Gameplay Journal 7: Metal Gear Solid, Genetic Engineering, and Nuclear Proliferation

Raymond Boysel
3 min readMar 2, 2021

Released in 1998, Metal Gear Solid, is a game well ahead of it’s time in terms of implementing value based design mostly unintentionally. One of the major themes is Nuclear Proliferation and antiviolence messaging, and being developed in post WWII Japan these themes were often ubiquitous in Japanese media being the only nation to have been the victim of a nuclear bombing. The gameplay reflects the stance on nuclear proliferation mostly through cutscenes and dialogue discussing the horrors of nuclear weapons and through a background threat of a terrorist group of rogue US operatives attempting to steal nuclear weapons. There’s one section of the game where the game play gets integrated into the messaging of anti-nuclear proliferation; there’s one room of the facility where the player character cannot use weapons because it’s a warhead storage site and a stray bullet could set one off, so it reinforces the theme by showing us the implicit violence of nuclear weapons by virtue of their existence. The antiviolence messaging is one where “…designers have considered the moral, social, and political resonances of design features in a systematic way.” by making nonviolence and passivism the more viable gameplay option (Belman, Flannigan 57). The game is at it’s core a third person shooter, but the added mechanics of stealth changes it because our player character is not a bullet sponge and alerted enemies spawn infinitely meaning that running in guns blazing like we’re playing Doom is a one way ticket to the game over screen. The mechanics added for stealth makes it much more viable to simple avoid enemies thus make violence nonessential to most of the game, and this would be reinforced in sequels by the addition of nonlethal weapons.

In 1996 scientists in Scotland cloned Dolly, the first mammal cloned from a somatic cell and with that it seemed like the new space race was on in the field of genetics. Fear and moralizing about cloning and theoretical genetic engineering was the subject of many a news network primetime show but also genes and genetic engineering is the central theme of Metal Gear Solid. In the game the protagonist, Solid Snake, and the antagonist, Liquid Snake, are clones of a former US operative, Big Boss; in addition the enemies, the Genome Soldiers, received “Gene Therapy” to make them better soldiers. What this is saying on a surface level is that it’s critiquing the US’s propensity to always use new technologies for warfare applications before considering either the ramifications or the technologies potential to help it’s or the worlds citizens. At a deeper level it’s about legacy and that humans are more then the expression of genetic material, both Liquid and Solid are disturbed by the implication of what they are, Liquid feeling like he’s in the shadow of a great man and wanting to fulfill his wishes while Solid dismissing that he’s at all like Big Boss. In the end, Liquids drive to fulfil this deterministic end based on genetic legacy ends up being his downfall, while Solid is able to reconcile with Big Bosses genetic legacy. Ultimately it’s that while genes create a physical makeup for us, they don’t override our free will or decide who we choose to be and it’s this determination made by Solid at the end when he’s no longer under control of the player.

Works Cited

Belman, Flanagan “Exploring the Creative Potential of Values Conscious Design: Students’ Experiences with the Values at Play Curriculum” Eludamos. Journal for Computer Game Culture. 2010; 4 (1), p. 57–67