Metal Gear, the Cold War, and the Future

I strongly considered writing about this for my third blog post since it already fell within the portion of the novel that I was analyzing but found that it was more than enough material to stand on its own.  Anyway… I want to go back to the conversation between Ernie and Maxine that in chapter 37 that I drew from for my previous blog post and focus on Ernie’s mention of Metal Gear Solid.

“ ‘Maybe TV back then was brainwashing, but it could never happen today. Nobody’s in control of the Internet.’

‘You serious? Believe that while you still can, Sunshine. You know where it all comes from, this online paradise of yours? It started back during the Cold War, when the think tanks were full of geniuses plotting nuclear scenarios. Attaché cases and horn-rims, every appearance of scholarly sanity, going in to work every day to imagine all the ways the world was going to end. Your Internet, back then the Defense Department called it DARPAnet, the real original purpose was to assure survival of U.S. command and control after a nuclear exchange with the Soviets.’”

‘Call it freedom, it’s based on control. Everybody connected together, impossible anybody should get lost, ever again. Take the next step, connect it to these cell phones, you’ve got a total Web of surveillance, inescapable… handcuffs of the future. Terrific. What they dream about at the Pentagon, worldwide martial law.’

‘So this is where I get my paranoia from.’

‘Ask your kids. Look at Metal Gear Solid—who do the terrorists kidnap? Who’s Snake trying to rescue?’

‘The head of DARPA. Think about that, huh?’”

(Bleeding Edge, 418-420)

This is not the first reference that Pynchon makes to Metal Gear Solid within his novel.  In fact he even has a character who refers to the game’s director/designer/writer, Hideo Kojima, as “God.”  These numerous references lead me to believe that Pynchon has a particular appreciation for this game and its designer.

Metal Gear Soild (1998) is set in 2005 and places the player in control of Solid Snake, a man made as a result of a government project to create the perfect soldier (more can be read about him and others through the wiki links provided).  I should note at this time that I will be referencing the Metal Gear wiki page a lot and that the events and characters described are fictional representations of real world subjects.

The game opens with Snake’s orders being to rescue the DARPA Chief who was kidnapped by a group of terrorists.  The video below is the cutscene of the conversation between Snake and the DARPA chief once Snake finds him in his cell.  This occurs early in the game and sets the course for the plot of the remainder of the game.

The conversation and the topics covered surround the Cold War and the fears/ideas of the time.  The key point of the conversation is Metal Gear Rex, a terrifying machine with the capability to launch nuclear warheads from an arm mounted railgun.  This is serious stuff! A government/terrorist group with the ability to launch nukes without warning, from a vehicle that can travel just about anywhere is a terrifying thought that very much encapsulates Cold War thinking.  Just as Pynchon uses his novel to discuss important and real issues about the progression of technology and control, Kojima does the same but through the medium of a video game.  This is where I applaud Pynchon.  This moment in Bleeding Edge is one at which I truly appreciated his writing.  Pynchon is old…. like older than my parents who, like many people both young and old, think video games are just a silly form of entertainment and do not really have any purpose than wasting people’s time.  They can be so much more though and Kojima proves that time and time again.  This is where I think Pynchon is tipping his hat to Kojima as an artist, as someone who is doing similar work but through a different means.

All of Kojima’s games draw from real world events and issues and he uses his games to make a statement about those issues.  I am not saying all video games have some important message to pass on but there certainly are games, like the Metal Gear series, that deserve some appreciation.  I strongly recommend playing some of these games or even just reading up on them, especially those of you not so inclined to video games, to gain an appreciation for them and what they are able to do as a form of media.

There are so many other things I want to say about this series of games as they all kind of are set in a different time period and address different topics.  I could go on for a while though (and might want to use some of this for my midterm) … so I’ll try to keep it brief.

First, I want to highlight the length of the video posted above.  A cutscene over 7 minutes long… and that is just one cutscene in a game made up of several more.  Kojima has a habit of doing this in his games, so much so that his games turn out to be more of a game/movie hybrid.  In fact, the most recent full installment in the Metal Gear series, Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots, has roughly 9 hours of cutscenes…. and it is a game that I can beat in around 4 hours of play time when skipping the cutscenes.  While some people think it is a little ridiculous, I think it is amazing (I think Pynchon must appreciate it too) how Kojima uses the blend of gameplay and in game movies to tell a wonderful story and really make some subtle (and some not so subtle) statements about war, technology, and global topics.

Lastly, I want to say a little more about the main character, Snake, and some of the themes and characters in Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots (2008).  MGS4 is set in 2014 and begins in the Middle East, “the war economy plunging the world into chaos” (wiki).  Private Military Companies are growing in power and mass destruction hangs on the horizon.  Anyway, the point I want to talk about, is closely related to Haraway’s A Manifesto for Cyborgs.  The four main enemies in the game are female soldiers who suffer from PTSD (a popular topic today) as a result of a childhood trauma.  As children they were taken from their lives and made into war machines.   “The only way they can cope with the damage done to their minds is to become war machines. Their inner appearance is referred to as ‘Beauty’, while their outer appearance is referred to as ‘Beast’ (wiki).

Beauty and the Beast Unit. (Laughing Octopus, Screaming Mantis, Raging Raven, Crying Wolf)

As can be seen from the picture above, these women are no longer human… what is left of their humanity is trapped inside these machines whose sole directive is to kill.  Kojima takes the time to tells each of their stories (links here: Laughing OctopusScreaming MantisRaging RavenCrying Wolf) and really is making a statement to players about the horrors that war can bring, even for 4 innocent children.  He also is making a statement about the development of technology and how it will affect war and the soldiers participating in it, whether they will it or not because…. in MGS4 all the soldiers are injected with nanomachines as part of the “Sons of the Patriots (SOP)” system.

The nanomachines of the SOP system 1.) “allows multiple members of a military unit to share each other’s senses and work more efficiently as a team.” (wiki) 2.) “The second function was to monitor the chemical balance of every soldier engaged in combat. This allowed the nanomachines to induce an artificial “combat high” by controlling the release of adrenaline and endorphins, elevating the senses and accuracy of every soldier.” (wiki) 3.) “The third main function of SOP was to monitor and control the use of weapons on the battlefield. As each soldier’s weapon (excluding a few “naked guns”) were “ID locked”, only authorized individual soldiers could use that particular weapon.” (wiki)  How long will it be before technologies like this are implemented in the real world?  Again Kojima really provokes some thought here. So we have Snake, a manmade soldier, the 4 Cyborgs of the Beauty and the Beast Unit, and SOP system that monitors every soldier and has the ability to control their vitals….So much I could write about….

I imagine that Pynchon would have loved to draw references from MGS4 (2008) to use in Bleeding Edge (2013) had the timelines of game and the novel lined up.  There is so much more I would love to discuss about these games and the theme control, Haraway’s idea of the Cyborg, and Kojima’s vision of technology in general but I have already blabbed on much longer than I intended.  I know a good number of our class does not have much experience with video games, and Metal Gear specifically, so my hope was to just point out some cool/important topics that can be brought into conversation through a video game… much like a novel… and how the two sometimes are not really all that different.  Hopefully this helped show why Pynchon alludes to and appreciates certain video games as much as he does… and maybe even make some of you appreciate what can be done with video games a little more!

/end rant

Works Cited

“Tactical Espionage Encyclopedia.” Metal Gear Wiki. Web. 26 Feb. 2015. <http://metalgear.wikia.com/wiki/Metal_Gear_Wiki&gt;.

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One Response to Metal Gear, the Cold War, and the Future

  1. Very interesting discussion. Thanks for this.

    Like

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