Sponsored By

MGS:Tactical Philosophy Action

This is my Research paper for my Freshman class Intro Interactive Media. Its a close reading of the entire MGS series. Please Enjoy

Drew Credico, Blogger

December 8, 2014

17 Min Read

MGS:Tactical Philosophy Action

(Warning Spoilers)

Underneath all the complicated plot lines and twists the Metal Gear series (MGS), consisting of 11 video games created by Hideo Kojima, is a philosophical look at our world. In addition, the series pioneered the genre of stealth games, features complex deep storylines, cinematic movie-like cut scenes, unique humor, and explores certain political concepts. The story in the series spans almost six decades, from the Cold War to sometime in the near –future, and makes the players question the realities of war, the soldiers who fight them, what it means to be a hero, and the cost of revenge.  Everything in MGS has purpose and everything shows something about the philosophies of war. The antagonists of each game aren’t villains; instead they are heroes fighting for a different cause. Hideo Kojima explained “Certainly, what I’m trying to do is different from just shooting at zombies. I’m trying to depict something, a very specific message about things that happened in history. I think that, just because I have a very specific theme I want to relate, there are things that I just cannot look away from and I need to depict” (Wawro). The Metal Gear series is in the same vein as any great work of literature, it works on multiple levels and when one looks at the deeper themes of MGS one is able to see just how amazing these games are. Warning massive spoilers throughout!

The first game in the series, Metal Gear, tells the story of a lone soldier, Solid Snake, who is ordered to find the titular super-weapon "Metal Gear" and kill Big Boss the leader of the terrorist group. After that MG 2 Solid Snake, MGS 1, MGS 2 Sons of Liberty, and MGS 4 Sons of the patriots continue the story of Solid Snake in a near future setting. In MGS 3 Snake Eater, Peace Walker, and MGS 5 Ground Zeroes we learn about  Solid Snake’s father and the original villain of MG 1 Big Boss. The game takes place in the real world, and capitalizes on real events. Through the eyes of Big Boss we learn about the Cold War, and through the eyes of his son we observe Kojima’s view of the future.  

               The most important theme in MGS is the reason people fight in wars. Throughout the course of the series people’s reasons for fighting evolve with the times, developing realistically and explaining the reasons why people acted the way they did. Let’s start from the beginning, with MGS 3. Naked Snake is sent in on a mission to find and kill mother figure and trainer The Boss who has defected to the Soviet Union. While the stated purpose of the mission is to capture a traitor, Snake has his own reasons: find out why his closest friend, The Boss, betrayed the country she loved. By the end of the game you discover the true meaning behind the mission, that in reality The Boss was never actually a traitor: she was sent to prevent a group of Russian extremists who have gained access to nuclear weapons, and to recover a cache of information worth billions of dollars called the “Philosopher’s Legacy”. During The Boss’s mission the extremist’s fire one of the nukes; Russia finds out that The Boss was involved and threatens nuclear war unless the US corrects the situation. Snake is sent in to kill his mentor to appease the Russians, but in order to cover up her real operation they brand her as traitor. The US  orders her to force Snake to kill her, and she does so in order to protect the country she loves. “ She didn’t betray the United States. No, far from it. She was a hero who died for her country. She carried out her mission knowing full well what was going to happen. Self-sacrifice… because that was her duty” (EVA, Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater).  Throughout the mission in MGS 3 The Boss and her elite squad, The Cobras, try to teach Snake about what it means to be a soldier, the manipulative nature of governments that are willingly throw away the lives of soldiers for money and power. They explain that you have to fight for a reason you believe in; that you can’t count on the reasons of others; that anything outside the mission is unimportant. It’s a soldier’s duty to put the mission first and the outcome second, and to make decisions with only the mission mind. MGS shows that everyone has a different reason to fight, even people on the same side. The MGS series provides different reasons for why people fight, but clearly supports that soldiers should fight for what they believe in. In MGS 4 a group called The Patriots is developed by a man named Major Zero, who worked closely with The Boss. The purpose of The Patriots is to control history by installing artificial intelligence (AI) systems around the world. Solid Snake's fights  to destroy the AI intelligences and stop the oppression, and wins. Major Zero and Liquid fight for what they are told to believe in and lose.

