A GUEST ARTICLE BY “FLYING FOX”
How many hidden messages are hidden away inside The Phantom Pain’s subtext? Is there a new metanarrative once again? Friend of the site, Flying Fox, has analyzed the game’s story to find many fascinating examples that he believes can redeem and elevate the controversial, seemingly unfinished story. Originally this article was published here on a site called MetalGearSolid.be, in French. Thankfully the author has painstakingly translated his enormous commentary into English and given our site the honor of presenting it to my English-reading readers, who I suspect are thirsty for answers exactly like these. I hope you will enjoy it as much as I did, and find many observations that you hadn’t even considered before.
“No matter which circle of hell we live in, I think we are free to break it.
And if people do not break it, it is of their own free will that they stay there.
So they put themselves in hell of their own free will.”
— Jean-Paul Sartre
“Watch out. The gap in the door… It’s a separate reality.
The only me is me. Are you sure the only you is you?”
— Hideo Kojima
“One is not born, but becomes, Big Boss”: this is how Cyril Lener (Chronicart.com) describes the slow initiation process of the player in Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain. The sentence echoes Simone de Beauvoir’s famous words, “one is not born, but becomes, a woman”, which condemned the oppression of a dominant culture on another one, the subjugation of a slave to a master. In a way, Cyril Lener got mixed up, because he talked of the master, instead of the dominated person. It may be more accurate to say, about MGSV: “one is not born, but becomes, a player”.
The status of women acted as Simone de Beauvoir’s food for thought. To Kojima, it is the status of players. He is obsessed with our subjugation, of our own free will, to pixels. He is preoccupied with the cultural future of “Homo Ludens”: he sees us both as Sons of Liberty and Guns of the Patriots, both as “Diamonds” and “Dogs”.
With that in mind, how could Kojima’s ultimate Metal Gear have been anything else than a last wake-up call for us? MGSV takes up the torch after MGS2. But after fourteen years, the light looks somewhat dimmed. It still burns, but it is “subdued”. This exact word was used in 2013 by Kojima to describe his point of view on Kiefer Sutherland’s performance in MGSV. “Subdued” refers to moderation, restraint, discretion, like a flag flown at half-mast. It is a suitable style for (the late) Kojima Productions’ swan song. MGS2 had the energy of youth, it bravely faced the future. MGSV mostly takes the form of an ambivalent outcome, torn apart after three decades of creative turmoil which did not always have the desired effect on us.
As a result, Kojima’s final lesson is somewhat hushed, undertone, told between the lines. But that does not make it less meaningful than the previous ones. Its sophistication makes for a sharper, more significant message. But also, since it is Kojima we are talking about, more ambiguous: at times optimistic, at times (very) pessimistic. A Metal Gear game has never been so personal to him. TPP is not, as his detractors would say, a bunch of missed opportunities. It is, on the contrary, an opportunity taken by its creator to express his opinions and feelings. As usual, he does so by distorting every aspect of the story and game design to vent his fury, pain, fear, sorrow, joy – and doubt. The result is a schizophrenic game, at the crossroads of fiction and personal testimony. A shattered mirror, every bit as fragmented as its reflection, and which seems impossible to repair.
Welcome to the strange world of Doctor Kojima and Mister Mogren. If you listen closely, you might hear the music they play in the background, almost for themselves. A requiem in three acts: “Race”, “Revenge”, “Rebirth”.