The Metal Gear Diaries #34: Zero Sum Game

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 arrived at the famous city of Eastern Europe, and made our way towards Big Mama’s resistance hideout. Today, we’re going to say hello.

Big Mama

Holy shit, that was a retcon and a half. That might be the biggest, purest and most impactful single exposition dump in a series that is built on big, impactful exposition dumps. The TV currently sits paused with a save screen, after which I assume there will be more cutscene, because we can’t reasonably be expected to watch all of this in one sitting.

But man, what a cutscene. Act Three doesn’t waste any time, after a single segment of gameplay, it’s straight to the plot kicking in – which we’ll get to in a minute. First I want to talk about how said cutscene, which is basically the closest thing to a single thematic core for the entire series, begins with the silliest line in the games: “My name is Mama. Big Mama!” I don’t know why I find that name so silly, considering she’s talking to Solid Snake, brother of Liquid and Solidus Snake, all three of whom are sons of Big Boss, who is himself the protégé of The Boss. You’d think, after four games of this amazing bullshit, I’d be completely unaffected by someone exclaiming a combination of profoundly stupid words with heartfelt conviction, but here we are, in tears laughing at a character called Big Mama being the lynchpin of the plot right now.

Somewhere along the way, Snake went and trained in CQC after Big Shell, purely so EVA can recognise him by the sheer power of close quarters combat. I can’t lie though, that fight scene in the hallway is great, the hand to hand combat of Metal Gear has this amazing physicality to it – especially in this game and Snake Eater with the introduction of the CQC system. In Twin Snakes, which I think is ridiculous and great but I see why folks are against it, Snake fights hand to hand like he’s walked out of The Matrix. But this fight, similar to the first fight with the ocelot unit in Snake Eater is a military brawl, a man with a gun taking on men with guns, and using his body in order to maneuverer through that situation. It’s a neat touch.

After that fight, the first thing that drops is the reveal that EVA is Snake’s mother! Complete with an immediate cut to a statue of the Virgin Mary as EVA picks up an apple and literally says “The Forbidden Fruit… Appropriate.” What a silly game.

The way EVA’s character is written completely backs up what I said about Metal Gear’s female characters back when I was playing Snake Eater. The characters go from sexy and young to older and maternal, two sides of the same coin in being written purely in relation to male characters. In EVA’s case, she completely actually went from sexy and flirty towards one Snake, to being the Mother of the next, bearing this theory out in real time, thank you Kojima for that.

But while it’s totally got icky stuff with regards to gender (as everything Metal Gear does), and uncomfortable elements of biological determinism with the importance of the mother’s womb and all that, I think there is value inside this plot point. It humanises Snake, allows him – and us – to see that he’s not just a product of military cloning and someone for The Patriots to control. He’s a human being born and loved like any other, and in the conversation with his long lost mother we get to see perhaps what life would be like for Snake if he was allowed to be something else. Maybe he didn’t have to be this. Maybe this isn’t inevitable.

And it’s that element of hope that underscores the whole scene, which plays entirely with Metal Gear’s ideas of inevitability, of sins repeating and being passed from Father to Son. Maybe Snake can end this pointless, pointless war that is revealed to be the entirety of Metal Gear Solid.

The Patriots

So let’s get into what matters: the reveal of what The Patriots are. I actually think reveal is an incorrect term for this, it’s closer to a retcon. But that’s the wrong term too, because it isn’t exactly contradicting information from prior games. I think what this scene shows – that is, the reveal of the true nature of The Patriots – is how the Metal Gear games were not constructed as one coherent story with a pre-determined throughline. Each was made, one at a time, as a single thematic vision, and whilst it might build on the other entries, its not a series that concerns itself with the intricacies of its chronology. Though you’d be forgiven for thinking that it does, considering how much time it spends tying things together.

This scene reveals that The Patriots are an organisation started by Major Zero in order to further the will of The Boss. It changes The Patriots, who were presented in Sons of Liberty as an inhuman and unknowable organisation, as a tragedy far more intimate; an organisation of friends who were bonded together and split apart by the very same thing – The Boss. This woman, or at least the idea of this woman, is loved by all of these people in some way but she’s passed on different legacies to each of them. And thus, with the Philosopher’s Legacy in the picture, the basic tragedy of Metal Gear, that generation on generation the same mistakes repeat as we’re caught in the same cycles that could be broken if only we could talk to each other, plays out again on a global scale. The sad reality at the core of The Patriots is the same sad reality as the relationship between Campbell and Meryl, as the relationship between Otacon and Sunny.

I don’t know what I expected as The Answer to the identity of The Patriots, mostly because I don’t think “who are The Patriots?” is a question I was asking. This explains why Big Boss’ genetic code is the key to the SOP system, but aside from that I’d just accepted from Snake Eater that The Patriots was just The American Government, but had since become just an automated system re-producing toxic American capitalism again and again and again. And that’s still true, the game doesn’t discount that reading at all, but it does shift the emphasis of The Patriots into something far smaller. It makes it clear that Guns of the Patriots is not really the sequel to Sons of Libertythat you’d been waiting seven years for, it’s a sequel to Snake Eater, and is going to continue the themes and motifs established there.

What’s also important about this reveal, is that it gives The Patriots a face. Their dehumanisation was core to their portrayal in Sons of Liberty but now they have a living, breathing leader: Major Zero. EVA says at the start: “Liquid is locked in a bitter war with Zero,” which means finally both sides have a face, and Liquid doesn’t just have to be the sole antagonist despite clearly fighting against a bigger foe. And EVA says as much: defeating Liquid won’t fix anything, Zero’s SOPs have to be taken out in order to break the cycle. But Zero’s system has been responsible for all advances in culture and technology in the last thirty years, and how can the world risk losing them?

One thing that is strange to me is how Zero’s AIs relate to the years old sentient beings that live in the walls of the White House. Is the game just ignoring them now, and fully treating The Patriots as the creation of one man? They’re still a clear metaphor for Self-Perpetuating American Ideals, but two games ago that was a canonical character. Sons of Liberty never made the relationship between The Patriots (as in the list of 12 names), the AI (as in GW) and those beings at the end explicitly clear, but it did treat talking to them as talking to The Patriots.

But like I said at the beginning of this section, these games are not made together, they are made one by one, and they’ve retconned and ignored other elements of the series’ chronology in the past. So it’s a shame, because I’m personally invested in answers to that question, but if the game isn’t then the game isn’t.  And that’s okay.

Tying Up Loose Ends

THAT SAID, the back half of that cutscene, after the thematic meat of the war between Zero and Big Boss, is a goddamn spreadsheet of connections and motivations for prior Metal Gear games. EVA walks you through who was who, retconning the entirety of Metal Gear Solid as an attempt by her and Ocelot to recover the still-alive Big Boss. In like two lines, they completely change the context of everything in that game in ways that aren’t at all reconcilable with the text, whilst also going HEY SIGNIT WAS THE DARPA CHIEF PARA-MEDIC MADE THE CYBORG NINJA K BYE

It’s kind of majestic to watch all the Ts get crossed and the Is get dotted in such a half-hearted way. This game was sold to people on answering all the questions of Metal Gear but it doesn’t, it brings in new ones and then monologues through people’s trivial concerns. I love that Metal Gear has such an abundance of plot but is willing to throw anything out and change all of history if it suits the themes they’re trying to emphasise at that moment. It goes in the face of, well, everything fans had told me about the game before I played them.

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And we end this post with EVA shooting a drone in a trench coat doing a goofy walk. Now begins the setup for the next set-piece, and it’s a goddamn good one. So won’t you join me next time as we make our escape with EVA and continue through Guns of the Patriots