June 12 will mark the seven-year anniversary of when Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots brought closure to the story of Solid Snake and his war against Liquid Snake. Hideo Kojima made a bold decision to rewrite the setup of the stealth action genre while taking players to a distant future that mirrors our destiny.
Looking back now, one has to appreciate the game for not only raising the bar for the genre but for also creating the template used by other science fiction themed stealth and military game that has followed. Games like Call of Duty: Black Ops II, Advanced Warfare, Crysis 2, and Deus Ex: Human Revolution owe their existence to the foundation set by Guns of the Patriots.
Military science fiction is not a new concept to gaming as many titles have borrowed influences from classic works by having players fight in an intergalactic conflict in the distant future. Kojima however took players to a futuristic conflict that is closer to our current era with a moral perspective that was born in the aftermath of the Iraq War.
Looking back seven years later, this is how Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots established the template for todays military and espionage science fiction games.
The Changing Battlefield
In the distant future; the face of war has changed for the worse with the advancement in technology, a volatile geopolitical climate and the need for control. These were among the themes that Kojima explored in Guns of the Patriots. It’s granted that the works of James Cameron and Sir Ridley Scott had a major influence, but it was enough for Kojima to create his own story.
Players are taken to a battlefield in the not-too-distant future were the face of war has changed into a mundane routine. Everything has become digital in this new battlefield as soldiers now rely on computer and drones to fight their wars. The introduction of mechs into the battlefield has made the weapons of the future become more automated.
Players are introduced to an out of control Military-Industrial Complex that could easily be described as Dwight D. Eisenhower’s worst nightmare.
Guns of the Patriots takes gamers to a world in which warfare has become dominated by mechs and computers while the actions of the soldier are being controlled.To make matters worse is players are introduced to an out of control Military-Industrial Complex that could easily be described as Dwight D. Eisenhower’s worst nightmare.
Such a concept was once again explored in Deus Ex: Human Revolution followed by Call of Duty: Black Ops II and again in Black Ops III Advanced Warfare. Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon: Future Warfare also took players to such a battlefield while Homefront: The Revolution will focus on a conflict between a highly technological advanced North Korea against the American resistance.
While the weapons and gear may be the work of science fiction, most of it’s based on technology that is being developed. Tom Clancy has always done his research about the changing military landscape while Treyarch seeked the advise of Oliver North when developing Black Ops II.
Man vs Machine
Expanding more on the theme of controlling the battlefield, the player is presented with the moral quandary over the need for a soldiers freewill in warfare.
Technology has allowed for greater control and optimization on the battlefield while trying to make the concept of the hero obsolete. During the course of the journey, players are taught that heroes will never become obsolete regardless of how the world changes.
During the course of the journey, players are taught that heroes will never become obsolete regardless of how the world changes.
That may have been one of the major themes in Guns of the Patriots but it was also the subject of Frank Woods monologue in the premier trailer of Call of Duty: Black Ops II. Both of these traditional warriors express their belief that even in a changing world, technology will never replace the duty of the traditional soldier.
Other titles have taken a different approach into questioning if the technology makes the solider or is it their experience. Snake has always questioned the use of technology in replacing skills that are developed in combat. Players also examine such a philosophical challenges with Adam Jensen in Deus Ex: Human Revolution in a thought provoking journey that pays homage to RoboCop.
The Morality of War and Technology
New technology also brings with it a series of new moral dilemma’s that we as humans must always confront. Those moral challenges are made even more difficult when the technology is being used in a military conflict as it opens up a new series of ethical dilemmas one must consider.
Kojima takes gamers to a conflict were everything is under control thanks to nano-machines in the soldiers and ID tags on weapons. Hence the theme of taking away the free will of the soldier and depriving them of the human elements. Is this morally acceptable or a necessary evil to preserve the battlefield? On the more extreme spectrum is Raiden along with the Beauty and the Beast Unit, whose humanity has been stripped away only to be transformed into machine or an emotionless killer.
As storytelling in gaming became stronger, many developers went back to further explore such philosophical challenges. The morality of war and technology was also explored in the Crysis series as humanity tries to replicate Ceph technology. Such a moral dilemma is also explored in Deus Ex: Human Revolution, and the trailer for Call of Duty: Black Ops III also gives hints to such a theme.
These games paled to how Wolfenstien: The New Order explored the concept by giving such technological power to the Nazi’s. At the same time the game explored the atrocities that has made the Third Reich synonymous with evil, as the technology is being used as a tool for the Final Solution.
The Growing Threat Of PMC’s
While mercenaries have been around for as long as their has been armed conflict between states, the concept of the Private Military Company (PMC) was created by Sir. David Stirling (founder of the SAS) when he established Watchguard International as a means to provide military training to African and Middle Eastern nations. The need for security during the Iraq War saw PMC’s grow to become a major industry and a topic of moral concern.
While games like Mercenaries: Playground of Destruction have glorified PMC’s, Kojima has taken a moral objection to the industry by depicting them as the primary adversary in Guns of the Patriots. The battlefield of the future requires a professional army that is free of ideology or nationalism while the primary objective is to win just to earn their pay.
The battlefield of the future requires a professional army that is free of ideology or nationalism while the primary objective is to win just to earn their pay.
Mercenaries have always been seen as soldiers who lack honor, hence many games have followed Kojima’s example by portraying PMC’s as a morally bankrupt army. Other examples to look at would be Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon: Future Soldier, Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare, and Crysis 2 which feature PMC’s as an antagonist force.
Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare was the most notable example all thanks to Kevin Spacey monologue on the fallacy of Democracy. The main story focuses on a PMC that has grown to become a military superpower that now aims for global dominance by launching an attack against the United States.
A different example to look at would be Deus Ex: Human Revolution which features a PMC having taken over police duties for several major cities. However who could forget about the mayhem created by CELL in Crysis 2 and 3.
Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots was a thought provoking masterpiece that was ahead of its time. Looking back now, one has to appreciate how Hideo Kojima set the foundation for todays military and espionage science fiction games.