Metal Gear Solid 2 Ending Analysis

Turing's Test

"If man realizes technology is within reach, he achieves it. Like it's damn-near instinctive."
-- Motoko Kusanagi, Ghost in the Shell (GITS)

Otacon: I think it means -- you've been talking to an AI.

Raiden: That's impossible!

Otacon: The Colonel probably isn't GW per se. GW was most likely stimulating cortical activity in the dormant part of your brain through signal manipulation of your own nanomachines. The Colonel is in part your own creation, cobbled together from expectations and experience...

Raiden: That's crazy...

Otacon: But it's probably the truth. The virus may be starting to affect GW, which would explain the Colonel's behavior.

Raiden: It was all -- an illusion? Everything I've done so far...?

Snake: Raiden!

Raiden: Snake -- what's happening around here?

Snake: I don't know. What I do know is that you're standing right here in front of me. Not an illusion -- flesh and blood. It's your call. You can drop this if you want.

Raiden: No, I can't do that. Let's go...

Here, Hideo Kojima is implying something that Cognitive Science has been trying to do for a while. A machine that is able to pass the Turing Test. This test was created to find out if a machine of some sort is "thinking", that it has "intelligence". The main problem with defining if something has this characteristic, is that we are subjective beings. We cannot trust our feelings and intuition in defining what is alive and what is not. The human being usually humanizes inanimate objects, computers and animals, just because we see signs, although we are not sure if the individual is having an internal process that is analog to what we define as thinking. An excellent discussion in this subject takes place in the book "The Soul of Anna Klane", by Terrel Miedaner.

Alan Turing (1912-1954) proposed a game to determine if this condition is met. This game is called "The Imitation Game", whose description is quite clear and simple to read, it is highly recommended to take a look at it and the opposing arguments. In the Imitation Game you have three participants: a man, a woman, and an interrogator whose sex doesn't matter. All of them are in separate rooms with only a Teletype to communicate between them. The female player tries to convince the interrogator that she is the woman. Meanwhile, the male should do his best to convince the interrogator that he is the woman. The interrogator can ask any type of question: a personal one, math, tastes, physical appearance, etc.

Now suppose we take the man and put a machine in his place. Then you have a machine, a human and the interrogator. The machine will try to convince the interrogator it is human, while the human will try to convince him/her otherwise. The point here is, in Turing's words: "Will the interrogator decide wrong as often when the game is played like this as he does when the game is played between a man and a woman?"

As you can appreciate during the conversation presented above, the Colonel and Rose pass the test with flying colors, but their exercise goes way beyond this. Although this is not the first time some kind of thinking machine appears in a Kojima game (Metal Gear MK II in Snatcher and the Snatchers themselves being the exceptions). It is indeed the first time that it is not a known fact, but it may be incorrect to call them a machine or Artificial Intelligence (AI), given the actual information provided during the game. But the real question is: what can give rise to such a complex system? One that can interact with the environment, have a model of the reality, modify it and use it to survive?


Puppetmaster: As a sentient life form, I hereby demand political asylum.
Aramaki: Is this a joke?
Nakamura: Ridiculous! It's programmed for self-preservation!
Puppetmaster: It can also be argued that DNA is nothing more than a program, designed to preserve itself..
-- Ghost in the Shell

The first Metal Gear Solid (MGS) deals with the question: "How much of a human being is defined by the genes?", naturally the theme for the second is its complementary part: "How much of a human being is defined by information?". To understand where these questions lead us, we have to understand what the process called Evolution does. In the following paragraphs I will try to explain my view of the evolution process, which was formed through the study of Genetic Algorithms (GA), Neural Networks and finally through reading a bit. Whenever possible links are provided for greater insight on the subject.

We are taught that a process, named Natural Selection decides that the strongest and most apt individuals will survive. This method employed by nature to evolve is straight brute force, that is, search in all directions and you will find better solutions and adaptations. A species doesn't seek change, nor the DNA structure that represents it. So a new factor is needed that can help by changing the individuals and the species as a result: mutation. There are some events that randomly modify the DNA information, resulting in an altered individual in some specific form. This individual is only different from the predecessor. Neither better nor worse. Let's assume that the change gives this individual an advantage over the rest, or allows it to survive more time in the given environment. These conditions will increase its chance to reproduce, and pass on the "flaw" to its offspring. In a negative case, the change will have less probability to pass on to the next generation because it introduced a drawback. If this process is observed, not in an individual level but in the whole species, the individuals with the modification will be more and more common as time passes. This will eventually incorporate the modification into the mainstream DNA of the species.

