Every villain in Metal Gear Solid is a snarl of shifting allegiances and hidden motives, battering against the boundaries that box them in, but Mantis proves himself as the most radical antagonist of them all: an enemy rebelling against the game itself. Metal Gear Solid, of course, is not short on deathbed speeches, and in Mantis' final moments, he reveals that his motives for joining FOXHOUND's ill-fated rebellion are not ideological, but insane - he just wanted to kill as many people as humanly possible. But is this behavior really "psycho" if the people he kills are just spools of data in a game's winding script? In failing health, he boasts that the protagonist of the game is "just like me." But how are they alike - as killers and mercenaries, or as fellow fictions? In a final wink to the player's limited choices, he croaks that the future between Solid Snake and his love interest is not yet written ... because, you see, the game has multiple endings. In one, she lives. In one, she dies. Even heady themes like fate and free will break down to a coin toss of ones and zeroes.

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Mantis, as a seer, has proven unusually prescient. At the time of Metal Gear Solid, the contents of our consoles were still top secret. There was no networked way to display or share what we might be playing on any given day, and the contents of our save cards were known only to us. What we played, and how we played it, was our business alone, which only magnified the unseemly experience of Mantis rooting through our past save files like pages from a diary. Mantis' trick turned the private in public, which partly explains why his recitation of other memory files is read off so gleefully, like a schoolyard bully giving the straight dish on Santa Claus. But would today's gamers be vulnerable to such a stunt? Today, with online player profiles in Xbox 360, PlayStation and Steam, a gamer's play history is an open book, and anybody can take a peep. The data that Mantis dredged up to such mocking effect is now public domain, and the twinge of reflexive discomfort that comes from revisiting our gaming history is now par for the course.

In gazing deep into the bowels of your memory card, Mantis reads not only the entrails of your game, but of all of gaming - where we've been, where we are, where we're going. In all of Metal Gear Solid's grand vainglorious drama, Mantis shows himself to be that rarest of species - a puppet who can see the strings.

Brendan Main can't sleep, cause his bed's on fire. Don't touch him, he's a real live wire.

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