David Bowie holds the secret to Metal Gear Solid 5, says Hideo Kojima

Big Boss in Metal Gear Solid V standing beside his mercenaries
(Image credit: Konami)

Metal Gear series creator Hideo Kojima has said David Bowie’s 1970 single The Man Who Sold the World holds the secret behind Big Boss, Venom Snake, and the plot twist of 2015’s Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain.

Kojima made the rather unexpected connection in a tweet, suggesting the lyrics of the song, which crops up throughout MGSV, act as a kind of easter egg, hinting at the game’s structure and foreshadowing its plot (beware, spoilers ahead).

The Man Who Sold the World can be most prominently heard during the game’s opening sequence, in which the player and another bandaged patient must escape a Cypriot hospital. While the player believes they’re controlling series nemesis Big Boss, it’s later revealed they’re actually playing as a decoy, dubbed Venom Snake. The real Big Boss is revealed to have been the bandaged man who helped you escape, hiding in plain sight all along.

Although Bowie wrote the song, his recording of The Man Who Sold the World doesn’t actually appear in the game. Instead, Midge Ure’s 1980 synthpop cover version is the one featured.

“At the beginning of MGSV, "The Man Who Sold the World”, a cover of David Bowie's famous song by Midge Ure, is played in the hospital in [Cyprus]. If you listen deeply to the lyrics here, you can understand the structure of MGSV,” Kojima tweeted.

“What is the background of Bowie's writing this song, and why is it a cover song? All the answers are clearly stated from the beginning,” he added.

Analysis: what does David Bowie’s song reveal?

The idea that The Man Who Sold the World song reveals all of MGSV’s twists up front is a bit of a stretch. The song’s lyrics are notably cryptic, and Bowie never explicitly explained their meaning. Some appear to reference the 1890 poem Antigonish, but one of the more popular interpretations, and likely the one Kojima is referring to here, suggests the song describes a nameless narrator who encounters a doppelgänger of themself.

From there, the song’s relevance to MGSV is pretty straightforward. Like the narrator of the song, Venom Snake is a version of Big Boss who has to reckon with the idea he’s a copy of another man. Add to that Bowie’s comments to the BBC in 1997, in which he says the song is about youth searching for meaning and identity, and you’ve got a somewhat elusive meaning that just about mirrors the character of Venom Snake.

As for why Kojima included Ure’s cover version of the song rather than Bowie’s original, it was probably intended as yet another way of reinforcing the idea of replacement. Venom Snake is a cover for Big Boss, much like Ure composed a cover of the original track.

Vague and a little bit pretentious? We should expect as much from Kojima.

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Callum Bains
Gaming News Writer

Callum is TechRadar Gaming’s News Writer. You’ll find him whipping up stories about all the latest happenings in the gaming world, as well as penning the odd feature and review. Before coming to TechRadar, he wrote freelance for various sites, including Clash, The Telegraph, and Gamesindustry.biz, and worked as a Staff Writer at Wargamer. Strategy games and RPGs are his bread and butter, but he’ll eat anything that spins a captivating narrative. He also loves tabletop games, and will happily chew your ear off about TTRPGs and board games.