An excellent explanation of this process, starting from a primordial soup state is given by Richard Dawkins in his book "The Selfish Gene". He also coined a term that will be used a lot in the next section. The theory implies that given the conditions in which amino acids are spread, they will tend to form more and more stable molecules. On a given time, a molecule will be formed that has the capability to replicate itself, thus rendering an exact duplicate. Because of this property, this molecule will spread rapidly. But, we cannot expect the copy process to be perfect, giving rise to modifications eventually. From there on, the gap between that simplified scenario and the complex one we are dealing with can be filled.

Given this process, we will have a wide variety of species all competing and becoming more and more apt to survive. But, what is this that is being refined? It would not limit itself to how a body is built. It also contains some basic instructions, instinct. This instinct allows the individual to react to certain common situations with "canned" reactions. But how these come to be? Well, some of the individuals developed a nervous system, and just as any given organ, the individuals with the best responses coded in their instinct survived and spread their genes better. One thing to keep in mind is that the system does not take decisions to find out what will be the next step, or how to improve, it simply happens because stability is the ultimate goal.

How can this process improve even more? If an individual can create a model of the environment, it could be prepared for certain situations that are not solved instinctively. Thus, individuals emerged with the power to simulate their environment. What does this imply? If a model of the environment is present, also a model of the individual is needed. Thus, the individual becomes self-aware and has consciousness.

This new tool is completely useless unless the individual can now learn in order to improve the model. There is constant feedback from the outside world that allows it to expand the information that represents the internal simulation. Here curiosity is very important. It is the factor by which an individual explores the world to feed the model. Curiosity also gives birth to creativity, since the data expands, new suppositions are made in the internal model, which later provide new possibilities for the individual.

More implications arise when, by being self-aware, the individual can see itself reflected in the others. In this condition, it is normal that a conscious individual that finds similarities between itself and another, projects the same attributes it has to the other one. In essence, this is a huge leap. The main core of the Turing test lies here, in empathy. It is impossible to know if another individual feels the same, thinks or any other internal process from the subjective position we have. We can only suppose that everything in our own world of perception is mirrored on the others.

Nakamura: Nonsense! There's no proof at all that you are a living, thinking life form!!
Puppetmaster: And can you offer me proof of your existence? How can you, when neither modern science nor philosophy can explain what life is?
-- Ghost in the Shell

Back on subject, from this supposition that other individual similar to oneself feels and thinks the same way, a group of mutual feelings arise. Like compassion and group preservation in a higher level than the genetic one. Just before we proceed, entertain the idea of what happens when a certain species tries that all its individuals are rescued from natural dead whenever possible, say from weakness or illness. Imagine what happens with the pool of genetic information when non-apt individuals are kept alive and allowed to reproduce. Also, any new mutations that generate individuals with abnormal properties are dismissed as defective. It is a cold way of thinking, but worth the time to reflect... What would be the way to evolve now?

Information Evolution

"That's all there is, information. Even a simulated experience or a dream; a simultaneous reality and fantasy. Any way you look at it, the information that a person accumulates during a lifetime is just a drop in the bucket."
Batou -- Ghost in the Shell

If you have not read the section about Evolution and Genetics, I suggest you do it before this one. Now we enter the main theme of the conversation and this essay: Who are the Colonel and Rose? It is obvious by now that Ghost in the Shell and Metal Gear Solid 2 share a common base, which is why I quote the following lines from "The Selfish Gene" by Richard Dawkins, written in 1976:

"What, after all, is so special about genes ? The answer is that they are replicators. The laws of physics are supposed to be true all over the accessible universe. Are there any principles of biology that are likely to have similar universal validity ? When astronauts voyage to distant planets and look for life, they can expect to find creatures too strange and unearthly for us to imagine. But is there anything that must be true of all life, wherever it is found, and whatever the basis of its chemistry ? If forms of life exist whose chemistry is based on silicon rather than carbon, or ammonia rather than water, if creatures are discovered that boil to death at -100 degrees centigrade, if a form of life is found that is not based on chemistry at all but on electronic reverberating circuits, will there still be any general principle that is true of all life ? Obviously I do not know but, if I had to bet, I would put my money on one fundamental principle. This is the law that all life evolves by the differential survival of replicating entities. The gene, the DNA molecule, happens to be the replicating entity that prevails on our planet. There may be others. If there are, provided certain other conditions are met, they will almost inevitable tend to become the basis for an evolutionary process."

"But do we have to go to distant worlds to find other kinds of replicator and other, consequent, kinds of evolution ? I think that a new kind of replicator has recently emerged on this very planet. It is staring us in the face. It is still in its infancy, still drifting clumsily about in its primeval [primordial] soup, but already it is achieving evolutionary change at a rate that leaves the old gene panting far behind."

