‘Metal Gear Solid V’ Just Became Great Anti-Nuclear Art
How a popular video game created an interactive call for disarmament
When Konami released Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain in early September, I didn’t expect to be running around the world three months later breaking into other players’ bases to disarm their nuclear weapons.
But disarmament was part of creator Hideo Kojima’s plan all along — a weird idea that he could teach people about the horrors of nukes and deterrence by making it the core theme of his game … and making it personal for the player.
In a basic way, every Metal Gear game is about a badass commando named Snake sneaking onto a terrorist’s base to prevent them from launching a nuke or other, similar weapon of mass destruction. Kojima uses that simple action narrative as a framing device for complicated philosophical and political themes such as child soldiers, genetic engineering and the the military industrial complex.
The newest game — Metal Gear Solid V — changed the formula a bit. This time Snake is in charge of a private militia and he sneaks around 1980s-era Afghanistan and Africa picking up recruits on a campaign of vengeance. The perspective and motivations of the characters changed, but Kojima still wants players to think about the dangers of nuclear weapons.
He succeeded in a big way.
During the game, the player leads a Militaires Sans Frontières (yes, really) and builds up a Bond villain-style lair on an oil platform in the middle of the ocean. Players can take their bases online and compete with fellow players in a war for resources and dominance.
The bigger your base gets, the more attractive it becomes to rivals. Players can raid other bases, but doing so leaves their own open to assault. It’s frustrating to put hours of time and energy into building a base only to have others infiltrate it and steal your stuff.
But there’s a nuclear option. Develop nukes on your base and, with a few caveats, no one will mess with you. Nukes act as a deterrent against weaker players because you can’t invade a nuclear power unless you have a nuke too. It keeps the rabble out, but nuclear powered players can still raid each other.
You can still launch your nukes, but only if a nuclear powered rival invades your base. The launch destroys the other player’s entire base and staff. Dozens of hours of work can go up in a mushroom cloud with little or no recourse for the attacked.
Deterrence works the other way, too. Other players can only nuke you if you possess nuclear weapons. You keep the small fries out, but open yourself up to the horrible possibility of losing everything.
Now, publisher Konami and creator Kojima have let the world know it doesn’t have to be this way. They’re calling for disarmament.
Konami put out the call of nuclear disarmament on Nov. 28. “There is another important secret in Metal Gear Solid V,” Konami explained. “A hidden event that can only be unlocked when very specific conditions are fulfilled.”
What are those conditions? Disarm all the nukes. To unlock the secret content, players have to work together to remove all the nukes from the game. Which is a tall task. The weapons of mass destruction take players more than 20 hours to construct and dismantling them can be a slog.
Worse, players without nukes can only infiltrate nuclear powered bases once they’ve earned a certain number of “hero points.” The Metal Gear fan community suspected something like this might happen. Intrepid players dug into the game’s code and found references to this nuclear disarmament event weeks ago.
Some began working towards the goal of a nuke free world … while others horded as many nukes as possible.
Konami is keeping track of the nuke numbers and publishing the results via the official Metal Gear Twitter account. In early November, PC players had horded more than 35,000 nuclear devices. That’s more than twice the number actually stockpiled around the world.
On Nov. 25, the Metal Gear number was comparable to the real world number. As of Konami’s last update, it’s down to just under 12,000.
Players are working toward a nuke free world and that’s amazing. Metal Gear creator Hideo Kojima has long wanted his military themed games to be more than just a way for people to pass the time, but a medium to convey the horrors of war.
“The message is anti-nuclear weapons … but it’s not just about shouting that message at the player,” Kojima told The Guardian last summer.
“Through the game, the player is motivated to make a base and build up their military center. But at some point, when it reaches a certain size, the world begins to take notice and, in that sense, you become the threat … at this point I give the player the option to think about acquiring a nuclear weapon, in order to deter these attacks, a kind of threat. It illustrates the cycle of nuclear weapons, what inspires people and nations to enter into that system. It’s something that you can only really do in video games.”
He’s right. Kojima created a system that allowed players to personalize the power of a nuclear weapon as a deterrent, then created an incentive to disarm. In my mind, that makes Metal Gear Solid V the most powerful piece of anti-nuclear art since the wave of depressing 1980s apocalypse films.