Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty as a Post-Modern Tragedy

President Johnson:
Following his resignation, Solidus' health was scheduled to fail him, bringing about his untimely death.

Raiden:
Capped...?

President Johnson:
Correct. But before the Patriots could execute their plot, Solidus went underground with the help of Ocelot. … From there, he bided his time, knowing that his opportunity would soon arrive...

Raiden, who personifies the eyes and ears of the player, learns more and more as the game goes on regarding Solidus, and his quest for vengeance against The Patriots. Although he is a mercenary hired by the elite group of twelve, very little information is divulged to him. The Patriots want Raiden to think that Solidus is a madman who has hijacked Arsenal Gear with the intentions of causing terrorism. With all this on his mind, Raiden isn’t informed of the true motives of Solidus until later in the game.

Solidus:
Seizing Arsenal Gear was never the real objective.

Raiden:
...What was your objective, then?

Solidus:
A list of names -- of The Patriots!

Solidus, in that scene, shows his hubris [contempt for 'the powers that be'], which can be seen in a more post-modern sense. He is not challenging any religious deities per se, but he is challenging those who reign over the people’s way of life, so the term can still be applied. When he says he wants “A list of names…of The Patriots,” it is clear that he intends to find out who they truly are, and kill them.

Although his hubris and contempt for The Patriots is clear, his hamartia [ultimate flaw that causes his undoing] up this point is still a mystery. Towards the game’s end, Solidus learns that Olga was being forced by The Patriots to aid Raiden in his mission. The Patriots forced this upon her by kidnapping her baby, and telling Olga that if they ever lost communication with Raiden, her baby would be killed. Solidus knows this, but without thinking twice, he murders Olga, despite her confrontational semi-apology, and her dire situation.

Olga:
I know I'm going to hell. But at least my child --

Solidus:
I applaud your attitude. If you have a death wish, [Solidus rushes in front of Olga. He is armed with a P90 rifle.] I'll be happy to accommodate you. See you in hell!

[Solidus knocks her gun away and grabs her with his arm. He spins his rifle around and aims it at Olga's head. Solidus pulls the trigger, and strikes Olga point blank in the head]

As is evident in this passage, Solidus shows no compassion for his comrades at all. He knows she is being forced against her will to betray him by The Patriots, but he doesn’t care. He cares only about his mission, and won’t his friends get in his way. Solidus also is stuck in one of Hegel’s "damned if you do, damned if you don’t” type scenarios. In Metal Gear Solid 2’s scenario, Solidus is forced to choose between either submitting to The Patriot’s GW system, which will erase his part in history, or preserving his own legacy.

Solidus:
All I want is to be remembered. By other people, by history. The Patriots are trying to protect their power, their own interests, by controlling the digital flow of information. I want my memory, my existence to remain. Unlike an intron of history, I will be remembered as an exon. That will be my legacy, my mark on history. But the Patriots would deny us even that! I will triumph over the Patriots, and liberate us all, and we will become the "Sons of Liberty!"

In this sense, Solidus’s hubris is shown as both a need for revenge, and a preservation of his legacy, both of which entail the annihilation of The Patriots.

Finally, we have to acknowledge Solidus’s anagnorisis [a recognition of the tragic vision; a bleak outlook on life]. There are several different tragic visions of this tragedy that are present in the game. Although not all of them are actually voiced by Solidus, they all relate to him in a major way. I have narrowed it down to two major tragic visions that lie within the game. The first is said by Raiden’s neurological manifestation of the GW system:

The GW System:
(Solidus and Raiden are) just weapons to be used on the battlefield. Just pawns in a game.

Clearly, this statement is an extremely negative view on the events that unfolded in the plot. GW is saying that Solidus and Raiden are just toys being used by The Patriots, which in essence trivializes their lives. This shows how The GW System represents the Apollonian, promoting order over individuality. The next, and more significant tragic vision is said by Solidus himself.

Solidus:
Liquid and Solid hunted down Big Boss, trying to sever the tie that bound them to him. Unless you kill me and face your past, Raiden, you will never escape. You'll stay in the endless loop -- your own double helix.

This paints an extremely bleak portrait of life. Solidus is making a commentary on the very essence of life, saying that people cannot escape their own destiny, which he believes is predetermined by their DNA. The only remedy for this problem, in his mind, is murder. This in itself is disturbing; the fact that the only way to change history is to commit the ultimate sin. As a genetic clone of the perfect soldier, Solidus equates change with war. He believes the only way to achieve any kind of change must involve a bloody revolution, which is ultimately what brings his own downfall. Solidus’s anagnorisis can be seen in much larger terms, and is certainly a tragic outlook on both politics, destiny, and human’s way of life.

