Excuse me, I’m talking to you here
Snake’s extraordinarily out of place speech breaks the fourth wall, allowing Kojima to speak directly to the player, whose cognitive dissonance is a reflection of what we’re supposed to be personally experiencing.
“You are inside a story, an environment, and acting as a certain character,” he said. “And what that character is feeling inside that environment is what I want the players to feel as they play the game. Within that environment I want the players to not only have a fun and exhilarating experience, but also think about many different things. That’s my concept.” (emphasis mine)
That’s a quote from Kojima himself, said recently during an interview for the “Critical Path Project”, explaining that the story is meant to create a parallel between the player and the character. Kojima wants us to feel what the character is feeling in that environment, even if it’s uncomfortable. So when Raiden whines and complains, we’re supposed to relate with Raiden’s whining (which, if you think about it, means that we were supposed to find Rose just as irritating and distracting as Raiden does). And when Raiden brags about his ability to beat a mission thanks to his “VR training”, it’s because Kojima thinks players will be smugly confident thanks to their past Metal Gear experiences. Whether Kojima failed or succeeded to create a character-player parallel is open for debate, but the fact that MGS2 was supposed to be Kojima’s final Metal Gear game means this crazy ending should not be taken lightly.
Snake : No one quite knows who or what they are. The memories you have and the role you were assigned are burdens you had to carry. It doesn't matter if they were real or not. That's never the point.
Let’s pretend that this dialogue doesn’t break the fourth wall for a bit, and that the story really is about Solid Snake and Raiden instead of Kojima and the player. Why is Snake dumping existential blabber on Raiden right now? He says no one knows who — or what — they are? Really? As in, we don’t even know we’re human beings? How far down the rabbit hole must Raiden be, if Snake thinks this is going to help explain things?
According to Snake, Raiden’s memories and role were burdens he “had to” carry, but I find it curious that he uses the past tense here, not the present or future. He says it doesn’t matter if they “were” real or not, not whether they “are”, but if this was a real life situation, as we are pretending it is, wouldn’t he be forward-thinking? Logically speaking, the crisis should be far from over, if not a hundred times worse. It’s almost as if they know it’s the ending of the game, so they feel totally relaxed!
Snake : There's no such thing in the world as absolute reality. Most of what they call real is actually fiction. What you think you see is only as real as your brain tells you it is. Raiden : Then, what am I supposed to believe in? What am I going to leave behind when I'm through?
Following the spiel about absolute reality and brain signals (a la “The Construct” scene in The Matrix,) Raiden asks what he’s supposed to believe in, and what he’ll leave behind when he’s “through”. Through what we don’t know. Is he worried that he’ll go through his whole life never knowing what’s real? Anyway, Snake is basically pointing out that, even though it’s all VR, it’s not much different than if it was real, in the sense that Raiden can use whatever he’s experienced as journey of “self-awakening” and personal growth. By now I’m sure you can see how this fits into Kojima’s scheme to trick players into abandoning the fiction and thinking about the themes instead. What can Raiden believe in if nothing around him is real? What’s he going to leave behind if it was all in his head? The answer is that he can believe in himself, and pass on his own “memes”, despite never knowing exactly what is true or not in the outside world.
Snake : We can tell other people about -- having faith. What we had faith in. What we found important enough to fight for. It's not whether you were right or wrong, but how much faith you were willing to have, that decides the future. The Patriots are a kind of ongoing fiction too, come to think of it.... Raiden : ... Snake : Listen, don't obsess over words so much. Find the meaning behind the words, then decide.
Snake has finally built up to his first main point, which seems to be that, in a world as deceptive and confusing as the 21st century, it’s better to focus on our own beliefs and convictions rather than what authorities may call the “truth”. This inner faith determines who we are because it doesn’t change with the propaganda around us, and isn’t derived from somebody else’s vision (like Raiden imitating Snake and thus not thinking for himself about his mission.) Worrying about facts is a losing game, because the authority can change facts to suit their purposes; facts are controlled by authority, and authority will protect its own interests first. Everything about Raiden’s mission proves that.
