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21 October 2011 @ 07:05 pm
The Information Density of Zero  

Not a pun, of course. Or is it? Or...is it. Anyway, in celebration of that great MGS3 video collection that had been nuked from Youtube some time ago being restored, let's have some Zero meta because there's only so long I can keep all this in my head only. One cannot but conclude that everything about this character points to something else and that seems well beyond purposeful, Kojima. Continued from this post; some Peace Walker and general series spoilers.

So, the well-known-to-MGS-fans stuff first. During the Virtuous Mission, he famously uses "Major Tom" as his alias (because "Zero" isn't codename-y enough, you see). It would be an obvious nod to Bowie and the theme of space exploration (which Kojima corroborated according to this article), except the game takes place in 1964 whereas the song came out in 1969. Since MGS is half-story-half-meta to begin with, this doesn't completely discount the Bowie reference, but there does need to be a different explanation for it in-story: which is then found in the movie The Great Escape. Being the WWII nerd veteran he is, Zero just liked the idea of digging tunnels to escape from the Nazis so much he chose one of the tunnel names for a remixed codename of his. And it was the lucky tunnel, too - such an auspicious move; what could go wrong? Well, the fact that he remembered it wrong and the mission he used it on likewise ended with Snake (BB) irradiated and almost killed, not to mention heartbroken over his mentor. But the name choice is interesting, because instead of going with something "finished" like Major Tom of the Bowie song (because time paradox), it is Major (from Major Zero) + Tom (movie reference). SPLIT UP. Gee, no wonder he didn't stick with it.

Another interesting point is that, unlike the majority of MGS characters, Zero actually has a full date of birth. He doesn't have much background info in canon (beyond the teasing tidbits that'll have me writing fic for him on and off for the next century) but for some reason, his "driving licence" sort of info-blurb is more complete than that of most of the cast. All you get for Big Boss by contrast is a year of birth, and that only after Peace Walker when it can be calculated back. (Also notice how they both have ages that are in reference to something: Zero's to the SIS and BB's to Che Guevara, though he wasn't born in the same year.) There should be some significance to giving Zero that much info, right?

I've already spoiled that there is. Zero's year of birth, 1909, coincides with the establishment of the British Intelligence as an organization. Considering that his entire career was in special ops and spying, that's already significant, but more chilling is that whole aspect of intelligence collecting/information collection --> The System as an ongoing theme of MGS, leading towards centralized control. In that way, his character comes to be read as the power of information personified (and the moment one controls all information then there's the obvious issue of corruption/how that information can be manipulated and used for one's gain and to the oppression of others. Something Zero would have learned, and would then become. Irony). Anyway, it was after I discovered this too-good-to-be-coincidental explanation for 1909 that I came across this conversation from MGS3 where Zero basically confirms the same thing. Except instead of analysis, it's foreshadowing.

He also explains "Zero" in the most obvious way: it used to be O, as the first letter of his surname was what he'd have been using to communicate with his subordinates. (Notice that his surname is assumed to just have been "Oh": I want to know whether that's seriously it or just a longer transcription of the initial, or both.) I honestly don't know whether we're supposed to think he was ever the head of British Intelligence from that conversation, though there's enough blank space in the canon for it to fit in. It would just be odd why, if he had risen that high, he'd go and exchange it for a stint in the US special forces where he would again have to answer to a ton of higher-ups (although establishing a new unit and/or keeping in touch with The Boss would have been compelling reasons). Either way, he references this system in relation to Cumming as the originator of that practice (with only C for a signature). There's a Bond reference to make here as well, but more on that later.

Because Zero likes puns, he took it the system a step further (oh snap) and turned O into Zero. The boundaries between how you're supposed to read something written as 0 or Ø are muddled, anyway. By itself, you can say zero or null (note: Null). In phone numbers, it tends to be pronounced as "oh" again. But here's the kicker: how do you pronounce it in computing? Binary codes? Does it even matter how it would be read there? Again with this "information" theme.

Zero himself has this to add in the video: "In another sense, though, it signifies a ghost - one whose true identity must remain a mystery. The primogenitor of the solo sneaking operation." Apart from the subtle bragging (which, fair enough: I'd brag too if I had a grand total of a few approved individuals I could mention something to at all), what he says right here is much less focused on the power- and information-related meanings, and much more on "OPERATE IN SECRET BECAUSE SO DID I". Interestingly, Snake (BB) only responds with "is that so".

