For the past month and a half, I’ve been consistently checking the subreddit r/NeverBeGameOver, a forum where users trade insane theories about the latest Metal Gear Solid game, the Phantom Pain. Since the game’s release just over two months ago, fans have speculated that it is essentially unfinished; that there is more coming and that the game’s creator, Hideo Kojima, is working some sort of long con.
Some necessary context: Hideo Kojima is insane. Like, not actually insane, but it has long been his M.O. to mess with the people playing his games. Most famously, he pulled a switcheroo in Metal Gear Solid 2, marketing the game as starring beloved protagonist Solid Snake, when in reality, the game starred a different character altogether. At a macro level, Metal Gear Solid 2 was arguably a commentary on the very act of playing video games.
When the Phantom Pain was first announced, it was introduced as a new game from a new Swedish game development studio led by Joakim Mogren. This was all revealed to be a ruse to market the game. (“Joakim,” for instance, is an anagram of “Kojima.”) Right from the get-go, the rollout of Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain was meant to be tricky, leaving fans questioning what was real and what was a scam.
And here’s where it gets thornier: Earlier this year, reports began to emerge that Kojima and top brass at Konami were at odds over the game. Kojima was spending a lot of Konami’s money, and a lot of development time, working on a blockbuster console game in an era when cheap smartphone games were the new norm. Reports of discord between the creator and the company grew, to the point where it was rumored that Kojima had left the company, where he had worked since the 1980s. Ahead of the game’s release, Kojima’s name was removed from the game’s box art; an unthinkable slight given how close his name and the franchise are linked. In October, The New Yorker reported that Kojima had indeed left the company, though Konami claimed that he was simply on vacation.
Fans are still unsure whether all of this is a prank. Parts of it make sense: Large productions like the Phantom Pain used to be the norm, but are now rare events. It makes sense financially that Konami would want to move into a sector of gaming where the margins are higher. At the same time, a vocal contingent believes that the whispers of Kojima being forced out are yet another meta stunt. Kojima also claimed the Phantom Pain would be his final Metal Gear game, a claim he had also made about previous games in the series.
It doesn’t help that the actual game of the Phantom Pain has clearly been truncated in many ways. The game is divided into two acts, the first containing 30 or so levels, the second containing just 7. A deleted scene on the collector’s edition of the game showed an unfinished level that didn’t make it into the final game. Players rooting through game files have uncovered a title card for a third chapter that doesn’t exist. The simplest theory is that an impatient Konami forced Kojima to cut his losses and ship whatever work had been completed. But many believe otherwise: that despite repeated claims that work on the game is done, Konami and Kojima have unfinished business.
Thus, r/NeverBeGameOver has emerged to collect observations and conspiracy theories that more is in store for the Phantom Pain. No stone has gone unturned. Players are parsing through files, even going so far as to discover an old ROM hidden within. Others are replaying levels multiple times, hoping that it will eventually unlock new stuff. Others are finding tenuous connections to other Metal Gear games, hoping that the similarities are more than just coincidence.
Those playing on their PCs have modded the game in order to delve further. At the start of this video, for example, you can see a character run through an animation that can’t be seen at all when playing through the game normally.
What does it mean???
One user is even going so far as to examine the dust particles used in the game, looking for an anomaly. Excerpt: “First of [sic], those particles are drifting, not gliding down like dust flakes would do. They drift like the spots you might rarely get from time to time in your vision. … Look closely when you pan the camera all particles fall behind at the same time, with the same spacing, thats [sic] because they are all close to you. If there was dust in the end of the room you would see them passing by camera at a slower rate because they are far away. So. Those particles are in your vision.”
Taking it even further, fans are looking outside the game, trying to find cryptic hints in tweets from Konami and from Kojima himself. Revisiting old trailers also shows scenes that weren’t included in the final game.
Fans have even accused the subreddit’s founder, nuclearsnake, of being a spy for Kojima. They were responsible for “the thread which started all this madness.”
Some of these theories are even being borne out. Yesterday, a new patch to the game nullified one of its major plot points.
Is more of the Metal Gear story on its way? If I had to make an educated guess, probably not. But r/NeverBeGameOver demonstrates how nothing can exist in a vacuum anymore. Every software update, every cryptic tweet, every press release is giving fans something new to obsess over. It’s easy to jump to the conclusion that the subreddit’s community is full of Carrie Mathisons, walls covered in printouts and yards of string, trying to find meaning in the meaningless. Really, they’re just fans who care. The Metal Gear Solid franchise is 17 years old. That’s nearly two decades of getting screwed with by Kojima. r/NeverBeGameOver isn’t an insane offshoot. It’s precisely the end result Kojima wanted.