Part V (MGS2: A Complete Breakdown)

A Raiden by any other name

Names are important in MGS2, which is why the ending repeatedly forces the player to think about them.  But did you know that names were important to the ending of the original Metal Gear Solid as well?

See, Raiden isn’t the only one who changes his name at the end.  What Snake says to Raiden (ie. what Kojima is saying to the player) is actually a reference to the ending of the first game, where Snake abandons his old code name and decides to start a new life where he lives for someone else and doesn’t fight anymore.  It’s the same sentiments, only this time much more blatant.

The renaming parallel is significant for a few reasons.  First, because the abandonment of the codename “Snake” was overlooked from day one in MGS1, so it’s emergence in MGS2 suggests that it deserves more attention than we gave it.  Nobody – I mean nobody – took it as a meaningful event, myself included.  Fans assumed it was a throwaway gesture, designed to give the ending some extra sense of character growth, but like James Bond we believed Snake would come back next time, the same as ever, and find another babe to sweep off her feet, because he can’t really change his identity or settle down, right?  Maybe not, but the years have proven that unlike Bond, Solid Snake would never be the same again, and that Kojima refused to bring him back as we remembered him.  I believe that, like so many other themes of MGS1, we pushed the significance of Snake’s name change out of the spotlight, which prompted him to shove it down our throats in a more creative way this time.

It’s worth noting that the Grand Game Plan repeatedly refers to Solid Snake as “Dave” first, with “Snake” in parentheses next to it.  This obviously suggests that Snake’s name change would carry over.  When describing the role of Philanthopy, for example: “…its real activities involve the destruction of Metal Gears at the hands of Dave (Snake).”  Why didn’t it carry over?

It’s the pattern of the whole game.  When Kojima saw that players misunderstood MGS1’s “good ending” — in which Snake picks a new name, quits fighting, and settles down with Meryl — he decided to make the “alternate ending” the canon one, or at least imply it.  That’s why the only reference to Meryl in the sequel (which is really more of a quasi-reference,) is a single line of dialogue after the the Olga fight in which Otacon jokes not to kiss Olga while she’s asleep; to which Snake replies “I’ve had enough of tomboys”.  What the heck, Snake!  I guess weeping and vowing to live on in her memory was just the emotions talking, huh?  Now she’s just old news, and you’ve had enough of her.  Though, regardless of which ending was canon, the fact is Kojima is drawing a parallel in an ingenious way to Solid Snake’s transformation with Raiden, proving that Kojima never took the idea of new beginnings and new names lightly, and we shouldn’t have either.

I also believe the renaming parallel was supposed to be used as a hint that we should contrast Raiden’s cobbled together “spirit guide” version of Snake with the “real” Snake who changed his name and retired at the end of MGS1.  Why?  Because, like the VR Theory itself, that contrast is designed to help us detach ourselves from the fiction and focus on the big picture.  Snake has become a parody of himself, just as the Big Shell is a parody of Shadow Moses.  He has no character flaws, makes no mistakes, and is always there for Raiden, appearing out of thin air to help Raiden finish his dream.

Even now, as the dream is about to end and we want Snake to explain how everything is going to be okay, Snake suddenly shows up to do exactly that.

My goodness, I despise that Quinton Flynn says “Dog tags” as a flat statement, even though he should be asking it as a question!

Do you see the question mark?  Raiden is supposed to be confused, when, at this critical moment in the game then we see that – gasp and shock! – the name and information on the dog tags are exactly the same as the information we entered when we logged in to the Big Shell’s first node!

It’s open for interpretation, and I don’t think there’s supposed to be one “correct” answer.  Personally, I’ve always liked the idea that it’s “the boring one” his parents gave Raiden, which Solid Snake said he’d like to find out some day.  Thematically, that’s a very nice fit.

But it’s not necessarily, you can see here that it says “Code Name” and not “birth name”, and you can change the gender to “Female” if you want.  Even though Raiden is supposed to be androgynous and the President confused him for a woman, the fact is that he’s a man who supposedly got Rose pregnant.  And yet Raiden carries the dog tags with him, wears them as if they’re his own, and apparently logged into the Big Shell with that information.  So unless that node prints out a custom set of dog tags every time somebody logs in, Raiden, this connection proves Raiden really does identify himself with whatever we have decided.

