Friday, April 24, 2015

Head Transplants and Metal Gears: Another Ruse Cruise, or Something Scarier?

Pictured: My current level of raw, pulsating confusion.

Look, I don't know what to think anymore, but this past week or so has been really, really interesting for casual digging...

Loathe as I am to give NeoGaf credit for pretty much goddamn near anything, the jack-booted cesspool did come up with a clever observation about the as-of-yet unnamed doctor featured heavily in the previews for Hideo Kojima's upcoming I-desperately-hope Magnum Opus METAL GEAR SOLID V: THE PHANTOM PAIN. A game which, despite the behind-the-scenes insanity we've only been seeing snapshots of here and there, I'm still going to continue to hope can deliver on the hype I've felt building since Ground Zeroes came out over a year ago, because if it doesn't, I'm going to be physically unable to feel hype for pretty much anything. I'm getting old, guys. I can only hype for so goddamn long!

What did they find, you ask? Well, they found that whatever doctor introduces Venom Snake back to the land of the living after his supposed 9 year coma looks an awful lot like to apparent real-life neurosurgeon Sergio Canavero, who's been in the world news for the last two years or so over the fact that he claims to be the guy who's cracked the code of one of medical science's biggest check-mates: The Full Body Transplant, which is to say the act of severing a living person's head and transferring it to an entirely new donor body. Go ahead, google his ass - the guy's been talking about it for about two years now, and while we've had some luck (scientifically speaking) connecting animals' severed heads onto new bodies, we've never been able to reconnect the actual nerves, meaning they're literally a Futurama head attached to a limp, worthless flesh jar. But this guy? This guy figured it all out, and swears we'll see a human head transplanted onto a new body within the next few years.

But what about that whole "The Phantom Pain includes his apparently unlicensed likeness" claim - a matter Canavero himself has said he'll have to bring up with his lawyer? What, you don't believe that they're basically identical twins separated in the Super Baby womb?

Pictured: Just a photo realistic video game!

Pictured: The real doctor Canavero. Or whatever.

Sure, sure, the nose is a little different and the real deal has more hollow cheeks, but he looks a heck of a lot more like Canavero than Ian Moore, the actor  Granted, the resemblance alone isn't all that big a coincidence; thin, middle aged, shaven-head men with some silver fox facial hair are a dime a dozen in the world, right? When asked if he had any knowledge of this, Canavero replied to questions - in Italian, mind - by saying "I will notify my attourney. Thanks for the heads up." No confirmation on if he put on a pair of sun glasses and was immediately greeted with a bitchin' guitar riff and a wailing hair metal singer.

Realistically, Kojima probably just saw a a photo of the guy, being Kojima, and told Shinkawa "Hey, draw that head-transplant guy. That'd be cool." Nothing to see here, DLC pass is $35 on top of pre-order bonuses, mobile game integration coming soon. Forget it and chalk it up to a weird coincidence, right?

Ian Moore, the British actor credited for voice/motion capture for 'The Doctor'.

Well, that's just the thing... it gets so much weirder. The first major paper on the subject he's discussing - namely, a method to attach a still living head onto a donor body - was submitted for publication March 29th, 2013. The title of the research paper is, and I quote, HEAVEN: The Head Anastomasis Venture Project Outline For The First Human Head Transplantation With Spinal Linkage (GEMINI).

Pretty wild, right? What's even wilder is the fact that Hideo Kojima's GDC announcement for Metal Gear Solid V even existing was a mere two days before.

Ain't no ruse cruise like a Kojima ruse cruise.

You all remember that, right? When Kojima got on stage as "Joakin Mogren" - an angram of "Kojima NM Ogre" - and removed his own head? Anyone who remembers the "Teaser" building up to this knows how much time and effort Kojima puts into his charming, Puckish little pranks, leading people on and pretending that 'The Phantom Pain' was an original project rather than the "missing link" between the Peace Walker Incident (canon-circa 1974) and the 1995 Outer Heaven Uprising (canon-circa 1995).

But hey, even IF this wasn't mere chance, it probably doesn't mean anything important. In fact, with a core theme of the game being loss and Big Boss himself being short a limb - with poor Kaz short more than that! - he probably read Canavero's 2007 book about neurological disorders as part of his research into the matter, thought Sergio was a pretty cool guy, and couldn't help but slip him in when he wrote the outline. DLC Season Pass is $35, don't let the pre-order hit you on the way out, right?

As you can see, he's clearly the Steve Jobs of Dr. Frankensteins!

