KOJIMA AND THE US
In MGS1, there are many homages to US movies; Snake himself is based on Snake Plissken, from “Escape from New York,” and the introductory briefing videos are modeled after Snake Plissken’s own briefing in the film. Colonel Campbell is ripped straight from “First Blood,” modeled after Colonel Sam Trautman, Rambo’s former commanding officer. These little details show Kojima’s obsession with movies and especially with US action films from the 80s, which was a turbulent decade filled with pro-Reagan and anti-Reagan propaganda alike. “First Blood,” a highly critical film about the US intervention in Vietnam and its consequences, quickly degenerated into “Rambo: First Blood Part II,” the most famous one because of its anti-Soviet, pro-Reagan narrative, and it’s the one I believe Kojima based most of his Metal Gear aesthetics from. However, “Escape from New York” and “Rambo: First Blood Part II” couldn’t have less to do with each other. And yet in Kojima’s artistic mind they merge, to form a character that is half Snake Plissken and half Rambo, a former elite US Special Forces veteran who is detached and individualistic yet fiercely loyal and willing to finish the mission no matter the cost. But it cannot be denied that Snake couldn’t care less for the US or for politics. He’s seen through it all. It takes only the biggest threat the world’s ever faced to get him to snap out of it. Snake agrees to the mission only because he’s kidnapped and forced to listen, but the most important reason that makes him ultimately accept the mission is his boredom and a sense of warrior’s pride; he doesn’t really express loyal feelings for his country and is in fact a lonely and disgruntled veteran who has seen it all and who only wishes to be left alone to drink in Alaska. Unlike Snake Plissken, he’s not coaxed or forced into the mission under the pressure of certain death, but it takes him a lot of convincing to finally make the decision, and by doing so voluntarily he ends up resembling Rambo on a rescue mission. This is the character we start the game with, and it’s the biggest definition of the game’s ideology, a mixture between anarchism and military order.
Other aesthetic choices related to the Cold War include the appearance of the Mil Mi-24D, known as “Hind D” in NATO circles, a vehicle which made itself very popular through the game. The Mi-24D was infamous in the Cold War years because it couldn’t be possibly portrayed in US films, and those who tried to include the world’s only assault gunship helicopter in their movies needed to use SA 330 Pumas modified to resemble them, as in the case of “Red Dawn” and “Rambo III.” Given all the nods Kojima includes to the Rambo franchise, it’s not strange that he wanted to include a proper “Hind D,” with its iconic twin canopy cockpit. We get to fight an M1A1 Abrams tank as well, but this is to be expected considering the terrorists’ background and the weapons at their disposal. The inclusion of the Mi-24D, on the other hand, is very aesthetic and symbolic, and reflects Kojima’s strong desire to include the iconic Soviet gunship instead of say, a more likely US helicopter like an AH-64 Apache or AH-1 Cobra. It’s a gunship that pretty much represents Soviet aggressiveness and has a mystic quality to it, being so unknown in the West until the fall of communism. The weapon of choice to bring down the Hind D is also extremely symbolic and Cold War-related, the FIM-92A Stinger missile launcher, a heat-seeking missile heavily used by the Afghan Mujahideen during the Soviet War in Afghanistan, a Hind D’s worst nightmare.
Although there isn’t a specific anti-US theme in the game, nuclear dangers are very much present and associated with the US. Otacon’s grandfather worked in the Manhattan Project, and Otacon himself carries the stigma of developing weapons of mass destruction in a very personal way. The USSR is obviously referenced, especially due to its stockpiles of nuclear weapons, but at the end of the day, the US remains the only country to attack another with nuclear force, Japan. Aside from nuclear weapons, many other chemical and biological weapons and shady research are associated with US military research, as in the case of Cyborg Ninja, and Liquid Snake himself tells Snake plenty about obscure Gulf War happenings while we see real footage of it. The industrial-military complex is heavily criticized, and the president of ArmsTech makes quite some truthful remarks about its nature. The entire concept of building a Metal Gear goes back to the atom bomb, the US endeavor of building the ultimate weapon to submit the world to its will. This has been used in other military games, in the form of killer space satellites copying Reagan’s “Star Wars Programme” or Strategic Defense Initiative, although funnily enough, the games which do feature this generally defend the US, like “Call of Duty: Ghosts,” where disgruntled Latin Americans steal the horrid weapon for themselves and proceed to victimize the US. So whose fault is it … the builder’s, or the kidnapper’s? Unlike other developers, who design videogames with subtle and not so-subtle fascist and militaristic messages, Kojima would answer “the builder’s” without blinking.
