Girl in the Machine
Monday, September 17, 2007
Loss, Death, and Hope: The Mothers of Metal Gear Solid 2

(Major plot spoilers follow!)


Hideo Kojima's popular Metal Gear series is known for its stealth-oriented gameplay and notoriously complex plots. 2001's Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty met a mixed reception by fans because of its extremely convoluted (and nearly incomprehensible) storyline. Among a huge cast of characters are three central female figures that, in addition to playing major roles in the advancement of the plot, share different aspects of the literary mother archetype.

Olga Gurlukovich, Helena "Fortune" Dolph Jackson, and Rosemary are three of the four female characters featured in MGS2 (the fourth, Emma Emmerich, is underage). In some form or fashion, each of them is tied to the game's main event, the Big Shell incident, by the secret group known as The Patriots. Their roles as mothers drive each of their motivations, ultimately shaping their individual fates.

Olga is an extremely impressive female character. Tough, adept in combat, and essential to protagonist Raiden's survival, she cuts a formidable figure. In an interesting and refreshingly realistic move, her character model is designed with practical apparel and, awesomely, unshaven armpits (it's rare for even male video game characters to have body hair -- I guess Raiden shaves his legs -- so I found this to be an interesting choice). We learn early on that Olga is pregnant during the Tanker incident, and near the end of Big Shell she reveals that she's been coerced into serving The Patriots because her child was kidnapped right after being born.

Olga's motherhood is characteristic of loss. A group of men use her motherhood to control her, and her life and that of her child fundamentally hinge on Raiden's. She finds herself in an impossible situation, stopping at nothing to protect the child she's never even seen, even though it means aiding The Patriots. Interestingly, the story never references a husband nor a boyfriend, leaving Olga's mission solely in her own hands. In the end, though she does save her child (presumably), she's murdered by Solidus Snake. While her self-sacrifice is extremely admirable, she died under the thumb of The Patriots, and was left with little to no possibility for saving herself.


Helena Dolph Jackson, or "Fortune" as she's code-named, leads the Dead Cell unit in the Big Shell takeover. True to her namesake, she possesses the seemingly supernatural ability to repel bullets and deactivate bombs with her very presence. Wielding an enormous rail gun, Fortune is also quite intimidating. She's a rare sight in video games as a woman of color, and even more so as one who awesomely avoids racial stereotypes.

Fortune's aspect of motherhood -- and perhaps her very character as well -- revolves around death. Her father, Scott Dolph, was killed by Revolver Ocelot in the Tanker incident, and, not long after, her mother committed suicide and her husband passed away in federal prison. To top everything off, a pregnant Fortune suffered a miscarriage, and, wrought with grief, she took her husband's place as the leader of Dead Cell. Her perceived invincibility isolates her, leaving her to believe that she will forever outlive her loved ones. Though she's one of MGS2's villains, she partially redeems herself at the end of the game by turning against Solidus (who has, surprise surprise, been manipulating her all this time). Unfortunately, Solidus fatally wounds her, and, as with Olga, her redemption is too little, too late. While the other members of Dead Cell met their ends as well, it's particularly tragic that she dies at Solidus's mercy.

Rosemary is Raiden's girlfriend and mission correspondent during Big Shell. Unlike Olga and Fortune, she's a less shining example of a female character. Chatty, hypersensitive, and just plain irritating, she nags her way through the entire game until the big reveal at the end: she's a spy hired by The Patriots to monitor Raiden's progress during the incident.

Despite this, Rose's motherhood emblemizes hope. When Raiden discovers that Rose is not what she seems, she confesses that she's pregnant. Her pregnancy -- the bond that ties her in a very intimate, immediate way to Raiden -- helps her do what neither Fortune nor Olga could: escape the clutches of her controllers. She's a small but very important sign that The Patriots are not unbeatable, and she shows up outside of the codec interface for the first time to meet Raiden in the ending cutscene. While I find Rose's character to be less than stellar, I am glad that she's not a stereotypical temptress sent to lead Raiden astray. Her service under The Patriots is very intricate and subtle, having had both her appearance and personality reshaped to meet Raiden's specific preferences so as to remain undetected.

Metal Gear Solid 2's three central women are united by their aspects of motherhood. While all are tragic characters, none of them is static or predictable, and they each present an interesting take on what it means to be a mother. Considering the myriad philosophical layers that MGS2 tackles, I have to wonder if there's any ulterior significance to this theme, or even to the fact that the strong Olga and Fortune die while the passive Rose survives.

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