Meet The Head Transplant Doctor At The Centre Of A Metal Gear Conspiracy

Meet The Head Transplant Doctor At The Centre Of A Metal Gear Conspiracy

For almost a week now, some parts of the gaming internet have been going nuts over the visual similarities between the doctor that features in the trailer for Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain, and the controversial real-live Dr Sergio Canavero, the neurosurgeon who recently found sudden fame when he claimed that he was ready and able to perform the first human head transplant in medical history. He’s even found a prospective patient, a Russian called Valery Spirodonov, who suffers from a terminal muscle-wasting disease.

It all started with a simple post on gaming forum NeoGAF, showing this photo:

Meet The Head Transplant Doctor at The Center of a Metal Gear Conspiracy

It spawned a wild chain of speculation spanning hundreds of different websites and message boards. First, posters latched onto the fact that Canavero’s head-transplant project is called HEAVEN. Then someone else remembered an old Kojima quote that stated: “The next project will challenge a certain type of taboo, if I mess up, I’ll probably have to leave the industry. However, I don’t want to pass by avoiding that. I turn 47 this year. It’s been 24 years since I started making games. Today, I got an ally who would happily support me in that risk. Although it’s just one person. For a start, it’s good.”

Some people noticed that he Dr. Canavero has written several articles on the phenomenon of phantom pain. Then there was speculation that Snake has undergone a head transplant on MGSV, or that Snake’s scar vaguely resembles the logo in the background of Cavanero’s TED talk… all sorts. It’s genuinely crazy. The below infographic from imgur gives you an idea:

Meet The Head Transplant Doctor at The Center of a Metal Gear Conspiracy

[Source: imgur]

Some of these connections that people were making were pretty good. Others were more like shooting at the wall and then painting a target around the hole: like the suggestion that Dr. Canavero might even not be a real doctor, but just somebody hired for the craziest viral marketing campaign ever. Mr Canavero is indeed a real doctor who’s published more than a hundred papers, and is actually a pretty familiar face here in Italy. In 2008 he managed to wake a patient from a vegetative coma using a technique of his own invention. This was widely reported in all the major newspapers in my country because it happened right in the middle of a chain of events involvingPiergiorgio Welby and Eluana Englaro, two of the most-discussed euthanasia cases of that time.

To be clear: if this were all some crazy marketing plan, that would mean that Canavero had been taking the piss out of the entire world, including the press and the whole medical community, for over a decade. He would hardly be the world’s first fake doctor, but to plan all of that for the sake of marketing a video game? That’s too fucked-up to believe. Even by Kojima’s standards. But just to be sure, I called him up.

On the other end of the phone I found an extremely friendly person who immediately thanked me for contacting him. During our conversation, Dr. Canavero told me that he was shocked by how similar to him the Metal Gear Solid character in the videos was, from his appearance right down to the mannerisms.

Meet The Head Transplant Doctor at The Center of a Metal Gear Conspiracy

[From the NeoGAF thread.]

Random internet people have been trying to contact Dr. Cavanero for days; one Redditor managed to get a single line of text from him. He told me that he has never been in any kind of contact with Konami or Kojima, that he had never even heard of them before all of this happened and he doesn’t understand why they used him as a template for that character without asking him permission. I pointed out his resemblance to the actor from whom Konami actually did the scanning for the three-dimensional model, but he tells me that his lawyer has suggested something different that involves a conference held in Cyprus:

“One of the sponsors was coincidentally a game developer. Maybe some people there…I don’t know…maybe they recorded the thing from certain angles, maybe the cameras were set up in the right spots… I do not know. It’s just a hypothesis, but maybe it’s not too far-fetched.”

I pointed it out that this seemed rather unlikely and that there was probably a simpler explanation, but he interrupted me:

“To be completely honest with you: this isn’t such a bad thing. Since my project requires a lot of money, Mr.Kojima will be able to say he had a part in HEAVEN [the name of his head transplant procedure] despite the fact that he probably never intended to.”

Dr. Canavero isn’t just surprised by all this, but actually rather put out; he’s even thinking of suing Konami over it. “I went to the Polizia Postale [the authority in charge of this kind of thing here in Italy] and filed a complaint towards Mr.Kojima. There is also a Twitter account that is not mine, so I reported this to the Police too, they will now investigate both the matters. In the meantime my lawyer is sending a letter to the Japanese company [Konami] to ask for compensation [for using my image without permission].”

He mentioned this more than a few times during our phonecall. He also seemed very interested in how much Metal Gear Solid V might be worth. At one point, suddenly asked me: “By the way, do you know how much this game is going to cost? And how many copies will it sell?” When I estimated that it will sell maybe 4 million units at 60 euros a pop, he started laughing.

“Wow!!! Sixty Euros? Multiplied by 4 or 5 MILLION? That would cover the whole operation for Valery and then some! We’re talking about an insane amount of money!”

