In a codec conversation with Doktor, Raiden naively maintains that he is his own man.
They’re talking about how gruesome the process of maintaining Raiden’s cyborg body is, and Doktor, born in East Germany, remarks “But then, you Americans enjoy a bit of gore, don’t you?” He goes on to explain his theory about the pleasure we take in horror entertainment: “These films allow the viewer to delude themselves into thinking they have overcome their fears. The desire to feel fear – to taste death – but from a distance.” He also points out that this desire is only present in countries that are not afflicted by actual warfare.
In doing this of course, he is offering an explanation about why we may be enjoying the gore and splatter elements of MGR. And it shows that the text itself is aware of a) being particularly graphic in its depiction of violence (I know, there’s far worse than MGR); b) speaking to a certain public (at least as its intended audience), that will not have lived through actual warfare. In short, through this dialogue the game acknowledges its context, in terms of both production and reception, and indicates that there are other circumstances in which this text would not be (considered) appropriate or enjoyable.
Raiden, though, is less willing to concede that he is, like everything and everyone, affected by his circumstances; that his birth and his past have contributed to making him who he is. “I may be a citizen, but I never really thought of myself as American [nor as a Liberian.] I don’t identify with anyone. No nation, no ethnic group. I’m my own man.”
I have very complicated relationship with this statement, because what I think about it rationally is different from how I feel about it. (And I feel very strongly about it)
What I will say, though, is that being your own man is a myth. And it’s a myth well established in gamer culture (RPG Progression, Character Creation, Lack of Families), in Western Philosophy (Plato, Descartes, Kant) but in general well established among the most privileged groups. We don’t live in meritocracies: our starting point in society (especially in terms of money) matters, and things about us that we can’t (easily) change, like our sex, gender, skin colour, religion, sexuality, nationality etc also do matter. And various ideologies influence us all, all the time, even when we consider ourselves “mature” enough to be immune to them.
Only privileged groups can feel like they’re self-made, because for everyone else their possibilities are heavily limited by all those things they have little to no control over. And Raiden is white, male, cis, heterosexual, attractive, physically “perfect”, rich, and holds a US passport. (He had a difficult childhood but that’s a different matter)
We all want to be seen as unique individuals, and not as members of certain categories. That’s not a bad thing. I myself don’t feel ok with a few of my “categories”, or at least I don’t feel ok with others thinking about me in those terms, and making certain associations.
But as much as one may want it, nobody is their own person. And that’s not to deny everyone’s uniqueness: we’re far more than the our history and our categories, especially when those categories come with a baggage of assumptions and stereotypes. But we are, in part, our history and our categories.
Consider then how this dialogue compares to the cry for “objectivity” in games, in particular when what counts as objective is simply the dominant ideology, the status quo. Take Raiden’s nationality for example: if the US is the status quo, his Liberian roots could challenge that and the two could interact in interesting ways to form a complex identity with a unique worldview. But Raiden doesn’t embrace his roots. he’s ashamed of them.
That Raiden is an expression of Americanism is obvious to everyone except himself, who elevates his identity to Platonic purity, as if created and developed in a vacuum. Doktor’s theory contradicts his ideas, but Raiden, like everyone ever, fails to understand himself as part of that theory.