Welcome back to Gaming For Official Use Only. Since we just had Halloween week here at the Rebellion, I thought it would be fun to explore more horror related conspiracies. Now, I could have gone for any of the various conspiracies involving the supernatural, but I’d rather stay with something plausible. As I considered the myriad of conspiracies I could cover, it made me think of what actually makes things scary in horror fiction. This led me to the topic of “science gone wrong.” Science is the very thing that has elevated us from mere bald apes to the very top of the food chain, and nothing could be scarier than a force for good directed towards evil purposes. To that end, I’m covering two of the most diabolical examples of science gone wrong, in both games and real life. As always, let’s start with the games and I’ll preface it with SPOILER ALERT as it contains big time spoilers for games in the Metal Gear series.
In the Metal Gear series the main protagonist is Solid Snake – the less said about Raiden the better – who is a legendary special forces super soldier. Solid Snake’s legend is built on the fact that on his very first mission with the SpecOps unit FOXHOUND, he stops a nuclear equipped walking battle tank on foot and then goes on to kill his superior officer, Big Boss, in brutal hand-to-hand combat. Big Boss was actually behind the entire incident, but was highly regarded as the greatest soldier in history. Solid Snake, on the other hand, was a green member of the very unit that Big Boss founded. Snake attempts to retire, but like all classic action heroes, he is pulled back to save the world multiple times. It’s only in the later entries that things go off the rails.
As Snake is called in from retirement once again to stop his former FOXHOUND comrades from using the Metal Gear against the U.S. in Metal Gear Solid, he ends up discovering that he is in fact a clone of Big Boss, along with the terrorist leader, Liquid Snake. I just want to pause here and say that whatever government scientist decided to call the twin clones “Solid” and “Liquid” was one of the dumbest mad scientists ever. Anyway, the U.S. government decided after Big Boss’s defection, that it would always need soldiers of Big Boss’s caliber, so they said “screw it, we’ll clone him.” Needless to say, it doesn’t go as they planned.
I’m going to forgo trying to reveal the pieces as the games do in favor of a linear storyline, so apologies for any spoilers. I will also say that the events ahead seem rambling at times, so remember that Hideo Kojima wrote them. After the events of MGS3, Big Boss and his team of advisors decide to use their near-limitless funds of the Philosopher’s Legacy to unite the world under their group, the Patriots. Unfortunately, Zero’s actions cause a rift between him and Big Boss, leading to Big Boss’s departure. With the loss of the group’s lynchpin, Zero launches a program to clone Big Boss as an insurance policy against Big Boss himself. The actual program was called “Les Enfant Terribles” which is French for “The Terrible Children” and is a reference to a 1929 book by French author Jean Cocteau, which I had no idea about until I started this article.
Big Boss himself was rendered sterile due to radiation suffered at Bikini Atoll, so the Patriots saw this as a way of continuing the genes of the greatest soldier they had ever known. Using scientists who apparently didn’t study actual genetics, they created two clones, one possessing all the recessive genes and one with all the dominant genes. The clones grow up to be Solid and Liquid Snake, both of whom are undeniable badass soldiers, just like their old man. Solid Snake is only told this by Liquid right before they have their fist fight to the death, but it gets confirmed multiple times, especially in MGS4. At the very end of MGS, a phone conversation delivers an M. Night Shyamalan-level twist: Solid Snake was the possessor of the recessive genes! WHAT A TWIST! There is a third clone, named Solidus, who was supposed to be a mix of the best possible genes, but he never became a major warrior. Instead, he took a job that is completely useless in the MGS universe: he became president of the United States. Interestingly, Solidus isn’t a made up name; it actually comes from physics. Solidus refers to the set of temperatures below which a given substance is completely solid. I just learned this fact while researching this piece, so I thought I should share.
I know what you’re thinking, and I only want to touch on this briefly, but GENETICS DO NOT WORK THIS WAY. There is almost nothing involved in the explanations of Les Enfants Terribles that resembles actual science in any way. Dominant/recessive genes do not automatically mean strong/weak, nor would a clone of a sentient being necessarily end up being the exact same as the original. Then again, considering that Hideo Kojima apparently hates things like straight-forward storytelling or reasonable plots, maybe this fits in perfectly. The scientists not only broke new ground by cloning a living human being thrice, but they also were able to fully determine how a person’s genetic code should be sculpted to provide the outcome they desired. Considering congenital defects like Down’s syndrome or cleft palette, such an ability to correct the genetic code would be a gigantic boon to humanity. Instead, these assholes create soldiers who are made to order. Typical government waste.
