You’ve been living in a dream world, Neo
The Matrix was released in 1999, snugly between Metal Gear Solid 1 & 2, and pushed the idea of being stuck in virtual reality to the limit. The VR Theory states that everything we see in the Plant Chapter takes place inside a Matrix-like simulation, designed by the Patriots for the “Selection for Societal Sanity” test. This theory is not only supported by the game, it’s practically demanded by it.
In other words, nothing is real. Raiden – whatever his true identity may be – is a real person who is unknowingly hooked up to a VR simulation, but the world he explores and the people he meets are nothing but controlled illusions in this neural network. He has finished hundreds of VR missions in the past, including lifelike simulations of Shadow Moses and the Tanker incident, and due to this he really does have a diminished sense of reality, complex delusions, and opts to believe that his mission is real, even when faced with powerful evidence that it’s all a simulation. He’s a normal person and a game player, like you, except that he’s been selected by the secret government to partake in the world’s most advanced virtual reality tests.
Watch that clip and think about it. How can Fortune deflect missiles, even without her electromagnetic gizmo? How can Vamp stand on zero-buoyancy water, fly around, and come back from the dead over and over? How can Liquid Snake possess Ocelot from beyond the grave through his transplanted arm? Raiden himself says that nothing seem real. He says it feels like a bad dream. There are only two options: either the story is completely broken and nonsensical, or it took place within some private VR simulation.
And if you think that’s silly, then let me ask you about the point of Rose’s question to Raiden about whether he would have “preferred a fantasy setting”. It’s obviously rhetorical, but what does it really say about the A.I. system who’s speaking? Why does the Colonel chuckle at it? What’s the joke here? Isn’t the obvious implication that they could have given him a “fantasy setting” if they wanted to? What kind of fantasy we don’t know exactly, but we do know that Raiden’s biggest fantasy is to emulate and play as Solid Snake (sort of like the player!) which means that this is Kojima speaking to the player to make a simple point: he could have given us another game starring Solid Snake, without all the plot holes and meta layers, just as fans wanted. He could have given us everything we wanted so badly, and the doctored E3 trailer proved this perfectly.
But instead, he wanted to find out whether fans would be willing to ask questions about a broken, silly plot, much like how the Patriots want to test Raiden. They wanted to examine whether Raiden would value his digital, paradoxical fantasy more than the truth, and Kojima wanted to see if players could be so turned off by the design choices (see: Part I of this article) that they would want to wake up to the realization that the fantasy of Solid Snake wasn’t the real point either.
If Raiden embraced the simulation while ignoring the cracks, it would prove he wasn’t worthy to decide what’s true or not. On the other hand, if he chose to wake up to the simulation and let go of his delusions, he would prove that people can be trusted to have free access to information on the Internet, and shape their own course of evolution — and thus, the censorship of the Internet would not be necessary. They say Raiden is “a perfect representative of the masses”, so his choice reflects, in their estimation, the choice of the average person. A fantasy setting would have ruined that experiment, because it would remove the central dilemma (ie. wanting to quit the unflattering dream, versus carrying out the mission in order to play out the fantasy of being a hero,) which is why it’s comical and cruel for Rose to ask him the question. He had no choice, his preferences didn’t matter, but they could have let him play as Snake if they wanted to, just as they did before in the previous simulations. Just as Kojima could have let us play as Snake in a fantasy setting.
But let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves. I know there a lot of story-related questions raised by the VR Theory, such as the question of Raiden’s supposed history as a child soldier, or Snake supposedly “not being part of the simulation”, and even whether it makes sense to conduct the final, practical S3 experiment within a computer simulation — but we’ll get to those later. For now, let’s just take some time to warm up to the idea and see where the inspiration for such a radical idea may have come from.