               It is believed that during the Cold War only one thing kept all-out war from occurring: deterrence theory which explains that nuclear war wouldn’t happen due to mutually assured destruction. If country A fired on county B then country B would fire back and everyone would lose. There are several problems with the theory, such as the human element that is unpredictable. It is uncertain whether or not the leader of country B would be willing to destroy country A because he would be wiping out all of mankind, and so the person who fires first could potentially win. Metal Gear Solid Peace Walker is all about deterrence and how a soldier must be willing to fight a war in order to prevent war. Throughout the game you learn about the Peace Walker Project which is an attempt at world peace through deterrence. Peace Walker is a quadrupedal nuclear platform with AI ,based on The Boss concept, whose sole purpose is to prove deterrence theory by automating the process. If a nuke was fired Peace Walker would evade the strike and immediately fire back, ensuring mutual destruction and through deterrence it would prevent the first missile from being fired in the first place. However the man running the project was not developing it for this reason, he was developing it to get his position at the CIA back and to win the Cold War by firing the first and last nuke. Once again this shows the manipulative nature of the government in which the people’s ideals are second to power and money. Snake stops Peace Walker and leaves the USA to form  a mercenary group called Militares Sans Frontieres, which means Military without Frontiers, and is also known as Outer Heaven . Militares Sans Frontieres  is an army without a government. He describes Outer Haven as the world deterrent, a place where they would have no reason to fight other than that they are needed thereby ending war by preventing anybody from having an advantage over anyone else. “We will be the deterrent for those with no other recourse. We are soldiers without orders, our purpose defined by the era we live in” ( Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker).  While the Peace Walker project does not act as a deterrent, men in the Militares Sans Frontieres do.

               The world of MGS is based around the concept of the separation between soldiers, heroes and the countries they serve. Big Boss in  Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker presents an interesting real world concept in his  soldier’s haven or “Outer Heaven”. Soldiers Haven is an idea in which an army only fights based on the needs of the soldiers within it. They fight for no-one other than themselves and in such they are never manipulated by higher powers. “We have no nation, no philosophy, no ideology. We go where we're needed, fighting, not for government, but for ourselves.” (Big Boss, Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker). Snakes forces exist within this soldier’s haven. Because of this the governments that Snake’s soldiers left behind see the power of a world deterrent and destroy Outer Haven, in order to continue war, so that they can profit and continue to gain power.

               The government’s reasons for fighting wars change and develop all the way until MGS 4 where it is truly showcased. Right at the start of MGS 4 Snake explains what war has become. “War has changed. It's no longer about nations, ideologies, or ethnicity. It's an endless series of proxy battles fought by mercenaries and machines. War - and its consumption of life - has become a well-oiled machine. War has changed. ID-tagged soldiers carry ID-tagged weapons, use ID-tagged gear…..  The age of deterrence has become the age of control... And he who controls the battlefield...controls history. War has changed. When the battlefield is under total control...War becomes routine” (Metal Gear Solid 4: Sons of the Patriots). In this speech Snake shows how the governments have completely forgone manipulating ideologies for their ends. Snake, The Boss, and The Cobra’s all fought for something they believed in, but in the wars of the near future, people only fight for profit. In MGS 4 State Armies are replaced by massive private military companies (PMC) that fight wars on behalf of governments. In this regard it is ironic because in the MGS universe Naked Snake invented the concept of a PMC so that people could fight solely for the ideologies they believed in, but his idea was corrupted by power hungry politicians into the antithesis. The PMCs fight unending wars so that governments can capitalize off the war price in the area. Everyone is now part of these wars and even people who profit from it are still tied into its unending loop. One such character is Drebin 893, an arms dealer Snake works with. He sells weapons to both sides of the war in order to profit, but because of the un-ending nature of war he is unable to enjoy any of his profits as he spends all of it on acquiring new merchandise to sell. His life, just like the wars it capitalizes on, is an unending loop. This is shown by the way he is constantly drinking Narc Cola, a soft drink he has to buy from a cola machine in his own APC. He is a slave to his own business just like everyone else including Solid Snake. “The System” develops in MGS 4 and is comprised of a group of AI  supercomputers that have been developed by The Patriots to keep financial and political stability in the US and the world. The System maintains financial control because it manages the whole weapons market from production to distribution.  "The System has turned war into a form of economic activity. .. Because of the military might of the PMCs and the effect they have on the economy, war is to the 21st century what oil was to the 20th: the pillar that supports the global economy” (Iovanovici).

