Mirrored: An Examination of The Phantom Pain Through Nietzsche

Well, seeing as how I haven’t been using the site much the past year or so I don’t think anyone would mind if I popped out another Metal Gear Solid baby.

But in the off chance you’re not a fan of the series and decide to read anyway, hopefully you’ll get something out of it all the same. Just know there are spoilers ahead and the post itself may require knowledge of the series, in particular, Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain.

In Nietzsche’s book ‘Beyond Good and Evil’, there’s a chapter titled “We Scholars” where he HEAVILY criticizes scholars of the day (and by proxy, modern day scholars) for often soaking in the words of others so much so that they become a mirror of sorts. They reflect an image perfectly but never generate anything of their own.

They’re so deep into the philosophy and insights of others they’ve read/heard that they begin to repeat back those same messages as though they discovered it themselves or came to the realization by their own merit.

But in fact, they’re just copying/pasting in a mental or spiritual sense. They have no beliefs unique to them because everything they do and say is a diluted version of the person they’re taking their views from. A lot can be accomplished by a person like this but when you chisel it down to the core, they’re only accomplishing someone else’s work and losing more and more of themselves in the process. Or as Nietzsche himself puts it-

“…but his place is in the hand of one who is more powerful. He is only an instrument, we may say, he is a MIRROR—he is no ‘purpose in himself.’ The objective man is in truth a mirror accustomed to prostration before everything that wants to be known, with such desires only as knowing or ‘reflecting’ implies—he waits until something comes, and then expands himself sensitively…”
“Whatever ‘personality’ he still possesses seems to him accidental, arbitrary, or still oftener, disturbing, so much has he come to regard himself as the passage and reflection of outside forms and events.”
 By now the point is clear to anyone who’s finished The Phantom Pain in how this at all relates to Venom Snake, our protagonist of the game. Though we have played through it’s entirety thinking we were a particular character, we find out we’ve been playing as his brainwashed body double; an anonymous figure meant to do the dirty work and add to the legend of the character we thought we were playing as. It was a shock to say the least and a special kind of betrayal by the character we’d come to love even if we were aware of his eventual turn to villainy. We just didn’t know how it would affect us.

Venom is known as the Greatest Soldier of the 20th Century, Big Boss. He plays this role so completely that no one but a small number of people ever knew he was just a mindless copy of the real thing. If we can even say that Big Boss was “the real thing”.

Here’s the scene for reference-

It’s not at all a coincidence that Nietzsche is quoted in the game itself-

“Facts do not exist, there are only interpretations.”

What’s important to note about Nietzsche is that he sought to reveal things through his work rather than tell someone what to think. The idea was not to relay truth or fact as we generally understand them but to have one realize something significant to them. If one person simply tells another what the “truth” is, do they take on an actual truth or just add someone’s viewpoints to their own and become a mouthpiece for the messenger?

This is much of Kojima’s point in finishing the series the way that he did. Immediately it received backlash and many people who praised the audacity of it all were dismissed as fanboys who were just hobos crawling through the trash, looking for any little scrap of value. They were already wading through the dumpster, who wouldn’t want to say they had something to show for it?

But the theme of identity and the concept of free will persist over two years after the game’s release whether a fan enjoyed the ending or not- Kojima insists that the series be left with a “blank page” for the players to fill in.

“I’m Big Boss, and you are too…” says Big Boss to Venom, a fourth-wall breaking line wherein Kojima is also telling the player he couldn’t have done anything without them.

There are various angles to approach this from that make it complimentary from Kojima to the player or from Big Boss to Venom. Kojima and player, Big Boss and Venom; the pairings are necessary to make the other what they are. Without Kojima, we don’t have this (literal) game-changing series, and Kojima’s career has progressed the way it has because of what fans were willing to accept.

The problem (which is not to say this is the only way to look at this) is that one side of this symbiotic relationship is gaining much more from this exchange. While fans have gotten a great series, it’s Kojima that has benefited from his creation much more so than any one consumer. This is comparable to Big Boss and Venom. Venom is known as “The Greatest Soldier of the 20th Century” as is another title of Big Boss…

But he’s not. Not in the literal sense anyway. Spiritually? Mentally? Physically? Sure. He’s become another person as much as a human could, our sense of illusion being stretched to it’s most absolute point, even for Metal Gear fans. Venom was a Snake, as was Big Boss. He was a John Doe, as was Big Boss. He’s known to many as Boss…as was Big Boss.

