As theSocial Distortion song ‘Don’t Drag Me Down‘ states, “You’re taking two steps forward, and four steps back.” That sentiment is one that sticks with me profoundly while playing Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain. Specifically, it is how I feel regarding the game’s treatment and absurdly overt sexualization of deadly female assassin Quiet. Minor spoilers for The Phantom Pain follow.
The good news is that as a whole video games have truly come into their own in the past decade. Advances in technology have given creators more freedom to produce interactive content that can truly resonate with people on the same way music, movies, paintings, and literature can. We are at that point. If you don’t believe me, read any review of The Last Of Us. There truly have been some incredible video game experiences across a wide variety of genres in the past ten years. Even the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C. sought fit to have a video game exhibit at the National Gallery of Art. If that doesn’t say “made it” then I don’t know what does.
Yet video games can still be stuck in their ways, and unfortunately, for all of its incredible achievements, The Phantom Pain falls frustratingly short in its depiction of women.
The center of this particular controversy revolves around Quiet, a mysterious assassin who can be deployed as a ‘buddy’ to help the player on missions. Other buddies include a dog, a horse, and a miniature mecha-robot. Quiet’s talents involve sniping and she can be upgraded as her loyalty grows to become a deadly force on the field. At the onset of the game, Quiet fails to assassinate you, twice, and after some time off camera returns later changed. Specifically, she’s been infected by a parasite which leaves her with two notable characteristics.
- She is unable to communicate at all and forced to let her actions speak for her.
- She breathes through her skin meaning clothing will suffocate her.
Let that sink in for a moment. Hideo Kojima wrote and designed an attractive female character who will literally die if she wears anything other than a bra and panties. She has see-through mesh stockings on as well, but these are full of holes, you know…so she can breathe.
Now I won’t give any spoilers beyond this point, but Quiet’s story ultimately becomes and interesting and emotional one. Her character has a part to play in everything that is going on. This is undeniable. And I think if the game wasn’t sexualizing her so much, Kojima could walk away proud of the character.
Except this isn’t the first time women in the Metal Gear franchise have been overtly sexualized though with Quiet it does seem to have reached new heights. But even if we gave Kojima the benefit of the doubt, he still manages to take it too far.
For example, much of your mission selection and base management is done in a helicopter. As you look at your not-so-subtly-named iDroid you have peripheral vision. If you have recently used Quiet she would contextually be in the chopper with you. And if she is, she gets physically restless. Take a look at this video to see what I mean, though trust I only used it as an example. The weirdly pornographic music was added by the uploader.
It should take you all of just a few minutes to see what I mean. And guess what, that’s not the only time Quiet has a moment akin to this. (I would advise only players who have played far enough with Quiet to have her as an option for missions watch this video, to avoid what are minimal spoilers.)
Hell, even if you don’t watch the video tell me that the thumbnail doesn’t look somewhat NSFW.
There is a very gross way that the camera fetishizes and focuses on the character. There are often lingering shots of her breasts or posterior that simply don’t need to be there. I’m no writer (said the guy writing this article) but I’m pretty sure I can concoct a better side effect of her infection than the fact that she breathes through her skin. And even if that were truly fundamental to the story, they still did not handle it in an appropriate or at all mature way. Kojima for his part has spoken on Quiet’s sexualization saying, “I created her character as an antithesis to the women characters appeared in the past fighting game who are excessively exposed. “Quiet” who doesn’t have a word will be teased in the story as well. But once you recognize the secret reason for her exposure, you will feel ashamed of your words & deeds.” I feel no shame. This is just gross. Oh, did I mention at one point she is nearly raped?
Again this is even more egregiously offensive because Quiet is a great and intriguing character in the game. Her character does have an arc and a damn emotional ending as well. And the entire time she is presented as deadly and capable in equal measure. There is no reason Quiet couldn’t dress functionally like Black Widow or Sarah Connor to get the job done other than #becauseplot.
Metal Gear Solid V is undoubtedly one of the best video games I’ve ever played, and as someone who has never picked up a copy in the series before because of pure intimidation, I’m so glad that I did. It’s impossible to overstate how fun and addicting and incredible the gameplay is. Kojima and Donald-Trump-in-company-form Konami Productions truly should be proud. This game will be a benchmark for many years.
Which is why this is so maddening.
If you go back and look at any footage from the making of Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace there is a cringeworthy moment where George Lucas says, “Jar Jar is the key to all of this.” Sixteen years later most fans of the series would give anything to go back and tell him how not true this was. And there is a similar feeling here. Kojima has always been one to genuinely put themes and framework behind his games. Metal Gear Solid 2 was a game about misinformation, and the advertising campaign was deliberately misinformed. But past examples of genius don’t mean you’re free from making terrible mistakes. And Quiet is the Jar Jar Binks of The Phantom Pain. Well, that is harsh. Jar Jar was a symptom of an entire legion of problems. Quiet is just a very obvious black mark on an otherwise incredible presentation.
At this point, it’s worth reiterating that not every video game commits this sin or does it so egregiously. However, the depiction of women in film and video games still has a lot of work, and it’s important to acknowledge the shortcomings. But I honestly think it is getting better. Despite everything wrong with Quiet, there was a lot right as well. And Kojima shouldn’t be written off completely regarding women. The Boss, who may only be slightly more dressed than Quiet, was an amazing video game character. And outside of Metal Gear we have Elle from The Last Of Us as well as more and more multiplayer shooters giving you the options for playing as female soldiers. Diablo III lets you pick to play as a male or female version of all six of its heroes. But when we still have depictions of women like Quiet, it is clear the pointless sexualization of women in video games is still a problem.
But I’ll go out on a high note.