After his soliloquy, Arsenal Gear is activated, and crashes into Manhattan. Coincidentally, when Solidus and Raiden awaken after the crash, they find themselves on top of Federal Hall.

Solidus:
Federal Hall...

Raiden:
What?

Solidus:
Do you know what day it is today?

Raiden:
...April 30th?

Solidus:
That's right. George Washington took office as the first President of the United States of America 200 years ago today. And it happened right here. We were going to declare another independence -- the dawn of a new nation -- here. The end of The Patriots' secret rule, liberation of this country -- this was where it was supposed to begin, this is where freedom could have been born.

By drawing allusions to George Washington’s inauguration at Federal Hall 200 years ago, Kojima uses the first President to draw parallels to Solidus. Like Washington, Solidus was a war general before he became President, and they both fought to achieve their freedom. This can be seen as a way of expressing the Dionysian traits of freedom. Unlike Washington, though, Solidus fails. His hamartia of disregard for family and friends, and his liberal view on murder finally consumes him in his final moment. This happens as Solidus reveals his ties to Raiden.

Solidus:
This is my son... I taught him everything. Jack... I never thought I'd see you again...

Raiden:
You... know me...?

Solidus:
You don't remember...? Your name... your skills... everything you know... you know from me. I claimed you for my own, and raised you as a soldier in the army of the Devil. I am your father, and your worst enemy. Jack...my son. My clone brothers and I are called monsters – replicates of evil genes... You are one-of-a-kind -- But still a monster, shaped by a dark and secret history. We need to decide which monstrosity will have the privilege of survival.

In a very symbolic gesture, Solidus, the father and personification of the Dionysian [free willed, breaks the rules to achieve his goals], challenges Raiden, the son and personification of the Apollonian [being controlled by the rules, bound to the will of the Gods. The Patriots could be referred to as postmodern ‘societal gods’]. A magnificent fight ensues.

[Raiden and Solidus continue their fight. The two meet and prepare for one final blow. Solidus slices downward toward Raiden. But Raiden is able to dodge and slices Solidus down his back. Blood pours from the wound and electricity flickers from his damaged power suit. Solidus stumbles toward the edge of Federal Hall. He throws both his swords to the side as he walks. As he reaches the edge, he turns about and mumbles something inaudiable to Raiden. He then falls backwards off the top of the building. Seconds later, Raiden hears him land with a thud. Down below, Solidus has landed at the base of the statue of George Washington. With the last ounces of his strength, he reaches toward the father of the country he fought to save.]

Solidus’ journey has ended. In a seemingly ironic coincidence, his hamartia of disregard of family and friends, and the opposition to his objective to ‘free America’ once again were personified by one character; Raiden—his own ‘son.’

Aside from the downfall of Solidus, Raiden’s journey can also fit into the realm of tragedy. It is in Raiden’s travels that the post-modernity of Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty becomes prevalent.

The evidence of the story’s post-modern aspects comes in large doses which occur few and far between in the actual plot. Post modernism is hard to define, as one of the aspects of the genre is to redefine and reinvent definition itself. “Despite its by now widespread acceptance, writing about postmodernism has always been made difficult by a lack of agreement about what the term refers to…[it] questions the condition of art itself” (Trachtenberg, 1). An art critic Suzy Gablik describes post-modernism as a genre where “anything goes with anything, like a game without rules. Floating images … maintain no relationship with anything at all, and meaning becomes detachable like the keys on a key ring. Dissociated and decontextualized, they slide past one another failing to link up into a coherent sequence” (Burke, “Post Modernism and Post Modernity”).

The first evidence of post-modernism comes when Raiden meets a character named Vamp. Vamp, who is a member of Dead Cell , is, quite simply, a vampire. How and why would a vampire be written into a military thriller/tragedy? It is obviously an attempt on the part of Kojima to interweave yet another genre-bending event into the story, and leaves the player/viewer quite perplexed. It seems as if Vamp, who seems very out of place compared to the other realistic characters in the story, is meant to “test our intellectual responses and our tolerance of the work,” which is one interpretation of why post-modernism exists (Butler, 2). Even more perplexing is Vamp’s role. He exists in the story simply to taunt Raiden; he has little relevance in the main plot.

