Lightly crumpled at the top of the bathroom trash can was a child support check stub. It was for me. I was the supported child. I plucked it from the trash and just inadvertently discovered that my father was not my real father.
I had long suspected something wasn’t quite right, that my parents weren’t exactly honest about my genetics. I initially thought I was adopted, thinking situations like these were binary: either both my parents were my parents, or they were not. When I was 10, I asked about it and my mother was furious at the insinuation that she wasn’t my real mother. But the anger was a deflection. She knew I was on to something, but refused to admit it. Finding out from the garbage was maybe a better way in her mind.
At the end of the first Metal Gear Solid game, it is revealed to the hero, Solid Snake, by his genetic brother, Liquid Snake, that they are clones of Solid’s nemesis, Big Boss. Products of the Les Enfants Terrible program, they are the terrible children, engineered to be super soldiers. Liquid laments his role in the program, his belief that he was born of Big Boss’s recessive genes so that Solid may inherit all of his dominant genes. Then, the two battle and Solid is forced to kill his brother.
Before the Metal Gear Solid series delved into Byzantine stories of shadow governments and private miltaries, it was a story about genetic legacy and identity. Or, that’s how I took it anyway, having just discovered my own genetics were in question.
Metal Gear Solid is known for its dramatic and overwrought stories, ripe for a depressed teenager to latch onto and cherry pick. But I believe, as someone who is no longer a teenager, that there’s still humanity under the melodrama. Liquid’s anguish over being the lesser sibling shook me; my biological father had a number of other sons, those he kept and took care of, and I, the lesser son he did not.
It’s later revealed that Solid, the triumphant sibling, is actually the recessive twin. I did not know how to parse this. Liquid only believed that he was the lesser sibling, like I did, but I, like anyone, wanted to be the hero of my own story. If I were the hero, would I actually be the lesser sibling? Would I ever actually be the hero?
Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain released this week and I probably won’t be playing it anytime soon. Funny, considering I’ve played every other Metal Gear Solid, including Ghost Babel, Portable Ops, and Peacewalker. I enjoyed most of them to some extent, but none have resonated with me like the first. Worse, many entries in the series star the player as Big Boss in a sympathetic hero cum villain role, and I didn’t want to play as the absent father. That’s probably a subject best left untouched.
The original game hit me like a freight train, arriving at the right time (or wrong time, maybe) to speak to me with its verbose cutscenes in a way no other game could. I find most games in the series clunky and uninteresting. But Metal Gear Solid played my pain out between two brothers, fighting each other for the right to exist. I was both of them all at once. I was the abandoned. I was the dominant and the recessive. I was the terrible child.
I first played Metal Gear Solid burned to a CD-R on a borrowed PlayStation. The console wasn’t mine and the game was just an illegitimate copy. I was a grieving, illegitimate kid. Without that sense of crisis and confusion, Metal Gear Solid would have been just a hollow, clumsy game with a silly script.