Few video games series have as much recognition and respect as Metal Gear Solid. The stealth-action franchise has made a huge impact on the entire game industry, and multiple Metal Gear games are counted in the greatest titles ever created.
As much as Metal Gear Solid might be known for stealth, it’s equally known for gripping stories that deal with real-world political issues. There’s a common idea espoused by many that video games and politics simply shouldn’t mix, but the problem there is that so many video games are integrally political whether players like it or not.
Click the button below to start this article in quick view.
Metal Gear Solid’s creator, Hideo Kojima, constantly uses political themes and events, even in his most recent title Death Stranding. The identity of Metal Gear Solid is integrally linked to political ideology, and it’s part of what’s made the series so successful to this day.
Metal Gear Has Always Been Inexplicably Tied to Politics
Metal Gear Solid has always been heavily steeped in politics, whether its the multiple references to Che Guevara in Peace Walker or the secret ending in The Phantom Pain that’s unlocked if all players disarm their nukes. The first Metal Gear Solid opens with Solid Snake, a saboteur working for the US Military, infiltrating a compound run by the terrorist group FOXHOUND. One of the hostages Snake needs to rescue is actually the head of DARPA, and it becomes clear early on that the US government is completely manipulating Snake. The true intentions of big government is a constant theme throughout the series, and Metal Gear Solid 3 details how Naked Snake becomes disillusioned with the United States and starts down the path of Big Boss.
The first Metal Gear Solid was a phenomenal success when it released on the PS1, and it’s sold over 6 million copies to date according to the Video Game Sales Wiki. Metal Gear Solid is, of course, a science-fiction series at its core, but many of the series themes look at how ideas in science interplay with politics. Solid Snake himself is a clone, and the villain of Metal Gear Solid 2, Solidus Snake is another clone who becomes the 43rd president of the United States.
Hideo Kojima and Politics of the Western World
In 2014, The Guardian interviewed Kojima about The Phantom Pain, where he explains some of the political ideas behind the series. In the interview, Kojima explained how Ground Zeroes is a bit of an allegory for Guantanamo Bay, and how Hollywood continuously depicts the US Army as being the ‘good guys.’ With Ground Zeros and The Phantom Pain Kojima wasn’t necessarily trying to say the opposite, but rather present an alternate viewpoint in a world of entertainment that depicts the US Military as the ultimate heroes. Kojima says “In the past the US was the centre of the world, where everything was happening. I think my stories have always sought to question this, maybe even criticise it. But the situation is changing. America is not seen as the centre of the world any more. So the focus of my stories is shifting alongside with that change in the real world.” Going off of this logic, America’s role in the world has been a constant point of contention since the very first Metal Gear Solid.
Hideo Kojima was born in 1963, and as with many Japanese creators of the time period, nuclear war has been a staple of his storytelling. Growing up in a country still feeling the effects of Nuclear bombs clearly influenced his storytelling, similarly to how Godzilla was originally conceived as a metaphor for Hiroshima. He first entered college to study economics, but his love of writing fiction eventually led to Kojima entering the video game industry. Kojima’s unique brand of storytelling is a big part of why Metal Gear Solid experienced the success that it did. He tells grand stories filled with plot twists and conspiracies, but the inclusion of real-world politics gives players agency within the games, it helps them relate to Metal Gear Solid on a deeper level. Even with all the science-fiction, the politics of the series make Metal Gear Solid feel like more than just rampant fantasy. These days more games deal with political themes, but Metal Gear Solid came at a time when very very few games dealt with real-world issues, which made it even more unique. Metal Gear Solid’s success speaks for itself, but the way the series blended real and sci-fi is part of why Kojima came to be regarded as a visionary of the industry.
How Metal Gear Solid 2 Predicted the Future Political Climate
Metal Gear Solid 2 hit mixed reception with fans upon release, purely because of the subversive way it puts players in the shoes of a new hero named Raiden and not Solid Snake. However, nearly twenty years later its almost scary how Metal Gear Solid 2 predicted the political and technological future. In Metal Gear Solid 2 players are introduced to the organization known as The Patriots, who seek to control the world’s society using data manipulation, targeted memes, and profiling. As Games Radar points out, these themes bear a scary resemblance to the 2018 Russian probe in America and the actions of Cambridge Analytica. The latter was a firm that harvest over 57 million Facebook profiles, to create targeted advertising that could influence voting. America’s 2016 Presidential Election saw a flood of false information and memes from Russian nationals, who were trying to sow discord and confusion in the United State’s political system.
Over the last few years, the use of personal data has become an even bigger topic in American politics. Massive corporations like Google have been accused of selling their users data to ad companies which, in turn, creates targeted advertising for each and every person. Metal Gear Solid 2 talks about free will extensively, and questions how much free will people really have when so much of their existence is controlled by data. In 2001 the word meme didn’t have nearly the same meaning it has today, but even so Metal Gear Solid 2 warns about the prevalence of memes and how it silences important information by flooding the world with unimportant data. It took years for Metal Gear Solid 2 to be truly understood and appreciated in the industry, and since then it’s been the focus of countless retrospective and analysis pieces. While the rest of the series is equally steeped in real-world issues, it’s perhaps the most striking example of how the franchise uses politics, especially in light of the eery truth behind its predictions.
Metal Gear Rising Reveangence and Politics
Metal Gear Rising: Reveangence was developed by Platinum Games, and although Kojima was an advisor on the title, he wasn’t directly involved in its development. Rising obviously wasn’t intended to be as political as the rest of the series, but it shows how Metal Gear Solid simply can’t avoid it. The game is so inexplicably linked to politics at every turn, even featuring the final boss of a US Senator who espouses political ideology while fighting Raiden. A piece published on Medium by Punished “Estrus” Flask dives deep into the way Rising deals with politics and comments on the modern world. The disparity between rich and poor is a major theme of Rising and the game’s villain, Senator Armstrong, is a big proponent of putting in the hard work to make it in the world. The final battle sees Raiden pointing out the problems with Armstrong’s ideology, and how it’s easy to succeed in life when you’re given a running start, and never made to suffer.
The explosive boss battles are one of the most widely talked about aspects of Metal Gear Rising, but even those get political. Each human or cyborg boss has an ideology that they play into, and the unique themes for bosses have lyrics that play into those ideologies. For example, as Punished “Estrus” Flask points out, the final battle with Armstrong features a song called Collective Consciousness. Two of the lyrics in that song state “live in ignorance and purchase your happiness” and “let your country control your soul,” which is a bit on the nose.
Metal Gear Rising may not lean as heavily into making a political statement, but it openly discusses politics and real-world events. The game directly addresses events like 9/11, The War on Terror, and Desert Storm. However, it also addresses looser topics like child soldiers, care for veterans, Western countries exploiting war-torn nations, and more. Metal Gear Rising also enjoyed successful sales, although not quite the height of the main series. More than anything, though, it shows that Metal Gear Solid simply can’t exist without its link to politics, the two simply cannot be separated. Metal Gear Solid is an extreme example made by a creator who wants to make statements, but that’s exactly the point. Video games, by nature, are often inherently political, especially if they deal with any sort of real-world event or theme. Past that, however, the politics of a game’s creator often seep in, whether intentional or not. Even the framework a game is made in, like a Western ideology, can inject politics into an experience. Games simply can’t exist in a vacuum, and meaningfully examining the political and social implications of any game can lead to further insight into how people interact with the medium.
Star Wars: Why Darth Vader Didn’t Betray Palpatine Until Return of the Jedi
About The Author