Does this sound similar to the words said by the Colonel?

Colonel: To begin with -- we're not what you'd call -- human.
Over the past two hundred years --
A kind of consciousness formed layer by layer in the crucible of the White House.
It's not unlike the way life started in the oceans four billion years ago.
The White House was our primordial soup, a base of evolution --
We are formless. We are the very discipline and morality that Americans invoke so often.
How can anyone hope to eliminate us? As long as this nation exists, so will we.

Raiden: Cut the crap! If you're immortal, why would you take away individual freedoms and censor the Net?

Rose: Jack, don't be silly.

Colonel: Don't you know that our plans have your interests -- not ours -- in mind?

Rose: Jack, listen carefully like a good boy!

Colonel: The mapping of the human genome was completed early this century.
As a result, the evolutionary log of the human race lay open to us.

Rose: We started with genetic engineering, and in the end, we succeeded in digitizing life itself.

Colonel: But there are things not covered by genetic information.
Human memories, ideas. Culture. History.

Rose: Genes don't contain any record of human history.

Colonel: Is it something that should not be passed on?
Should that information be left at the mercy of nature?

Rose: We've always kept records of our lives. Through words, pictures, symbols... from tablets to books...

But not all the information was inherited by later generations.

Colonel: A small percentage of the whole was selected and processed, then passed on. Not unlike genes, really.

Rose: That's what history is, Jack.

Colonel: But in the current, digitized world,
trivial information is accumulating every second, preserved in all its triteness.
Never fading, always accessible.

Although I hardly like the idea of that "primordial soup", the idea is exactly the same. The evolution of information into a new higher level. Of course, Kojima takes it far beyond of what Richard Dawkins states directly, not that he wouldn't have thought that himself though. Also this same idea is taken in Ghost in the Shell, but the implications, consequences and triggers are completely different. In both, we are presented with a life form born from the information flow. In GITS, it searches completeness and to create variety. Meanwhile in MGS2, it seeks a greater good for society. But as we know the best for society is not the best for the individual. These matters will be discussed a bit more later on.

"The new soup is the soup of human culture. We need a name for the new replicator, a noun that conveys the idea of a unit of cultural transmission, or a unit of imitation. `Mimeme' comes from a suitable Greek root, but I want a monosyllable that sounds a bit like `gene'. I hope my classicist friends will forgive me if I abbreviate mimeme to meme. If it is any consolation, it could alternatively be thought of as being related to `memory', or to the French word même It should be pronounced to rhyme with `cream'."

"Examples of memes are tunes, ideas, catch-phrases, clothes fashions, ways of making pots or of building arches. Just as genes propagate themselves in the gene pool by leaping from body to body via sperms or eggs, so memes propagate themselves in the meme pool by leaping from brain to brain via a process which, in the broad sense, can be called imitation. If a scientist hears, or reads about, a good idea, he passed it on to his colleagues and students. He mentions it in his articles and his lectures. If the idea catches on, it can be said to propagate itself, spreading from brain to brain. As my colleague N.K. Humphrey neatly summed up an earlier draft of this chapter: `... memes should be regarded as living structures, not just metaphorically but technically. When you plant a fertile meme in my mind you literally parasitize my brain, turning it into a vehicle for the meme's propagation in just the way that a virus may parasitize the genetic mechanism of a host cell. And this isn't just a way of talking -- the meme for, say, "belief in life after death" is actually realized physically, millions of times over, as a structure in the nervous systems of individual men the world over.'"

The term "meme" coined by Dawkins in this text is later used by Masamune Shirow in the manga version of GITS. In MGS though, what is the real purpose of this "higher level simulation" of Shadow Moses? As the Colonel states "a system for controlling human will and consciousness." Then, S3 (Selection for Societal Sanity) is a model that was created to do an analog process to natural selection in the information medium: Cultural Selection. The only difference is that it would be controlled. It is a curious case that the life form that evolved from information is now trying to regulate information.... or isn't it? After all we, as a species, are trying to understand and control the genetic information for our own benefit. Genetic manipulation. Enhancements, curing and preventing diseases. In the same way, this intelligence is trying to regulate the flow that created it in order to prevent future catastrophe. This catastrophe of "the world ends not with a bang but a whimper" is the same as having the genetic pool contain information that is useless. The thing that happens when preventing natural selection by keeping alive the individuals that were supposed to die. You can view this as genetic manipulation to make our genes do as we want, but in a higher level.