Lots of people say the dog tags are just another harmless joke, and at most a playful attempt to make the player associate himself with Raiden.  In other words, we can’t think too much about it, because after all, didn’t Psycho Mantis talk about putting the controller on the ground, and reading your memory card, etc?  He broke the fourth wall way more than this!  He made the screen go blank, even!  Obviously Kojima is just being funny again.  But this isn’t some quirky boss fight in the middle of the game — it’s the climax of the most anticipated game in history, which was never supposed to have a sequel!  Let’s think about it a little more.  The credits are going to show up any minute, and I don’t believe he’ll go so far out of his way just to make somebody smirk.  It’s funny and it gets a reaction out of people, but there are too many implications to write this off as an easter egg.

If you think about it, the first time we saw the dog tags are in the torture room with Solidus.

Stripped of his old identity, the dog tags now appear

And if you think about it some more, Solidus didn’t remember who Raiden was until this meeting point – where he would have been able to read the tags for himself. Raiden has kept the dog tags under his sneaking suit until now – a symbolic representation of hiding his true identity and his past – but now that his fake persona as a Foxhound operative has been stripped away, all that’s left are these dog tags, which reveal his connection with Solidus.

These are the dog tags Solidus recognized him by, and it’s the same information that we are allowed to input at the start of the game.  It’s also our old “code name” — the name we chose — and the one Raiden hides from Solid Snake at the start of the game.  It can be anything, because the whole point of this reoccurring theme is that Raiden has been living a lie up until now.

When he pretends to have never heard the name before as he throws the dog tags away and declares that he’ll pick a new name and start a new path in life, it’s obviously symbolic of his decision to let go of his old identity.  But it wouldn’t be symbolic if we don’t grant that the dog tags were significant to his past life!  If it’s true that he’s never heard the name before, why does throwing it away mark the beginning of a new identity?

It’s very doubtful Raiden’s real name is “Jack”, either.  Not only is Jack is short for “Jack the Ripper”, which is the nickname he earned in his child soldier years, but during the final battle with Solidus you can call GW and discover that “Jack” is also a reference to the nickname the United States gave to Japanese war planes, which were codenamed “Raiden” on the Japanese side.  Although it doesn’t really add up in terms of the plot, this suggests that The Patriots/GW actually gave Raiden his various monikers.  The names REX, RAY, Raiden, and Jack are all nicknames for Japanese planes, actually.

This conversation serves to drive home the point about Raiden’s role as a mindless weapon.  Like a weapon, he’s been artificially manufactured by The Patriots, named by them, and is now sent out to kill for them, unable to disobey.  But if his real birth name is “Jack”, as is widely believed (and asserted as true by his Wikipedia entry at least) then this is all a coincidence, with no real meaning.  Any way you choose to look at it, it’s not his real name, just a name he accepts.  Another set of lies.

The option to collect dog tags from all the soldiers in the game constantly reminds us that we can discover people’s hidden identities by looking at their dog tags, humanizing them.  But in Raiden’s case, these dog tags are nothing more than a chain holding him back, keeping him a child soldier with the code name “Dickfart44” — or whatever stupid thing we decided to put in.  After he throws them away, he’s free to make a new start.  The message is that your past does not define your identity, as long as you have the strength to overcome it and decide for yourself what your “true” identity will be.


Rosemary, the true illusion

From the game script:

He tosses the dog tags far away over the crowd. Snake smiles and nods.
Raiden nods back, looking slightly abashed.
Snake looks at Solidus’ body.

        THEY taught me some good things too. [emphasis mine, not Quinton Flynn's]
        I know. We’ve inherited freedom from all those who’ve fought for it.
        We all have the freedom to spread the word. Even me.

