So I’m about 30 hours into The Phantom Pain and my Big Boss is a real mensch; an avid practitioner of the equestrian arts, a respected military leader commanding a formidable group of 500 mercenaries, surgeons, bio-mechanics etc. My Big Boss rescues animals at a rate that would make PETA look (more) like a bunch inept hipsters. My Big Boss has survived fires and helicopter crashes and knife fights, rescued Angolan children and even bathes regularly. He’s basically the dream Tinder date, he’s basically the dude those Dos Equis commercials are talking about. But yet and still, no matter how gnarly the firefight he wins, no matter how attractive (and mute) the women he hangs out with are, I still can’t seem to wash the blood off him.

I mean, I know the Devs added a feature that allows ones avatar to be caked in the blood of both his enemies and his own as sort of a visual device to add some gristle and grit, some macabre level of realism. But usually after a rain fall or a quick shower back at Mother Base the muck rinses right off, giving Snake a fresh, ready for the battle field short of look. But recently, no matter how often I shower, no matter how brutal the rain storms get on those vast Zairian plains, the blood remains, like a red wine stain on the carpet of a new condo, like an empty space on a mantle where a trophy should be, like a Sunday night where no one can seem to forget that Monday is only a few hours away.

(Yeah it looks cool, but doesn’t this game take place in the 80s?)

At first I thought it was some sort of glitch, the kind that game testers overlook or simply don’t report. But then I realized that MGS5 is not a Bethesda title, and such perverse mistakes are rarely made in Konami games. But if the blood soaked Snake wasn’t a glitch that could be reset with a swift restart of the console, then that must mean the coating was intentional, that must mean that the blood meant something.

I hit the internet for an explanation, it wasn’t long before I began to find all sorts of forum posts regarding the same issues. It seems as though I wasn’t the only warrior saint with a perpetual blood splatter on him. I find that the explanation is that after a player acquires a certain amount of ‘Demon Points’ Snake’s appearance warps from the rugged, journey man we know and love, to a be-horned, shitty middle school Halloween costume of himself. On the forums, a lot of the players were posting screen shots of their ‘Demon Snakes’, celebrating the blood drenched figure like Medieval men would celebrate the blood soaked sheets after the first night with their wives. (Which is barbaric, androcentric, malarkey, not to mention a huge hassle. I mean blood on a sheet these days is hard enough to wash off, and those inbred mouth breathes didn’t even have toothpaste let alone Bounce laundry pods.)

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I was in the narrow minority of players who, however, wanted to reverse the process. I mentioned ’Demon Points’ earlier and I feel now is a fair time to explain them; The Demon Points system is an algorithm that is (from what I can tell) hidden from the player that tracks the number of heinous actives I.E executing already dying enemies, killing animals, harming your friends or subordinates, destroying Diamond Dogs property. Each infraction has a relatively small amount of Dps associated with them, that combined with the seemingly astronomical amount needed to hit full Demon Snake, 170,000, one would assume that reaching this stage would be an act one has to intentionally go after. Not something you stumble into.

Being the bad guy in a video game is never something I’ve wanted to do. From KOTOR to Fable to Infamous to Mass Effect to TES:Oblivion (I originally wrote Skyrim, but we all know nothing really mattered in Skyrim.) I’ve never wanted to be a dick. Even though I appreciate the choice, being an evil doer just seemed so unnatural to me. Maybe game devs don’t make the choices appealing or compelling enough for me, or maybe its just that no matter how succulent the carrot dangled in front of me is, I simply don’t want to run after it for fear of being a virtual menace. (Not to mention everyone I know who does intentionally take the evil path in video games is the type of person who likes to comment cards with dicks drawn on them in suggestion boxes at restaurants.)

Not that I’m opposed to any moral turpitude in my real life. I’m quite the sinner with a long list of past transgressions and vices ranging from incipient to down right necessary. I like wine, women and dirty song and hate authority, PC police, hippies. I’ve lied, cheated, stolen and while I ain’t proud of any of those things, I know there will come a time when their use might benefit me in the again. I’m no saint, not even in the faintest, but all my abhorrent behavior aside, I still fashion my self a good guy, one with morals, values and a code.

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And maybe that’s why Demon Snake shakes me like it does. Here was this character I’ve controlled on this wild adventure, and sure one of the themes of The Phantom Pain is revenge, and how far humans will go to achieve revenge, I still felt that my Big Boss was noble, that his quest righteous, that he was one of the good guys. But the blood and the horn and the overheard conversations of Diamond Dog recruits about how violent my Big Boss was becoming, all of that pointed to the glaring fact that Big Boss was a man who was tainted by sin, who was marred by a past that of amount of well meaning intent could fix.

My Big Boss murders, indiscriminately. With lead and flames and blades. And in a game like The Phantom Pain were you are given multiple non-lethal ways of dealing with foes, killing, no matter how grisly, is often always the laziest route. And the layer of blood my Snake wore, was evident of that laziness, of my selfish determination to make my life easier by ending the lives of others. My vices and penchant for the easy route was affecting My Big Boss. And as they say; Microcosm affects Macrocosm and I begin to think about that Macrocosm, this world, and if I had this layer of blood on me. As I get on trains and go to bars and talk to family, if the stains of my sins were plastered on me like they were Snake.

Demon Snake has no bonus abilities nor does the player receive extra scenes. That would have been too shallow a gimmick , too cliché. Demon Snake merely serves as a reminder that you are not the hero you think you are, that you are something dark and heinous and dreadful. So now as I approach my missions and Side-Ops differently, trying to reverse the affects Demon Snake, trying to kill less of the opposition, to visit those animals and children I became so bloviated with pride that I saved. And even though sneaking through enemy encampments chocking men out of consciousness isn’t as fun as being helicopter dropped into the middle of the fray and putting buck shots into the chest of anyone foolish enough to get close to me. I realize that Demon Snake isn’t the Snake I want to play, I realize that in order to be the Snake I want to be, sacrifices must be made. I have to take a gentler approach to the world, hold myself to a higher standard, because just because you can, doesn’t always mean you should. And maybe I’m reaching here, but I think that my urge to lose Demon Snake may mean that I’m one of the good guys after all.