But he’s still just a copy, his ideals not his own.

This is worse than anyone else being deceived by this lie because Venom himself doesn’t even know the truth. He’s just a copy of someone else’s views put into human form. The stronger his views become as “Big Boss,” the deeper his delusion becomes.

Again, Nietzsche on this sort of figure-

“His love is constrained, his hatred is artificial, and rather UNN TOUR DE FORCE, a slight ostentation and exaggeration. He is only genuine so far as he can be objective; only in his serene totality is he still ‘nature’ and ‘natural.’”

In Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of the Liberty, Former child soldier and super spy Raiden is fed similar lies. He’s told various untruths about his mission, his identity, his life. But when all the lies keep piling on top of each other, it’s getting to be too much for Raiden to even pretend that he’s doing the right thing. The truth keeps shining through and the lies just aren’t adding up anymore. He can be seen as a swimmer thrashing to get to the surface of the water for air- free from the legacy of Solidus, the control of the Patriots, and to break free from the conditioning he’d received as a child and carried into adulthood as Solid Snake did before him. By the end he succeeds and manages to avoid drowning (hehe).

But Venom is in quicksand. Or, like those unlucky enough to be caught in an avalanche and survive, only to die by exhaustion for burrowing too deeply into the snow the opposite direction of the surface. The more he fights, the deeper into Big Boss’ legend he sinks.

Eventually he becomes a mirror image; the perfect reflection of how Big Boss wants to be seen, but not Big Boss himself. He’s a hero to everyone else, as he’s able to put the question of his identity so far away from his consciousness he thinks he’s fighting for ideals that are his own. Maybe he does believe something that’s unique to him but it’s still only being added to someone else. He’s been made a puppet, a clone, and a living memorial to the Man Who Sold the World.

The ultimate faker is someone who doesn’t even know they’re faking anything because they believe the views they espouse are their own; they can read Nietzsche, play a Kojima game, listen their favorite political commentator, and quote someone more intelligent than them as though it’s their own thought. And they might believe it. A mirror image doesn’t know it’s not the real thing because it’s not alive, it’s only serves to reflect the original being.

It’s not happenstance the last time we see Big Boss, the sun is rising as he rides off on his motorcycle to renew his legend…while Venom is staring into a mirror, smeared in blood…and ultimately walks away, into darkness and smoke. The original prevails while the legacy he has garnered so much support for is carried on through the dirty work of another who doesn’t even know who he is.

I think much of Kojima’s message to fans through this game is to make sure you’re leaving room for yourself rather than only adding to his legend as Venom did for Big Boss.

“…he is an instrument, something of a slave, though certainly the sublimest sort of slave, but nothing in himself —PRESQUE RIEN [Almost nothing]! The objective man is an instrument, a costly, easily injured, easily tarnished measuring instrument and mirroring apparatus, which is to be taken care of and respected; but he is no goal…”

9 Responses to “Mirrored: An Examination of The Phantom Pain Through Nietzsche”

  1. No offense, but I think the game’s main message is that its an unfinished mess.

    Unfortunately Kojima could never top MGS2.

  2. byondThndrGnome Says:

    That’s pretty insightful, I’ve always enjoyed your analysis on the mgs titles, but this one painted pictures on a deeper level with the philosophical cross regerences.

    Venom is a far cry from the ubermensch. You drew points to mind that I didn’t notice before, and now I can’t unsee them. Thanks for sharing.

  3. byondThndrGnome Says:


  4. The series was good despite the enemies coming out of Marvel. But , it is like Nolan, there is a moment when logic stops for the profits of a self intellectual satisfaction. Amended with Dunkirk.

    As an ISTP, I think there are other ways to get the same philosophical thoughts. I accept to be manipulated until one insults my intelligence.

  5. Joel Marshall Says:

    What happened to your youtube channel? I was watching all the videos in chronological order and then it disappeared.

    • Taylor Says:

      It got hacked! Been working on getting it back. As far as I can tell though, you can still watch most of them on this site. The little douche privatized them but didn’t delete them.

  6. Thank you for this write up, and thank you for everything you’ve done on this site. It’s been helpful for me.

    I hope you get your Youtube sorted out. God bless!


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