Metal Gear Solid V: let’s talk about the pair of heaving tits in the room

, | Game diaries

I haven’t read anything about Metal Gear Solid V. Even though I’m pretty sure I’m almost done — well, “done”, if things play out like I think they’re going to play out — I still haven’t read anything about it. I prefer to just play it for the same reason that I prefer to see movies without having watched the trailer.

That was almost a mistake.

After the jump, saved by the patch notes.

When you connect to Konami Online or Snake.net or Metal Gear Solidarity or whatever the online part is called, you get a few helpful messages about what’s up. This is stuff about bugs, server outages, and patches. While nexting through those screens, something caught my eye. A bug related to bringing Quiet as your buddy on a couple of specific missions. Wait, you can bring Quiet on missions? She’s a fourth choice after the dog, the kill-everything drivable robot, and my long-forgotten horse? When is this going to happen? I was pretty far into the game when I read this. Did I miss something?

It seems I did.

(A brief aside about spoilers: I would normally be reluctant to tell you much about Quiet, since it could involve significant spoilers, in terms of both gameplay and narrative. But Konami had no problem spoiling Quiet in their marketing. And if you’re reading some dude’s game diary for Metal Gear Solid V, you probably saw Konami’s marketing for Metal Gear Solid V. So let’s talk about Quiet with the agreement that I’m not going to spoil any of the story beyond her presence, her attire, and an oblique reference to a specific scene.)

When I saw those patch notes, it occurred to me that I could go back to the first mission where you meet Quiet and try to tranquilize her instead of try to kill her. Previously, several missions ago, in the blind panic of trying to get past a goddamn sniper mission, I just let loose with whatever did the most damage. I sure as hell wasn’t going to waste time with any tranquilizer weapons. But this time, I had a pretty good idea of what she was going to do and how not to freak out when that sniper icon appeared onscreen. So I tranquilized her relatively easily. Now I’m playing a fork of Metal Gear Solid V that I presume could have been very different because Quiet wouldn’t have been a fourth buddy.

MGSV_GD_2_buddies

Furthermore, certain cutscenes wouldn’t have played. Fairly late in the game, she has to come into the story even if you played the Quiet mission like I did initially, trying to kill her. But would you then get the option to select her as a buddy if you hadn’t tranq’ed her? Do some players only see Quiet as a scantily clad character in late-game cutscenes who just shows up out of nowhere? And do they then write more of their angry blog posts about how women are portrayed in videogames? Do they write these even if they’ve tranq’ed Quiet and have been quietly fuming every time they see her on the list of buddies, with “naked” as her only outfit? Never mind that the dog’s only outfit when you get him is also “naked”. Naked here seems like an inadvertently provocative term for “default”. If they find that offensive, wait until they see her first unlockable outfit. It’s a doozy for people who object to any violence with their sex. Kojima is nothing if not unabashed.

So as a guy who cares very much about how women are portrayed in videogames but happens to think mainstream videogames are doing a pretty good job for such an immature medium, let’s talk about why I find Quiet over-the-top, blatant, and silly, but not the least bit objectionable. In the fork of Metal Gear Solid V I’m playing, Quiet is selectable as a buddy and she is not just a character in some late-game cutscenes. That would make a big difference to how someone sees her in the context of Kojima’s goofy fetishistic power fantasies about bipedal robots and American action heroes that don’t generally concern themselves with women. That goes for the fantasies and the heroes. For all I know, Snake is gay.

So for me, Quiet is gameplay. This is currently a game in which I get Quiet’s bond to 100 to unlock both her final sniper ability (which I can’t figure out how to use) and some actual clothing. Now I can dress her in a uniform so baggy that it hides every conceivable curve in favor of a shapeless mass of lumpy gray. Is that a dude or a chick under there? Who knows. By the cherubic face and ponytail, it could be some androgynous Japanese hero. It almost seems like punishment putting her in that thing. Even her ankles are covered in this very Harrison Bergeron outfit, where she now exhibits the sexual frisson of a Bioware character model. There’s nothing like a lumpy gray unisex jumpsuit to dampen controversy.

MGSV_GD_2_jumpsuit

But in my game, Quiet will continue to be “naked” for two reasons. One is scientific. Because, you see, she breathes through her skin and if you put clothes on her, she’ll suffocate. Metal Gear Solid V isn’t just some silly handwaving where a virtual chick wears a bikini top because her virtual breasts are perfect. There are reasons at work here, people. Serious reasons, complete with probably several minutes of audiotape that explain it further. Kojima is nothing if not unabashed.

The second reason Quiet will continue to be “naked” in my game is that her over-the-top sexuality is a significant component of her identity. Quiet is many things in Metal Gear Solid V and a fantastic pair of barely covered tits is one of those things. But it is only one of those things. Dressing her in a lumpy grey jumpsuit would be like putting a bag over Han Solo’s head. Toning down her overt sex appeal would be like never letting Channing Tatum take off his shirt. Han Solo is handsome, Tatum Channing is hot, and Quiet is ridiculously sexy. They are all other things as well, such as roguish scoundrel, surprisingly good actor, and bad-ass sniper. But their appearance is one of those things. Here, Kojima’s sexual fantasy is of a competent female character who is also blatantly underdressed for combat.