As for USSR-related themes, Nastasha Romanenko also has plenty to do with nuclear weapons, as well as with the USSR, as she was born in Pripyat, the city near the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant, where the infamous nuclear disaster occurred. However, she doesn’t criticize the USSR once, and usually comments on the terrible situation without choosing sides. She’s supposedly working for the US, but criticizes its nuclear policy heavily. Revolver Ocelot, a former Soviet operative, makes a phony remark about the “revival of Mother Russia” which Liquid Snake doesn’t think much of, and at this point in the story we are led to believe this is Ocelot’s main motivation. Also, right at the end, the US Secretary of Defense basically screws Snake over by ordering to carpet bomb the entire base and cover up the incident. Colonel Campbell is not much better; he lies constantly, if to protect the ones he loves, but still manages to convey that vibe of absolute secrecy associated to US government handiwork. By this point, Kojima has established that he uses generic feel-good Unitedstatian aesthetics and archetypes to make his own ideology palatable to Western audiences, but the game we’re playing is anything but pro-Unitedstatian. It’s a very individualist game, detailing the perceptions, feelings and views of one man who has seen through the hypocrisy of war and politics.
Last but not least, let us not forget the biggest theme in the game; eliminating the terrorist threat of a former US elite military unit, otherwise comprised of foreigners and oddballs. I’ve always pondered about the respective nationalities of FOXHOUND members, but they all appear to hail from countries or ethnicities at odds with the US; an Iraqi Kurd (Sniper Wolf), two former Soviet Russians (Revolver Ocelot and Psycho Mantis), an Inuit Unitedstatian (Vulcan Raven), a Mexican (Decoy Octopus) and a Briton (Liquid Snake). I’m not sure what to make of that, but what is certain is that it eliminates the otherwise “nasty” flavor which could have been derived from battling US soldiers like ourselves, not to mention setting our hero apart from them. Liquid was designed to be British for a reason. However, the Genome soldiers we kill on a regular basis are clearly Unitedstatian. And we sure get to kill a whole bunch of them; we are even forced to by the game at certain sections.
Later on, in “Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty,” Snake has evolved and is more of a freedom fighter, struggling to liberate the world from the menace of Metal Gears spreading all over it. He’s part of a radical group which includes Otacon, Mei Ling and even Nastasha, and operates clearly outside of US legal jurisdiction. He’s an anarchist, and is teaching us to defend what we believe is right adamantly. Yet, it’s clear he admires the Marines to some extent, as the game even forbids you to kill them, unlike the Russians.
In the game, we see other ideologies. Ocelot’s ally Sergei Gurlukovich is depicted as a well-intentioned extremist willing to kill for his beliefs and at the same time save his daughter, not minding her defecting to the US as long as the child she’s carrying is safe. His ideology is neo-Sovietism, the celebration of Soviet and Russian old glory in a modern setting, the revival of the USSR or a similar form of government, with clear anti-Unitedstatian tones. The reasons for his acts, as he explains them to the Marine commandant, point out to the general bitterness felt in Russia after the Soviet collapse. We can almost relate to his views, at least, those of us who truly know what happened to the post-Soviet republics. Scott Dolph, the Marine commandant, couldn’t be more dismissive of this, despite his big talk about the horrors of nuclear annihilation, perhaps showing the selfish and self-absorbed ideology of the US military. “Is there a point to this sad story?” he says, as Gurlukovich explains his upbringing. The casual and deadpan delivery of the Marine commandant somehow reeks of “American” attitude, and the self-righteousness associated with it. Interestingly, both men die after Ocelot reveals his true colors, and later on, so do their daughters.
I also have always seen a correlation between Sergei Gurlukovich and Solidus Snake. Both are idealistic patriots hailing from the biggest superpowers of the Cold War, who wish their nations to return to more orthodox beliefs after undergoing stages of corruption or weakening, and are willing to do next to anything to accomplish their goals. Also, both are leaders of men with military/government backgrounds who command loyal private armies, and both are betrayed by Ocelot. Solidus eventually inherits Gurlukovich’s assets to help his own efforts. And last but not least, they are even fathers of battle-hardened soldiers; Olga and Raiden.
