Hideo Kojima laments that Metal Gear Solid 4's digital battlefield 'is no longer science fiction'

(Image credit: Konami)

Game creator Hideo Kojima is and probably will always be best-known for his creation and stewardship of the Metal Gear series at Konami, which since his departure has been more-or-less on permanent hiatus (don't mention Survive). In his almost three decades these games evolved to the point where they predicted certain problems of the information age (MGS 2), took aim at contemporary topics like Guantanamo Bay (MGS: Ground Zeroes), and ended on a profound sense of sadness about our species' inability to break the cycles of global conflict (MGS V).

The depth of Kojima's thinking on these topics, and the parallels he constantly draws between Metal Gear's science fiction and real-world events and conflicts, is one of the reasons that, for all his flaws, he is something of a visionary. After leaving Konami the creator kept his own counsel on Metal Gear for several years, but recently Kojima has begun to reminisce more often about the titles and talk a little about them.

It's not clear what sparked this reflection, but Kojima's been thinking about Metal Gear Solid 4, an entry that was (and unfortunately still remains) a PlayStation 3 exclusive (thanks, GamesRadar+). In that entry the player controls an aged Solid Snake in the year 2014, caught up in a civil war being fought between Private Military Companies (PMCs).

"MGS4 depicts the next generation of proxy wars and war economies waged by unmanned weapons and PMCs," said Kojima. "A future where parties do not fight, but are represented by drones, proxy soldiers and corporations. In this future, those who sell or rent weapons introduce SOPs to take full control of the battlefield."

SOPs is one of those in-game acronyms that's also a tremendously good joke. It's typically used in the military to mean 'Standard Operating Procedure' but in MGS4 refers to the 'Sons of the Patriots' control system, which regulates, aids, and ultimately controls the PMC soldiers.

"The concept of 'arms laundering' will also emerge, which will allow the parties to escape from the SOPs," said Kojima. "Also, by suppressing SOPs, the battlefield can be controlled."

Metal Gear Solid 4's subtitle is Guns of the Patriots and a key feature in the game is the arms dealer Drebin. Solid Snake can't use guns he takes from the soldiers he faces, because they're encoded, but Drebin can replace the ID chips to make them usable.

"MGS2 was a wake-up call to the digital society, but MGS4 is about the digitalization of the battlefield," said Kojima. "Drones, SOPs, personal identification of weapons, weapon laundering, etc. From 'humint' to 'sigint' to 'osint'. It is no longer science fiction."

Humint is military jargon for Human intelligence, Sigint means Signals Intelligence (gathering information through interception), and Osint means open-source intelligence, gathering information from countless public sources. Unlike MGS4 there aren't any miniature Metal Gears running around contemporary battlefields yet, but anyone who's watched one of those Boston Dynamics videos must have shared my same sense of awe mixed with wondering when this technology would first be used on humans. Almost all modern military weaponry has computer systems installed (one reason the American NSA worries so much about cyberattacks). We're not quite at the stage of soldiers with microchips regulating their moods and functions, but we're probably closer than you'd like.

MGS4's take on global conflict has never attracted quite the same critical adulation as MGS2's more searingly prophetic takedown of the information age. Perhaps that's because it always felt so depressingly inevitable and was: If you think Kojima knows what he's talking about, anyway.

Rich Stanton

Rich is a games journalist with 15 years' experience, beginning his career on Edge magazine before working for a wide range of outlets, including Ars Technica, Eurogamer, GamesRadar+, Gamespot, the Guardian, IGN, the New Statesman, Polygon, and Vice. He was the editor of Kotaku UK, the UK arm of Kotaku, for three years before joining PC Gamer. He is the author of a Brief History of Video Games, a full history of the medium, which the Midwest Book Review described as "[a] must-read for serious minded game historians and curious video game connoisseurs alike."