Is that fantasy disrespectful? Does it objectify Quiet in specific and women in general? It depends on your definition of respect. If your definition of respect is that a female character’s sexuality shouldn’t be an important part of her identity, then yes, disrespectful. As disrespectful as, say, Bayonetta or a lot of characters Western developers are being cowed into avoiding. But by my definition of respect, a female character can be blatantly and even crassly sexual while being other things as well. A cutscene that conveniently focuses on her breasts and her ass, which is where men are often looking anyway, is really just calling us out. Anyone who denies that Quiet is a lot of other things in Metal Gear Solid V and claims she is just a luridly exploited pair of breasts is objectifying her by reducing her to her sex appeal, as if those camera angles are the only view of the character. Furthermore, there is no reason the portrayal of a single woman has to be a blanket statement about all women, particularly in a series decidedly unconcerned with women. I mean, really, have you seen the way Snake looks at Kaz? Have you seen the way he holds him?

But let’s consider whether Quiet really is a competent female character. I can imagine complaints about the fact that she either can’t speak or doesn’t speak. Isn’t Kojima proposing a woman with no opinions of her own, with nothing worthwhile to say, with literally no voice? Isn’t Quiet, in the cutscenes and the gameplay, just a woman who obediently follows a man’s orders, no different from how a horse or dog follows a man’s orders? Stay! Heel! Giddy-up! Kill!

If you’re asking those questions, you’re not far enough into the game to know Quiet. And unfortunately, I can’t say much without spoiling Kojima’s absurd storyline. Suffice to say her name and her silence are a part of the narrative, far more eloquently justified than that stuff about her being unable to wear clothes because she breathes through her skin. In fact, the reveals about Quiet are my favorite part of Metal Gear Solid V’s nonsense storyline because they were unexpected. They added nobility and depth — such as it is — to their male sexual fantasy. Quiet is an integral part of the story and objections ring hollow if they don’t take that into account.

Later in the game, there’s an uncomfortable scene in which Quiet is subjected to — I’m trying to be careful here — unfair treatment. It’s a pretty stupid scene for what it does to Quiet, but it’s an especially stupid scene for what it does to the various men. Does it objectify Quiet? Hardly. The problem with the scene isn’t with how Quiet is portrayed. Female characters are allowed to be occasional victims just as male characters are allowed to be occasional victims. Instead, my problem with the scene is how it reveals Kaz, Revolver, and especially Snake as real assholes. That’s how Kojima is going to have his main characters behave? Suddenly, I don’t like them so much anymore. Quiet deserves better.

MGSV_GD_2_helicopter_pose

But is Quiet subservient, the milsim equivalent of a woman who knows her place in the kitchen, by being reduced to a menu of commands? That’s one way to put it. Once you’re in a mission, she is now gameplay instead of tits. In fact, this is where Kojima does something subtly subversive. Up to now, she’s been writhing sexily in the helicopter, casually assuming various “when are you coming to bed?” poses while you’re futzing around on your laptop. But when the mission starts and you’re playing Metal Gear Solid V in earnest instead of deciding which base platform to build next and whether you want to upgrade your shotgun or your assault rifle (upgrade the assault rifle), Quiet is nowhere to be seen. Now the tits have been taken away. Now she’s pure gameplay.

Before you figure Quiet as a buddy is just another version the dog as a buddy, keep in mind she’s also autonomous, unlike the dog, who functions as a radar until he’s told otherwise. If you don’t give Quiet orders, she’ll do her own thing, bounding across the canyons, taking up positions as she sees fit, watching over you, opening fire of her own volition, now more maternal than mere girltoy.

But, sure, you can directly command her. You can tell her to stop and you can give her specific targets. You can set up adroit double kills. But you’re still limited by the fact that she’s moving around on her own. She’ll retreat if she comes under too much fire. She’ll miss enemies in some of her recon reports because she’s not just an infallible dog radar. She’ll sometimes be unable to get a bead on a target. And sometimes — and such memorable sometimes they are — she’ll just do the mission for you. Maybe you’re under fire and can’t peek out without getting dinged. Maybe you’re not equipped for a head-on fight and you’re reduced to taking out stragglers while Quiet engages ten dudes, all focus-firing on her position. Maybe you’re just lazy. Sometimes this supposedly subservient tool sidelines the main character. In terms of gameplay, Quiet is an interactive, often finicky, and often decisive gameplay element who requires much more gameplay than stay!, heel!, giddy-up!, kill! If you can’t work with her, there’s always the dog.

MGSV_GD_2_walking_away

But does Quiet have to be so blatantly sexual? Couldn’t Metal Gear Solid V have toned it down a bit? Does it have to be so gratuitous and over the top? Couldn’t her bust have been deflated a little like Lara Croft’s over the years? Couldn’t this have been a less M-rated game I can play with my daughters and wife in the room without feeling embarrassed at the overt tits? Couldn’t we just stick with the violence?

Metal Gear Solid V could have done many things differently. Any game, movie, or beer commercial that embraces sex could have done things differently. But in this case, you’re sharing the power fantasy of an auteur gamemaker/storyteller who has decided sex has a place in his story as an important component of a multi-faceted character. And there’s no denying that it is sheer, blatant, conspicuous, over-obvious sex, heaving lightly and beaded with moisture and straining at the fabric and bouncing slightly when the helicopter lands. Kojima is nothing if not unabashed.

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