Sonic Adventure 2 and the Manifold Horrors of Escapism

Sonic’s sophomore outing on the Dreamcast is a multifaceted gem, upon which you might see reflected back at you the darkest parts of the human soul

On the surface, Sonic Adventure 2 is a silly, mediocre game about an improbably fast anthropomorphic hedgehog and his small mammal-man pals trying to clear his name and save the day from the dastardly Dr. Ivo “The Notorious E.G.G.M.A.N.” Robotnik and his cohorts. It was released and re-released a few times. Some questionable decisions in the creative process had left an indelible smear on this increasingly stagnant franchise, but it had a rather ambitious story, great music, gameplay that had its moments, and the Chao garden is still the loveliest thing Sonic Team has ever made.

However, if you dare to look further in, you’ll see something much darker. Among the themes explored in this menagerie of woodland animals and mechs, are government corruption, fascism, racism, mental illness, the nature of being, and the value of life itself. Spoilers will ensue.

Governments, Guns, and the Shadows they Cast

The United Federations and the Guardians Units of Nations

In Sonic Adventure 2, a major antagonistic force throughout the game is GUN (Guardians Units of Nations). Seemingly based in the USA (or the equivalent in this world, the ‘United Federations’) but is in actual fact a multinational military body presumably composed of the armed forces of the Sonic world’s UN (and perhaps almost every nation on Earth), they have jurisdiction everywhere. Including space. Despite apparently being an international military organisation, they do answer directly to the POTUS. So… they are, for all intents and purposes, what happens when US military interventionism and exceptionalism are taken to their natural conclusion.

SA2 is set in a world that has literally been taken over by America, and countries seemingly maintain a modicum of their cultural identities only because some omniscient council of whiskey drinking, cowboy hat-wearing, apple pie-fucking dudes permit it. In this game, you cannot walk 5 seconds in a temple, an underground sewer, or space without encountering a heavily armed, unmanned GUN drone. The first Sonic and Shadow levels feature GUN deploying a three-storey high monster truck and fighter jets on San Francisco to capture or kill hedgehogs. I posit that the UF has a long history of asymmetric displays of power, and this is why their wanton use of weaponry is so normalised.

This is why car insurance is mandatory in 49 out of 50 states

Examination of some of the world’s other geography corroborates this notion. Pumpkin Hill is an Indian burial ground. The pumpkins grow from soil that thirsts for vengeance on colonisers. GUN employs mostly autonomous robots out in the field because the spectres would either drive those flesh and blood soldiers insane or kill them and recruit their souls to their ranks. I can say this confidently because the ghosts also appear in the sewers beneath San Francisco along with the GUN drones, but there’s no sign of manned craft like the F-6t Big Foot. Incidentally, Knuckles has to confront King Boom Boo at Eggman’s base because Knuckles is the last remaining member of a genocidal clan of Echidnas, as established in Sonic Adventure. Eggman, violent megalomaniac he may be, is a noted feminist and gentleman that seeks to overthrow the status quo, and thus he is spared the wrath of these vengeful spirits.

Professor Gerald Robotnik

Professor Gerald Robotnik is the grandfather of Dr. Eggman. He was a bona fide genius, much like his grandson, though Gerald dedicated his life to the advancement of humanity, not their subjugation. He was approached by the unnamed president of the UF to aid their scientists on a project that hoped to create an immortality formula. Skeptical that this project would be used for anything but conquest or riches, he initially rejected the offer to help with the research aboard the Space Colony ARK—the most advanced space station ever made, used by the government for RND and as another place for white people to live without fear of reprisal from the indigenous spirits of the damned— but changed his mind when he discovered his beloved grandaughter Maria had neuro-immune deficiency syndrome (NIDS {It’s clearly AIDS}). Maria’s disease left her so weak that she couldn’t leave the low gravity environment of the place of her birth: which just so happened to be the very same government-owned ARK. With a renewed sense of purpose, Gerald got to work on a cure for NIDS, under the premise of creating immortality for military use. This endeavour was called “Project Shadow”.

Gerald would look to the past for inspiration. He studied the mystic ruins that housed information on both the immortal mutated chao Chaos, and gems that hold unlimited power, the chaos emeralds. Predictably enough, the immediate results of this—the laser-equipped artificial chaos and the chaos drives that power gun machinery— would be weaponised immediately. Gerald’s work eventually bore fruit in the form of two exceptional specimens that possessed eternal life, or at least a reasonable enough facsimile.

