PopMatters is moving to WordPress in December. We will continue to publish on this site as we work on the move. We aim to make it a seamless experience for readers.


Getting Trapped in 'Metal Gear Solid V's War Economy

MGS V isn’t the first game to comment on the military-industrial complex, but it is probably the sneakiest. It allows you to understand it by allowing you to play your own part in it.

For decades, the Metal Gear series has warned against militarization and nuclear proliferation. "Nukes are bad. Walking tanks that can shoot nukes are worse. Don’t even get me started on private military contractors or nano machines” is a flippant but accurate characterization of numerous 20-minute-long cutscenes throughout the history of the series. Metal Gear Solid V has a very similar theme, but it’s the first time I ever experienced the theme systemically. Instead of listening to characters justify the choices that turned them into warlords, I walked down the road myself.

It starts off innocently enough. I found it fun to run around as Big Boss and head shot as many enemy soldiers as possible. Pillaging outposts and completing missions gives you more money, which translates into the ability to develop cooler weapons by which to head shot the bad guys. I saw some fancier rifles, so I invested money into developing them. Pretty soon I wanted some even cooler toys, so I added mines and grenades to my repertoire. Soon enough even deploying to the battlefield got fairly expensive.

None of this took place in a vacuum. Enemy soldiers began taking counter measures. Playing the game by going for head shots increases the amount of helmets the enemies produce. Using gas leads to gas masks. Night raids lead to night vision goggles. In order to stay competitive, I had to diversify: rocket launchers, machine guns, and mech parts were all added to my increasingly large tab.

All this industrial work required facilities and labor, so Mother Base grew and specialized along with and because of my arsenal. More base facilities sprang up, and in order to put them into operation, I recruited (i.e., conscripted) more soldiers. You can’t have empty factory lines, after all. Of course, in order to fund all of this building in the first place, I needed money, so the whole process became a self fulfilling, ever-inflating cycle. I was making guns to get money, building up facilities with that money, using those facilities to make guns, and then heading back out to make more money on an ever increasing scale.

At a certain point, I realized that I wasn’t alone. Other people were out there building up their bases and expanding their territory. It would be foolish to fall behind, so I annexed new areas and built a new base that would add to my resources. Of course, building and defending this base cost quite a bit of money, but I did what needed to be done.

Then disaster struck. Through a combination of profligate spending, an unavoidable disaster back at Mother Base, and several hostile invasions, I began hemorrhaging money. Soon I was in the red: soldiers were deserting, getting sick, and staying injured longer. I couldn’t build new weapons without furthering my collapse, so I switched over to desperate damage control. I became even more mercenary, sending my squads across the globe to take any mission that would prop up my economy. I neglected the main story and focused on completing as many for-profit side operations as possible. I wasn’t in control of the system any more. I was trapped inside it.

I recovered and learned my lesson. Now my troops are constantly being deployed and rotated around the globe. As the funds roll in, my resources are allocated to ensure that the war economy will chug on in the face of setbacks. I’m on guard and building weapons with an eye towards defending my territory and making plans to invade others. I’m contemplating the final step: building a nuclear weapon. What choice do I have? Everyone else seems to building one.

By the time that I reached the third (!) set of credits, I had unwittingly participated in a series of events that was disturbingly similar to how the history of modern war, industrialism, and colonialism played out in our world. As is the case in today’s society, MGS V is comprised of entities whose very existence is due to and perpetuated by militarization. There’s no way to change this without fundamentally changing the game itself.

MGS V isn’t the first game to comment on the military-industrial complex, but it is probably the sneakiest. Games like Civilization and SimCity are candid about their attempts to model certain aspects of society. The whole point of those games is to explicitly simulate factors that have shaped human development through the rules taht guide them. Metal Gear is ostensibly a series about being an action hero. You pull off death-defying stunts and engage in fantastic military tactics. But MGS V does something more. It forces you to interact with the broader system that fuels the action on the battlefield. You may have the ability to shape the course of individual fights, but you’re part of a larger war machine that has spiraled beyond your control.

Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology provider that we have until December to move off their service. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to fund the move and further development.





