Is humanity destined to act and be a certain way? Some believe that their fate is decided based off of their heritage and who their ancestors were, while others would create their own destiny based off of choice. Is one’s genetic code a layout for how their life will be? Hideo Kojima brings this discussion, and others, to light in the first iteration of the most well-known saga in gaming, Metal Gear Solid.
MGS was created in 1998 by Kojima and his team at Konami. With the recent creation of the Playstation console by Sony, Kojima saw an opportunity to put his famed protagonist, Solid Snake, in 3D, thereby allowing for more interaction with the character and the stronger development of a story. Improvements were made to the radar system, now that the game screens were free flowing instead of a grid-like system, and also the alert system and enemy AI. Weapon and item switching became much easier. One of the most important innovations was the addition of better music and voice acting, with David Hayter becoming the voice of Snake for the next 12 years.
Metal Gear Solid became the name of innovative gaming on the Playstation console for many years.
MGS takes place in 2005. FOXHOUND, the former commando unit of previous games, has taken over a nuclear weapons disposal site within Alaska’s islands and has threatened to launch a nuke somewhere if their demands are not met. Solid Snake is sent in to rescue hostages and determine the nature of this threat. Many familiar elements of the previous games can be seen in this game, both to the benefit of veteran players and newcomers alike. Read up on the full synopsis here.
With MGS, Kojima begins a trend of including a major theme within each of his games. This theme encompasses many of the main plot points and drives the story to an inevitable discussion of the world the players live in. However, this one theme is not the only thought Kojima creates for the players, as there are many supplemental discussions that can be taken from the series. These all will be brought up in each iteration of this essay. For now, one can focus on the main theme of MGS, which is Gene.
This game focuses on the genetic disposition of society. To explain it another way, this title discusses the nature side of the Nature vs. Nurture discussion, in that it asks whether or not one’s fate is tied to their genetic composition. One of the characters in the game, Naomi Hunter, explains that she studies genetics in order to discover who she really is. She later goes on to try and type other characters based off of what is in their genetic makeup, though she is not always correct. Another main character, Liquid Snake, believes it is his genetic destiny to start conflicts around the world and to give soldiers a place in that conflict. The question here is, are we products of our heritage or our decisions?
Background of this genetic discussion comes from real world data. The Human Genome project, completed in 2003, successfully mapped mankind’s genomic structure, thereby allowing scientists to study and understand DNA much better. This project identified certain genetic markers and traits that exist within humans.
This project is constantly referenced within the game, giving base to the plot of using a process called gene therapy to change one’s DNA structure to better a person or eliminate weaknesses. The intended results, in the context of MGS, is to create the perfect soldier, one who doesn’t need years of training to hone his or her skills.
This raises ethical questions. If one has the ability, should they alter themselves genetically for the sake of improvement, much as people alter their physical appearance nowadays? Is tampering with the human genome legal or right? Answers can vary depending on who you ask. In any case, this research would be revolutionary, despite the ramifications of making a right or wrong decision.
So, if one knows how their DNA is aligned, does that determine who they are and what they will accomplish? If this is the case, then a plumber’s son would most likely be a plumber, and the daughter of a clothing designer would be predisposed toward fashion. We know though that this does not always happen. Therefore, genes cannot tell us completely who we are, but rather tell us where our heritage has been. Perhaps knowing how one’s genome is mapped could help us know what mistakes to avoid in the future.
Though the genes are the hot topic for this game, Kojima brings another discussion to light: the mass number of nuclear weapons on the planet and their misuse, storage and continued existence.
Kojima’s numbers as of 1998 state that there are around 20,000-25,000 nuclear weapons on the planet. Nuclear reduction treaties, including START, were created in order to reduce the nuclear stockpiles of Russia and the US by many as 17,000. However, many characters within the game bring nuclear proliferation to light, stating that black markets of nuclear materials exist and that the race to maintain nuclear superiority still exists. This is also backed by real world information. According to the Arms Control Association, America alone has over 5,000 nuclear warheads, with over 1,600 ready to launch. The only other country that matches America is Russia, with a total of over 3,000 weapons. So many were created during the Cold War, and the dissolving of this conflict has left the world a giant warehouse of nuclear materials.
A staple character, Hal Emmerich, finds himself and his love for science being used to make a Metal Gear, though he wanted to create it for defensive purposes only. Emmerich, later titled as Otacon for his love of Japanese anime, was a gaming representation of a nuclear tool, one that is used for the better of America’s power. In fact, later plot sequences show that the whole creation of Metal Gear and testing of nuclear weapon strike capability was an act created by those who felt so strongly towards American power in the world that they would risk global scrutiny in order to keep America at the top of the food chain. Kojima uses all this to show just how far humans are willing to go in order to maintain power.
In MGS, Kojima brings the topics of genetic disposition and nuclear power to the gamers. Metal Gear Solid is a forerunner of espionage action games that bring innovative gameplay with meaningful characters and story. If a gamer has not played a single one of these titles, Metal Gear Solid is the place to start. And with its 15th anniversary arriving very soon, now is as good a time as any to meet Solid Snake.