The possible inspiration for the ultimate life

The first was the cornily-named “Biolizard” (I suppose a neighbouring department had a Cyberlizard, one further down had a Mechalizard, got to keep these things distinct), a genetically engineered organism that could harness the powers of the chaos emeralds to warp space-time. Gerald hoped that using the regenerative abilities of a lizard would provide a suitable base for something medicinal. However, the Biolizard was a failure: while it could indeed regenerate itself, the accelerated tissue growth was so enormous that the Biolizard was threatening to become a kaiju. Even with the lower gravity of the ARK, its organs were getting crushed by its sheer weight, and its hindlimbs became useless. It had to be fitted with a life support system outfitted with chaos drives so it could function. In addition, it was volatile. It had to be put in stasis to prevent it from doing any harm to the residents while Gerald worked on his other specimen.

They took some ultimate liberties for the ultimate life

GUN was fearful of Robotnik’s government-sponsored experiments leaking to the public (and presumably his potential for mass manufacturing a cure for AIDS or cancer) and sent a task force to silence everybody on the ARK so private healthcare could continue to make a profit from the suffering of billions. Gerald was kept alive so he and his experiments could take the fall for the “biological hazard” (murder) and he was imprisoned. They then had him continue his work under rather lax observation. While being monitored by the very same group that covertly went into space and wiped out the most brilliant collection of minds in the world, Gerald managed to set the events of the SA2 into motion. This includes—but is not limited to—hacking into several satellites and the ARK, changing the memories of both specimens so they would both be loyal to only him (one of them literally being sealed in the furthest reaches of the decommissioned space colony), setting up his last words to be uploaded and seamlessly edited into his doomsday video, and keeping a diary of everything he did. Evidently, the world’s taxes are going towards the shutting down of space stations, the assassination of the world’s greatest minds, and prisons that don’t restrain criminals, but only monitor them when they feel like issuing ominous supervillain speeches for posthumous broadcast. Eventually, Gerald was executed. In the same lab coat he always wears. Couldn’t even spare a dime for a prison uniform.

Shadow (?)

Shadow, arguably the most important character in the game, is the self-proclaimed ultimate lifeform and the second of Gerald’s specimens. A ghastly visage, embedded in his ebony ceratopsid* skull rests a single bulbous organ. Possessing similar functions to what we humans know as ‘brains’ and ‘eyes’, I theorise this organ affords him the psychokinetic powers he so readily displays. When a chaos emerald is reflected in his alien gaze, he can halt the flow of time and fold space like an origami accordion in order to traverse vast distances (chaos control), and emit a cosmic conflagration with unknowable trajectories (chaos spear). Despite being a horrible sleep paralysis demon that has long since grown too powerful to be confined to the end of a bed, Shadow proved to be docile in his infancy, befriending Gerald’s granddaughter Maria, whose “soul” his personality was based on. He’s also a cute 3-foot-tall hedgehog.

*Espio the Chameleon is somewhere on the uncropped version of this picture of ceratopsian dinosaurs

Despite actually being a small mammal programmed to have the loving heart of a sweet little cinnamon bun (or maybe because he was one), he was deemed a threat by GUN during their raid of the ARK. Shadow was ushered into an escape pod by Maria, who took a bullet for him in the process. Shadow would be captured by Gun on Earth, where Gerald would surreptitiously make some adjustments to him as he continued Project Shadow during his incarceration. 50 years later Shadow’s memories of Maria’s humanitarian desires would be suppressed, leaving him with little else but the memory of her getting gunned down and Gerald’s instructions for revenge. Once awakened by Eggman, he would trick him into collecting the seven chaos emeralds with the allure of using them to power the eclipse canon, a high-powered energy weapon on the ARK used to destroy any foreign objects that would threaten the station or the Earth. When all seven emeralds are collected, the energy is diverted to the ARK’s engines so it can destroy the planet.

What makes Shadow interesting in SA2 is his ambiguity. The only certainty about his past is that his memory was tampered with during Gerald’s imprisonment. It’s heavily implied that the “Shadow” Gerald was talking about in his diary was the Biolizard. Gerald described his creation as an “it”, and boasts he had made his creation’s mind to be “perfect” and “pure”; the hedgehog shows doubts several times, while the lizard is single-minded in its pursuit of Earth’s destruction despite being cited as unreliable 50 years prior. It’s also possible that the “Shadow” that escaped the ARK is different from the one seen during the events of the game. Officially, it was never found and it’s dubious as to whether that Shadow was ever complete to begin with. The one you play as could have been manufactured from scratch during Gerald’s incarceration.