The project works perfectly, as Solid Snake eventually defeats Big Boss twice, proving Zero’s investment was worthwhile. The project goes further by adapting the genes of the Next Generation Special Forces to include Big Boss’s genetic code and improve their abilities. This leads directly into the demands of FOXHOUND for the remains of Big Boss, as the Patriots use the fact that all of the soldiers have parts of Big Boss’s DNA, and develop a virus designed to kill those who possess the genetics derived from Big Boss. Spoiler alert: the villains don’t win in the end.
With Les Enfants Terribles, the government used mad science to work towards a discernible goal, but our real life conspiracy was essentially a government program using mad science because “why the hell not?” This is what the Tuskegee Experiment was about, essentially.
Officially termed the “Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment,” the stated goal of the experiment was to see what the effects of syphilis were if left untreated. I’m refraining from posting any images of the long-term effects of syphilis, because they are both not safe for work and not safe for lunch, but this relevant Wikipedia article will suffice if you’re interested. Aside from the physical implications, this disease is also infamous for causing insanity in sufferers, as attested by the last years of both Al Capone and supposedly Adolf Hitler, though the latter is disputed. Capone was so far gone that he would spend his days happily trying to catch fish with his rod and reel at the side of an empty swimming pool.
Now just think about the horror of the Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment: we have doctors who swear oaths to heal the sick intentionally withholding actual treatment from sick people, just to find out what happens. The very people you turn to when you are afraid for your health perverted their art in the name of blatantly racist “science.”
The original program was designed by Taliaferro Clark of the U.S. Public Health System, whose name sounds like a Star Wars character. He originally planned for just a 6-8 month study, to be immediately followed by a treatment phase to cure the subjects of the disease. As the program dragged on into a full year, he retired, disgusted with the direction it was taking.
The experiment takes its name from the help given by the Tuskegee Institute, traditionally an all-black college. Robert Russon Moton and Eugene Dribble of the Tuskegee Institute, in fact supported the study’s beginnings, and an alumnus of the college, nurse Eunice Rivers, participated greatly in the study. Dribble, along with Raymond Vonderlehr and John Heller, were the medical doctors who oversaw the project while Nurse Rivers acted as the project coordinator. Rivers became essential to the project and helped run it for its entire 40 year operation (it was only supposed to be 3-6 months).
The study attracted poor black men by offering them the chance to join what was called “Miss Rivers’s Lodge” where they were given free physicals, hot meals on days when they were studied, healthcare for smaller problems, and even rides to and from the college. This study began during WWII, but even afterwards, when the entire world was shocked by the work of infamous Nazi “doctor” Joseph Mengele, the Tuskegee Experiment continued. Despite the fact that the United States was one of the authors of the Nuremburg Code, which protects the human rights of test subjects, nobody changed the horrific rules of the study. Only when a whistleblower tipped off the Washington Star and the New York Times did the Public Health Service finally end this abomination.
In the ensuing weeks, the depravity of the study revealed itself. The men who were subjects in the experiment were never once told what they were actually sick with; instead, it was called “bad blood.” This was a catch-all term used by the uneducated residents of the area where the project took place, and encompassed any number of sicknesses. The problem here is that doctors refused to tell the uneducated patients what was wrong with them, and even held off using drugs proven to cure syphilis. In the interest of fairness, at the study’s onset, the only drugs available to treat the disease were well known to induce some pretty horrible side effects, but just a few years into the study, penicillin arrived. This drug completely cures the disease, and is in fact the basis of all modern antibiotics. By 1947, just 15 years after the study’s inception, penicillin was the worldwide standard treatment for all forms of syphilis except in the Tuskegee Experiment. The U.S. Government even opened public health centers in the late 1940s for poor citizens diagnosed with syphilis, treating them with penicillin. Not only were the poor men in Tuskegee withheld the miracle drug, the doctors wouldn’t even tell the subjects of its existence and outright refused to let the government open any of the public centers near the area. The subjects had been getting treated with terrible chemicals, such as bismuth and mercury solutions, which had horrific side effects, and yet were only marginally effective at treating syphilis. The study later moved to just treating the symptoms of syphilis to see how the human body coped with long term effects of the disease.
