Metal Gear Solid

I’ll admit something here; I adore the Metal Gear Solid series. The first game, for the PlayStation One, is a masterpiece, and the rest that have followed are brilliant as well. However, after hearing about the latest one, Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes, from YouTuber NerdCubed (@DanNerdCubed) I feel a need to write about it and to never play one of my all-time favourite games ever.

Let me tell you something about myself first of all. I’m a gamer; I have been for years and years, since I was about seven or eight. As I’ve grown up I’ve come to the realisation that, in gaming, there is a lot of sexism. This sexism is aimed at women, be it female gamers or female characters in games. Even supposedly ‘strong’ female characters, like Lara Croft (Tomb Raider games), suffers from it. In the Tomb Raider gamers she is usually depicted with large breasts, which have steadily grown through the years before being downsized in the recent reboot of the series. There is also a lot of violence towards women in games. The point is that I am aware of the sexism in gaming and have been in numerous discussions about the subject. Some of the games I agree with and some I do not.

For a bit of background on what I’m talking about the Metal Gear Solid series is, usually, very camp and tongue in cheek. Even when dealing with serious things it has a laugh. For example, a running gag in the series is a guard called Jonny who is constantly suffering from toilet trouble. Another example are the Metal Gears themselves, giant robots with the ability to launch nuclear missiles, usually not something to laugh at but the series manages to make it funny because….it’s a giant robot.

However, the latest one, MGS V: Ground Zeroes, takes it in a whole other direction. This is not a direction for the better in my opinion. The direction is a lot darker and much worse. Now I’m not going to give you a whole host of reasons why this game is a complete and utter pisstake, I’m just going to tell you about the main reason NerdCubed, and myself, think it’s terrible and why we are now disgusted with the series and the games. It concerns a reward you can achieve. This is an extra, it contributes nothing to the story and it isn’t intended to make us dislike the main villain even more, simply because it’s an extra, players don’t have to unlock if they don’t want to.

This ‘reward’ is simply an audio tape. Normally nothing to be concerned about I hear you say, however the audio tape has one of the characters, Paz who is 25’s, having her clothes ripped off, you actually hear them being ripped off. This is then followed by both her and a 13 year old boy, Chico, being beaten and then having Chico forced upon her under threat of being ‘strung up next’ by the villain simply known as Skullface….she is forced to have sex with a 13 year old boy. A whole lot of other stuff then occurs during the audio tape, which is around ten minutes long, involve rape and gang rape, but it is the ending which is the most fucked up. At the end of the audio tape Paz and Chico voluntarily have sex….for fun!

Now there are two possible reasons for this, either Hideo Kojima, the writer, is an even worse writer then we ever dared dream, or it is genuinely meant as a reward. In a previous game featuring Paz, Metal Gear Solid Peace Walker, during a cut-scene you can actually zoom in on a picture of Paz and as you zoom in items of her clothing disappear. This leads me to the conclusion that Hideo Kojima actually does think this that the audio tape is a reward worth putting in the game.

Hearing about this last night disgusted me, as it disgusted NerdCubed, and the knowledge that this is in the game, in a series that I adore, has ruined everything for me. Let me just state this again; a reward in the game is an audio tape of a 25 year old woman being beaten and having a 13 year old boy forced to have sex with her, ending with those two having sex for fun. Yeah, I….the series is ruined for me.

When I first heard Nerdcubed talking about this my first reaction was shock. I found it unbelievable that this sort of thing would find its way into a series that is renowned for its humour and campness. As I listened to more of NerdCubed’s video this shock transformed into disgust, this sort of thing should not become common place in games. It is something that should be addressed and combatted; people need to be brought up on it.
How long can we, gamers, go on defending game companies for the sexism in games if more and more start to include things such as the audio tape? I’m not saying that we have to stop playing games; there are many games that have no such sexism, for example Mario, or the Metroid series. However, the Metal Gear Solid series seems to have gone over the edge and how long will it be till more follow?
The Grand Theft Auto series, for example, generally has no meaningful female characters and what female characters there are usually live up to the stereotypes that are portrayed in the media. How long until that series goes further over the edge? I hope that it doesn’t happen as I do enjoy the games but I can’t be certain, no one can. I get the sense that the gaming community has become too complacent in its acceptance of sexism and are purposefully creating more extreme scenes and scenarios where sexual violence and, in this case, child abuse are the accepted norm as entertainment. There seems to be no negative reviews picking up on this, instead the negative reviews are picking up on the shortness of the game and only one review, by Ria Jenkins of the Guardian, writes about the audio tape and sexual violence. I can’t help but wonder whether if there is a weary acceptance and resignation which leads to a lack of interest.
Have we become desensitised to the portrayal of women that we don’t challenge extreme misogyny and sexism when we see it on the screen?

 

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One thought on “Metal Gear Solid

  1. An excellent post, thanks very much for writing it.
    I took have been concerned at the lack of discussion of (to my mind) is the most troubling and problematic aspect of the game, and I appreciate you giving a link to a very detailed treatment of it.

    ##side bar: I am realising more and more as this (rather mammoth) comment progresses that I am mostly critiquing not your post, but the review that you linked to. This is for two reasons. 1) Yes there is a massive problem with sexism in games as a whole. And you have every right to decide that this particular thing is a step too far. It would be remiss of me to write an entire reply just to tell you that how you feel about a thing is wrong. Your feelings are not wrong. But 2) it is possible that you are basing your thoughts on this on faulty analysis supplied by others-specifically that review. There are substantive facts. There are things which are ambiguous and open to interpretation. And there is analysis of these two things. And it is in the last two areas where disagreement can occur (in a respectful manner of course)

    Now I will admit at this point that I have not listened to the tapes themselves, but have had them described to me by a person I trust to do so accurately and without trying to put them in a better light. (I like to avoid being triggered wherever possible, hence my avoidance). However I do have some thoughts on this game and the series as a whole.