What’s more, whether Shadow has eternal life or not is irrelevant since the professor was planning an extinction-level event anyway. The uniqueness of chaos control is put into question because Sonic finds out he can also do it by thinking really hard about it. For all we know Shadow could be some incidental anthropomorphic hedgehog that Gerald programmed to be an omnicidal killing machine using the implanted memories of Maria.

This exchange is pretty painful in hindsight. Doubly so if it turned out Sonic was the real prototype that escaped the ARK 50 years ago

Sonic Heroes would continue this thread by implying the Shadow that survived the events of SA2 is really a replicant of the one from that game, if not the original that was jettisoned from the ARK 50 years ago. 2005’s Shadow the Hedgehog would clarify that Shadow is real, is the one from SA2, is in fact the ultimate lifeform, and he was made with the DNA of a one-dimensional alien overlord. However, the sources of all pertinent information in that game come from Eggman, the evil alien overlord, GUN employees, and Shadow’s own unreliable memory. As such, the veracity of all claims made in that game are suspect. This article will carry on under the reasonable and thematically appropriate assumption that the alien race calling themselves “The Black Arms”, is in fact a UF-backed mutant militia developed in 1960 to topple a communist leader, and they grew too powerful for GUN to control and were jettisoned to a comet with magnets or something.


Why would GUN be so quick to assume that Gerald was developing a weapon to be used against them or their interests? He’d seemingly have nothing to gain by making one. This was before Eggman was regularly threatening the world with his robotics or whatever ancient evil he stumbled upon that month. The Biolizard was dangerous, yeah, but Gerald was probably the person most at risk from it going out of control because of his proximity. What would be Gerald’s or any other colony dweller’s perceived motive for turning against the government or leaking information about the Biolizard to the public?

I would posit that Maria’s condition wasn’t a coincidence. Someone deliberately infected her with whatever the equivalent of HIV is, so Gerald would have a reason to work for the UF at their facility. Fearing that Gerald would find out, they sought to make sure he could never Whether Gerald considered the possibility that Maria’s illness came from the government or not, he would eventually go on to blame the UF—and by extension the world—for Maria’s death. The fact that GUN continued to have Gerald do research for them while he was detained in Prison Island (essentially Guantanomo Bay) only further incriminates the UF and GUN. They didn’t care about the safety of their staff. They just cared about the results.

They gave his cousin AIDS and framed his kindly grandfather for bioterrorism. It’s no wonder Eggman has a chip on his shoulder

Gerald, Maria, and Shadow are direct victims of bad actors in the government manipulating the narrative for the sake of their own vested interests. What’s more, they covered it up to such an extent that details of the events were unknown to the current government. For a cover-up of this magnitude to occur, the order would have had to come all the way from the top. As mentioned earlier, GUN—the international peace-keeping body responsible for the tragedy that happens on the Ark—seems to be headed by the United States. Observing the photos of the Ark incident, it did not seem likely colour photography was widely available for commercial use. If the development of the Ark is meant to be Sonic universe’s counterpart to the space race, and Gerald’s development of the ultimate lifeform is analogous to the US’s ICBMs, it wouldn’t be unreasonable to assume that the events of the ARK incident took place in the late 50s to early 60s.

Gerald’s access to sepia-toned Polaroids as well as his prolific use of satellite transmission would suggest he was working on the ARK in 1963, the year both these things became available to people who had the resources. Who was POTUS during this year?

None other than…

Not gonna lie, I was really hoping it’d be Richard Nixon or something

…the 35th president of the United States of America, and noted civil rights champion, John Fitzgerald Kennedy!? Son of a bitch.

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He/Him A flamboyant ultra nerd, Dave participates in the Underlevelled Tournament both for the thrill of the fight, and to avenge the orphans lost in the climax of the previous tournament. Born: London Height: ??? Weight: ??? Hobbies: street dance, collecting manga volumes, reading, editing Likes: short-to-medium walks on the beach, pointing out how things can and will be misconstrued as racism, fighting games, RPGs, anime, Hades, alternative hip hop, conscious hip hop, Mara Wilson, overly long bios, ice-cream Dislikes: insincere media, his own uncanny resemblance to Richard Ayoade, mayonnaise

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