At inception, the subject group consisted of 399 men. At the end of the project in 1972, only 74 of them were still alive. 28 had died of the disease itself, 100 were dead of complications, 40 of their wives had been infected and 19 of their children were born with congenital syphilis, which is acquired through a parent. Consider the numbers in that last sentence: at least 59 people were infected with this disease through no other reason than being innocent loved ones of the subjects. To put it into modern day terms, over ten times as many infants were infected through this study’s machinations than Americans who have died in the current ebola outbreak.
Eventually, one scientist would remember his ethics. Peter Buxtun, a venereal disease investigator, would compile information on the study. He brought it to the attention of the Centers for Disease Control, who ran the study. They claimed that it was vital to continue until completion – until all subjects were dead and autopsied. Buxtun keep fighting until he gave up and contacted the press in the 1970s. When the Buxtun exposed the study, Congress stepped in quickly. The National Research Act was passed in 1974, which outlawed keeping test subjects ignorant of what a study is actively doing to them. A class action lawsuit by the NAACP on behalf of the subjects resulted in a $9 million settlement and paid healthcare for all of the victims. John Heller, who by the end of the study was the national director of the Public Health Service, actually kept praising the goals and even the methodology of the study after the end, saying that if they kept going they would learn more. Heller would never once express any sort of regret for his actions. President Bill Clinton formally apologized to the victims in 1994 stating “What was done cannot be undone. But we can end the silence. We can stop turning our heads away. We can look at you in the eye and finally say on behalf of the American people, what the United States government did was shameful, and I am sorry … To our African American citizens, I am sorry that your federal government orchestrated a study so clearly racist.” At that point, there were 8 survivors of the study, and 5 of them attended the event.
Normally in FOUO, I try to stay calm and even-handed, though I do point out when a conspiracy theory is wrong, but that won’t happen here. I’m dropping my normal objectivity and saying outright that the Tuskegee Experiment should piss each and every American off. The government spent 40 years experimenting on poor, uneducated black men just because they could get away with it. Doctors who swear to heal the sick anywhere they go, spent decades purposefully infected and not helping these men just to see what would happen. Science, which is mankind’s candle against the darkness of disease, was twisted into a murderous game. This is the very reason why we have a law that requires human test subjects to be completely informed of what they will be undergoing. Let’s be honest here, most of the doctors involved in the study likely thought of the black men as “below them” and worthy test subjects. This is the same kind of shit that Joseph Mengele is infamous for, and we had it happen on American soil, paid for by American tax dollars and done by American government employees. There’s a large number of people who believe that this study is the direct cause of why poor black citizens tend to be reluctant to use preventative care. It’s even quite likely that the ghost of this miscarriage of science and government may be the seed of the oft-repeated conspiracy theory that HIV/AIDS was a creation of white men to hold down black people. It’s not, but there’s good reason for many to be angry at how poor citizens were treated for no other reasons than they were black, uneducated, and the scientists wanted to know what would happen. It has been said that the Holocaust left a stain upon the collective consciousness of mankind. and I would firmly argue, so did this atrocity. Remember that this actually happened, and that the U.S. government was implicit in this madness.
I wrote this article because while a lot of the conspiracies in games are far-fetched beyond anything rational, some of them are far too close to real world events. I don’t know for sure that Kojima had the Tuskegee experiment in mind when he came up with Les Enfants Terribles, but it wasn’t far off the mark either. Here’s a conspiracy theory in which science was twisted to further devious aims, and it actually happened. Sure, it’s not the same as the MGS conspiracy – since that one is scientifically impossible – but it’s still in the same area. There’s a reason why mad science conspiracies are so rampant throughout fiction. There is nothing as terrifying as when something that’s a force for good is twisted into an instrument of pure evil, especially when those who do so still wholly believe they are doing “good.” This horror works because it takes away one of the few things we can expect to protect us from evil, in a way no monster or slasher flick ever could.
I hope you learned something today, and at least were entertained for a while. As always, thanks for reading, and until next time.