               MGS 4 is a critique of modern military practice showing the way in which we fight un-ending wars for profit, replacing man with machine. In theory machines are put on the battlefield to protect and preserve human life, but Kojima believes they are put there so that no-one can question the ideology behind war. He shows how the people pulling the strings are so far away from the people fighting that they may as well be machines. The wars they fight are pointless because they fight for someone else, and that true heroes, people who fight for themselves are destroyed because they are a threat to the power of governments. This shows how one can learn from history; otherwise you are doomed to repeat it. Big Boss learned from The Boss and saved the world from itself. Liquid and Zero both didn’t learn and instead tried to emulate and nearly destroyed the world. Snake isn’t a hero because of what he does; he is a hero because of why he does it.

Another issue tackled by the MGS series is the loss of human emotion in modern war. During Naked Snake’s mission to kill The Boss he encounters various members of her unit “The Cobras” Each member of The Cobras represents an emotion a soldier carries with him into battle: The Pain, The Fury, The Fear, The Sorrow, The End, and The Joy (also known as The Boss).  Each of the Cobras mastered their emotions giving them almost supernatural abilities and strength through what soldiers called weaknesses. The Pain is able to control bee’s, The Fear is able to turn invisible and deform his body, The Fury is able to fly and control flame, The Sorrow is able to exist beyond death, The End is able to live 200 years and talks to animals, and The Joy has overwhelming charisma. Each of these enemies shows Snake the power one gains by harnessing, rather than ignoring, emotions. He learns that a true soldier should master each of his emotions rather than just one in order to stay true to his ideologies and for his mission to succeed. As you jump ahead to MGS 2 and MGS 4 the opposite has come to fruition. In MGS 2 you play as Raiden, a soldier who wholly represents the opposite of The Boss and Kojima’s perspective on what a soldier should be. When Raiden was a child he was a legendary child soldier named “Jack The Ripper” who only fought with a knife and would revel in the blood and gore of battle, because it was all he knew. As MGS 2 starts he has spent years training in Virtual Reality. Through his training he is taught to forget all emotion, and to only think tactically. He feels none of the Cobra’s emotions, he feels next to nothing. Throughout the game, Rose, his semi off  and on girlfriend constantly asks him “Do you remember what today is?” or “Do you know what’s so special about today”. In the end Raiden learns that it’s the day he and rose first met, he has separated from reality and focused on war so much that he forgot the day he met the woman he loved. What The Boss and Kojima believe is that a soldier is stronger when he brings life with him into battle. When a soldier balances and overcomes his emotions he is next to unstoppable. The Cobras were defeated because they each could only focus on one emotion; Raiden was weak because he felt nothing.

