The contemporary cybernetic resurrection of Metal Gear’s Raiden as a stealth-absconding robo-ninja warrior is the makeover nobody in the gaming world saw coming. In the heyday of the Playstation 2, when dinosaurs roamed the cellular networks and calls dropped like flies, Raiden’s debut in the stealth espionage game MGS2: Sons of Liberty polarized the global gaming community. Popular in Japan, derided in the West, he represented a radical departure from Solid Snake, the original protagonist not only of the previous entries in the Metal Gear series but also of the opening chapter of Sons of Liberty.
For some critics, the very sounds of his name (not “RAY-din,” but “WRY-din”) dredge up repressed memories of asking for the coolest tough-guy spy this side of MI6 and getting, instead, some doll-faced wannabe Dante (pictured above, left) with an inferiority complex and a bad case of motor-mouth. Readers who have not played Sons of Liberty, the embedded video is for you. This is Raiden, hunting the terrorist Solid Snake — but not The Solid Snake. Remember that these scenes are taken from a direct sequel to a game in which you play as Solid Snake, not Raiden, and Solid Snake is undeniably heroic (and not at all a terrorist). You can see how this nonsense might not go over so well.
Of all candidates to be turned into a time-bending cybernetic samurai for a contemporary AAA action game, Raiden might have been the darkest of the dark horses. In action movie terms, he was never a Murphy. How is he suddenly a top-of-the-line Robocop gone rogue? (Guns of the Patriots has the canonical explanation.)
Reversals and re-characterizations are not unprecedented in the Metal Gear universe. James Clinton Howell has identified patterns of role inversion and toying with players’ expectations throughout the franchise. His entire study comes highly recommended. This article would not have been possible without his in-depth original research.
In a previous post, I pointed out similarities between the emotionalism of current-gen Lara Croft and that of Raiden. If you’re old like me and you lived through the Sons of Liberty debacle, you’ve seen the ire directed at Raiden. His name alone could have marked his stars as an unwelcome heir to a sacred gaming tradition. Let’s remember that Midway’s Raiden got top billing on the 1995 Mortal Kombat movie. Metal Gear’s Raiden was starting out in Frank Sinatra, Jr. territory.
As it happened, Raiden’s disappointing quality grew out of more than ill-begotten nomenclature. Raiden was an embodiment of inexperience in the field. His wishy-washy personality, antithetical to Metal Gear’s legacy of cool masculinity, sealed his fate as a claim jumper. Ironically, perhaps, Raiden was intended to be an emotionally available sensitive-type to appeal to female gamers. Consider the following taken from an official design document obtained by Kotaku.
With Raiden (someone appealing to women), instead of Snake, as the main character, we will have a character in which women can more easily empathize. He is the antithesis of the older, hard-boiled image of Snake.
The document (here in full) gives the impression that a woman is not a person but a weakly encrypted algorithmic machine, one among many, all virtually the same in function if not in form.
Raiden’s perceived femininity and Western fanboys’ categorical rejection of his personality were, in hindsight, sparks of bigotry becoming embers becoming a social trashfire becoming Gamergate. In our Gamergater-infested social media, some brave and intelligent gamers have explored the gaming industry’s attitudes towards the feminine mystique and, in return, found their private inboxes inundated with direct and often explicitly laid-out threats of personal violence from dumb hateful self-proclaimed “men.”
Misogyny, homophobia, biphobia, and transphobia are different masks for the same stupid monster. The hatred of PS2-era Raiden shares a lineage with Gamergate-era hatred of DMC: Devil May Cry’s black-haired Dante.
Both old Raiden and new Dante are whiny pretty-boy replacements for established tough-as-nails male heroes of franchises poisoned by arbitrary sex-inequality and heteronormative phallocentrism. If Sons of Liberty were available on Steam, its page would likely be given the “female protagonist” tag at some point. Games with heroes perceived as effeminate have been given this label on occasion, not by any company or marketing firm but by some classless clown with a Steam user account and at least a mild distaste for traditionally (i.e. arbitrarily) feminine traits.
A simplistic notion of what women want leads, in turn, to a simplistic concept of womanhood. Stephen Keating over at Et Tu, Gamer? has shown how misogynistic and chauvinistic caricatures of femininity are the rule, not the exception, in the Metal Gear universe. It’s a franchise in which a woman can be an incompetent innocent to be protected, possessed, drooled over, patronized, et cetera; a scheming would-be helper who at the moment of truth is revealed to have been secretly malevolent all along; or just plain evil through-and-through.
In retrospect, early Raiden had no chance of winning the American gamer popular vote. Tough-guy Solid Snake goes in, single-handedly brings down a ship full of terrorists under cover of night. But it’s a trap! The heretofore unconquerable Snake goes missing, is presumed drowned. Fade to black. A soft-skinned wunderkind, who, like a bad drag queen with perfect hair, “skates on pretty,” comes out crying.
He’s tragically uncool. Consider the discussion of the cardboard box in the embedded video. Solid Snake can turn a cardboard box into a Future Solder’s cloaking device; Raiden can’t sneak past a pigeon without wrecking a perfectly good one-piece. Konami poked fun at Raiden’s decidedly mixed appeal in Snake Eater, Sons of Liberty’s direct sequel, by giving audiences the false impression that, despite the box art, this was yet another of Raiden’s misadventures — until the mask came off.
Raiden’s hotheadedness and refusal to listen to reason do not, in and of themselves, contradict the archetype of the American hero. Americans love closed-minded hotheads in movies and television shows. Why wouldn’t they love a closed-minded hothead in a video game with film-quality cinematography? Alas, the character of Raiden would have fit the archetype but for a conspicuous absence of rugged individualism, the primary ingredient in American heroism. He is needy. Neediness runs contrary to quintessentially American posturing and smells of pity, collaboration, collusion, Socialism.
Now, take a look at the breathtaking seven-minute trailer for Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance.
Raiden’s transformation from a wretch to a savior is as dramatic as the absurd transformations promised by Pray the Gay Away fascistic re-education camps. He has been redeemed — a warrior, a “samurai.” The explicit designation of Raiden as a “samurai” here is telling. Consider the following excerpt originally taken from the work of Gary Leupp, quoted in this excellent article on homosexuality among samurai. The bracketed text is mine.
“Nanshoku [literally translated as ‘male colors,’ a phrase explicitly connected to homosexual longing among men],” according to the Nanshoku Yamaji No Tsuyu (Dew on the Mountain Path of Nanshoku, 1730), “is the flower of the military class.” The popular writer Ejima Kiseki (1667-1736) added, “Nanshoku is the pastime of the samurai. How could it be harmful to good government?”
The new cybernetic samuRaiden (slicing and dicing ladykiller extraordinaire) fits neatly in with the series’ longstanding traditions of flashy visuals, thrilling gameplay, haphazard storytelling, and problematic representations of the individual identities who comprise under-represented and routinely exploited social groups. By making Raiden conform to the same gender biases as Solid Snake, his one-time antithesis, MGR: Revengeance represents a new inversion of identities with the same old closed and broken value system. Per the embedded official trailer, Raiden was stripped of his dignity, “A Man forced to Kneel [and] Suffer,” but no more! Now, thanks to the magic of science, Raiden’s on top and his blade does the penetrating. Call it “progress.”