Looking at Solidus’ body, Raiden says that “they” taught him some good things too.  I believe he’s referring to Solidus and the “Sons of Liberty” organization, who fought for freedom against the Patriots in their own way; which is why Snake says “we’ve inherited freedom from all those who’ve fought for it,” and “we all have the freedom to spread the word”.  This little acknowledgement reminds us that Solidus didn’t really plan on killing civilians or terrorizing the world, he just wanted to break the grip of the Patriots on the ignorant masses — his own version of “Outer Heaven”.

Being perhaps reminded about the bigger picture of struggle for freedom, Raiden remembers Olga’s child and excitedly offers to help Snake hunt down the Patriots; an offer which is turned down as he’s reminded that he has people he “needs to talk to” first.  This doesn’t seem to make sense to Raiden or to the audience, since we know that he has no connections, no family, and no obligations.  He’s a brainwashed agent of the government whose commanding officer was a figment of his imagination and whose girlfriend was a Patriot spy — if she even existed at all.  We’re surprised when he turns around to see that Rose is indeed a real person, standing in the flesh in the middle of this madness, miraculously.

Pleasantry masks absurdity, as reality is stretched to its limits once again.  Rose doesn’t seem to mind the chaos and catastrophe surrounding them, and also doesn’t have the slightest concern about the fact that Raiden is wearing a ninja suit with a sword strapped to his back in public.  You’d think she might have a little more concern for the situation, considering she’s pregnant, and considering that the father of her child would logically be in extreme danger of public exposure, legal investigation, immediate arrest, or targeting by the world’s most powerful secret organization — who are as powerful as ever, and who have active nanomachines throughout his whole mind and body.  Neither the devastation and death, nor the military, law enforcement, medical, media, and civilian attention in the area is even acknowledged by them, or by the slow-mo crowd walking randomly past them.  Is it a dream?

Rose herself is the greatest mystery of all, and a hell of an onion to peel.

Question: how aware of the situation is Rose at this point?  Because either she’s been out of the loop for the last few hours, or she must have been sitting in a room somewhere listening to Raiden talk with digital doppelganger of herself, having discussions about everything from avoiding the collapse of society to how much of a jerk Raiden is to her.  It’s puzzling.  When exactly did the “real” Rose get replaced with the AI?  Or did they take turns talking to Raiden?  Just for kicks, let’s try wrapping our brains around it, shall we?

As you may have realized by now, it gets really stupid.  It seems like everything after Arsenal Gear must be the fake Rose.  But wait, that would mean the real Rose never confessed to being a Patriot spy, or revealed that she’s pregnant, and never mentioned the fact that she hasn’t met the Colonel.  Hmm.  So was the AI version of Rose simply testing Raiden’s emotional maturity by playing the part of his girlfriend, just as it tested his willingness to disobey authority by playing the part of Colonel Campbell?  How insidious.

If it was indeed the AI doppelganger who confessed to being a spy (which is the only explanation for the voice distortion and blank eyes at the part where she says she’s pregnant,) it’s possible that the real Rose was never a spy at all, if you think about it.  It’s possible that the real Rose is ignorant and innocent of everything, and that we’ve been talking to an AI construct like the Colonel the whole mission!  But wait, because the “real” Rose at the end confirms that she’s pregnant — without treating it like it’s new information!  And since Raiden had no idea that Rose was pregnant before the AI mentioned it, there’s no way the real Rose would just come out and say “Are you talking about the baby?” like it’s a casual thing.  No way in hell.  I’m sorry, there’s too much overlap between the “real” and the fake Rose to believe that what we see at the end is anything except an AI construct, just as the VR Theory would suggest she is.