So who is this guy, really? On September 20th 2014, Dr. Canavero gave a brief explanation of his concept at a Ted x Talk. Pretty cool, right? Well, there's a couple things that only raise further questions; for one, the Ted x Talk is taking place in Cyprus - and there's a map of Cyprus in the "hospital escape" portion of The Phantom Pain, implying it's the same location. Okay, okay, maybe that's just a weird coincidence too... but it's even weirder than the name of this TED x Talk was called "TEDxLimassol". Re-arrange the letters like a mad man with some glue and scizors and what do you get?

"Metal x Solid"

Crazy! Or, y'know, it would be if Limassol wasn't the biggest damned city in Cyprus. It is kind of funny that the animated logo that opens the whole thing - white text at the bottom, red text at the top, with two symbols looking a bit like a broken "V" no less! - but presumably Canavero himself didn't make the damned logo, so it's probably just a hilarious, amazing coincidence that some video editor intern picked fonts that match the established Metal Gear Solid V logo design.

What's even crazier is that TEDx Talks typically have a sponsor. For the TEDxLimassol event, the partner was none other than Wargaming, a Cyprus-based video game developer known for World of Tanks, among other decidedly straight-forward military simulators. That's cool and all, but the borderline Sci-Fi medical miracle stuff that Dr. Canavero is up to doesn't really apply to their usual bread and butter. Had this been Square Enix with a plan to tie this guy's research into a Deus Ex themed charity or something, okay, THAT would make sense, but the World of Tanks guys? Just seems a little unexpected.

Oh yeah, totally not a big deal, did I mention that the hospital room from The Phantom Pain that features 'The Doctor' also has a map of Cyprus on the wall? Meaning that if Hideo Kojima was "inserting" the real-life Dr. Canavero into The Phantom Pain, he did so by showing him not only two days before he'd published a new research paper, but predicted the exact locale he would give his TED x Talk in a year and a half before it was scheduled?

I know, right? That's... actually that's starting to make me incredibly uncomfortable.

You feel it too, don't you... It's like we're still being rused!

But the connections only get more absurd from there, as not only is there an actual mad doctor willing to try unproven head-transplant techniques running around - seriously, most of the "legitimate" news stories made about him so far have been quick to point out that most other neurosurgeons working in the field clearly think he's a Human Centipede level maniac - but he's already found a volunteer for the extremely experimental process.

To be more specific, he's found a young man by the name of Valeri Spiridonov, and has expressed clear interest in performing this very expensive and so-far untested surgery on a willing patient.

At least he's got a good head on his sho--OH GOD STOP HITTING ME--

To be fair, that guy clearly has a severe physical problem, and if you're interested in helping him fly out to meet with Dr. Canavero, you can toss some cash his way on Indie Go Go. He suffers from the muscle-wasting Werdnig-Hoffman Disease, and while he knows there's zero guarantees, he's still willing to risk death to dramatically improve his quality of life. He's a brave soul, and goddamn, I wish him luck.

The only thing that causes me to pause and flex a brow is the fact that Spiridonov's profession is also that of game development, with his resume dating back to about August of 2012... or, roughly when development on Metal Gear Solid V would have been underway? A game that actively needs a staff who speaks fluent Russian due to its heavy focus on the Societ-Afghan conflict of the 1980s? No, that's... I mean that's clearly just yet another bizarre, inexplicable coincidence...

Perhaps just a bit less bizarre are actual texts by the good Doctor himself, which all sound plausible enough, in a I-don't-know-shit-about-neurons sort of way. Most recently, Dr, Canavero has published an updated paper on his procedure - The Gemini Spinal Cord Fusion Protocol: Reloaded - which, admittedly, sounds like the title of the best Chuck Norris movie never made.

He'a also published a book quite recently - "Head Transplantations and the Quest for Immortality". This was preceded - by less than a month, mind you! - with the dramatically differently themed "Immortal: Why Consciousness is Not in the Brain", which would... actually seem to contradict some of the tenants of his argument that transplanting a human head on a working body is, itself, a form of immortality. Again, assuming I'm guesstimating the writing in a way that's even remotely close to what's actually in the text.

Look, I need to move. Again. Don't hate me because I'm cheap right now.

Again, haven't read the book, but it's not that "Genetic Memory" stuff, is it? Implying that 'memory' exists in DNA itself? Because that... I mean, particularly in the context of Metal Gear, that would be... that... I don't... where to... ugh, fuck it, let's move on.

Actual chapter list from "Head Transplantations".
As with everything else in this post, I'm not making it up.

Alright, neat! We get a couple hundred pages to thumb through over a lazy weekend as you tranq fresh experiment-fodder and toss them into your windowless van... but let's take a quick rundown of those chapters, yes?

