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January 19, 2012 / jwaxo

Metal Gear Solid 2 (Censorship)

Sneaking around is harder during the day…

Probably the defining game of my preteen years, or at least the defining game of my brother and myself’s relationship, was Metal Gear Solid. We made stupid movies about it. We collected awesome digital artwork for it. Among games mentioned in this blog about my childhood, it’s number 1. Above all, we hotly debated what the mysterious epilogue was about, an epilogue where the one surviving bad guy shares a conversation with the President of the US revealing that everything that happened over the game was completely to plan, including the end where the hero manages to escape despite ridiculous odds.

And then (dramatic music) word of a sequel reached us, for the recently-released Playstation 2.

By this point in time, it was mid-2001, my brother was in high school with a job, and thus a virtual fountain of money. So, that winter, I came home from school, he told me to get into the car, and we drove down to Circuit City and he picked up what we had been dreaming about for months and months. A shiny new game console, and a shiny new game: Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty.

Against lightning-flecked sky, a poncho-clad figure is seen walking along a busy bridgethe Washington Bridge, the subtitles tell us. Flicking a lit cigarette over the railing, the figure breaks into a slow jog, then a full-on-sprint. With a flash of green light, the poncho whips away revealing a green blur; someone using stealth camouflage. With a jerk of his body, the stealthed figure throws itself over the edge, arms outstretched. We watch as, in slow-motion, a green-silhouetted face turns against the gloomy grey sky and falls downward. There is a bounce as a bungie cord is revealed, then releases. There is a small crash, and arcs of electricity shoot off of the now-revealed person as he lands a perfect 10-pointer on the deck of a tanker. It is Solid Snake, crouched and ready for more action. “METAL GEAR SOLID 2”, the titles practically yell at us. “SONS OF LIBERTY.”

We were wowed, needless to say.

It was awesome. The perfect extension of our favorite game ever. The stealth abilities were increased, the actions you could do were exponentially greater, the intelligence of the guards were actually as smart as the first game had promised. It had everything.

Then, after the first chapter on that tanker ended, things started to get… weird.

By the way, spoiler warning, if you’re ever interested in playing these games, because here’s the big one from MGS2 that was kept under wraps, from the press, from the public, from everyone in the world until release day happened. You don’t play as Solid Snake for more than the first two hours of the game.

Instead the game skips ahead two years, to a new, awfully pretty kid, who also is called “Solid Snake” by his commanding officer until they abruptly decide to call him “Raiden”, a commanding officer that is awfully identical to the CO from the previous game in all but an admitted surname. And, as the game goes on, more and more parallel events appear: a mysterious ninja that is an extremely violent and yet benign to you force, a virus that takes out very specific targets, bosses that are either supernaturally gifted or just plain geniuses at what they do, the threat of a nuclear strike… The list goes on and on.

And the game just keeps getting weirder and weirder, with only a few characters acknowledging it beyond a simple “I don’t know what X means, but let’s move on.”

And then this happens.

All of it leading up to the biggest prank in videogame history: that was the entire point of the game. The whole point was that it was nearly identical to the last game, that Raiden was supposed to be groomed to be a new Snake, that it was both a training simulation for him and advanced the ideals and goals of the villains, which is, namely, to further control the internet.

I know. It seems like it goes everywhere. But it’s important.

Because, in the final explanation of the game (which is, by the way, possibly even more confusing than everything that had happened in the previous 30 hours of playing), the real-real bad guy reveals that by controlling the information that people have access to, information such as what is a test and what is real life, information mysteriously mirrored by the prank the makers of MGS2 played on everyone by hiding things like the fact that you only play as Snake for the first two hours, they control darn near anything. They can control actions and principles, they can control what’s right and what’s wrong, they can control wars and peacetimes, what’s popular and what’s purchased. Everything.

And though it was far-fetched, it rang true. Not because anyone was actually doing it at the moment to the internet, at least not as far as I knew, but what would stop me from not knowing if it was? If they truly could control all information, than any information revealing their control would be hidden. And maybe it wasn’t happening yet, but it might.

…which brings us to SOPA and PROTECT IP, two acts that are, right now, being debated and discussed on the Senate and House floors.

Phew. I think I got here alright.

In case you aren’t aware, and, seriously, there are maybe two of you reading this that aren’t, but just in case you aren’t, I need to lay it out there for you: these are bills that virtually hand control of what goes on the internet over to corporations. They are nearly identical bills (the differences are laid out in a bunch of places, but I feel that Reddit does it best) that will make it illegal to host copyright-infringing materials, or to even link to sites that do. If you have a website that does either of those things, than you will be immediately blacklisted, and it will be illegal to link to you: whether on a blog, on a forum, on a social network like Facebook, or even on a search engine. Meaning if Google allows your site to be indexed, they, too, will be shut down.

Even worse is how easy it is to get someone shut down. All a copyright holder has to do is report the offending site, and first the site will be taken down, and then, after appeals, considered for being “allowed” back on the internet.

Let’s ignore the technical feasibility of this for a moment, and the multitude of ways to get around it that copyright offenders will use, and the horrible, horrible way it will break good websites and search engines. Instead let’s look at the unintended repercussions:

  1. Major corporations will be the ones with the biggest ability to take down anyone they want, because they will have the money to keep an appeal back for the longest.
  2. The very, very real possibility of false positives will be ever-present. Did you know that Google once did a study on YouTube-related copyright takedowns and found that over 50% were incorrectly charged, and 30% were fueled just by competition?

We’re talking censorship. Yes, censorship of some good things (or “good”, depending on your opinion of copyright): obviously, in this position, copyright infringers would probably be shut down. But so would accidental copyright infringers, and people just talking about infringement, and many, many innocent people.

The scary parallel that made me think of Metal Gear Solid 2 is actually frightening, to me. All through the game, those in the know of the bad guys don’t refer to them as “the Patriots” like everyone else. Instead they call them the “La-Li-Lu-Le-Lo.” It’s a random string of nonsense-syllables, or so it seems. The thing is, in the Japanese language, these syllables don’t exist. All other consonant-vowel pairs do, but La? Le? As you probably know, the Japanese have a hard time even saying that.

This is because those in control were able to remove them wholesale from the language, just by removing a record of themselves.

It’s an unrealistic, stupid parallel. But slightly less unrealistic or stupid is an internet where every search result has certain, potentially-illegal websites pulled from it, and web startups are afraid to get their business off of the ground for fear of being sued just because they accidentally link to the wrong place. If you read the wording of the bills, it could happen.

Alright. That’s the end of this extra-special post. Please look into this, and, if you’re the kind that does, contact your state and local representatives. The internet is the greatest tool and resource of our time, and we need to keep it as free and open as possible–no matter how distasteful it may seem at time, or the stupidity of the blogs on it.

What? I have to stop? But I had so many good metaphors lined up!

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