[Note: This article contains minor spoilers for the ending of Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes.]
With last month’s release of Ground Zeroes and the red band trailer for The Phantom Pain, the Metal Gear Solid series has received a lot of flak for its objectification of women. This is a result of the gruesome scene we see at the end of Ground Zeroes where Paz has her stomach cut open to remove a bomb, and the implied rape she was submitted to during her torture; not to mention a clip of Quiet, the sniper in a bikini, receiving electrical shocks in the game’s red band trailer.
Having said all this, though, one has to question: why is the series garnering all this controversy only now? Hasn’t the element of torture been present in all the Metal Gear Solid games since the release of the first Metal Gear Solid on the Playstaion 1?
It is this writer’s opinion that the controversy stems from the very fact that the two individuals being tortured are female. With this in mind, everything makes sense: the “sexual violence” warning from the ESRB, Quiet’s scantily-clad character design, the audio file from Ground Zeroes suggesting that Paz was sexually assaulted. Metal Gear Solid V is clearly pushing its boundaries with how far it can go with torture scenes. However, it would be inherently unfair to label the series as sexist simply because of its latest entry.
Throughout the course of Metal Gear Solid’s history, males have been subjected to pure, utter humiliation and not a single complaint has been raised. Raiden has been forced to run around stark naked for a good 10 minutes of the game, Otacon wets himself and weeps like an overgrown child in almost every game, Vamp dresses (or doesn’t) skimpily and takes on the role of the overly sexualized male villain in both Metal Gear Solid 2 and Metal Gear Solid 4. And before I forget, Vamp also dances around in his ever-so effeminate manner during the boss fight in MGS4.
It’s evident that Kojima has absolutely no qualms about making his male characters look as silly and weak as possible whenever it suits him. However, if we were focusing on the torture aspect, let’s take a look at how it’s been handled in the previous games.
In the first Metal Gear Solid, Snake is half naked and strapped to a revolving torture bed that sends electrical shocks to his body, all the while he’s being taunted by Revolver Ocelot who constantly reminds players that you can give up anytime with a simple press of a button. It is worth noting that right before the torture starts, Sniper Wolf also names Snake as her prey, effectively diminishing his worth to that of an animal that is simply there for her to kill.
In Metal Gear Solid 2, the torture aspect is taken one step further; Raiden is also strapped to a torture device, not unlike Snake in MGS1, except this time he’s completely naked. He also receives a punch below the belt from Olga before she leaves the room to add insult to injury.
Metal Gear Solid 3 is where the torture starts to get a little more gut wrenching. Naked Snake is strung up by his wrists and receives electrical shocks from Volgin’s fists. The torture gets really severe to the point where even Snake, who has always been portrayed as a strong and stoic male character, wets himself from the pain and the fear. Not only that, but the mutilation escalates when he also ends up getting his eye shot off by a young Ocelot. And let’s not forget that little part before the torture sequence where Snake dresses up as Major Raikov and has his crotch grabbed by Volgin as a means to confirm his identity. Hilarious, wasn’t it? I wonder what the reception towards that scene would’ve been if Snake was a female.
Imagine what these games would have looked like if Snake and Raiden were women characters instead. The feminists on the internet would have a field day with this entire franchise. The torture scenes in the series are there to serve the purpose of showcasing the brutality of war. Regarding torture in Metal Gear Solid V, Kojima himself has clarified this issue in an interview with Eurogamer: “It’s something that needs to be done. As the expressiveness of video games goes up, if you want to go beyond that it’s not something you can avoid. Of course not all video games have to do this, and in my case it’s not something that I want to go through. If the violence will give new emotions that are important to the game, I want to put it in there, especially with this game where one of the main topics is revenge. I don’t want to walk around that.”
The Metal Gear Solid series has never leaned towards the objectification of one gender or the other. It isn’t beyond Kojima to dress Snake up in an outfit just as skimpy as Quiet’s. In fact, I would say that the sneaking suits themselves are already a form that showcased the character’s physique. A female dressed in a skin tight sneaking suit would certainly raise a lot of eyebrows, but it’s considered comical and humorous when Snake shows off his toned butt while crawling on the ground. We laugh when we watch Raiden prance around in high heels or when Snake and Kaz get cozy under a cardboard box. Male sexualization is prevalent in this series and yet it’s always seen as a joke and is never really met with anything other than laughter.
This series has been rather consistent in its depiction of gender roles thus far, giving us a fair share of female characters like Sniper Wolf, The Boss, and Eva. It simply wouldn’t be fair to chastise the series because the individuals who get subjected to torture and abuse in its latest instalment happen to be women; especially since it is a well-known fact that the series contained such elements previously and that torture isn’t anything new to the Metal Gear series. Therefore, claims that Metal Gear Solid V is a game that promotes the subjugation and violence against females probably shouldn’t be validated.
As a female gamer myself I do feel very strongly against video games that insist on including highly sexualized female characters just to showcase sex appeal. It is undeniable that female representation is a subject matter that is only just starting to gain momentum in the video game industry. The industry still has a long way to go before equality in representation of various subgroups like gender, race, and orientation is achieved. With that, perhaps the community should be focusing more on games that actively feature such poorly represented characters instead of creating drama for a franchise that has been fair in its portrayal of genders and race. Metal Gear Solid is not one of those games.
The very fact that Metal Gear Solid is receiving so much bad publicity for its treatment of Paz and Quiet only serves to highlight the hypocrisy of the gaming community. Why rag on a franchise whose latest installment features women getting tortured when it’s been giving the exact same treatment to men for over a decade now? As a narrative that places emphasis on the effects and horrors of warfare, such segments are inevitable in driving its narrative forward. Gamers really shouldn’t be too surprised that the torture of females would be present in such a story.
Kojima assures us that the Metal Gear Solid V torture scene has been put into the game for a good reason, especially since it’s a story about taking revenge and the brutality of the battlefield, and quite frankly, I can buy that. I can buy Kojima’s statement because it makes sense in terms of the narrative and the series’ own history. We can’t speak to his reasons for putting Quiet in tights and a bikini but it shouldn’t be forgotten that this series is notorious for putting its male characters in questionable, skin-exposing outfits as well.
Perhaps the best way to approach Metal Gear Solid V would be to do it with an open mind while remembering the history of brutality that previous Metal Gear games have tried to open us up to. After all, we can’t really make any judgments on the game’s portrayal of torture and women until we’ve played the final game for ourselves.