Olga Gurlukovich, Sergei’s daughter, is not so idealistic as her father, rejecting the same values Raiden rejects of his adopted father. She dismisses the revival of Mother Russia when talking to Solidus Snake, explaining that “the old man is dead” and that “the world is a different place now.” She perhaps symbolizes the next generation of Russians, unbound by the burden of their Soviet past and looking toward a different future. Olga is first depicted as loyal to her unit and willing to fight during the Tanker Chapter, yet later seems dejected from all that, perhaps due to caring more about her child. Near the end of the game though, she laments the deaths of her comrades shortly before dying, calling them more than comrades, family, and this is the only part in the game where the countless soldiers that we are forced to slaughter somehow appear to mean anything to anybody.
I believe there may be an explanation for this; the main enemies in MGS2 are Russian to fool us into swallowing the Western cliché of Russians as the eternal enemy. We no longer face Genome soldiers with US accents. After all, MGS2 was designed to mock player expectations and suppress any originality from our mission, giving us a generic stealth mission to fulfill our childish cravings to be Snake, and there is nothing more generic for a techno-thriller than a Russian enemy.
Yet, the purpose of this new Russian enemy is to be shot without qualms all the same. However, unlike the Genome soldiers, these are people, like Raiden says. They are human beings with families and emotions, not the dehumanized gene-therapy black-ops soldiers from before (which were treated as nothing more than government property). The Russian soldiers often act in a sillier fashion than the Genome soldiers, and behave in a less serious way overall; one of the most notorious soldiers escapes briefly from his duties in order to urinate from atop the Big Shell, coincidentally, just as Raiden passes down below. Moments like this give the soldiers humanity and frailty, and convey that sensation of mediocrity we’re supposed to get with our crummy mission. After all, Snake never had anyone urinate over him, that we know of.
MGS1 also had comedy moments in the form of Johnny Sasaki, who returns in MGS2 as an easter-egg, but he can’t be said to represent the regular Genome soldiers, and even acts pretty much professionally for what he has to endure in MGS1. The fact that the Russians are humanized this time around, sometimes to the point of comedy, is precisely what we get from Olga right at the end of the game, when after we’ve sliced and diced a good bunch of them, she cries out to Solidus that more than comrades, they were family, leaving the player with a further degree of dissatisfaction about the mission. Then again, this has to do more with Kojima’s intentions for MGS2, which was making our mission everything we didn’t want it to be, and not because of ideological reasons. The thing is, we actually don’t get to shoot just Russians either; the fact that there are Unitedstatian shock troops too, the hi-tech soldiers who comprised the president’s escort team, somehow subverts the “anti-Russian” feel of the game, yet they are rare, and only come in emergencies. As for bosses, most Dead Cell members themselves and Solidus are Unitedstatian as well, the latter being a former US president. This is taken up a notch when the current US president is discovered to be a figurehead in an AI-controlled totalitarian state masquerading as democracy, and to top it all, he’s shown to want to partake in it badly. The final mind screw occurs at the end of the game, when we discover that this scenario is not only very real, but that we helped to perfect it with our actions.
However, because of the social engineering and “dangers of the digital era” themes, MGS2 doesn’t exactly fall under the category of a simple “anti-US” game, even though it could be considered this in several levels. The script is extremely harsh with the US government and its modus operandi, and basically treats the US as a modern totalitarian state of misinformation and censorship. However, Kojima’s intentions revolved more around the concept of a VR-simulated environment where we, the players, are jerked around at every turn in our endeavor to replay a mission like the one featured in MGS1. The intention of Kojima was for the fanbase to realize the dangers of admiring guns and militarism, or “the cool stuff,” and promoting more intellectual and philosophical attitudes in them, so they could question the fiction in the game and contrast it with real world events, forming an ideology by themselves without anyone to shape it, as well promoting the attitude of being able to discern between reality and a game. This is what Kojima tried to pass on, and failed because of the demand for military violence and hollow spy-fiction nonsense.
