C. The Man Who Sold The World
“I’ve cheated death thanks to you. And thanks to you, I’ve left my mark.” The sentence is harsh, striking us like the admission of a lifelong betrayal. It also holds the feigned gratefulness (ingratitude, then) of a commandant to his troops who have followed his orders and fought for him while he collected the medals for himself. Kojima projects himself onto Big Boss, and this sentence applies to both their lives, to what they managed to undertake thanks to each one of us. TPP’s Big Boss represents a certain side of his creator, a darker side which cynically enjoys his particular return of investment: worldwide recognition thanks to his proxies, the fans he parasitized so they would carry out his legend. This is how he cheated death, or rather, oblivion54. We are face to face with the demon Kojima55, the one who sacrificed everything, included his ”best man”, to reach his selfish goals. After all, the entire story of MGSV is one of betrayal. Ground Zeroes is about being betrayed by an ally who, so far, only lived in the shadow of the main character, and suddenly decides to exploit his weakness to eliminate him. We may never know what exactly led to the “Kojimagate”, but it is suspicious that the game is so obsessed with betrayal. When Ocelot refreshes Venom’s memory on what happened during PW and GZ (the way they are told makes them look very much like Kojima’s career56), XOF’s treachery is extensively referred to, without any particular relevance to the story. Ocelot describes it like the kiss of Judas57, and the anger in his words feels genuine. Do not be fooled, though: the way the artist romanticizes his life58 should not obscure the fact that he, himself, is also responsible for what happened. He remains this demonic Big Boss who, for the sake of his own project, condemned innocent bystanders to fall dead to XOF’s bullets, or recreated them in his likeness so that they can share his pain. He is the man who keeps selling the world in order to cheat death.
It is a certain side of himself that Kojima points out like this, but it is not the only one. Many other fragments of his personality are hidden in TPP’s characters, his own creations he uses as a ventriloquist. Take Quiet, for instance. As already mentioned here, she is the guardian of the artist’s memes. But she is also rebellious against XOF, an organization to which she is bound by contract, and she deliberately forces herself to stay mute to protect the Diamond Dogs. Take Miller, who refuses categorically to replace his lost limbs with prostheses, because he needs to “keep the pain fresh in his mind”59: like so, he can go on venting his creator’s anger. As for Code Talker, he dishonored himself doing Skull Face’s dirty work in the hope of bringing justice to the oppressed60. He made a deal with the devil in order to protect his people61 but, by a cruel twist of fate, his life work turned into the exact opposite of his noble intentions. And as payment for his services, all he got was a sophisticated form of psychological torture62. Then he had to make sure his legacy did not fall into the wrong hands. Yet, when he started his research, everything seemed perfect: his work was supposed to wash away the sins of the past, instead of committing new ones. In an obvious comparison with Kojima’s work, Code Talker explains that he wished to fight the consequences of the invention of the atomic bomb. But all he did was to contribute to the threat63. His mission is a failure. Although it is not finished yet. He does not admit defeat, he is not done64.
There are times when Venom himself personifies his creator. As an exhausted straw man, crushed under his responsibilities, amputated, he is nothing more than the reflection of the “boss” he thinks he is. Punished Snake becomes Punished Kojima when he deeply regrets his toughest decisions, for instance in episode 43. If those “diamonds” and “shining lights” refer to us, the players, then this mission represents our collective death at the hands of our boss, our thought leader. Overwhelmed, wearing his goggles which show we are infected and being controlled, Kojima has no other choice but to sacrifice us – that is, to expel us from this little virtual heaven he created and welcomed us to. All he can hope now is that our pixelated ashes, turned into diamonds, will follow him in his next life. So the disturbing emotions we feel as we murder our troops do not just come out of nowhere: Kojima shares them with us, because he felt them too as he turned the page on his saga, as he switched off the shining lights in the hearts of his fans – glimmers of hope which paradoxically proved their hosts were corrupted beyond hope by a certain company of parasites. The crushing burden of regret also shows in the last part of Paz’s photo quest: things could have turned out differently, Venom seems to wish, together with his creator, when he goes again through the trauma of his “ground zero”. Kojima has tried for a long time to turn the tide, to reverse what happened in the past. But when the truth comes out, it is all the more striking: however you look at things, Paz’s “flesh and bones” joined “the silt of the ocean floor” a long time ago. It is too late for redemption. Snake, the player and Kojima have all been punished, driven out from their Outer Heaven, condemned to eternal regret. The artist seems to admit his responsibility in the matter: Paz’s dream is not only ours, but his. The elusive Morpho butterfly represents all his failed attempts, and all resulting losses – but also the potential for rebirth.