[Re: Null; there are *cough* others who have spent more time figuring him out than I have, but it's fascinating that while he basically has the same codename, it's the exact opposite of what Zero means. Zero can, in how he's set it up, mean a great range of things. Part of the fun of the code is that it does indeed change meanings depending on the circumstances and context, but it never just stands for "nothing". "Null", on the other hand, is precisely nothing: no senses (or sensations; that he does have reflexes is the point), no feelings, no memory. It's only when Null escapes from the artificially imposed cycle of being wiped to a tabula rasa on a daily basis that he can remember his former name - as Null, he didn't need it. Zero also doesn't need his original name when he's Zero, but the difference is that he chose that on purpose. As far as the multiplicity of possible meanings goes, Zero is actually closer to Gene than to Null, if we're going by Portable Ops context in this paragraph. But in the long run he loses his humanity to his own System, whoops.]

At any rate, did I say Zero likes puns? By Peace Walker, we get from Zero to Cipher. Isn't that so frustrating: first it's a name that's set up to mean anything, and now it's something that says instead of a name that it's a bloody cipher. Except it is more revealing than that; again meaning hidden in plain sight.

Helpfully, it's elaborated on in canon:
Kaz: [Paz] must have put on the act to get close to Gálvez. Wonder how much Coldman knew... But the whole time she was working for some organization called "Cipher".
BB: "Cipher"... Ring any bells, Kaz?
Kaz: Cipher...Cipher...it means "code." Or "zero" in Arabic numerals.
BB: Zero...
Kaz: Does that mean something to you? [dishonest Kaz is dishonest]
BB: Not sure. [haha brutal]
Kaz: Hmm. You know, "cipher" and "zero" were basically the same word. It's a linguistic redundancy. The word stems from the Sanskrit "shunya"... It corresponds to the Buddhist concept of emptiness. In Buddhism, "shunya" means hollow. It supposedly refers to something that's swollen and empty on the inside.
BB: A big, swollen emptiness...just like outer space.

WELL SNAP. Consider that another of the few times Zero is explicitly mentioned in PW (implicit mentions would total to a lot more, like I don't know almost half the game while the "bigger" half is driven by BB and Strangelove's stories) is by The Boss AI, and it's literally a code as well: "the lonely fox chases the one-eyed hound". The context of this is extremely loaded, being the time BB is dismantling the AI; you can just pay attention to how most of what she says grows simpler and more fragmented with how additional memory boards are pulled, but this sentence jumps out as a variation on the "the quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog" saying. (By the way, this scene is amazing and haters of this game can pack up and leave now.) Because I am a sap, I like to think that's either The Boss "warning" BB or a message that was coded in on purpose. But you're definitely meant to notice, because it's ten years after Snake Eater and the fact is that BB isn't with Zero anymore. (Yeah, I know; I couldn't get along with Patriot-era Zero either.) Then it gets into the whole conspiracy with Paz - Zadornov - and Kaz most significantly of all, but I'd rather not open that can of worms in this post since it's getting long enough. Just have a look at that conversation above, and how Zero probably told Kaz to make sure BB got all the implications.

What's in a name, right?

The last straw that made me want to go and type all this up? Well, Thene made the huge mistake of showing me an article on Ian Fleming (author of the James Bond novels) since I need to be properly educated in the matters of Bond. It had some interesting facts for sure. He was born in 1908 and served in WWII. Kind of almost perfectly parallel to Zero, if you look at it. (Amusingly I'm told he was into S&M, in which case no one will ever dissuade me about James Bond not being a pun. Again with those puns. Also you can deconstruct what this means for the power dynamics there and from Zero's POV.) It also says in the article that Fleming died on August 12, 1964. In MGS terms, that means on Zero's birthday in the year of Snake Eater. Actually, it would have been very shortly before the game takes place (Virtuous Mission starts on August 24). Zero's fondness for the Bond movies is legendary so all I ask now, Kojima - why isn't he deep in mourning at the time of the mission? Well, perhaps he is and deals with it in the least counterproductive way, i.e. tl;dring about Bond to his unit. I know there's the possibility of him being just a movie-verse fan but somehow I doubt it, considering he'd probably have met the guy during the war. Poor Zero. He sounds so emotionally involved when he shares all this Bond trivia and suggestions for "Double-Oh-Snake". BB should feel eternally ashamed of himself for telling him off (not that he would have known about any of this, given he's the exact opposite of Zero and Para-Medic when it comes to awareness of pop culture).

