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
These are very deep sentiments, and it would surprise many non-gamers to learn that video games — and this game’s ending in particular — forced me to take a serious look at who we are as humans, where we’re going, and how we can restore a little bit of faith in the human race. The Metal Gear Solid series is one of those rare franchises with a storytelling mechanic that rivals Hollywood and is better than most of the stuff tinsel town produces. The story is something we all know — cloak and dagger and espionage that would make “24” seem simple at times — but it’s always been about one man against impossible odds. Yet while Solid Snake’s struggles with the Metal Gear tank are compelling, it’s the subtext that has taught me the most about life.
As I played through Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty on several late nights, I started paying attention to Jack’s questions of identity and his place in the world. As I continued to play, I saw some awesome fight scenes, most notably with the Metal Gear REXs and the climactic sword fight, but as the credits began to roll, the experience really got me thinking.
I’ve never really thought about the world in those terms — of what we will pass on, what we will leave behind, and how history is written by the victors — and I wonder what has been lost to the pages of time. However, it was something that Solid Snake’s voice actor, David Hayter, said that really spoke to me:
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.
If a video game can teach us that that we can own up to our mistakes, understand them and learn from them, that’s an important point to make when people like Jack Thompson say video games are evil. It’s really a sign of the times that a virtual man can inspire me more than some of the people making headlines today. What we can imagine and what we can create are very powerful indeed, and Kojima has created something within the Metal Gear Solid series that says a lot about not just the times in which we live in, but the times we’ve not yet experienced. That’s why I like the Metal Gear Solid series so much.
In a way, Kojima’s world is filled with people who have character flaws as well as identifiable goals and real feelings. For example, Naked Snake in Snake Eater, when he was betrayed but still solidered on and did what he knew was right. Sure, he did some bad things later on, but he was given a choice. It’s an aspect of the human condition that I never really looked at, and it was amazing that a piece of digital artwork like this could bring the experience alive for me. I’ve seen movies that make me think about stuff, but never to the degree of Metal Gear Solid 2.
I felt something within myself and with the ending credits of MGS 2: a hope that we could change as individuals and as a people. Then, with MGS 3, I felt betrayed, yet another incredible feeling. I even began to identify with some of the characters, specifically Otacon’s sister, Emma. Not since Final Fantasy and Chrono Trigger had that happened. Despite all the characters’ flaws, I saw a real humanity to them. For a the space of a moment, no more than a few breaths, something fundamentally changed and the world became a better place. Somehow I knew something that maybe only a few others felt: true inner peace. Solid Snake showed me a world very much like Neo did at the end of the first Matrix, and it was surreal and hard to put into words. It’s kind of cool, though, to experience that after fighting a guy with robot arms and a sword.
Where video games have come from to where they are now is quite incredible, as they have become so much more than an entertainment medium. Games have now become the best form of storytelling, with their ability to get players emotionally involved and inspire feelings about what’s going within each character. It takes a special kind of video game to really do that; think of how you felt when Aerith died in Final Fantasy VII.
I learned something from a video game that helped me see a new piece of humanity, and for that, I have to thank a special man in a headband. Because of his completely fictional humanity, I now have a new worldview that helped me see a new piece of the human experience. Who would have thought a guy fighting a nuclear tank would make the world seem like a better place?
Mike Dodd is co-founder and host of
This Week in Geek, an International radio show and podcast and a place where gamers and “geeks like us” can chill. His gaming column appears on DailyGame every Friday.