We’ve always kept records of our lives. Through words, pictures, symbols… from tablets to books, but not all the information was inherited by later generations. A small percentage of the whole was selected and processed, then passed on. Not unlike genes, really.
But in the current, digitized world, trivial information is accumulating every second, preserved in all its triteness. Never fading, always accessible. Rumours about petty issues, misinterpretations, slander, all this junk data preserved in an unfiltered state, growing at an alarming rate. It will only slow down social progress, reduce the rate of evolution. You seem to think that our plan is one of censorship. What we propose to do is not to control content, but to create context. – The Patriots AI, Metal Gear Solid 2 (edited for editorial purposes)
We live in an unfiltered world.
News can be fake now. So can facts. The president is the least trusted person in any given room. The UK Prime Minister has an incredibly high approval rating despite being unelected, is carrying out a policy she doesn’t believe in and that 48% of the country oppose, including the majority of MPs. But this policy is also unstoppable. Russia probably have spies in the White House, and everyone knows this, but nobody is stopping it. Principled family Republicans have elected a bigamist, accused rapist and known conman. One of them sent their kids for a photo with the man that accused his father of being an assassin. Nothing means anything anymore.
Which is why when I asked to join The New Establishment to write these video game-y, philosophical and political articles my first thought was this – Metal Gear Solid was incredibly optimistic about the way societies work. Because in truth any game about a vast conspiracy makes one fundamental assumption: that somebody, somewhere, has got a clue about what the hell is going on.
I find myself longing for something as uniformly understandable as The Patriots, an all-powerful AI that controls world views to maintain order. Because right now what we actually have is sporadic AIs spinning crazily and creating context for hate groups seemingly by accident, spurning on an age in which the only thing that seems to have any control is Google Ads. And Google Ads is controlled by whether we click the adverts. And it’s this horrifying realisation that means we aren’t at the whim of some cackling autocrat, but at our own inability not to click on adverts.
One of the central ideas in MGS2 is that we can be controlled and manipulated into carrying out actions for a higher purpose that we do not understand. Raiden is a pawn in a larger game, but that larger game has its own sense of order and understanding. Right now, millions of people have been tricked (and I will stand by the term tricked) into making themselves poorer, unhappier and lonelier. But what’s even worse is that while Hideo Kojima (the mastermind behind Metal Gear Solid’s endless spiral of conspiracy) assumed these kind of moves would be about executing a masterplan, what we have found is the people who have created this world, this new, unfiltered, untrustworthy world, don’t have a clue what to do now they have got here. We saw the stunned expressions on Gove’s Boris’ faces, as they not only had to fess up to having won, but then bungled the long term plans they actually had of seizing the PM spot. Trump’s acceptance might as well have been a stunned and delighted “Seriously?!” followed by applause. It’s like climbing into the seat of Metal Gear Ray, only to realise you have no idea where you want to nuke. We’ve let the Foxhound catch the car, what the hell happens now?
We’re in a world where everyday the news story is different, where the narrative disintegrates with every new discovery, where completely incongruous things suddenly dominate the headlines, including stupid funny moments that don’t fit the tone of what preceded it at all. It’s a lot like playing a Metal Gear Solid game to be honest. Trying to keep up with endless twists of the screw, contradictory character motivations and even Russian spies (though if it turns out Steve Bannon’s left hand is possessed by the spirit of Nixon that would be absolutely fantastic).
Fortunately, I’ve prepared for this. I adore the MGS franchise, and its constantly escalating story is the main reason I do. I learned long ago how to tolerate its endlessly confusing plots: Just focus. Find that one thread that goes through everything and take note of the amusing asides as just that – asides. There’s too much going on to get it first time, and some historian will pick up the pieces later, but for now focus on the plot. Brexit will make us poorer, Trump is destroying the Federal Government, Liquid has the Metal Gear. This is a suicide mission, guys, nobody gets out of the news cycle alive, and nobody knows how it’s going to end. Find a cardboard box, cook up some tree frogs and get ready for another bafflingly long codec call, the news at 10 is about to start.