Finally, this probably is a coincidence. (Then again, maybe not.)

You know, what is fourth wall? I want fic about Zero being best buddies with Alan Turing back in WWII while Fleming is just massively perplexed by their days and ways. (Alternatively, Kojipro can hire me to write this as a prequel to the series. I WOULD NOT REFUSE. You'd go between playing as The Boss and as Zero depending on where in the storyline you were. It would be called Metal Gear Solid: We Did Start the Fire, Actually.)


bringing the party to you: 『glados』→ ❝ portal ❞scintillulae on October 22nd, 2011 06:36 am (UTC)
Metal Gear Solid: We Did Start the Fire, Actually
sdkfjskdjf jesus christ here you are writing out this interesting, thoughtful meta and then you ruin it with that. I AM GRINNING LIKE A DORK RIGHT NOW, NO, STOP IT.

also I would totally read that fic. or play that game. or whatever it theoretically were turned into.
See you later, instigator: Tea - transparencyoudeteron on October 22nd, 2011 01:34 pm (UTC)
Ahaha my apologies, but a tenuously relevant reference/pun is the most Metal Gear note to end it on. XD

I'm glad to hear you would, and not just because it was my idea. There's so much material for epic shit right there.
bringing the party to you: 『shadow naoto』→ ❝ persona 4 ❞scintillulae on October 23rd, 2011 06:47 am (UTC)
True, it's very in-character, so to speak. xD

Why don't they give us what we waaaant, screw sequels or remakes or whatever. PREQUELS ALL THE WAY.
See you later, instigator: Toshioudeteron on October 24th, 2011 05:57 pm (UTC)
I do what I can. XD

Well, I am biased and would always enjoy sequels that fall into the BB storyline at least a little. BUT NEEDS MOAR PREQUELS.
missmonkeh on October 22nd, 2011 03:49 pm (UTC)
An interesting parallel with the Major Tom thing is that, both the Major Tom in the song and Zero find themselves at the mercy of their own 'brave new world'. I think it also plays into Zero's Bond complex - Major Tom is a hero, the papers want to know whose shirts he wears, if it weren't for the time paradox, he'd be the kind of legendary (fictional) hero Zero seems to aspire to. (Another interesting parallel is in the song 'Ashes to Ashes', in which Major Tom is no longer a hero but a 'junkie', hitting an 'all-time low', reflecting Zero's own fall from grace)

I always wondered whether Zero might have Chinese ancestry - 'Oh' is not a British name at all, unless it's either short for something, or an assumed name. I mean, obviously it's a play on '0' but CONTEXT.

BB: A big, swollen emptiness...just like outer space.


See you later, instigator: Big Boss - horizonoudeteron on October 22nd, 2011 06:03 pm (UTC)
Yes, this! I see both of these as ultimately instances of bending reality (what's "real" by our standards in space/virtual reality for Zero). The Bond complex is an awesome point; it's a shame that the time paradox doesn't make it completely easy to integrate at the time of MGS3. (I love listening to the two songs back to back for that very reason. I do wish Kojima had gone ahead with the plan to put them in the credits, though I really like "Way to Fall" and think it fits BB's perspective, so it's probably better suited there. ALSO, it's interesting that even in "Ashes to Ashes", it still has the line "you better not mess with Major Tom". UM.)

Wow, I didn't think of it like that. I've been assuming the "Oh" is could still be a shorthand for something else, or actually a reverse-etymology type thing from "O" the former codename (and a play on Zero/Cipher in any case). But...if he did have that ancestry, it would be interesting in light of the fact that he purposefully acts against racism in the '60s (which has other good explanations to be sure, but "solidarity" would be kind of heartwarming). It would need a lot of research to pursue this line of interpretation, but I'm intrigued now.