Another instance of the post-modern collides with Raiden’s tragedy during the game’s final minutes. When it is revealed that Raiden’s military support he has been speaking to over the radio are not humans, but a system of computer programs, he begins to question his very existence.

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

The notion of portraying the deity-equivalents of the story as computers is a post-modern idea (Centore, 39). Raiden, as seen in the above quote, questions his actions on his entire mission because of this revelation. Does the fact that he was being given an order from a machine make his actions any less real? He certainly thinks so. The Patriots deceived Raiden, tricking him into taking on Solidus by branding him a ‘terrorist,’ when all Solidus wanted to achieve was the liberation of information technology. However, where the tragedy lies in this point is the identity of The Patriots. Raiden learns that The Patriots are long dead, but live on through computer programs. The stranglehold that The Patriots have over information technology is equated by The Patriots themselves as controlling the entire society of the human race. The GW System gives a very long speech on how it was created, and what purpose it serves.

The GW System:
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.

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. We started with genetic engineering, and in the end, we succeeded in digitizing life itself. But there are things not covered by genetic information.

Raiden:
What do you mean?

The GW System:
Human memories, ideas. Culture. History. Genes don't contain any record of human history. Is it something that should not be passed on? Should that information be left at the mercy of nature? 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. A small percentage of the whole was selected and processed, then passed on. Not unlike genes, really. That's what history is, Raiden. But in the current, digitized world, trivial information is accumulating every second, preserved in all its triteness. Never fading, always accessible. Rumors about petty issues, misinterpretations, slander...All this junk data preserved in an unfiltered state, growing at an alarming rate. It will only slow down social progress, reduce the rate of evolution.

As is seen from this passage, the computer programs created by The Patriots have eliminated the Dionysian aspects of life from human culture. Specifically, they want to control memes. They are attempting to create a purely Apollonian culture, stricken with rules and regulation, even when it comes to the exchange of ideas.

Raiden:
You want to control human thought? Human behavior?

The GW System:
Of course. Anything can be quantified nowadays. We rule an entire nation -- of what interest would a single soldier, no matter how able, be to us? You don't deserve to be free!

Challenging ‘freedom’ is a clear strike against the entire essence of the Dionysian. The GW System even goes as far as challenging nature. In this passage, not only is yet another tragic vision realized, but GW asserts that without its sovereignty, or without the triumph of the Apollonian, the end of the world will result.

The GW System:
Not even natural selection can take place here. The world is being engulfed in "truth." And this is the way the world ends. Not with a bang, but a whimper.

The tragic vision which speaks of the suppression of the Dionysian is painfully obvious in the above passage. GW believes it is its duty to censor information, to, once again, propagate the evolution of the human race as it sees fit. This is probably the most dire of all statements made in the game, stating that human beings are not in control of their own thought or culture.

In conclusion, through Aristotle’s, Hegel’s, and Nietzsche’s theories, the multiple tragedies that lie within the post-modern videogame Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty are realized. The tragic downfall of Solidus by his son’s hand, and the suppression of a free society by The Patriots are two very different tragedies that which detailed in Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty. The death of one visionary and the suppression of an entire society’s liberties draw interesting parallels, and make for excellent tragic storytelling.

-- Article by Chris Zimbaldi, 01.02.2005

References

- Burke, Barry."Post Modernism and Post Modernity." Infed.org. Accessed on 4/15/2004.

- Butler, Christopher. Postmodernism: A Very Short Introduction. New York: Oxford University Press, 2002. Centore, F.F. Being and Becoming: A Critique of Post-Modernism. Westport: Greenwood Press, 1991.

- Dawkins, Richard. The Selfish Gene. New York: Oxford University Press, 1976.

- Document of Metal Gear Solid 2, The. Director Hideo Kojima. Performances Hideo Kojima, Motosada Mori. Konami Computer Entertainment America, 2002.

- Eliot, T.S. The Hollow Men, 1925.

- Kelly, Ryan. “Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty Game Script.” GameFAQs. Accessed on 4/15/2004.

- Lynch, Aaron. Thought Contagion. New York: Basic Press, 1996.

- Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty. Director Hideo Kojima. Performances David Hayter, Quinton Flynn, Christopher Randolph, Jennifer Hale, and John Cygan. Konami Computer Entertainment America, 2001.

- Trachtenberg, Stanley. Critical Essays on American Postmodernism. New York: Macmillan Publishing, 1995.

- Urbina, Artemio. “Metal Gear Solid 2 Ending Analysis.” Junker HQ. Accessed on 4/17/2004.

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