However, besides the “think for yourself and pass on your legacy” attitude the game promotes, there is some crystal-clear US criticism aimed at the US failing to live up to the democratic principles the nation was based on (something which I also agree with and denounce). At the time of the founding of the United States as a free nation from European oppression, liberty wasn’t a word to be thrown around abusively and as such, it had a meaning. It wasn’t used for justifying the stupidities of today, to start Wars on Terror or to allow the government to spy on the peoples without their knowledge or consent. There is a fictional element to be found in Sons of Liberty’s narrative, but at the end of the day, it bears that subtitle for a reason. It’s a game that demands the recovery of that freedom, lost in the digital era and the industrial-military complex entrenched in the once democratic nation’s heart. It wants us to acknowledge that the US was conceived in a very noble manner and degenerated into the monster it is today. The fact that the game was mostly aimed at Japanese and Unitedstatian audiences has to have something to do with it. To Japanese players, perhaps to not see the US in a glorified manner from abroad (something modern Japanese people often do), and for Unitedstatians, to question the actions of their country’s government and denounce them.
The symbolism cannot be taken lightly either; the Sons of Liberty flag is displayed prominently, not only flown in the Big Shell but also featured in Solidus’ exoskeleton suit, with clear stencil fonts reading “US Army.” Solidus and Raiden reach Federal Hall on the 30th of April and battle atop it, and Solidus’ last action consists of reaching up to the statue of George Washington. Its as if the game wants us to see that flag, and to associate it with a free or alternative United States, something the sight of the normal flag wouldn’t incite.
In the games’ canon, MGS4 chronologically follows MGS2. The game tells the story of the Patriots, the supposed secret rulers of the US, and establishes them as not men, but AI’s that control all societal and economic aspects of Western civilization. Liquid Ocelot – supposedly Ocelot’s body controlled by Liquid’s mind as we were led to believe in MGS2 – has somehow gained control over the biggest PMCs in the planet and plans on using them to fulfill Big Boss’ dream of Outer Heaven. The economy of this Orwellian dystopia rife with perpetual war is managed by the AIs, which have decreed to be the best course of action for the world. Without ideology or philosophies to fight for, the world’s conflicts cease to be about nationalism or political ideas and become merely about lucrativevictories for the PMCs.
In this world devoid of ideology, however, there seems to be more pro-US fuzzy feelings than in earlier iterations. The US Army features prominently and particularly as a peacekeeping force trying to restrain the brutality of the PMCs. The assault on Liquid Ocelot on the Volta river (I still can’t believe they didn’t use proper names for geographical locations) involves only the US Army that we know of. How is it that in the ambiguous “Eastern Europe” location, which is probably based on the Czech Republic, we see only US troops, with the Raven Claw PMC being also a US-based company too? It’s extremely weird. Also, the final battle involves an assault on Liquid’s base using the USS Missouri as a last stand, something that seems straight out of a Tom Clancy or Call of Duty game, while Meryl Silverburgh and her crew are portrayed as typical US Special Forces good guys. Mei Ling, meanwhile, reappears without philosophical quotes, a cheerful lobotomy and a brand-new US accent, as does Naomi. The US, of all the countries (or lazy ambiguous continents) that we visit, somehow appears to be the only free country standing up to Liquid Ocelot, as all others seem to be completely overrun by the PMCs. We barely get any glimpse of life in the US, not counting the pre-game television ads, but it’s safe to assume that, judging by Campbell’s residence, life can’t be all that bad as in the rest of the war-torn world, where it seems doubtful that even high-ranking generals can sit idly to chat via videoconference while their fake wives cook them terrible meals.
A good point of interest regarding the game’s ideology, but which sounds unlikely even to me, is the fact that Major Zero, the founder of the Patriots, was British, and the rest of the Patriots (Para-Medic, Sigint, Big Boss, EVA and Ocelot) were Unitedstatian, Russian-Unitedstatian in the case of Ocelot. It’s very curious that they embody world domination and manipulation at a political, economic, cultural and even genetic level, and that their heritage is Anglo-Saxon. Whether this is Kojima’s way of illustrating Anglo-Saxon dominance of the world (originally British, then Unitedstatian) remains unclear, but it’s certainly subject of curiosity. Some fans have speculated why Kojima turned such nice people as Major Zero, Para-Medic and Sigint into completely cynical and abhorrent human beings, but then again, much like Twin Peaks, the story of Metal Gear was created as it went along, never planned in advance. The end result was likely to be chaotic, unsatisfactory and nonsensical at some point, unsaveable even by retcon.
I will add, MGS4 is a strange anomaly within the MGS universe that cannot be analyzed in the same league as MGS1, MGS2 or MGS3, not politically and not through meta-references, and I shall explain why; first of all, the ideological content of the game – or lack thereof – must not be really considered as part of Kojima’s political beliefs or otherwise; because originally, MGS4 was never meant to happen.