The world’s first head transplant surgery might be one giant hoax

Look familiar? Konami, Dave Smith/Business Insider

Remember that recent story about the 30-year-old Russian man who volunteered to be the first person to have his head transplanted onto another human body? Well, it might all be one giant hoax.

Kotaku UK published a comprehensive breakdown on this conspiracy theory that suggests Dr. Sergio Canavero, the controversial real-life neurosurgeon from Turin, Italy, who has published more than 100 papers, is actually helping market a new game called “Metal Gear Solid 5: The Phantom Pain.”

Here’s the lineup of evidence that suggests this is the case:

  • As the Kotaku UK report points out, it all started with a post on the video game forum NeoGAF, which showed off the uncanny similarities between Canavero and a character from the game.
Head transplant canavero
  • Valery Spiridonov, the 30-year-old volunteer who is allegedly getting the transplant, is a CG artist and a game development supervisor.
  • Dr. Canavero held his TED Talk in Cyprus, where the hospital scene in “Metal Gear Solid 5” allegedly plays out.
  • TED Limassol, where Canavero gave his TED Talk, is an anagram for “Solid Metals.”
  • The head transplant project is called “HEAVEN,” which is also a reference to the bad guys in the “Metal Gear Solid” series.
  • Dr. Canavero has written many articles on the phenomenon called “phantom pain,” which is also the subtitle of the next “Metal Gear Solid” game.

And here’s the kicker:

  • Hideo Kojima, who heads up the “Metal Gear Solid” franchise, tweeted about his next project in 2010: “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.”

This makes it sound like Kojima was able to persuade Dr. Canavero to join his venture — to help leverage his authority as a famous doctor and neurosurgeon to promote “Metal Gear Solid 5” with a viral marketing stunt.

Sergio canavero

Dr. Canavero told Kotaku UK that he’s never heard of Konami or Hideo Kojima “and he doesn’t understand why they used him as a template for that character without asking him permission.” And yet, when asked about his resemblance to the 3D character from the game, Dr. Canavero could only guess:

“One of the sponsors [at TED] 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 farfetched.”

When Kotaku’s Gabriele Galliani tried to protest, Dr. Canavero interrupted with what could be the giveaway:

“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.”

In other words, it sounds like Dr. Canavero is in fact a real doctor who happened to strike a cross-promotional deal with Konami and Kojima: He and Spiridonov promote the head transplant surgery, which in turn promotes the game. We still have yet to confirm these findings, but there is a ton of evidence pointing in this direction.

Also worth noting: This hoax sounds like it’s right out of Kojima’s playbook. Hideo Kojima is known for deceiving his audiences before revealing a major game he’s working on. Last year, he didn’t simply unveil the next big “Silent Hill” game: He created a fake game studio and released a completely unrelated game, that, when played to its completion, revealed that it was just a teaser for Kojima’s next project.

Kojima pulled a similar bait-and-switch with the reveal to “Metal Gear Solid 5,” where he created a fake game studio and an unknown developer named “Joakim Mogren.” He later revealed the developer to be “a Swedish guy.”

We’ve reached out to Konami, as well as Dr. Canavero, and we’ll update this story if we hear back. Until then, the evidence from Kotaku UK and NeoGAF is absolutely worth your eyes.

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