1998 was a year many of us “older” gamers hold in immediate memory. That glorious year marked the release of the original Metal Gear Solid, which was one revolution of a title in and of itself. Freshly-announced Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain is set to recreate what fans know about the Metal Gear franchise and re-establish how gamers experience video games, much like how MGS did fourteen years ago. Psychology concepts have leaked into gaming for a long time now, but one thing that hasn’t been prominently touched upon is the extensive effects of psychological trauma. Characters in the Metal Gear series have always demonstrated the mental fallout of said trauma, but I believe Hideo Kojima is preparing to deliver a novel experience in a series that’s seen almost everything.
Metal Gear Solid V will portray the mental breakdown and corruption of Big Boss himself, which ultimately creates FOXHOUND.
Before my predictions, a definition: A "phantom pain" is a false sensation of pain that an amputee experiences where an appendage no longer exists. After watching the gameplay and announcement trailers over and over, my conclusions lean toward a plot that’s interlaced with the conscious and subconscious. For Metal Gear Solid, a series that has never erred toward the truly supernatural, doing so seems counterproductive. After all, Guns of the Patriots spent a great deal of time explaining how so many strange things could reasonably occur--even the seemingly immortal Vamp was given a logical conclusion to his death defiance. The only remaining supernatural element that hasn’t been validated or analyzed is the psychic abilities of Psycho Mantis.
It's fitting, then, that our old friend Mantis shows up in the GDC gameplay demo. The mask similarity is uncanny—Hideo never does anything accidentally—and his long sleeves, which portray him as a younger Mantis in a larger jacket, give an eerie illusion that Mantis escaped from a straight jacket. These jackets that are dedicated to keeping individuals “from hurting themselves” are usually white, but his is black. This is where my theory gets interesting: Psycho Mantis is manipulating Big Boss' mind while Big Boss is unconscious. In his storyline, Big Boss doesn’t have any strong feelings against America, even after he was ousted in Peace Walker. Ultimately, something had to spark his motivation to move against America, and Psycho Mantis’ mind probing could certainly instill said hatred.
In this context, it's easy to grasp what's going on in the trailers. A man that looks and dresses like Revolver Ocelot, a fiery rendition of Colonel Volgin, and The Boss' white horse all make appearances, and all three are subconscious cues from events in Big Boss' past that Mantis will use to begin rewiring Big Boss' memories. Mantis likely appears to Big Boss in his subconscious, because Mantis wishes to show Big Boss that Mantis is in control. Mantis might not necessarily claim he's handling the subconscious takeover, but he'll fit right in with all the other things coming out of the woodwork; his black straight jacket could be part of his own history that he's using to corrupt Big Boss.
Bringing this all together substantiates the game's title: Big Boss is forced to live through the pain that he inflicted on others, such as Volgin and The Boss, and that "phantom pain" will be what breaks him during his 9-year coma.
Some sense can be made of these apparitions, but the craziness soon falls into one modern plotline that could only be orchestrated by Kojima himself--all of a sudden, Big Boss has a horn on his head and a metallic arm! Considering the deep-seeded mental corruption going on, it's sensible to think that this is how Big Boss internally perceives himself after Mantis finishes wracking his mind. Upon release from Mantis' grasp, Big Boss begins forming FOXHOUND, with Ocelot and Mantis as his first recruits. And if you look closely at a few revealing angles, you can see his horn bulging under his eye bandage when he's in the hospital and escaping on horseback, which insinuates that this entire sequence is in his subconscious.
The final pieces to this theory finally hit home when I returned to the beginning of the reveal trailer: Big Boss is being resuscitated on a gurney next to Kaz Miller as, opposite to Kaz, a mysterious person watches the whole thing transpire. So, who is this mystery man? Considering that Kojima has already dabbled extensively in clones, it's hard to believe that he'll do it again. What might be happening instead is that Big Boss' memories are being rewritten to accommodate an end that Mantis seeks to orchestrate, thus sculpting Big Boss into the supervillain that he becomes in the Outer Heaven Incident from the original Nintendo title, Metal Gear. This might also answer why David Hayter isn't voicing Big Boss either: vocal patterns could also be retrained to further strengthen the integrity of his mental overhaul, so relapses of actual memories are less likely to occur.
The one part of the reveal trailer that really drove this subconscious point home with me comes at 3:38, when Big Boss turns his back to the camera and looks off to the right. A widely studied topic in psychology circles posits that people look to the right to recall visual memories. Big Boss' symbolic turn may represent his recalling what Mantis installed in Big Boss' mind--the trailer had a hearty length of content when he appears to have been escaping from the hospital on horseback.
Both Ismael and the fiery whale may be plays on the well-known novel Moby Dick written by Herman Melville. In the gameplay trailer, Ismael guides Big Boss through the hospital, where Ismael in the novel is the narrator. The fiery pegasus-unicorn is, at this point, anyone's guess, but extremes are par for the course where Psycho Mantis is concerned. In the GameCube remake Twin Snakes, Mantis tries to trick Solid Snake into believing that Snake is on fire during the legendary boss fight, so the use of something chaotic like fire fits Mantis’ bill perfectly.
As far-fetched as all this might sound, I believe there's a strong chance Kojima could still use all of these video clips for different means entirely. Surely, Kojima has the creative integrity to misdirect our judgment until the next round of teases and trailers. Until then, my best bet is as good as yours. Let us know in the comments below how you feel about my theory and the content revealed at GDC 2013. What thoughts and theories do have on Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain?
Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain Announcement Trailer
Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain GDC Gameplay Trailer