we never see because when the console is turned off our burden is lifted, reminds us that we can never understand what it’s like to be in a war zone, and we shouldn’t pretend to.

Jack Drowned, Definitely

“Jack Is Dead,” says clearly Quentin Flynn.

Give me the Raiden answers and give me them now! I need to know what’s going on here, somebody hook me up with this sweet sweet info.

You Do Not Fight Alone

The addition of allied soldiers changes the dynamic of Metal Gear in fascinating ways. I talked before about how they are only allies in relative terms (o7, boss), as rebels who only fight alongside you because you both temporarily have the same goal. And whilst I’m no longer watching them die and stealing their guns for profit, I’m always using them, seeing them as resources to further my own mission. I caused this fight, I incited the rebels against the PMC in order to give myself a better chance at sneaking my way past these enemies. And I’ll always choose my life over their own, exploiting their decisions to increase my personal odds.

By adding other soldiers into the standard sneak pattern of Metal Gear, the feeling of complicity for awful acts of war increases. It makes it clear to the player that they may be able to not personally pull the trigger on enemies, but your actions still influence the soldiers around you, and people still die. It’s a way of pointing out to the player that their actions have consequences beyond their specific scope, and encourages them to think about a larger picture than just whether or not they use lethal or non-lethal ammo.

I’m so glad that Metal Gear’s anti-war rhetoric is systemic rather than focusing on how bad the player is. It’s as anti-capitalist as it is anti-war, finally tying those two ideas into one central idea within this game. It seems so explicit to me that it’s baffling just how many folks see Metal Gear as this ridiculous and cool stealth game and either write these themes off as eccentricities or just discard them entirely. But then again, I’m the guy on his 27th post about a four game series, perhaps, just perhaps… I’m thinking about this a little too much.

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I see that Act Two is the place where all the characters and plot threads that Act One didn’t introduce get brought in. It has instantly become a much busier game, and I haven’t even met Raiden yet. What’s going on with him? What’s late-day Raiden’s deal?

Next: will answers begin to come? (yes)