Part III (MGS2: A Complete Breakdown)

Genes and Memes

Officially, Metal Gear Solid 2′s central theme is “memes” — a word which, like all modern language, has suffered at the hands of the online generation.  Today, “memes” are considered to be nothing more than a picture with a caption above and below, suitable for mass distribution and (hopefully!) viral popularity.


But perhaps you should listen to Milhouse.  Kojima gives us the real definition on the official Konami website in an interview conducted after the completion of MGS4 [here]:

Q: “Gene”, “meme”, and “scene” have each been themes of previous MGS titles. Can you elaborate on that?

Kojima: MGS has an “anti-war, anti-nuke” message throughout the series, but its main theme has been what we should and ultimately do pass on to future generations. MGS1 talks about genes, and in MGS2 you have memes, or the information that isn’t encoded into our genes.

Further enlightenment is found in the interview’s footnote for memes:

Coined in 1976 by British ethologist Richard Dawkins in his book “The Selfish Gene”.  A “cultural gene” that likens the inheritance, refinement, and evolution of civilizations and cultures as they are passed on to future generations to the natural selection of genes.  Under this definition, the inheritance of concepts such as fashions, customs, traditions, laws, stories, and knowledge are the work of memes.

A bit awkwardly written, but you get the point.  A meme is a piece of culture, spread from one person to another.  Now apply that theme to Metal Gear Solid 2‘s story, and you can start to decode why the game takes such bizarre turns by the end.  Passing on information, control of the Internet, and even misleading you the player by using false information — all of it ties together into this theme brilliantly.  It’s all high-concept stuff, but at least it’s trying to be meaningful.

There’s still some pieces missing from this puzzle, however.  Kojima wanted to pass on his own memes using MGS2.  Some those memes were about how memes should be passed on.  This helps explain the layer of self-reference.  But why did he betray what people loved from the first game?  He could have made a much more likable story about information control and critical thought, so why did he feel like he had to piss players off in the process?

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