Towards the end of the call we talked a lot about his HEAVEN project. Dr. Canavero really is one of the most passionate people I’ve ever talked to. He couldn’t wait to explain things to me — things that I’m far too medically uneducated to understand. I definitely got the impression that he’s rather enjoying this sudden burst of popularity. I asked him if he thought the whole situation had already affected his image or had any repercussions.

“It’s just surprising that despite having been around the world, speaking at more than 300 medical conferences about what could be the biggest medical achievement in history, I feel like now I’m at the peak of my popularity thanks to a video game… a video game I wasn’t even involved in to begin with.”

Gabriele Galliani is an Italian journalist who writes for Official PlayStation Magazine, Byte Size Impressions and more. Find him on Twitter.

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This post originally appeared on Kotaku UK, bringing you original reporting, game culture and humour from the British isles.


  • This is why Kojima is the best. no other developer would have people digging this deep.

  • I wouldn’t be surprised if canavero is just an actor and this whole thing is a pr stunt/hoax.

    I’ve never heard of a surgeon branding their surgery with a ridiculously anime acronym, and I’m entirely dubious about the ability for the surgery to be possible within the limitations of current medical technology.

    Kojima is such a wizard I can’t believe anything any more. Is he ACTUALLY in trouble with konami? Was his standing up of the famitsu awards just a “weird Joaquin Phoenix” moment? Nobody knows except for kojima…

    • Branding for the sake of funding in the medical field isn’t as uncommon as you would think. But this one does come off a little contrived.

      I watched one of the guys presentations and he comes off as someone who truly believes that current scientific and medical technology has the tools it needs to achieve a transplant.
      People have already done similar procedures with varying levels of success in animals (Which was creepy enough to read about and seriously came off as mad scientist gear in some cases)

      I’m not disregarding the idea that this is a massive PR stunt, but it’s not completely in the realms of impossibility just yet.

  • I don’t care what anyone says: David Hayter is coming back. All this crazy convoluted conspiracy crap just keeps coming up, and it can’t all be just happenstance.

  • Isn’t there some old adage about everyone having a doppelganger somewhere in the world?
    Seriously, people look fairly similar when you get right down to it. It’s only because we are exposed to the minor differences every day that we don’t notice.
    With 7 billion people in the world and the level of graphical fidelity available now, it is not surprising to have similarities. Especially when the archetype is so similar – tall, slim, older, white, Balding, bespectacled, male doctor.

    • There are only so many genetic templates that can be possible so there will indeed be duplicates with so many people on the planet. Disregarding hair, eye and skin colour there will be on average another 5 people alive YOUR ‘template’ and look strikingly similar to you. I’ve personally met a blond russian version of myself as well as a buffer version of myself from scotland. So yeah.

  • Even if it’s fully on the legit, it’s undeniable how much of a ruse I feel coming.

  • Lets put it this way, mgs5 has 1 of thee most spookiest coincidences ever, with a dr in the who may have unethical experiments looking like someone who is going to do 1 of thee most spookiest transplants ever: a head transplant, this is definitely 1 spooky coincidence

  • Btw the Soviets did head transplants on dogs and monkeys. They successfully joined a dogs head, to another dog and achieved a living two headed animal. They also kept a dogs head alone, alive and responsive using primitive life support. They brought a dead person back to life with the same machinary. He opened his eyes, coughed and they freaked out. Pulled the plug. This was well before the 80s.

    Look it up. Its seriously weird, disturbingly real stuff. I saw a doco a few months ago.

    People who say a human head transplant is impossible or definitely beyond current medically technology, most likely don’t understand what was already done in the 60s. What you really should be asking is IF it should be done with our current lack understanding into the real medical implications of such.

    Look up “cellular memory” – there are credible medical studies suggesting cells, other than braincells, can store thoughts or influence aspects of personality. I.e someone recieves a heart and takes on feelimgs/personality traits of the donor without knowing ever have known them or the donors family. Only to find out some pretty spooky things later on. This is just one issue out of many potential issues science doesn’t fully understand/acknowledge despite the evidence.

    If Cellular memory turns out to be something significant and accepted, things like head transplants could blur the line not in terms of morality, which I have no problem with, but in terms of moving ahead without knowimg enough about whether you could be merging personalities etc. Its not crackpottery either, definitely research it. Maybe one day, donor compatibility will take on new meanings. Yeah its fringe science, but not something to be totally ignored.

    To quote Ian Malcom “you were so preoccupied with whether or not you could, you didn’t stop to think if you should”.

  • The thing that gets me is, that trailer was out three years ago (my God we have waited a long time for this game!!) and this similarity (which is spooky as hell) was only just noticed!

    Either Kojima is a genius or this is one hell of a coincidence!

  • Noone else thinks it’s kind of sad that he’s looking to sue despite it looking as by all accounts, a coincidence?

  • Did no one notice that “Dr Sergio Canavero” is an anagram for “Kojima is a troll”?

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