Memes From Mirrors
Substance From Smoke
Meme: a cultural unit (an idea or value or pattern of behavior) that is passed from one generation to another by nongenetic means (as by imitation); "memes are the cultural counterpart of genes". From the Greek word mimema, meaning “something imitated”.
At the heart of the game, MGS2 is about memes, and what to pass on to the future. And in a society where information is created and spread at speeds considered impossible only thirty years ago, the theme could not be more relevant. Through television, movies, books, arts, games and the internet, we are being exposed to more information on a larger scale than ever before; and with that exposure there is very real danger. Deception, manipulation, ambition, imitation, inspiration… these are only a few of the ways in which memes are created and transferred. Metal Gear Solid 2 demonstrates this perfectly.
You could even go so far as to say that Sons of Liberty itself is a meme. It’s a set of ideas and information transferred from Kojima’s mind to ours. But like all information, we need to “filter out unnecessary information, retrieve valuable truths, and interpret them for future generations”. That’s where the smoke gains substance, and where the true challenge of MGS2 lies.
There’re plenty of hidden references, tributes, and metaphors in MGS2. They can be found from opening to ending, and can be fascinating, strange, or funny. In the opening, we see a series of genes locking into place; soon enough, however, one of the pieces breaks away, becomes a snake, and swims around freely. As it turns out, this was Kojima’s way of showing that Solid Snake has broken free from his genetic fate. Another example would be the small reference to King Kong and Godzilla in a seemingly trivial conversation with Rose. Even though it is not explained in-game, Kojima has said that this is to hint at the similarities between Snake and Raiden to Godzilla and King Kong, respectively. He says that Godzilla and Snake are both unnatural, man-made experiments gone wrong; King Kong and Raiden were captured, fell in love with a woman (ie. Rose) and brought to a city. Snake frees Raiden, who goes back to where he came from, but Snake must continue to fight as long as Metal Gear exists. Needless to say, this game was built to withstand extremely detailed analysis.
Kojima must have decided that he didn’t want the game to be perfectly understood. He must have said to himself, “Let’s make a few pieces missing from this puzzle.” That way we’re forced to use our own judgment for a change, instead of being told what to believe in. We have to start over… “A clean slate. A new name, new memories.” Just as Raiden is encouraged to start a new life, we’re encouraged to start the game again. It’s a form of justice: those who don’t bother thinking won’t be satisfied with what they find.
Games like Grand Theft Auto, while very entertaining, don’t have a real legacy… or if they do, they’re probably for the worse. They don’t teach us anything useful. But whenever you learn from something, it will remain in your heart and mind for the rest of your life. Just look at Socrates, Plato, and Shakespeare – their legacies continue to live on to this day because of their “memes”. Their wisdom has passed from one generation to another through their writings and teachings. And in the same way, I think Kojima hoped to pass MGS2 and its teachings to future generations, and teach us.
But what are the lessons? Solid Snake tells Raiden about finding something to believe in, but gives him no specifics. “That’s your problem,” he says. Does the game really just put it all in our lap, and give us no answers? What are we supposed to look for?
The answers are hidden in the smoke and mirrors itself...
PART THREE: A Philosopher's Legacy, The Memetic Allegory