Everything surrounding Metal Gear Solid 5 has an air of finality to it. All of the trailers seem to imply that it's not just series creator Hideo Kojima's final Metal Gear, but that it's the last Metal Gear ever. And while many fans have already pored through every main mission, completed every side op, and built up Mother Base to its full potential, there's still one last mission to undertake before The Phantom Pain, and potentially the entire series, comes to a complete close. One final message from Kojima before he hops into his walking battlemech and stomps off into the sunset.
I am, of course, talking about the hidden nuclear disarmament cut-scene.
There's a prevailing notion that it feels like something is missing from Metal Gear Solid 5, that there's still some more content to be found after completing all of the missions, even after earning a '100% completion' rating on the game's title screen. To an extent, that's true: dataminers have found what appears to be a hidden cut-scene in the game's code. For a while, no one knew how to actually access it in the game, but Konami has confirmed that it's part of a special event that requires total nuclear disarmament.
Hideo Kojima has always sprinkled his anime robot story lines with serious ruminations on the nature of nuclear proliferation. Metal Gear Solid closes with a statement that there were over 60,000 nukes in existence in the 1980s, and that despite treaties promising the disarmament of a large portion of these weapons, "as of 1998, there still exist 26,000 nuclear warheads in the world." It's a scary thought, and it's a fear that's lurked in the backdrop of these games since the beginning. While the series spends a lot of time on clones and nanomachines and magical, information-controlling AI, it's really the nuclear warheads, and by extension, the nuclear-equipped Metal Gears, that end up being the real threat to world peace.
It's one thing to say nukes are bad, though, it's another to build a series of gameplay systems to allow players to take part in the chain of retaliation that comes from building and storing nuclear missiles. To tempt them with the security they provide while asking them to disregard the greater consequences that arise from their existence. But that's precisely what Metal Gear Solid 5 aims to do by letting players construct their own nuclear warheads.
In Metal Gear Solid 5, nukes are useful because they prevent your Forward Operating Bases (the online platforms that gather resources for you while you're not playing) from being invaded by other players… unless that other player has a ridiculously high amount of Heroism points, which will allow them to infiltrate your FOB regardless. In order to watch the final cut-scene in Metal Gear Solid 5, every single nuke on your gaming platform of choice within your region must be disposed of, and no nukes must be in development.
That's an absurd thing to ask in real life, let alone in a video game. In real life, total nuclear disarmament is practically impossible. No one wants to be the first to use one, but no one wants to be the first to get rid of them either, lest another country decides to flex its might. It's even even worse in Metal Gear Solid 5, as there's no real downside to owning nukes. There's no danger to a global population, no nuclear fallout to worry about, no political consequences for owning one.
In fact, there are really only two drawbacks to building nuclear warheads in Metal Gear 5. Building a nuke gives you a ton of Demon points, a hidden score that determines how big the horn-shaped shrapnel that sticks out of your head grows. Get a high enough Demon score, and eventually you'll be permanently caked in so much blood that no amount of showering will wash it off. Building a nuke also paints a target on your back because everyone else in the world wants to disarm it, but if you're able to afford the resources to build a nuclear missile, you've likely got the ability to defend it from anyone attempting to invade you as well. Add the trolls who just want to watch a digital world burn and the people who care more about their leaderboard ranking than they do watching another cut-scene, and nuclear disarmament seems just as unlikely in Phantom Pain as it does in the real world.
It's a brilliant social experiment, and it takes a mind like Hideo Kojima's to hide a fairly significant chunk of content behind a wall that requires total cooperation from everyone playing. Even more impressive is how the battle between nuke owners and nuke disarmers has taken on a life of its own. Opposing reddit groups have sprung up, taking up the mantle of the two opposing ideologies in the Metal Gear series, calling themselves Philanthropy (anti-nuke players) and the Patriots (pro-nuke players). And then you've got the people over at NeverBeGameOver, who think that activating the nuclear disarmament cut-scene will lead to even more content.
All the while, Konami continues to keep track of the total number of nukes on each game's servers, and posts updates on the official Metal Gear Twitter account. Here's the official count as of December 7th:
Here are the numbers for nuclear weapons owned per platform. By Dec 6th - PS4: 215, PS3: 119, One: 51, 360: 27, Steam: 8752December 7, 2015
The account has been tallying the total number of nukes that exist on each platform's server since November 25th, and the numbers continue to fluctuate up and down with no end in sight. People are upset. Confused. Frustrated. Hopeful, yet ready to resign nuclear disarmament as a lost cause.
Now, I don't know what's in store for the Metal Gear franchise after The Phantom Pain begins to wind down and the servers get shut off for good. I know I'm dying for answers about the future of my favorite video game franchise, and I know I probably won't get those answers for a very long time. But rather than focusing on what might be, we should be focusing on what can be. We should be celebrating these games, embracing their strangeness, and sharing our experiences with each other. Most of all, we should be working together to disarm every last nuke in The Phantom Pain to ensure that everyone can see what could possibly be Hideo Kojima's final Metal Gear cut-scene, in-game as it was intended.
Once it's over, go back to building nukes. Build as many as you like. Go hog wild. But we owe it to ourselves as fans to work together in this time of uncertainty and see every last drop of content MGS5 has to offer, without having to resort to datamining or watching YouTube videos. Besides, there are five additional spaces for images on that official Konami event page. We have to see what happens when we finally make nuclear disarmament a reality - even if the answer is nothing.