And although it may be disappointing to those who love to imagine Raiden and Rose coming together at the end, hints are given from the beginning that she’s nothing more than a dream:

        And you Rose –- I can’t believe you’re on this mission. I keep
        thinking, I’ll wake up.
        Raiden, this is real. And that’s why you won’t wake up.
        But nothing seems real.
        I’ve made up my mind to stay with you. Whether this is real or a bad
        dream. I’ll keep watching you till it’s over.
        Thank you, Rose. And I won’t let you be just a dream...(subplot)

Raiden’s last statement is truer than he realizes.  You may notice the script note reading “subplot”.  That’s from Kojima himself.  It means that Raiden literally won’t allow Rose to be just a dream, which is why she shows up at the end, against all logic and evidence.  He’s partly in control of his dream, and he insists on her existence.  She is, after all, his dream girl, as indicated when says she “changed herself” to match his tastes, to which he can only reply “You must of gone over my psych profile with a fine-toothed comb”.  And let’s not forget that this is exactly the same as the plot of Total Recall, in which the “dream girl” is envisioned before the mission starts, and the AI creates it before his eyes.  In both cases, the hero embraces his fantasy woman at the end, despite the ridiculousness of the situation screaming at him: “THIS IS JUST A DREAM.”

I find it interesting that she appears in front of Federal Hall with blonde hair instead of brown in version of the script included with The Document of Metal Gear Solid 2.  Logically, this would have had big implications that I won’t bother to get into, because it’s no longer relevant.  In the final version she is brunette, and simply asks him to  “See me for what I am, okay?”  Does this mean she’ll be keeping her phony appearance and personality, or does it mean she simply didn’t have time to change her appearance back to her natural blonde self?

Even better is what the “Grand Game Plan” (also included on The Document, although only in Japanese) reveals about the purpose behind the “Is Rose real” subplot.  According to the original Plan, Rose was supposed to be a journalist who happened to be on the Big Shell, who got captured along with the President and the other hostages.  He tries to rescue her, but through a series of coincidences never actually meets her.  Ultimately, the player is supposed to wonder if she is real, or an AI construct.  Take a look for yourself:

... She happens to be at the offshore plant on a news assignment the day
of the incident and is taken captive. Held in the hostage area, she manages
to secretly contact Raiden. However, she constantly just misses Raiden
throughout the game, with the two never actually meeting. He is not able
to save her. This part of the game develops like a love story, like the one in
the film Aizen Katsura. As they never meet, this will make the player wonder
whether she is real or just an AI construct.

Clear as day, Kojima says he wants players to wonder if she was an AI construct.  That’s the genius of including her in front of Federal Hall!  Because although it ought to prove that she’s flesh and blood, it could just as easily prove that nothing around him is real, if such a convincing illusion is possible!

But regardless of all that, Raiden seems convinced as the two talk about teaching their baby everything together, passing on their memes, etc.  What they’re saying is meaningful as philosophical ideas, but that doesn’t mean the player should fall for the illusion like Raiden is.  The fourth wall has been so thoroughly destroyed by this point that unless you’ve turned your brain off you’re probably thinking about the meta layer by now.  Is Rose real?  It doesn’t matter.  Who is Raiden, really?  It doesn’t matter.  What about Olga’s child and the Patriots?  They don’t matter.  None of it matters.  The only thing that matters is you — what you take away from the experience.  The only real reason to analyze the story as closely as I have here, is to prove that it doesn’t add up!  And that therefore doesn’t matter!  Kojima never intended to answer these questions, and we were never intended to obsess over them!

The ending’s message is clearly to stop obsessing over the plot, and just pay attention to the huge, flashing, neon-coloured themes Kojima jammed in!  Be subjective; find the meaning behind the game, and interpret for yourself.  Get your hands dirty and don’t be afraid to say “This is what I think it means” without the official Wikipedia citation to back it up.  Stop being a dumbass and take the game for what it is: an artistic project with messagesmemes!

All the spy crap is secondary.  The plot has huge holes in it.  Half the stuff in the game is preposterous.  Instead, think about the social commentary, the philosophy, and the smart stuff that you ignored back in Shadow Moses!  If you really need the cold comfort of an explanation, Kojima offers a Total Recall-style virtual reality, because otherwise it doesn’t make any sense anyway.  And don’t forget that the VR Theory itself is meaningless unless you’re willing to put it aside and focus on the real messages; at best, it’s a crowbar, designed to help you pry away the illusion of a coherent story so you can get to the good stuff underneath.  Once you’ve done that, you can really start to enjoy it as intended.

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