It was November, 2004. I was working through my final year of junior college in Humboldt, CA. I immediately started attending college after high school and my higher learning experience beginning at College of the Redwoods. Looking back at this time in my life, I don’t know how I managed to have any kind of down time: I would attend school Tuesday and Thursday from 8 AM to 8 PM (it was an hour away so I grouped 20 units of classes together into 2 days) and worked the rest of the week except Sunday.
The transition from high school to college wasn’t a dramatic one since I was already working in high school to pay off my truck. In fact, the only difference was that I didn’t live at home, as I had moved out in the summer of 2003. I spent time with many of the same friends, lived in the same area, and still went to school. Life hadn’t changed much, and I didn’t really care that it hadn’t. However, as I drove to my first class for the day, a typical Tuesday like any other for the semester, something abnormal happened.
Normally I would drive/ride along with a friend to school, to save gas and mileage on our vehicles, but this Tuesday found me driving by myself. It was about 7:30 AM, the sun just peaking up over the mountains, and my tired mind finally deciding to wake up. I suddenly realized, “Metal Gear Solid 3 comes out today! I should pick up my pre-order on the way home.”
The cover for Metal Gear Solid 3 was so cool!
I was so wrapped up with school and work that I had forgotten about a game I was truly looking forward to. My day instantly changed for the better, my thoughts consumed with getting MGS3 home to my PS2, and how awesome the game was going to be. I was so excited that, embarrassingly enough, I couldn’t remember a single thing that had been taught in my first class.
I walked to the library, killing some time between classes. I normally would finish homework during this time so I didn’t have to worry about it at home. Again, this “typical Tuesday” was continuing the trend of not being…well…typical. As I sat in one of the chairs, I had only my thoughts to keep me company. This was a time before smart phones, and I didn’t have a Nintendo DS yet (a story for another article), so I sat there in silence thinking about MGS3. A thought creeped into the back of my mind that had never really occurred to me – “you should go pick up the game now and just skip the rest of the day. Could I do that? Would there be anything that I missed? Would I feel guilty about leaving, and in turn, not enjoy my time with the game?“
I had never done something like this before; a new concept that I wasn’t sure I was ready for. I had missed only a few days in high school, and those were due to sickness. I hadn’t missed any time at college yet, as I was paying for my classes and made sure to get my money’s worth. Would I really skip school to play a video game? I wrestled with myself, trying to decide what to do. It didn’t take long to start rationalizing leaving school.
“You know, I never miss classes, so I deserve this. Plus, I won’t get bad grades because I missed one day of school. You know what? I’m going to go get my game!” I stood up, heaved my backpack over my right shoulder, and proudly walked through the large front doors of the building.
Boss and Snake…such awesome tension between the two characters!
I arrived at the local game retail store around 10 AM, right when they were opening up, certain I was the first customer of the day. Most of their customers would start piling in around 1 or 2 PM, while they were on lunch breaks or perhaps getting off of work around that time, so I was an unexpected customer. I strolled up to the counter, asked for my pre-order, showed my receipt, and they pulled the game out of the UPS box. They hadn’t even put the games up on the shelf behind the counter yet. I had paid in full already, so they printed up my final receipt, and I began my trek home.
While driving, I watched people head to jobs, school, or some other unknown destination. It seemed like I was the only driver on the road heading south, away from daily life. After 45 minutes, I pulled up to my apartment and quickly climbed the stairs to my room. I threw my backpack on the ground, pulled MGS3 out of the small plastic bag, and took in the moment. Here I was, at home while the rest of the community was going about their daily lives, about to play a game while my second class for the day was just starting. I unwrapped the plastic covering, turned on my PS2, and dropped the disc into the tray: it was the moment I had been waiting for.
Metal Gear Solid 3 is still considered by many fans to be one of the best iterations, if not the best, of the franchise. You play as Naked Snake, venturing into the Russian wilderness to complete the assigned objectives, all while trying to survive the flora and fauna. The game introduced camouflage, multiple paths, and many different ways to get past enemies. I have so many fond memories of MGS3 because of these additions to the gameplay, such as navigating a swamp while wearing a crocodile headpiece, running around disguised as a Russian colonel who looks like Raiden from MGS2, being tortured to the point of losing an eye. I played the game all day when I had gotten home, and well into the night. I had freedom to accomplish my goals in any way I pleased, so the 12 hours it took me to complete my first play-through were incredible.