Now I admit, I haven't read the book. Real life surprises are currently curb-stomping my bank account, so spending $60 on a hunch ain't happening right now. But thumbing through what little exists for free, the jist I'm getting from it is that once head transplants are viable, the second step is to clone fresh, inert bodies - "slugs", to borrow terminology from The Venture Bros. - and use them as home grown organ donors. That's the idea, right? If someone actually spent money on these things and can correct me - or even add to the crazy - I am all ears.

The thing is, you can use stem cells to re-create most organs without needing to go through the whole song and dance with making a clone, and even if you could, to the best of my knowledge we haven't actually figured out how to manipulate genes to artificially age a clone body. You'd basically be making a baby back-up, waiting 20 or 30 years, and then decapitating it. Say what you will about the ethics and legality of a full body transplant, but there's no way cloning in conjunction with this shit would be remotely LEGAL. I know he's a scientists and scientists write crazy "what if?" papers all the time, but this is so far outside the realm of sanity that... well, it really does sound like modern day Frankenstein level shit.

"It is our only home - our Heaven, and our Hell.
This is Outer Heaven." - Big Boss, 1974 (Peace Walker)

Even if it is all legit research and theorizing, is it not strange that he'd write a book about cloning yourself to make numerous "backups" and then write another book, published just two weeks earlier, suggesting that the consciousness is not stored in the human brain? Wouldn't these two works not completely contradict each other, despite being published at virtually the same time? Granted I'm extrapolating a lot here, and I don't have the cash to be buying books on a tinfoil-hat level theory to find out for myself, but... I'unno, guys. Pumping two books focusing on those related but contradictory themes at the exact same time seems a bit much to be mere coincidence...

Which is why the references to "Heaven", "Frontiers", and "Gemini" are all a head-scratcher. Metal Gear Solid introduced the idea of gene manipulation to initiate premature aging in MGS2: The Sons of Liberty, and even introduced the idea of (effectively) a full body transplant for the final scene of MGS4: Guns of the Patriots. It's also intensely curious that "Gemini" and "Clone" would be repeated themes in the work of Dr. Canavero, as the two most prominent characters in Metal Gear Solid are none other than Solid Snake and Liquid Snake - "Gemini" themselves, and both slightly imperfect clones of Big Boss himself.

"Heaven" and "Frontiers" are instant red flags as well, as MGS: Peace Walker introduced Big Boss' Militaires Sans Frontieres ("Army Without Borders") group in a fictional Costa Rica circa 1974, and the fortified South African military city-state the original 8-bit Metal Gear takes place in was known as Outer Heaven, a name later resurrected by Ocelot in MGS4, as well. To be fair, both Peace Walker and Portable Ops inevitably refer to Big Boss' army as 'Outer Heaven' - directly or otherwise - but man, if there's one thing Metal Gear loves, it's a good retcon!

Far be it for me to give a man fashion advice, but damn, is scrubs-green his color.

So let's get real for a second here. There's basically three possibilities here, none of them completely outside the realm of possibility;

1)  Dr. Sergio Canavero is an actual neuroscientist who, through no fault of his own, may have inspired one of the world's most beloved video game directors - and may simply be pulling naming conventions and locations for his ground-breaking work as a matter of sheer coincidence. It's not impossible, no, but it'd be DAMNED difficult to hand-waive the bizarre and, frankly, inexplicable connections to various game developers.

2) Dr. Sergio Canavero is an actual neuroscientist who, for reasons that are not yet clear, is working with Konami Entertainment and/or Hideo Kojima to take the whole fucking world on an epic practical joke that - assuming he IS a legitimate medical voice - would completely shatter his credibility for the rest of his career. This is the most obvious answer to this set of crazy circumstances, but it requires a level of suspension of disbelief I'm having a bit of trouble swallowing, as somebody by the same name published a very real book on the phenomena of Phantom Pain back in 2007.

3) Dr. Sergio Canavero is just an actor who's otherwise performing the same role as the second option, punking the entire medical world just to sell a game to an audience on the premise of a modern miracle being total bullshit. It's possible that Sergio Canavero was a legitimate neuroscientist, and this person is actually just an impostor... which would be particularly interesting, considering one of the

You might think 2 and especially 3 are completely insane, but... let's talk about Hideo Kojima for a second. I, like most people, only skimmed the interactive novella included in MGS2 - In the Darkness of Shadow Moses: The Unofficial Truth, which is literally an entire account of the original game as written by Natasha Romaneko. Konami paid someone to write an entire paranoia-fueled and partially inaccurate summary of their original game, complete with references to fake New York Times articles, just to sell the idea that the world of MGS2 was our own, complete with sleazy best sellers leaking half-truths from every page.


You may also remember that the final twist in MGS2 was the fact that the list of "The Patriots" turned out to be a ruse itself; the names were true, but the members themselves were long dead, simply people who had taken the preservation of their nation and culture seriously enough that their works and methodology was later converted into an AI system that would represent their combined will.