In MGS 4 everyone in the PMC’s are under the control of the Sons of the Patriots System, which is a system of nanobots that control soldier’s emotions and connect them to each other. This System allows for The Patriots and people not on the battlefield to control soldiers emotions. When they fight they, like Raiden, feel nothing and because of this they are weak. Several points throughout MGS 4 the Sons of Patriots (SOP)  system is used against the soldiers it’s supposed to help. When Liquid deactivates the system the PMC’s soldiers are defeated by their own emotions, because they succumb to rather than overcome them. They didn’t carry their emotions with them into battle; they hid them away and sought to control them, so when they come back they are overwhelmed by them. One of the people not effected by the SOP system is Akiba (Johnny). Throughout most of the game he is portrayed as weak and afraid, he frequently defecates in his paints, and runs away from battle. This is because he is not in the SOP system, he feel his emotions. However when everyone else is being defeated by their emotions Akiba steps up and saves them. He is able to overcome and use his emotions to his advantage. This is once again an example of how Major Zero and Liquid failed to understand the ideology they were fighting for. Zero wanted to control people emotions and Liquid wishes to show people that they can’t control their emotions. Whereas The Boss and Kojima believe that it’s a good soldier is someone who experiences the emotions of battle and uses them as strengths. This is especially poignant today with the implementation of drone warfare. As we bring more machines into the battle and we take emotion out of warfare we allow outside parties to more easily control and manipulate war. As we replace more soldiers with machines we will allow outside parties to control why we fight until we reach an MGS level where we fight solely for profit and not for ideology. Kojima believes that machines cannot fight war and that by removing emotion you are removing your strengths. Even Peace Walker, the machine to end all wars required the emotions of The Boss to function. Throughout MGS characters emotions are what allow them to find their strengths.

MGS also talks about the problems with genetic manipulation and nature versus nurture. After Big Boss started Outer Haven the US government sought to create a soldier of his ability who was under their control. They started a project called Les Enfants Terribles in which The Twin Snakes, Liquid and Solid were born as imperfect clones of the boss; one would have the superior traits whereas the other would have the inferior ones. Solid Snake was not told of his origins whereas Liquid (the main antagonist MGS 1) was told he had received the inferior genes. In reality Liquid actually received the superior genes and Solid had gotten the inferior ones. Liquid hated Solid Snake and sought out to beat him in combat to prove that his genes where superior. Because of the difference between nature and nurture Solid Snake was able to beat Liquid at every turn even though Liquid had physical and mental advantages. Liquid was constantly reminded of his nonexistent inferiority where-as Solid was just trained as a soldier. When Snake accomplished something it was because of his training not his abilities. When Liquid accomplished something he believed it was because he was overcoming a non-existent disadvantage. So when the final battle came, Solid Snake was able to act rationally and use his training (his perceived source of power) to overcome the superior (but believed inferior) brother liquid. This shows how nurture overcomes nature.

            MGS is deep by every definition of the word. It has a deep complex story, realistic characters, and groundbreaking gameplay. It also has a lot to say about our world. It uses history to explain the reasons behind characters in the future and provides us with a unique view of the world . It talks many philosophies including the reason people fight in wars, the loss of human emotion in modern war ,modern military practice, and the deterrence theory as a reason for soldiers fighting wars. However reading about these ideas isn’t the best way to understand them, instead you should play the games and come to the conclusions yourself, because after all that is one of the points of the story, fight for your own ideology not what someone else tells you to.           



  1. "The Complete History of Metal Gear." Gamesradar. Web. <http://www.gamesradar.com/the-complete-history-of-metal-gear/>;.

  2. "Cold War: A Brief History Nuclear Deterrence." Atomicarchive.com. Web. 1 Dec. 2014. <http://www.atomicarchive.com/History/coldwar/page15.shtml>;.

  3. "Sons of the Patriots." Metal Gear Wiki. Web. <http://metalgear.wikia.com/wiki/Sons_of_the_Patriots>;.

  4. "The Complete History of Metal Gear." Gamesradar. Web. <http://www.gamesradar.com/the-complete-history-of-metal-gear/>;.

  5. Wawro, Alex. "Kojima Hopes to Tackle Controversial Themes with AAA Design." Gamasutra Article. 11 June 2014. Web. 4 Dec. 2014.

  6. Zoran Iovanovici, Zoran. "Analysis: What Metal Gear Solid 4 Teaches Us About the War Economy." Gamasura, 2 Aug. 2010. Web. <http://www.gamasutra.com/view/news/120475/Analysis_What_Metal_Gear_Solid_4_Teaches_Us_About_the_War_Economy.php>;.

Read more about:


About the Author(s)

Daily news, dev blogs, and stories from Game Developer straight to your inbox

You May Also Like