There are countless videogames that deal, in some way, with armed conflict---from 1980s Contra to the Call of Duty's Modern Warfare 2. But none rival the depth of the Metal Gear Solid Games. Their creator, Hideo Kojima, uses the games to present his own personal and idiosyncratic statement on conflict and the modern world. His fantastic world is not meant to mirror ours although it does comment on aspects of it in a fascinating way.
Revisionist Geopolitics and Information
First, the MGS series is in some ways a hidden history of the 20th century. In this history, what is important is not so much the actions of superpowers but goes on below the seams. This is not so much a matter of conspiracy theories as much as a conspiratorial vision of history that creates a background mythology for his series. Kojima's vision casts the Cold War as a tragedy. The original fallout of the "Philosophers"--the global elites who, in his universe, won World War II, produced the conflict of the Cold War. Moreover, the inability of the American half of this group to effectively rule without bickering eventually triggers the rise of another group that seeks to implement the utopian vision of its long-deceased founder. The key to realizing this vision ultimately comes from information technology, the birth of which is depicted as the child of World War II. IT creates a cybernetic apparatus of control that produces a twisted version of the harmony that Norbert Wiener envisioned in his work The Human Use of Human Beings
The politics of the series is not, however, the most important part. In fact, despite its themes of conspiracies, military strategies, and thrillers the series is perhaps apolitical beyond a cliched suspicion of entrenched power and war--hardly a new thing in Japanese videogames. Rather, the thrust of the series is more about the cultural foundations of the society the Cold War and the late 20th-century information revolution helped create.
In Sons of Liberty and Guns of the Patriots, the plot concerns the ability of technology to control, alter, and shape the basic processes of life. Kojima's view of technology is very similar to that of Jaron Lanier's. The nightmare vision that Lanier presents of "cybernetic totalism"--the idea that human beings are little more than patterns of information in a cybernetic system and cultural and religious beliefs are just biological processes--is reflected in MGS. The Patriots, the Philosophers' heirs in America, evolve into a distributed AI system that tries to regulate American life in a cybernetic fashion through the guiding and control of political and cultural systems. Control also reaches down to the biological level with nanomachines that can guide and control individual actions.
Again, the series' view of technology is not tied to politics but emphasizes culture. Kojima, through his characters' lengthy speeches about memetics and control, is asking whether or not technology alters what makes us human. Reality breaks down at one point in SOL and a character in GOTP can breach the 4th wall and directly interfere with the reception of your game console. The layers and layers of plot, deception, and misdirection, like those in Inception, challenge your sense of reality. If Kojima is citing Lanier, it is because he may wonder if the "cybernetic totalism" that Lanier decries may in fact be right. A more personal side of this is seen with the game's conscious heightening of its own artificiality, especially when Raiden talks about his empty bedroom back home in SOL. Alex Stevens of Ubiwar linked an review of the German film Das Netz that touches on this epistemological issue in more detail.
The Conduct of War
According to promotional materials for Wired for War, Kojima was a fan of P.W. Singer's views on robotics and warfare. The impact of technology on war is Kojima's primary military dream in the series--not special operations or PMCs per se (as game fans sometimes argue). If one accepts the premises of the world that Kojima builds up, technology completes the instrumentalization of force. The use of massive nanomachine-enabled command and control structures, ID-tagged weapons, and virtual training achieves a Frederician level of troop control that we know is impossible in the real world.
In MGS 4, the basic technological advantages of a modern force create an explosion in PMCs, not in the sense of private security but actual warfighting forces. The extreme instrumentalization of force inherent in the nanomachine revolution gives them a powerful advantages, cheapens their operation, and makes them an effective solution for proxy warfare and a source of wealth. As per Kojima's larger theme, technology also produces monstrosities--the "Beauty and the Beast" unit or the Gecko walkers (which bleed when hit).
The overriding conceptual flaw in Kojima's vision of warfare is that there is an implicit idea that technology somehow alters its nature. In the future world, war becomes something of a farce and tragedy, fought over little of importance. This is reflected in Snake's weary recitation that "war has changed" and lament over the impact of technological control. While this may fit with the cynical vision of the world he depicts in his cybernetic conception of control, it denies human agency (paradoxically so given his larger message of empowerment). Even in the context of the universe he depicts, force still is employed instrumentally and grows out of larger political processes---even if those processes may be complex or alien to us.
Can't Say Goodbye to Yesterday
The problem with Hideo Kojima's military dream is that there is very little that is human about it. The layer of conspiracies, technological control, and political control it depicts makes the actions of the player seem, with reflection, to be just as artificial as everything else. This is a problem with dystopian sci-fi thrillers in general. If the enemy is so powerful, how has the hero won--or why should the hero win? The answer is usually a magic bullet of some sort.
However paranoid and unrealistic a vision that Kojima depicts, the popularity of his game series is a testament to his ability to create a world almost as richly textured as that of the Star Wars universe--a universe that presents an engaging hidden history of the creation of the modern world and grapples in a very complex fashion with the legacy of technological and social change.
Moreover, for all of the blowup about video games as a medium, I can't really see a story like this ever being told through anything other than a videogame. The layers of meaning, multiple deceptions, and the heavy emphasis on technology and human experience makes it inevitable that only the creative powers of a modern game system could realize Kojima's dream.