In the opening cutscene, Raiden makes it a point to condemn Private Military Companies (N’Mani calls them “opportunists” and “enablers of war”) while reframing his own job as ‘Private Security Provider’. Which would be an interesting point to discuss, but it dangerously echoes Western rhetoric about the ‘War of Peace’ as well as the usage of ‘security’ as a buzzword to in fact limit people’s freedoms, both in real life and on the internet, and legitimize surveillance, detention and worse.
Raiden argues that “One sword keeps another in the sheath. Sometimes the threat of violence alone is a deterrent”. Too bad his next sentence immediately heads towards a dangerous slippery slope “Sometimes by taking a life, others can be preserved”. We’ve already moved from ‘the threat of violence to deter all violence’ to ‘a little violence to deter more’. I expected his next sentence to be “We’re the good guys, we can be as violent as we want because our violence is good”
Still, his argument seems to be that a minimum of violence is necessary to defend ourselves from those who would use greater violence against us. It’s a necessary evil: we’d rather not have it, but we have to be pragmatic and recognize we need to at least protect ourselves.
Of course this point is contradicted by the gameplay which celebrates the adrenaline rush of the fight. Violence is not regrettably necessary: it’s fun. Slicing our enemies in as many parts as possible is fun. And even though it’s an excess of violence, and not the minimum that is necessary, we’re the good guys, so that’s ok, right?
But Raiden, and the assumed player, are supposed to care about justice! So we need to keep up the pretense, and make our enemies evil, so that our violence is not only fun, but just. We mercilessly slay terrorists and save civilians. Saving civilians is great to reassure us that we’re on the right side of the war. Our villains on the other hand, need to argue that war is a good thing, so we can ideologically oppose them and take the high moral ground while using their same methods.
While kidnapping N’Mani, Sundowner explains his motivations. War is an important business, and the anti-war N’Mani was aiming for “A clean break from the war economy”.
“Well, some of us liked that economy. How’s an honest warmonger supposed to make a living? […] What about all the good things war has done for us? Why don’t we ever hear speeches about that? Jobs, technology, a common purpose… […] All we’re saying is… give war a chance!”
To complete the picture, before the following mission we’re told that the villains’ Private Military Company, Desperado LLC, makes a living off of rekindling conflicts in regions that were headed towards peace and reconstruction. Their business also includes drugs and human trafficking, and I can hear the writer shout: ARE THEY EVIL ENOUGH YET SHOULD I ADD CHILD PORNOGRAPHY?
But the good guys enjoy those three things as well. They’re held together by a common purpose: the war on terrorism. Their job, and the reason why they receive funding, is the war on terrorism – which is also the gameplay: the war on terrorism is fun and just. And the technology: Raiden isn’t only surrounded by it, he literally embodies that technology. His cyborg body is beautiful, expensive and perfect, and we’re supposed to gush over the science(fiction)that supports it. And of course, we are to seek more of that technology for gameplay reasons: through the upgrade system we become stronger in battle.
Again, the camera work is emblematic: it indulges in the details of the aircraft, and of Raiden’s body within it. It’s all shiny metal and pretty lights. The dialogue reinforces this perspective: “A direct feed to your optic nerve […] How does it feel to fly like a bird?” It’s tech porn, really.