Jefferson Starship Soar Again with 'Mother of the Sun'

Rock goddess Cathy Richardson speaks out about honoring the legacy of Paul Kantner, songwriting with Grace Slick for the Jefferson Starship's new album, and rocking the vote to dump Trump.


Black Diamond Queens: African American Women and Rock and Roll (excerpt)

Ikette Claudia Lennear, rumored to be the inspiration for Mick Jagger's "Brown Sugar", often felt disconnect between her identity as an African American woman and her engagement with rock. Enjoy this excerpt of cultural anthropologist Maureen Mahon's Black Diamond Queens, courtesy of Duke University Press.

Maureen Mahon

Ane Brun's 'After the Great Storm' Features Some of Her Best Songs

The irresolution and unease that pervade Ane Brun's After the Great Storm perfectly mirror the anxiety and social isolation that have engulfed this post-pandemic era.


'Long Hot Summers' Is a Lavish, Long-Overdue Boxed Set from the Style Council

Paul Weller's misunderstood, underappreciated '80s soul-pop outfit the Style Council are the subject of a multi-disc collection that's perfect for the uninitiated and a great nostalgia trip for those who heard it all the first time.


ABBA's 'Super Trouper' at 40

ABBA's winning – if slightly uneven – seventh album Super Trouper is reissued on 45rpm vinyl for its birthday.


The Mountain Goats Find New Sonic Inspiration on 'Getting Into Knives'

John Darnielle explores new sounds on his 19th studio album as the Mountain Goats—and creates his best record in years with Getting Into Knives.


The 100 Best Albums of the 2000s: 60-41

PopMatters' coverage of the 2000s' best recordings continues with selections spanning Swedish progressive metal to minimalist electrosoul.


Is Carl Neville's 'Eminent Domain' Worth the Effort?

In Carl Neville's latest novel, Eminent Domain, he creates complexities and then shatters them into tiny narrative bits arrayed along a non-linear timeline.


Horrors in the Closet: Horrifying Heteronormative Scapegoating

The artificial connection between homosexuality and communism created the popular myth of evil and undetectable gay subversives living inside 1950s American society. Film both reflected and refracted the homophobia.


Johnny Nash Refused to Remember His Place

Johnny Nash, part rock era crooner, part Motown, and part reggae, was too polite for the more militant wing of the Civil Rights movement, but he also suffered at the hands of a racist music industry that wouldn't market him as a Black heartthrob. Through it all he was himself, as he continuously refused to "remember his place".


John Hollenbeck Completes a Trilogy with 'Songs You Like a Lot'

The third (and final?) collaboration between a brilliant jazz composer/arranger, the Frankfurt Radio Big Band, vocalists Kate McGarry and Theo Bleckman, and the post-1950 American pop song. So great that it shivers with joy.


The Return of the Rentals After Six Years Away

The Rentals release a space-themed album, Q36, with one absolute gem of a song.


Matthew Murphy's Post-Wombats Project Sounds a Lot Like the Wombats (And It's a Good Thing)

While UK anxiety-pop auteurs the Wombats are currently hibernating, frontman Matthew "Murph" Murphy goes it alone with a new band, a mess of deprecating new earworms, and revived energy.


The 100 Best Albums of the 2000s: 80-61

In this next segment of PopMatters' look back on the music of the 2000s, we examine works by British electronic pioneers, Americana legends, and Armenian metal provocateurs.


In the Tempest's Eye: An Interview with Surfer Blood

Surfer Blood's 2010 debut put them on the map, but their critical sizzle soon faded. After a 2017 comeback of sorts, the group's new record finds them expanding their sonic by revisiting their hometown with a surprising degree of reverence.


Artemis Is the Latest Jazz Supergroup

A Blue Note supergroup happens to be made up of women, exclusively. Artemis is an inconsistent outing, but it dazzles just often enough.


Horrors in the Closet: A Closet Full of Monsters

A closet full of monsters is a scary place where "straight people" can safely negotiate and articulate their fascination and/or dread of "difference" in sexuality.


'Wildflowers & All the Rest' Is Tom Petty's Masterpiece

Wildflowers is a masterpiece because Tom Petty was a good enough songwriter by that point to communicate exactly what was on his mind in the most devastating way possible.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.