Strangelove, yet another avatar for Kojima, is very briefly heard in TPP, as if the only reason she was brought back was to convey to us, one last time, the already “distant” voice of her creator, his “final recording”65. Strangelove is there only to act as a fragment of Kojima: the desperate one, dying alone because of “pride”, “conceit” and “baseless theories”. The metaphor starts at the very beginning of the tape: Strangelove regrets she did not try to escape sooner. She would have lost a limb (a part of her) in the process but at least, she would not have been trapped inside her own creation. Then she addresses The Boss, or rather the player, who “is recording all this” (the author’s message), “deep down in some memory board” buried under “heaps of meaningless code” (the form of the message, the game). At this point in the monologue, the author himself starts to apologize profusely. He does not “deserve” to see the player again. He blames himself for “signing up for Zero’s plan” and “using” the player. He makes excuses: he “had no choice”, as he puts it. He was “forced” to “revive and modify” the game, symbolized by the AI pod itself. Like Code Talker, Kojima wanted to do the right thing but instead, he committed terrible acts from which there is no going back. He thought he “could bring back” his series and his audience but they were lost, “sold”, in the process. The child Strangelove mentions, the one she will “never see again” could symbolize the game, the series as well as the player. What is important is that she wants Hal to be “free from his father’s hands”. It is as if Kojima tried to say that his child, Metal Gear, was conceived together with his audience, and that a third, “irrelevant” player tried to interfere and “take it away”. It is all there, buried under some unexpected lesbian fantasy: the story of a stolen legacy. To the players, Kojima apologizes that he misjudged them, that he “created a false” identity for them, that he used them in order to pass on his memes. To the game, his creation, Kojima apologizes that he “could not protect” it, that he “let them take it all away”. There is still hope, though: on the level of the saga’s story, it is the code which Strangelove implanted inside the AI pod. Sunny will use it many years later to put an end to the war economy. On the level of Kojima’s hopes in the real world, hope is symbolized as an “egg”, which he has planted inside the mind of Metal Gear players, and will hatch in due time66. The monologue ends with an invitation to the players to take care of the series, of the legacy which is theirs now. “You do not need me anymore”, the author concludes, as The Boss did in MGS3.
There is also a lot of Kojima in Huey, and it is even more troubling. The parallel is much more obvious, demonstrated by the character changing his glasses. After Ocelot destroys his first frame, Huey proudly wears Kojima’s emblematic J.F.Rey’s, the exact same model as in Ground Zeroes. From then on, Huey officially becomes his creator’s spokesman. The timing is no coincidence: it happens right before Emmerich is condemned and banished from Mother Base, kneeling before his colleagues and bosses, accused of everything that led to the current situation. Kojima enjoys playing the role of the stubborn liar who is desperate to convince everyone, included himself, that he did not commit any crime, or that he did so in everybody’s best interest. Faced with all the evidence, he still denies everything: murders become suicides, and the beam in his own eye is never bigger than the mote in Snake’s eye. Right then, “entre chien et loup”, as the French say to describe the moment when night falls, it is impossible to discern Huey’s outrageous lies from his uncomfortable truths. Who are the dogs, and who are the wolves? Huey has his own opinion about that, and it differs from his organization’s official views. This disagreement will cost him his position in the company.
After his trial, the man is expelled from Mother Base, sent to the sea on a mere lifeboat, robbed from “his” Metal Gear, but alive (or rather, ready to be reborn). As the small raft is lowered into the water, Kojima’s rage comes through his character’s voice: “I’m innocent! You’re the murderers! (…) Am I the only sane one here?” The author knows very well that it his position is difficult, maybe even impossible to defend. The odds are against him. So he has enough wisdom to portray himself as an ambiguous character, prone to tell the truth (“you are the murderers”) while burying his head in the sand (“I risked my life to save you”). On the opposite side, it is the same. The admonitions of Kaz, Ocelot and Venom are not fooling anybody: they are themselves dogs of war, willing to do almost anything to increase their revenues. As is written in the saga’s canon, two of them will become demons – that is to say, since we are in a video game, final bosses.
