Allusions Rising: Gearing Toward Greatness
War transforms us, Snake. Into beasts.
A certain inability to walk into a normal life pervades the player’s thirst for playful violence after taking down the Patriots in the Metal Gear series. The Winds of Destruction will have to fill that void. Some, like Sundowner, claim we surround the Self with violence, because of the feeling instilled when you kill your enemies and liberate the less fortunate and able. Others maintain that we argue philosophy as a way of waking up the beast inside of the Self. Regardless of the means, these musings have persisted through the Metal Gear franchise from the beginning. With Metal Gear Rising, they mesh high and low culture together in allusions that complicate our reason for loving to play.
Sundowner is like a bizarro John Lennon who literally says, “Give war a chance,”. Most heroes would dislike this enemy for changing the lyrics to one of pop culture’s beloved icons, yet doesn’t every person who plays an action video game give war a chance? In action games like Metal Gear Rising, there remain ways to sneak through much of the game without fighting, nevertheless, it inevitably comes down to a fight and who gets killed. All he is saying is that the victors make their war profitable and sustain an exorbitant income while controlling the population.
One way for a game developer to control the population of gamers is to show them that they understand their place in history. What better way to provoke this thought in a gamer than to allude to famous and memorable moments throughout pop culture’s past?
Another one of the early, memorable moments in Metal Gear Rising is when Raiden saves a random kid from Guyana who sings “Go Ninja, go ninja, go!” a reference to Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 2: Secret of the Ooze and Vanilla Ice. In mission three, the developers show their campy side, a great way to lighten the mood of what could have been a game that took itself too seriously. They understand the history behind the ninja in English pop culture due to the popular 90’s allusion. The mission just happens to take place in a sewer, where the turtles live, and the boss serendipitously picks rogue turtle Raphael’s trademark sai as his weapon. The dialogue further adds to its mystique when Raiden responds by speaking Spanish since he can barely understand the kid’s English. The kid speaks a dialect of English with a Creole spin. From Raiden’s ignorance to the kid’s language, the developers are able to subtly imply the player has an unconscious tendency toward loving the ninja fight. The player, like the Guyanese kid, cannot help but cheer on the violent massacre.
In a dark rise of events, the plot of the game develops around private military companies (PMCs) and their means of funding a war; namely from harvesting the organs of children. The casual observer of this generation’s infatuation with funding wars on terror, as well as the mass media who glorify the process, is torn between the tension of going to war and the excitement of revenge and justice on whoever attacked their country. However, the motives of these PMCs often hide in mystery, just like the brains of the next generation literally farmed inside the pillars of buildings around the world of Metal Gear Rising.
This parallel can be unpacked from one of the cardboard boxes that Raiden uses as concealment in a couple of ways: first I will unpack the silly reason behind the brains of the brightest minds of my generation. The brains have been farmed into cyborgs; ready to defend the military companies without hesitation. Imagine each brain as a metaphor for a piece of pop culture, and collectively stand-in for pop culture as a whole. Instead of harvesting children, the parallel would have the developers (who would be represented by the PMCs in Metal Gear) farming other forms of art for the best influences and references that energy will allow. Whether or not the developers intended this extended metaphor is not known, yet these cyborgs are harvesting allusions from other pop culture!
A travesty of such enormous proportions no doubt has some kind of effect outside of the digital world as well. As the Doktor would allude, it’s, “Elementary, my dear Raiden.” Coincidentally, the Doktor alludes to Sherlock Holmes when locating the power servers in a large building, where the VIPs just happen to be ‘big culture enthusiasts.’ Oh my only are these VIPs enthusiastic, but they are also the leaders of the PMCs. In the real world, the developers at Platinum games might be implying that it is easy to see how PMCs manipulate the media to promote enlisting in the armed forces. Using interactive media to create bonds with heroic characters like Raiden -- their example of any number of marine protagonists -- they are able to mesh high culture with low as a war cry in the name of the PMCs.
But not Platinum Games, no, they would never stoop to that level and compromise their art. Differentiating themselves from the army of military games and multimedia, they speak more like the dialogue of a common enemy in Metal Gear Rising. What they seem to believe is just like a powerless cyborg lamenting his imminent death by the blade of Raiden - “There’s no reason for me to be here.” Regretfully, Platinum and these grunts are not even close to the same mindset as the VIPs. They almost seem as if they are foils to each other.
One of the presumably very important characters, Monsoon, helps to ferment our reasons for loving to play when he declares that memes are the DNA of the soul. Memes, some kind of recurring idea or theme, often appear in a long running series like the Metal Gear franchise. The iterations of the Boss, twins at war with each other; Gekkos and Gears and ninjas have all become staples of this franchise. As Monsoon mentions, these elements give a franchise their personality, which could not have unique souls without distinguishing and memorable features. There is hardly a better way to add popularity to a franchise than by including some famous memes from other successful franchises. Then the monsoon of recognizable allusions can rain down on a new audience.
If skeptics express their doubts about the use of allusions as an empowering device to bolster their story, ask them to read any annotated work of literature. The most respected and classed writers of each generation, from Homer and Milton to Lewis Carroll and Mark Twain peppered their masterpieces with winks to their predecessors. When done tastefully and subtly, it can boost the depth of meaning in each line of poetry. It has been used to call on muses or even imply an event in a novel is developing to demonstrate a critique of social issues in the real world. Historically, it became an important tool for writers in countries where governments would censor their writers. When censorship happened due to fear of an opposition to those who were in power, it became one of the most powerful tools to reach the rest of the dissenting community of a nation. In Metal Gear Rising’s climax, Platinum Games uses a weighty meme to wake up nations while listening the thought process of an oppressive, senatorial leader.
While players are usually happy when they recognize allusions or memes played with by a new author or developer, this technique can also be used to reach the depths of human emotion if it references an important event in history. For instance, Martin Luther King’s “I have a dream” meme is twisted and shaken with Senator Armstrong’s speech before Rising’s climactic battle. He adapts his speech ironically, in and of itself hardly an original creative choice, although it may stand as the most poignant. “I have a dream, a dream of action, not words,” Armstrong preaches, “where power and justice are where they belong, in the hands of the people, where every man is free to act for himself.” In theory, an idea that our country should stand behind, nevertheless, Armstrong uses it as a crutch for violent tendencies. He continues his diatribe, “Fuck the lawyers and media. Fuck all of it. Wipe the slate clean and burn it down.” Even though he soils on King’s original intent for his speech, should we listen? Raiden does when he replies, “What the hell are you talking about?” Nonchalantly, Armstrong clears any confusion with his plan of “using the war to get votes, then making every man fight his own wars.” Luckily none of our senators have ever practiced this. Thankfully, our government does not focus on funding both sides of a war before burning the opposition down. Every man has his own battle to fight.
Our fights are in video games. These missions are our proxy battles. The developers may be able to alleviate some of the tension from such weight with immersive allusions, so the gamer will have more fun in the process. Little, recognizable moments: one of the great perks of playing through a well written story. Flashes of nostalgia brought on by our love of other creative works of art. The final product: pop culture worthy of taking our money; pop culture worth fighting in.