Snake claims the Patriots are “a kind of ongoing fiction, too”, which confuses Raiden. At this point in the story, the idea of the Wisemen’s Committee has yet to be debunked, and everybody from Olga to Ocelot has confirmed that the Patriot’s are a very real and dangerous group — illustrated by the fact that Snake’s next objective is to hunt them down! — so how can they be fiction? They’re the most powerful people in the world, and the whole plot hinges on their existence! But what Snake (and Kojima) are trying to say is that Raiden (and the player) should give up on those kinds of questions, give up on tunneling deeper down the rabbit hole which ultimately leads nowhere, and instead focus on his own responsibilities.
Solid Snake: Rebel figure, or Patriot figment?
According to Colonel Campbell (actually the AI in Raiden’s head) Raiden’s mission is supposed to proceed according to some “simulation”. He tells us Snake was not supposed to be part of this simulation, and that he’s not a factor. But what exactly is this “simulation” we keep hearing about, anyway?
Why, it’s the “Solid Snake Simulation”, of course! This is the thinly-veiled secret of Raiden’s whole mission. Hence, when the Colonel says Snake was never factored into the simulation, it means it doesn’t fit with the Shadow Moses formula. It also doesn’t fit with the official story that Snake is “the leader of the terrorists” (which, Raiden points out, doesn’t make sense anyway, because they claim Snake is dead). The jumble of contradictions proves that the official story is bullshit, and it’s only appropriate Snake is the first person to point how stupid Raiden is for going on a mission without being briefed on any of it. The distrustful dynamic between Snake and the Colonel is plays out like a tug-of-war, pulling Raiden in different directions.
And yet, ironically, they make an effective duo in convincing Raiden to finish his mission…
The claim that Snake is not part of the plan is just as much bullshit as the claim that he’s dead, or the terrorist leader. Don’t let that confuse you. Before the mission even starts, Raiden swims through the exact hole that Snake cut in the fence — which is lucky, because he has no wire cutters. Snake also beats up the armed guards that are in Raiden’s way. And he shows up to help defeat Vamp in the transformer room. Considering that Raiden has no guns and is helpless against Vamp, you have to wonder what he was supposed to do according to their “simulation” in all these events. Raiden would also have been helpless against the Harrier, but thankfully Snake throws him the Stinger missile launcher (so he can play out an echo of the the Hind D fight in Shadow Moses). He constantly helps Raiden through his mission, both physically and spiritually, and in a way is the biggest motivational factor of all.
Thus the Patriots use reverse-psychology. We’re told to distrust Snake, but this only makes us trust him more, which is what they want. Again and again, we need his help and guidance. It’s almost as if Snake is just another “cobbled together” fantasy, like the Colonel himself. Could it be that Snake is another simulated delusion to help Raiden finish his objectives?
And there you have it.
Yes, Snake is a figment of Raiden’s imagination. You can see in the video that he appears out of thin air, and that Kojima made a special note in the script that his bandana is somehow rippling, despite the absence of any breeze! Kojima is making an unmistakable point here, which is that the Snake we see is not the real Snake — and more importantly, he deliberately insisted on putting big hints in the game to reinforce this fact! Snake is nothing more than a fevered dream filled with symbolism, like everything else.
I can’t guess what your reaction to that idea is, but as we study the ending, I think we can agree that Raiden’s vision of Snake is completely unrealistic. He’s full of philosophical quotes and magic abilities, too good to be true. He literally points at his bandana, jokes about having “infinite ammo”, and Raiden turns a blind eye to it. Like Vanilla Sky or Total Recall, the dream has begun to crash down on itself, and in the final moments before Raiden wakes up, we’re comforted by the knowledge that it doesn’t matter, because that’s never the point.