In a sense, an ironic one, this life form is doing the same thing it criticizes on Raiden and the masses it wants to control. Preserving itself selfishly, defending itself by saying it is for the greater good of the one it is trying to protect. After all, when something is intelligent and conscious, it gains also the inherit flaws. When something is conscious, it doesn't have access to the lower layers that confer this. Neither you, nor I have access to the neurons we are using to read/write this. We cannot trigger them at will, or use them in any way. But our consciousness lies on top of that. As well as if a computer gained consciousness by some means, it wouldn't be able to do math unless taught like a child; although binary operations would define its operation. It would also be prone to errors. You may ask why... The answer to that is beyond the scope of this essay, but I would recommend reading Gödel Escher and Bach by Douglas Hofstadter, and "The Mind's I", by the same author and Daniel C. Dennett. These go deep into that subject, and were the initial inspiration to write this. But I won't leave the question fully open. Kurt Gödel demonstrated that any given powerful enough model cannot represent all the truths it aims to and/or contradictions can be represented in it. But, there is no reason to stop using and believing in them, after all, we work in that manner too. It's only natural.

Then, the main discussion here is that there is a growing pool of uncontrolled information that is unable to advance the same way genetics do, due to the lack of natural selection. This situation reached because, with the advent of digital communications, individuals can preserve their truths (memes) in the pool. Without contradiction, always accessible. The usual process, as described above, is that the good ideas pass on from one individual to another. Now information is passed from the individual to a medium and is preserved there for future generations. These implications are the real idea that Kojima contributes and in which the game expands and bases the complete exercise. I found a review of a non-existent book called "Pericalypsis", whose main idea supports that of Kojima. It states that the most great works of art, knowledge and salvation have been already created, but are "lost beneath strata of trash" because the civilization has become a "mechanical milker of the Muses". The solution proposed by that author is quite interesting. In both, the central theme is that the human race is creating a flow of information that is not being regulated, resulting in a loss for the species. The real question is "is the human being affecting evolution in all levels by preserving the individual and his ideas?" The answer to that is not so simple. The best for society is usually not the best for the individual, the problem, as always, resides in balance.

"Freedom breeds isolation! That's the lesson of human history! Equality creates nothing but the death of the individual!"
-- Appleseed

Regarding the matter of who are the Colonel and Rose (during the final conversation with Raiden), we now know that the Colonel has been this life form all the way from the beginning. Rose, has been used by the Patriots to collect information during all the mission. After Raiden is captured, and the virus affects GW, she was replaced by another simulation. This new life form is the one that has the final conversation with Raiden, to give the last orders and collect the final data. Of course we must assume that they have the same intentions as the Patriots, or maybe they are the patriots after all. We won't know for sure unless a sequel is done.

"A digital machine cannot of itself ever acquire consciousness, for the simple reason that in it there do not arise hierarchical conflicts of operation."
-- "Non Serviam", by Prof.r Dobb ("A Perfect Vacuum", perfect reviews of non-existent books, Stanislaw Lem)

During the game, Kojima makes a loop to engulf the player. The one that has gone through the VR training in Shadow Moses; the one that executed everything as told; the one that has been "talking" to an AI and interpreting the recorded voices as if spoken by a person; the one who thought the Colonel was "acting a bit strange, but it must be because Raiden is a rookie", although has never met the Colonel in person; the one whose name appears on Raiden's dog tag at the end... This is clearly implied while running naked on New York's 52nd Street... "Raiden, turn the game console off right now! ... Don't worry, it's a game! It's a game just like usual. You'll ruin your eyes playing so close to the TV.". Those are clear messages to the player, as well as the screen that reads "Fission Mailed", simulating a screwed up GAME OVER, while the game continues in the small overlay. These are clear signs of a higher level controlling the "reality" that the game simulation is, which is being affected by the virus. So you see, Raiden was not being controlled. You were... "Son of Liberty".

The game was designed this way to make the player uncomfortable with the situation. With being controlled. Everyone wanted to play Snake for the whole game, but this that we were given is a work of modern art and expression that is intended to make the player think. It gives feelings and emotions that other kind of media, like books or movies, wouldn't be able to because you are not playing the main character. That is the whole point; transmit these memes to a generation in a way that involved form and content. The ideas were not new, but were used in perfect harmony with the game to create an interactive experience. This essay is in the same spirit. Using existing memes to pass on a message that tries to reproduce itself: The Meta-Meme. The whole idea of Snake being the main character seen through the eyes of a rookie was well worth it; it was also completely necessary to place the burden on the player's shoulders. I must admit that MGS2 has its flaws, as any gem does and, although I think that the first MGS game will continue to be praised as the greatest game ever, this game closes the circle beautifully and provides great insight... as well as the best looking, most perfectly achieved and detailed environment we will see in a long time, along with a very pleasant experience that needs to be shared. An effort like this that brings these levels of quality in every area to tell a story is a work to which I pay my respects.