    Firstly, you are absolutely correct that the treatment of female characters in this series has been problematic overall. The way you can look under Paz’s clothes in a previous title, there’s really no defending that. Kojima does also seem to have a liking for very sexualised clothing on his female characters-the depictions of the character Quiet, for instance, continue to make that clear. However I feel this can be (somewhat) tempered by the fact that he often has really strong female characters. For example, we have the Boss, aka the Legendary Soldier, mentor to Big Boss (bio here, for brevity: http://metalgear.wikia.com/wiki/The_Boss), and Meryl (http://metalgear.wikia.com/wiki/Meryl_Silverburgh). As a general rule, female characters in the Metal Gear Solid games are protrayed as capable, often ruthless soldiers, easily the equal of the men in the games. Whether or not you think it is good that the women are protrayed as ruthless fighters is obviously a matter for some debate. But I never got the sense that the women in the games were in any way the lesser of their male characters.

    Now onto the specific criticisms of this game. I read the review fairly throughly, and I have to say I think that the author has done Kojima a disservice. Underneath the silliness that is undeniably present in pretty much all MGS games, there are serious points. And, honestly, the storylines are what have always brough me back to MGS. That and the end cut scenes that are longer than most films. If you look at Raiden as an example. Raiden is a former child soldier (http://metalgear.wikia.com/wiki/Raiden). Kojima has been drip feeding the horrors of war into every game. Every game has been about chosing not to fight. You have always been able to, in fact almost encouraged to, get through the game without killing anyone (with some boss fights being exceptions, but often even they can be done with stunning the opponent). In fact in 4, if you kill too many people you actually become ill. The series always been (at its core) about the consequences of violence-child soldiers, the horrors of war, nuclear proiliferation and disarmament. He cloaks it in hilarious silliness (who didn’t have a good laugh at Revolver Ocelot being controlled by Liquid’s arm), but he does have a message, even if the gamers didn’t want to see it.
    I honestly believe that the reason he put this into the game was as a part of that. We all know that rape is a weapon of war. I think he genuinely wanted to make a point about that.

    With what is actually contained in the tapes, that is a matter for debate. The person who listened to them for me did not, for example, get any sense that there was a gang rape (I have seen this mentioned a couple of times now, I guess that most people are taking their cue from the official rating description), and indeed he was left with the impression that Skullface was beating Paz rather than sexually assaulting her. I’m not sure how relevant that is to the points, but still it is one to think about.

    As to how it is treated. I’m not going to lie, sugar coat, or try to make it seem better. Reading that article, combined with what I was told about the tape, it sounds grim. It sounds grim, and nasty, and unpleasant. I do not believe that the tape contains the audio of the rape. I believe it is the precursor to it (FWIW). But yeah, it’s horrible. And it’s supposed to be. It is supposed to be unpleasant, and nasty, and brutal. Not for shock value (I have never gotten the impression that Kojima is chasing shocks), not for “entertainment” (it’s not particularly entertaining), but because it would be. Because torture happens in war. Because rape happens in war. And it’s awful awful awful. It’s not titilating. It’s not done as some kind of shorthanded ‘character development’ (as was pruported to be the case in the Tomb Raider game). It’s meant to make the listener feel uncomfortable, uneasy. Now personally, I don’t need a lesson in why rape is bad. Judging by what you have written, neither do you. But by god aren’t there are lot of people (men and boys mostly) who think rape is *hilarious*, a punchline, an edgy joke.

    The criticisms with regard to how this scene is played out, and how the character of Paz is portrayed in the review you linked are, I believe, completely off base. I do not know anyone who played the game or heard the tapes who was left with the impression that Kojima was telling us that Paz was deceitful, that she ‘deserved it’, and I certainly don’t think that her hair was cropped to make her more closely aligned with the male agonist. I got no oedipal reading from it. And I do not believe she was being cast as being sexually manipulative, evil or deviant. I will grant that it seems a little odd for Paz to (appear) to chose to have sex with Chico after all that had happened, however there are certainly ways that you can explain that from a character perspective: perhaps it was her way of reclaiming her body, by making a choice where she could? In any event I would be uncomfortable with critiquing that section with the framing that a ‘rape victim wouldn’t do that’, as we veer dangerously close to what a ‘real victim’ behaves like.

    I am rapidly approaching novel length in this comment, so I will try to make this last point brief. I have read criticism of the fact that these tapes are offered as a ‘reward’ and again, that isn’t how I have read it. I took it more as there are things that not everyone is going to want to listen to, so they aren’t mandatory (would it be worse or better if you had no choice but to listen to these tapes as part of the primary story?). But technically pretty much everything you obtain through playing a game could be seen as a ‘reward’ in one sense or another. So really what we need to consider at this point is if we think the subject of rape is one too difficult to be put in something that is a ‘game’. I see games growing as a medium and into an artform. There are films which deal with rape. I think it is possible for games to do so.

    In an attempt at a conclusion I only really have this to say. I am not telling you that how you feel about this is wrong. You are entirely entitled to your opinion on this, and it is refreshing to see a gamer truely consider it. I completely agree that Kojima has had some problematic images of women in his games. I do not think that Paz being raped is a symptom of deep misogyny in his games, nor do I think it was done in a misogynistic way.
    Can he improve? Most definitely. I personally am not going to throw him out entirely just yet. I can acknowledge his shortcomings and the things that are problematic, and still enjoy the games. I hope that the next game will not prove me wrong.

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