I’m traveling a bit off the beaten path today. Today’s topic is unusual for this blog; usually, I try to confine the subject matter here to things that could still be relevant to someone years down the road. What I’m going to talk about now will likely be settled this time next year, and we’ll have a better idea of the thought process behind the recent “disgusting” character design of Quiet, one of MGSV’s villains. This might not seem like something that would warrant the attention of an entire blog post, but seeing as how both Metal Gear and the obtuse objectification of women are very important issues to me (for completely opposite reasons), I’d like to take the time to defend what I see–hopefully the story of MGSV, in my opinion one that intends to build on the greatest narrative in the history of human thought, doesn’t make me look like an idiot next year when we all get the chance to see the issue more clearly.
I read the quote from Halo developer David Ellis before I saw the design to which he was referring; “Our industry should know better than this…industry full of man babies.” Since I knew it was in reference to something related to Metal Gear, I was driven to find out what Hideo Kojima (MGS creator) could possibly have put into one of his games–games that I’ve long given credit for having a level of conscience unmatched by any other–that caused someone to tweet THAT out. This turned out to be the culprit…
Pictured here is a mercenary named Quiet, one of the villains in the upcoming release, Metal Gear Solid V. I have to admit, when I first saw this picture, my heart sank a little. I can honestly say that I don’t particularly like the creative direction of her design, because let’s face it–that isn’t exactly standard-issue gear for a professional sniper. No, I’ve never known a sniper personally, but somehow I doubt that they’d want to leave themselves so…exposed to the elements. However, Metal Gear has never let me down, and I had to remind myself that so far, there has been a legitimate, story-driven reason for almost everything.
For one thing, while it’s true that Quiet’s gear isn’t standard-issue, I can assure you that Quiet herself isn’t a standard-issue sniper. One of the things I’ve always loved about MGS is its ability to tell a story and show you people that aren’t quite over-the-top, but not quite believable, either. To me, the eccentricity of its characters (especially the villains) has only made for better theater. It might not seem at first like you’d want to waste time on a story that tries to sell you on a guy named Psycho Mantis (seriously?), but you really do have to let those people have a chance to put themselves out there before you jump to conclusions about how stupid the idea is. In most cases, I think you’d be right to judge; if something in a story sounds stupid, it probably is. With Metal Gear, though, it isn’t that simple. Some of these people are very complex, and absolutely everything they do finds its justification somewhere in their history or the story itself. Quiet’s appearance may very well have a perfectly acceptable explanation, or may at least serve to accentuate the eccentricity that I’ve come to love so much in all the series’s villains.
Also, this situation has precedent. Metal Gear Solid 3, which took place in 1964 during the Cold War, featured a promiscuous-seeming character named Eva. Through the entire playing experience, Eva seemed for all the world to be a cliche video game heroine, something nice for all the “man babies” to look at while her actual plot line and function got shoe-horned into an otherwise serious and meaningful story. It wasn’t until the very end, however, that (spoiler alert) we learned about her involvement with the Chinese government’s attempt to recover the universally-sought-after Philosopher’s Legacy, an almost limitless source of funding that the three national superpowers were fighting over. It turned out that Eva had undergone extensive charm school instruction, and the Chinese were taking a much subtler approach to securing the Legacy than their two competitors, Russia and the United States. I understand that when it gets nutshelled like that it sounds like a weak attempt to justify animating a seductive female into a video game, but if you aren’t going to see it for yourself, you’ll just have to take my word for it that it really does work. By the time the story was concluded, it was perfectly clear that the story would have suffered greatly without Eva’s presence, and at the end of the day she was every bit the dedicated soldier that the rest of the cast was, if not even more so. If there was justification for Eva, I’m more than willing to suspend my disappointment in Quiet until I find out what the details are.
For all the reasons to hold out hope, there is one thing that concerns me. I mentioned above that there has been a legitimate, story-driven reason for almost everything. Hideo Kojima, though, seems to be a bit of an eccentric himself. Like I said, he’s infused his greatest work with a conscience seen all too rarely in video games, and media in general, but I can definitely think of one very perplexing design choice. In Metal Gear Solid 4, the villains were a group of war victims from different parts of the world whose minds had been shattered by the horror of the fighting around them. They were each affected in a unique and personally disturbing way, and their minds were damaged “pretty much beyond repair.” Not only that, but physically their bodies had become so dependent on the war machines they had since been outfitted with that they could only survive outside of them for a few minutes once the shell was removed. That’s pretty dark stuff, right? Being a huge fan of the series, I can tell you that I found this particular group more frightening than any other the series has to offer so far, and they were also my favorites. Still, for some reason, during those intense few moments after the fight was over and you just had to keep away from the gorgeous-looking maniac, now stripped of her fighting ability, for another minute or two, there was a way to get her into the infamous “White Room.” The White Room, it turns out, is a place that exists completely outside of the game and the story, and affords a player the opportunity to take frivolous pictures of each “Beauty” for reasons that I still can’t comprehend. This is a completely useless and irrelevant feature, and it mars an otherwise sterling track record of taking all the right things seriously. Honestly, if the picture on the right is what shell shock looks like, just send me off to war now.
Hopefully, this is just a case of the public getting to see something out of context and jumping to the wrong conclusions. There are a lot of reasons to believe that when all is said and done, Quiet’s appearance is going to make perfect sense. I do earnestly hope, however, that Metal Gear, a story which has so far been so responsible in its treatment of the concepts of war and violence, isn’t thinking about starting down that slippery slope toward base female exploitation. It seems silly to me to even write that, because like I said, Metal Gear has always been about so much more. I can’t help but worry in the back of my mind, though, that Quiet might end up in the White Room…