Did Kojima really lose everything in the process? In the same scene, we see him removing and throwing away the restraints he wore on his legs. But they were also the legs on which he stood, the symbol of his evolution in the company that helped him come to life and rise. Those legs will only be phantom limbs from now on, since he has to abandon them in order to be given a second chance67. As the only scientist among a group of mercenaries, has he ever truly been part of the staff? As the only designer among the businessmen, could he really ever adhere to the company’s values, and pledge allegiance to the boss? Of course not, at least not completely, and that is why the boss (or rather, the boss’s substitute) fires him, calling him “not one of (them)”. Considering the harsh metaphor here, those words sound strangely mild. They are less an accusation than the cold recognition that Kojima has his own identity, his own loyalty towards different ideals than Konami. Unlike Kaz, Venom is very noble and even-tempered throughout the scene (“we cannot judge an enemy”). Maybe he wants to show that, in this hopeless situation, no one is more of a demon than anyone else. It is the sad, dull and inevitable outcome of “nine years” (in reality, more like thirty years) of a symbiotic and deceitful relationship, during which each side gradually evolved beyond recognition.
Unlike the characters, the audience is in a position to realize that this drama is no one’s fault. Neither side has a monopoly on good conscience or morality : it is a tragedy without heroes or bad guys, only human beings acting according to their identity (“Race”), lost in a circle of resent (“Revenge”), bound to split up eventually. There are no winners or losers68: both sides will have to recognize their mistakes and will pay for them, sooner or later. As Ocelot concludes, during a travelling shot which ends up on Venom staring into the distance, “what goes around comes around”69.
Huey has already learnt this proverb to his own detriment. Throughout the tapes of his torture (an easy metaphor for Kojima’s situation in real life), he becomes the object of all attention and has to answer to both Ocelot and his own lies. As his torturer says, “it’s easier living a comfortable lie (artistic expression comes first) than a painful truth (financial pressures come first)”, and the objective of these tapes is precisely to make Huey see the truth. Bound to his chair, the man must answer for his actions to a fake court. Through these restless, complex and repetitive dialogues, the author seems to make his own psychoanalysis, while anticipating what he may be accused of, later on.
The following extracts are from Huey’s interrogation tapes, but they could just as well come from an interview of Kojima right after the release of TPP. A few words have been removed; your imagination will undoubtedly know how to fill the gaps.
“Don’t get me wrong, I still believed in […]. I thought I was making the best decision for all of us, that’s all.”
“I had no idea that would happen. I was just trying to prove our innocence to […], what’s wrong with that?”
“Think about it. I lost something too. I built […] and it got buried under water. I am a victim!”
“I was taken away against my will. […] forced me to do his research these past […] years. He used me. I lost […] years! I suppose blaming me makes you feel better, does it? Who is going to give me all the time I lost?”
“They had me blindfolded the whole time! I’ve never been so scared. But thinking of you kept me going. My […].”
“[…] is the one who’s really behind the […]. He forced me into that research! He told me to build a […] for […]. Like Peace Walker. That’s how the […] project got started.”
“I was being pushed for results. […] refused to wait. He took […] away from me before I could finish it.”
“Sure I was forced to build it under their orders but I always wanted to put its technology back into our hands someday. Don’t you see? That’s how much I was thinking about you guys!”
The same little game can be applied to some of Code Talker’s lines. He takes Huey’s position as the scientist at Mother Base, and is also another fragment of Kojima. Another puppet through which the author can elaborate his opinions. The incredible dullness of this character’s tape does a very good job at hiding his creator’s voice behind repetitive gibberish. The words are all there – but not really. Code Talker lives up to his name: he conveys a coded message.
“The […] called for funding on a colossal scale. But nobody was willing to invest with no prospect of a return.”
[Ocelot : “And that’s when […] showed up.”]
“Yes. […] forced me to abandon my nuclear clean-up work and focus on nuclear weapons70. And he held all the […] hostage.”
“His plan. That was not my intention. My only goal in developing […] was to save the […].”
“I am the same as these young […]. Used for […]’s sake. I must never forget that.”
“I have no doubt […]’s plan is almost complete. At that point, I will no longer be of use to him. I must leave behind this […], at least.”
Emmerich’s words are impossible to defend, given his tendency to distort the facts in his best interest, to impose his interpretation71. The terrible fate of his legacy is proportional to his pride. His interrogation tapes end on a merciless comment by Kaz: the businessman tells his boss that, even if the chief designer gets fired, the chain of distribution will not be impacted. The R&D unit will manage without him, and the company will not be affected72. The accuracy of the metaphor is both frightening and sad. There it is, the “truth” against which Kojima wanted to defend himself through his character’s lies: he is expendable. His creation will be taken care of, with or without him. Emmerich understands in episode 12, as soon as he realizes that Sahelanthropus has been modified behind his back. Whatever happens, he no longer has any control over the fate of his legacy: his vain attempt to move his Metal Gear away from Mother Base and to pass it on to the children – future generations, who do not necessarily know what it stands for – leads to an unnecessary and unsuccessful conflict.
