How Metal Gear Solid 2 helped me cope with 9-11

There are few video games that I’ll defend until breathless, and Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty, a game originally released on November 12, 2001, is at the top of the list. Series creator Hideo Kojima proved himself a genius/world-class troll when he delivered an exquisite piece of postmodern storytelling that simultaneously pissed off and amazed his fan base. I thought it masterful when I originally played the game over a decade ago. I still do.

Sons of Liberty is a Metal Gear Solid game through and through. It requires using expert levels of stealth and deception—dart guns, electronics scramblers, distractions— to creep through enemy-filled hallways and avoid firefights. The dialogue is charmingly long-winded, sometimes too much so, which serves to both humanize the characters and, more importantly, set up gamers for the swerve to come. “This isn’t Shadow Moses, Snake.” The ultimate truth, the ultimate lie.

It’s those elements coming together that elevates Sons of Liberty into the video game pantheon. Or should I say, upon deeper reflection, the most obvious elements. Sons of Liberty holds a place in my heart for bringing me a sense of control during a time when I desperately needed the distraction despite the fact the game eerily mirrored elements of the very event that caused me, and the nation, great stress: 9-11.

I know many people outside of my urban bubble see New York City as the home to rude, fast-talking, godless, socialists, but it’s my home. I’ve been here since age three, and really couldn’t imagine any other city in the United States as my base of operations. I love the voices, the swagger, street fairs, music, and career mobility that NYC presents. When you’re feeling down, you can walk out your home and randomly stumble upon a local, neighborhood mini-parade. NYC is dependable in that way. When you have that rock in your corner you feel invincible, barring illness, death, rising costs, or airliners plowing into two of the world’s most iconic buildings.

My insides were as ripped as my skyline on that fateful day—and for weeks afterward. Even when life began to return to normal, small things would still pull the panic trigger. I distinctively remember riding the Q train to college, an elevated subway line in Brooklyn, and freaking out when I heard something banging into the iron worm’s side. Clank. Clank. Clank. It was tree branches hitting the subway cars’ metal bodies. Not bullets. Not mini-explosions. Tree branches. I had heard the sound before, but in the new world, the new context, it was different.

Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty

Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty arrived in North America  just two months after the heinous attacks. Sons of Liberty built on the excellent foundation laid by the original Metal Gear Solid by adding first-person aiming and a revamped cover system, but it was the story that snared me. It began with Solid Snake yet again hunting a Metal Gear, but quickly turned into something…different. Standard video game fare transformed in a wonderfully convoluted story featuring grand deception, political conspiracy, the use of the media and digital age to control the masses, and, finally, a Manhattan disaster. A “G.W.” even played a role—two of the three initials which belonged to the American president who presided over the country during 9-11 and its immediate aftermath.

This was an amazing moment of synchronicity. Kojima could not have anticipated that world events, and the related conspiracy theories, would lineup with his fictional universe. That didn’t matter one iota; Sons of Liberty quickly became my escape from the stress of the real world disaster. 9-11 broke my world and made me feel utterly helpless. Sons of Liberty put me in an active role within a bizarro version of that world where I could save humanity from disastrous happenings. It was empowering, even though the game revolved around the goofy idea of a mech dinosaur carrying a nuclear payload.

I interviewed Kojima in March 2012, and the Metal Gear creator mentioned that he decided to cut elements from Sons of Liberty‘s ending (in which the Arsenal Gear flying base crashes into downtown Manhattan) as it too closely mirrored real world events. He tactfully avoided answering the question directly. I pressed him a bit and he seemed uncomfortable. I’ve always suspected that Arsenal Gear plowed through the Twin Towers as it descended upon Manhattan. I’ll probably never get confirmation.

No loss, really. Sons of Liberty is an excellent game–I consider it the best in the main series purely for emotional reasons. If Kojima really did cut a wrecked World Trade Center from the game, it may have been the correct move. I’m not certain that I’d want one of my favorite games to actually replicate the real world to that degree, especially when the real-world chaos happened in my backyard.

I’ll continue playing Metal Gear Solid HD Collection on my PS Vita and reflect on a time when Sons of Liberty was more than a game–it was a therapy session featuring super soldiers, clones, supernatural abilities, and soapy, soapy melodrama. Sons of Liberty may no longer hold the same importance to me in the years since its release and the 9-11 attacks, but it still holds some importance if that makes any sense.

And I’m happy about that.

Image courtesy of Konami

  • Jeffrey Wilson

    Thank you, sir.

  • James Raskalov

    Great read.