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"Do you know what day it is today?"

April 30th 2009 is the date Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty takes place... or, more specifically, it's the date the final boss fight takes place, in which a katana wielding ex-president of the United States battles his adopted son atop the ruins of Federal Hall in New York City. MGS2 primarily takes place on April 29th 2009, with the events of the story lasting through the night and into the early morning. At daybreak on April 30th a giant submersible fortress, secretly built in New York Harbor to be the nerve center of a government censorship operation, surfaces and smashes through Manhattan, finally grinding to a halt on Wall Street.

Hideo Kojima's research is always meticulous, but he was off by 30 years in the case of April 30th 2009 being the 200th anniversary of George Washington's inauguration. Washington was sworn in as the 1st president of the United States on April 30th 1789, which would make the 200th anniversary 1989, not 2009.

The date could be a mistake, or maybe Kojima simply fudged the facts so his story could have thematic coherence. April 30th 2009 is extremely significant in MGS2. The reason Raiden pauses, mystified, when Solidus questions him is because his girlfriend, Rosemary, has asked him the exact same question over and over again: do you know what day it is today? She asked this because April 30th is the two year anniversary of their relationship, which Raiden has forgotten. When Solidus reveals that it's also the date the United States was born, and that he had chosen this day to overthrow the corrupt government and begin anew, it brings two seemingly unrelated aspects of the story to a single, devastating conclusion.

The connection between Raiden's relationship with his girlfriend and his relationship with his government, between the personal and the political, is the hook off which MGS2 hangs all of its ideas about video games, gamers, citizenship, and society. Raiden is a soldier who does what he's told, but he's also a gamer who's learned to follow orders by playing video games. Rosemary is his girlfriend whom he met two years earlier, but their chance encounter was actually orchestrated by the government in order to manipulate Raiden. Rosemary is a spy for The Patriots, the secret government body which dictates all American policy. Through Rosemary they control Raiden's life, observing him and shaping him into the perfect citizen: one who is easy to manipulate by appealing to his self-interest. Raiden never realizes Rosemary is lying to him because he's too interested in himself to notice... much in the same way he is too interested in himself to notice the government is lying to him. Raiden is just concerned with his own sense of elation, with his own sense of accomplishment, of achieving his objectives, of being rewarded... much in the same way the player is.

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Raiden's performance (and, by extension, the player's) is so perfect, his ability to be manipulated so complete, that his behavior pattern is used as the basis for the government's censorship program. Who is the model citizen any police state would want? Someone who does everything they are told with Pavlovian precision, who goes through every room, collects every item, activates every cinematic, defeats every boss. Gamers, in their endless desire for gratification, are the perfect citizen. They just want to be told what to do, and they'll be happy.

Complacency as a player versus complacency as a citizen, selfishness in a relationship versus selfishness in a society: all these distinctions melt away in MGS2, leaving the player disgusted with one's self for wanting to be entertained. That's why MGS2 is a great game, and why every April 30th gamers should be reminded what utter tools we all are.

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