Despite Huey’s huge potential as his creator’s main avatar, he does not hold Kojima’s final say in TPP. The author’s honesty – as opposed to his lies – eventually prevails in the very last conversation, after the credits of episode 46, through Ocelot’s voice: he proudly declares that it (the farce that the whole game has been) was “all” done for a single reason: to cover for “the boss” while he was building his “new nation”, “independent of the struggles for supremacy, (of) the cycles of revenge between countries”73. The metaphor could not be clearer, and it would be insulting if it was not for “the other Big Boss” (the player), responsible for carrying on “his meme” and, who knows, maybe also renewing his meme.
This surreal dialogue ends on a moment of remarkable lucidity, and for good reason: it is actually an evaluation. The project has been completed thanks to the coexistence of two fundamentally opposed participants, whose relationship was bound to lead to a dramatic turn of events. Big Boss leaves behind this small, uninteresting conflict. “The Man who Sold the World”, who deceived everyone, only cares about “the new age”74.
And while we wait for that future, we should “get used”, as Miller says, to living the final moments of a complex coexistence between a greedy publisher and a phantom author – and their audience, the powerless child in this messy divorce, whose custody they fight over75. In the background of this inevitable tragedy, we can hear a few hits of the 80’s, among which the well-named Only Time Will Tell and Love Will Tear Us Apart. The lyrics seem to summarize the whole game, the context in which it was made, and the situation it led to:
When routine bites hard,
And ambitions are low,
And resentment rides high,
But emotions won’t grow,
And we’re changing our ways,
taking different roads.
So this is it. The time has come for everyone to take different roads. At the crossroads of passion and routine, what is left of this tainted love between an artist, his patron and their audience? Nothing. They can never “get used to coexisting” anymore. As the song goes:
Something so good just can’t function no more.
55 “Forgive me, there’s a monster inside me”, as written in P.T.
56 Take, for instance, tapes 5 and 6 from “Ocelot’s Briefing ”, with sentences like “before you knew it, you were commanding 300 men”.
57 Code Talker, too, calls Skull Face a traitor: “he shakes your hand like a friend, using the other to control you like a puppet. This is how he works.” (Metallic Archaea )
58 “Mother Base came damn close to taking you with it. Reality finally settled in. You were supposed to die that day (…). But you survived (…). This world still needs you.” (Ocelot’s Briefing )
59 At Mother Base .
60 Code Talker and his Research .
61 “My only goal in developing the metallic archaea was to save the diné.” (Metallic Archaea )
63 “Bilaagana forced me to abandon my nuclear clean-up work and focus on nuclear weapons.” (Metallic Archaea )
64 “To save the Diné, I must complete my original research.” (Metallic Archaea )
65 “I guess I can say what needs to be said. I can still do that much… Talk to you.” (AI Pod Final Recording)
68 “It is no one’s fault. There is no blame to be cast.” (Vocal Cord Parasites )
69 This scene echoes the second tape from “At Mother Base ” in which Kaz describes his relationship with Cipher as “parasitic” but “mutually beneficial”… The problem being that it is impossible to know what Cipher has become, to what extent his network has developed, nor even what he wants. To Kojima, it is the same concerning his relationship with Konami: it is impossible to paint everybody with the same brush, to make a clear distinction between good and evil, or even to know how it all came to this. In the same tape, Venom says that “the man he knew” would never destroy Mother Base. As shown later in the story, he is right to avoid jumping to conclusions, and to seek the truth elsewhere.
71 His most ridiculous attempt is to compare Sahelanthropus’s head to the MSF logo, whereas it could just as well symbolize his loyalty to Skull Face (Questioning Huey ).
72 Questioning Huey , tape 1.
74 The tapes included in “At Mother Base ” are a kind of whimsical, and barely hidden, prophecy of how Kojima’s new studio is going to be created. The Diamond Dogs are glad to build their new base while they are protected from any act of retaliation from Cipher, who has “no interest” anymore to hurt them. Yet, Miller tells Venom that first, they must prove their worth to the “mercenaries” (the players) before they rally them to their cause.
75 P.T., which mainly focuses on the dangers looming over the family cocoon, deals with this divorce very differently, with the sordid tale of lobotomized fathers killing their wives and children.