MGS3 was nothing like I had played before…the freedom of gameplay and cinematic sequences were great!
Looking back now, I realize that this game symbolized something for me that many others can relate to in some way: freedom. Now, I knew what freedom was, and that we here in the United States live in a country where we can be free to do as we please, but I was so caught up in the busy nature of life that I hadn’t truly recognized the privilege I possessed. I chose to skip school. I chose to play the game for the rest of the day. I chose how my Tuesday would play out, and it felt great.
The game was enhanced by my small rebellion. I chose which camo to use while crossing the desert-like mountain terrain of Krasnogorje. I chose to capture animals, rather than kill them, to eat them later. I chose to avoid any conflict while navigating the various enemy bases throughout the storyline.
A specific instance of the freedom I found in MGS3 comes later in the game. The goal was to steal Major Raikov’s clothes to impersonate him. He was walking around a military complex in plain sight of various doctors and military guards. First, I had to figure out how to get in; some well placed tranquilizer darts took out the dogs in the area, while I quickly sneaked past unsuspecting guards. The difficult part was following Raikov into a secluded area to take him down. I must have died at least 30 times, as I would either be spotted by a passing doctor, or Raikov would spot me and run for help.
After much trial and error, I discovered a method that worked, and worked well. I entered the building from the front door, I sneaked by guards posted outside by creeping through the shadows on the northern portion of the map. Once inside, I waited for the first guards to pass by, then sneaked over to the east wing of the room. I would then hide in the storage room closest to the northern side of the building, watching my radar and waiting for Raikov to slowly make his way into the locker room, which was very close by. As soon as he entered, I sneaked in behind him, making sure not to alert him, then would choke him out. I’d gather his clothes and stick him in one of the lockers, where no one would find him. After a quick face camo change, switching to a mask that looked exactly like Raikov’s face, I proceeded to infiltrate the Russian-occupied building, hiding in plain sight.
To complete this objective, I had to employ all that I had learned up to this point, and it had to be perfectly executed. I attempted various methods of attack, giving me the freedom to eventually figure out the solution to the problem at hand. Was I frustrated? Yes, but was it worth it in the end? Absolutely.
Hunting down Raikov and taking him out was frustratingly awesome.
Interestingly enough, the story found in MGS3 also reflects this concept of freedom. Snake, goes through the game as a pawn, merely completing each objective just to move on to the next one. Yes, I chose my path throughout the game, but ultimately I was being used by someone else to fulfill his or her own desires. The story really struck a chord with me, for obvious reasons, and is my favorite Metal Gear story arc to this day. I watched as Snake grappled with what the truth really was, and how he would manage to discover it. What would he give up in order to have access to the truth, and was he ever actually “free?” It was a fitting storyline for the series, especially for me on that Tuesday in November.
I soaked in my “day of freedom,” being a bum and playing MGS3 all day. Did I play with enemies by shooting at a tree close-by with a silencer? Yes. How about stabbing a crocodile to death and eating it later on to replenish stamina? You betcha. Did I totally bypass The End by killing him in his wheelchair, just because I was testing to see if I would get a game over? Of course I did! The game reflected my choices at a very pivotal time in my life.
I was a young man, 19 years old, and I was truly beginning to taste freedom. If I wanted something, I didn’t have to ask anyone’s permission. If I decided to stay out with friends until 2 AM, I didn’t have to call and check in with anybody. In this case, if I wanted to skip a day of school to enjoy some gaming, I simply did it. Don’t get me wrong: I understand how small this little victory truly was in the grand scheme of things, but it was my first realization of the freedom of choice I had.
I don’t think I would’ve enjoyed Metal Gear Solid 3 as much as I did if I hadn’t skipped school to play it. I don’t say this because the game isn’t as good as many claim it is; I am one of those that hold the game in high esteem. I say this because the gameplay was a reflection of a valuable truth that I learned about my life. The choices I make are mine, and they come with consequences, whether they be good or bad. I make the choices, and I live with them. What made that Tuesday in November such an abnormal day for me had nothing to do with coincidence, but rather, a choice made in the newly found freedom of a young man. That memory will forever be shared with Snake – or perhaps I should say, Big Boss – and his journey through Soviet Russia in the 1960s.
Big Boss, standing tall while contemplating his freedom.