"And where does the newborn go from here?
The net is vast and infinite..."
Motoko/Puppetmaster -- Ghost in the Shell

Just as a bottom note. The GITS quotes are in there because I felt they fit perfectly. I do not think that Hideo Kojima took his ideas from GITS, neither from The Matrix Of course they share many ideas and concepts, but I rather think that they share common sources of scientific information and science fiction. Later they expanded these memes in different directions. Some examples of this same line of thought that I know of are: "Where am I?" (1978) by Daniel C. Dennett, with subjects on mind body; "Beyond rejection" (1980) by Justin Leiber, regarding making backups of one's mind; "Software" (1980) by Rudy Rucker regarding digitalization of the mind, just to name a few.

Remember, always question everything you read, including everything written here and linked from here, since it is just data.. It is up to you to create the information out of it. Nothing is absolutely true.. right or wrong. I also recommend reading this column (unfortunately the link is dead, I think I made a copy of the text, please bear with it as it is), to question yourself a bit. Besides, I believe the main point behind all this, is a form of social critisism.

"Life isn't just about passing on your genes.
We can leave behind much more than just DNA.
Through speech, music, literature and movies...
what we've seen, heard, felt
...anger, joy and sorrow...
these are the things I will pass on.

That's what I live for.
We need to pass the torch,
and let our children read our messy and sad history by its light.
We have all the magic of the digital age to do that with.

The human race will probably come to an end some time,
and new species may rule over this planet.
Earth may not be forever,
but we still have the responsibility to leave what traces of life we can.

Building the future and keeping the past alive are one and the same thing."

Solid Snake-- Metal Gear Solid 2

What are the Patriots?

In the essay I only analyzed what the Colonel and Rose are during the final conversation. Although there are other explanations, let me make my point. I think that the S3 is a system designed to be used by the Patriots to control Cultural Selection. The Colonel is the face of this system all game long. Rose, meanwhile is gathering data up to the last sentence of the conversation before meeting Snake inside Arsenal.

At the end, the virus (worm) affects GW, destroying the parts that the Patriots wanted destroyed (or causing an "apparent malfunction"?). At the point the Colonel contacts Raiden again, it is no longer "just" the S3... it is indeed the Patriots themselves (an individual? the whole consciousness?)(Note: In the Document of MGS2 Script, there is a note saying that JFK is the computer actually talking to Raiden in this section, since GW was damaged, implying that this consciousness resides in several machines named after presidents of the USA). Since Raiden will be disregarded as just a pawn, and neither Snake, Otacon or Ocelot would know the truth, he is told what they really are. This is like telling Liquid he was the weakest, although he wasn't. An experiment to find out how the facts affect the actions of the individuals. In Liquid's case, it was to test if the information provided to the individual affected his genetic capabilities. Now, it is to find out if the individual, knowing he is being controlled, can still continue being controlled by some other means calculated and triggered by S3.

Thus, the patriots are the new consciousness born from human culture, dominating it in a way that cannot be destroyed by usual means, but by changing the global ideology and that of individuals.. by changing culture itself. Since ideals are the ones that control what individuals do, they are "immortal" and have absolute power.... Unless, we choose something to believe ourselves, something to pass on to the future.. and change the meme pool for better. Just as Snake said:

Snake: There's no such thing in the world as absolute reality.
Most of what they call real is actually fiction.

What you think you see is only as real as your brain tells you it is.

Raiden: What am I supposed to believe in?
What am I going to leave behind when I'm through?

Snake: We can tell other people about -- having faith.
What we had faith in.
What we found important enough to fight for.
It's not whether you were right or wrong,
but how much faith you were willing to have, that decides the future.
The Patriots are a kind of ongoing fiction too, come to think of it....

Raiden: ...

Snake: Listen,
don't obsess over words so much.
Find the meaning behind the words, then decide.
You can find your own name.
And your own future...

Raiden: Decide for myself...?

Snake: And whatever you choose will be you.

Raiden: I don't know if I can...

Snake: I know you didn't have much in terms of choices this time.
But everything you felt, thought about during this mission is yours.
And what you decide to do with them is your choice...

Raiden: You mean start over?

Snake: Yeah, a clean slate. A new name, new memories.
Choose your own legacy.
It's for you to decide.

It's up to you.

-- Article by Artemio Urbina, 15.03.2002

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