You may also remember that the whole fucking point of MGS2 - from a narrative point of view, rather than a thematic one - is the revelation of the "S3 Plan". Without delving too deeply, the short version of the S3 Plan was that it was an experiment to measure how easily the public's perception of 'the truth' could be manipulated by the media. This is the core narrative twist of the game - yes, it "means" something else entirely via the magic of context and post-modernism, but it's still a concept he's clearly thought a lot about.

With that firmly in mind, it presents a possible fourth option:

4) Sergio Canavero was a legitimate neurosurgeon, and for reasons yet unknown, a third party - like, say, an actor working with Kojima - has taken his identity and is carrying out mad science in his name.

A reminder that Hideo Kojima tried to warn us.
All we had to do was listen, and this was the future we chose...

At this point, Hideo Kojima is doing one of two things: He's either engineering a massive lie so over the top the mainstream media is blissfully unaware of the viral marketing campaign they're covering as scientific breakthrough, or Kojima's insanity has become so omnipotent that it's causing ripples of crazy to spill out into the real world. There's no other options, and honestly, the latter is such a terrifying thought I'm going to hope it's the former.

The bigger question is would Konami really go through with all of this? Admitting a "New Metal Gear" is in the works, implicitly without Hideo Kojima? Silencing his social media presence, and restricting every piece of public communication since his demotion to a contracted designer to a single pre-recorded release date announcement? Risking the standing of their stock, and their already shaky reputation with one of the most dedicated fanbases in the entire industry? I could see Kojima masterminding this elaborate head-transplant as a ruse, but I can't see his corporate buddies being too keen on it... which, in turn, leaves me to wonder that IF this was a stunt he'd orchestrated, if it's what got him canned in the first place?

Pictured: More relevance that the entire American Games Journalism industry combined.

Think about it. None of this bizarre shit even came to light until after Kojima was quietly given the boot from the VP position in March, but by God, are they taking his "No Media Presence" gag-order seriously. Despite Hideo Kojima having won a combined three Famitsu Awards  - one for Ground Zeroes, another for P.T., and a sort of lifetime achievement award for the 1998 Metal Gear Solid - neither he, nor any representatives from Konami were present at the event to take the awards. Again, if this is all real, that's fucking harsh. Famitsu remains THE video game review publication for Japanese audiences, and Konami has seen it fit to let him go twice before - once in 2005 for MGS3: Subsistence, and again in 2011 for MGS: Peace Walker. Had Kojima been allowed to release a video statement with the expected "I'm hard at work on Phantom Pain, but thanks guys!" sort of fluff I wouldn't think twice about it, but not allowing anyone from Konami to show up and grovel for all the honoru bestowed upon them is, quite frankly, a little weird to see from a Japanese corporation. Either Kojima's really in the dog house double, or... or what, I wonder?

Let's assume Canavero is really a puppet of The Patriots Kojima. Is Konami really publicly humiliating him by denying him entry to the Famitsu Awards only to make the Canavero stuff seem that much more legit? If they caught wind of Kojima telling his comrades to start actual charity fraud and his "actors" threatened to sue Konami, wouldn't there be some carefully worded but clearly very butt-hurt statement released hours later, as was the case with Kojima's apparent firing? The behavior of Konami isn't just erratic in the face of controversy, at this point it's positively insane!

Just to spite anything resembling clarity, Kojima - who's seemingly been granted very limited access to his English and Japanese twitter accounts - showed this photo, only to take the image off his feed an hour or two later:

And it's official: I'm completely out of tin foil.

In any case, Canavero's official response - in a phone call to Kotaku, which I'll let you find for yourself, because Gawker and its subsidiaries can get fucked as far as I'm concerned - has been that he plans to sue Konami and use the money for his HEAVEN research. Oddly he couldn't be reached at his work in Turin, but he was available on Skype, where he insisted he'd be on Italian television soon to talk about the Japanese corporation primed to make a fortune based on his research.

He obviously doesn't have much of a case - like I said, bald white guys in scrubs aren't exactly a unique commodity in the modern world, and this could likely be waved aside as parody  - but if that really is the final blow to this story, I'm okay with it. Real life emulates video games emulating 1984 emulating what they thought future technology would be at the time? Beautiful.

If, however, this turns out to be something more... well, goddamn, Kojima. The ruse cruise hasn't even pulled into the port, and we're all still on board. If he just played not only Metal Gear fans but medical science itself like a damn fiddle, I say Kojima's officially surpassed trolling from an artform into pure cosmic energy.

...oh, what's that? The guy who got a hold of Canavero for Kotaku has a "big reveal" to share with the world? Fuck it. I'll let you guys figure out the answers to these burning questions on your own.