Lost memes and new questions
The unfortunate side effect of Shinkawa’s cool influence was the relative neglect of the Kojima’s memes. I believe Kojima took it as a failure. He was keenly aware of how and why his messages were overlooked, and he blamed himself for allowing the coolness to steal the spotlight from the smartness of the game. To him, Metal Gear Solid was supposed to be about these things…
The most obvious example of a “lost meme” is Kojima’s warning about the modern, ongoing danger of nuclear weapons, which has always been a theme of Metal Gear. How often have you heard people discuss that when one of the games is brought up? Probably never.
But there’s a lot more in MGS1, such as the huge emphasis on genes. I know, I know, the game clearly uses bogus science to exaggerate the effects of genetic manipulation, but that’s not the real point. The real message is about not letting your genes dominate your life, which could be applied to people who feel doomed to repeat their parents’ mistakes (a la Hal Emmerich), and racial minorities who suffer from a self-perception problems. Some people worry about inheriting health issues too. The amount of work Kojima put into sharing this positive message was pretty much for naught: the genetic theme never made waves in the gaming community.
I bet you never realized Sniper Wolf was commenting on the real-world Kurdish massacre, carried out by Saddam Hussein in the ’80s. Perhaps Kojima wanted to raise awareness about it because it was an act of genocide — fitting for a game about genes. No matter how you look at it, it’s an extremely commendable bit of writing, but it never got attention because the “cool stuff” was hogging the spotlight. There are plenty more examples.
To be fair, it was ahead of its time. But aside from a handful of pseudo-intellectual threads on random game forums, these memes flew over the heads of players; so where did this all lead?
Kojima isn’t just smart, he’s compulsively over-analytical; he becomes easily absorbed in questions of life’s deeper meaning, turning even mundane events into significant lessons about how to live. He wanted players to think about the deeper meaning of his game, but found that most players saw his meaning as an obstacle in the way of a fantasy of war. He watched as somebody else’s ideas quickly took hold, became popular, and overshadowed his own. And although he found fame and success from his creation, the question of whether or not his audience was even capable of appreciating his work was looming large on the horizon. The rise of the Internet, global communication, and the turn of the century would all serve to underline this question: “Are people smart enough to pass on what’s important?”
(Part IV reveals the grand secret behind MGS2’s dismal plot — turning all of the nonsense into something genius.)