In the run-up to my most anticipated game release in years, I thought I’d take a look back at some previous Metal Gear Solid games in the most arbitrary way I know how: tedious list-based fanwank! Each day until The Phantom Pain is in my sweaty, shaking hand I’ll be taking a look at one aspect of what makes the MGS series special and rating each game from best to worst. (Or worst to best, depending on your perspective!)
The internet is abuzz these days with the topic of how women are portrayed in video games. Folks at one extreme argue that showing so much as half a boob in a game is proof that all developers are misogynist by nature, and folks at the other extreme feel the best way to deal with folks at the first end is to tweet out a death threat along with a screenshot from Google Maps. So what does Metal Gear Solid add to the conversation?
The games do a pretty good job at having strong, complex, and even flawed female characters. They also tend to be pretty equal-opportunity when it comes to sexual exploitation, as Raiden’s tight, chilly buttocks can attest. The series is still rife with situations that will make you cringe, though. Let’s look at a few!
#6: Nothing! Nothing at all!
There are three major female characters in Metal Gear Solid 3, and all three belong on a Top Ten list somewhere. I’m fine with EVA’s rampant cleavage; the plot wouldn’t be an authentic Cold War era spy story without the seductive double agent. She’s a capable spy who is spinning a lot of plates, and repeatedly aids Snake’s mission in ways more engaging than just handing him his next keycard. Sexy is just a part of her character, rather than the defining element.
The Boss, meanwhile, is presented every bit as Snake’s physical equal, and is in a very real way the most important character in the MGS canon. I’m fine with her opening her shirt to reveal her snake-shaped cesarean scar, since the offending breasts aren’t presented sexually, and the game has earned a bit of heavy-handed symbolism at that point. The scene is handled exactly the way it would have been if The Boss had been a man, and I think that’s important. (We’ll handwave why this hypothetical man has a cesarean scar. This is MGS, I’m sure there’s some convoluted explanation.)
Para-Medic might be the most troubling, considering she has what I’m fairly sure are fetishes for monster movies and weird food. If you didn’t want a mental image of a someone getting straddled while wearing a Godzilla costume and laying on a bed of instant noodles, you shouldn’t have read this paragraph. But that scene isn’t in the actual game, so I think we’re safe.
If any of these characters are a bad example of how to write women in video games, I have no idea what a good example looks like. I’m giving MGS3 a free pass.
#5: “All right, keys!”
There’s been a lot of controversy about Ground Zeroes‘s so-called “rape tapes”. It’s true, one of the collectable tapes you find in Camp Omega has some incredibly disturbing audio of the two POWs you’re supposed to rescue being physically and sexually abused. And it’s true that the violence can get pretty excessive, particularly the subsequent surgical bomb removal and its aftermath. This is rough, unsettling stuff. I found the tape difficult to listen to, and I’m a fan of the Saw movies.
What I think the controversy fails to address, though, is that the tape is neither cheap nor gratuitous. No, we didn’t need an audio log of a young woman being raped and tortured to establish how bad the villains are, but neither is it off the table, considering the subject matter. As with so much of Ground Zeroes we won’t really know where it’s all going until The Phantom Pain is out… and by then everyone will have moved on to whether it’s okay for Quiet to run around in a bra and torn leggings.
I do have to pick something from Ground Zeroes for this list, though, and since there aren’t any other interactions with women in the whole game, I’m defaulting to Kazuhira Miller’s godawful Meryl impression from the Déjà-Vu mission, which is way more offensive to my sensibilities than seeing Paz’s guts.
#4: Meryl’s Undies, Etc.
You spend a lot of time in the original Metal Gear Solid thinking about Meryl Silverburgh’s butt. I don’t mean that in a “yo bro, check out dat booty” sense, I mean there is a legitimate gameplay reason you have to notice Meryl’s butt and how it differs from the other butts in Shadow Moses. This is one of those quirky outside-the-box gameplay elements MGS1 was so fond of, and simply being able to animate two otherwise identical soldier models to walk in distinct ways was a marvel of technology at the time. That’s not what this entry is about.
No, this entry is about one of MGS’s fine and upstanding traditions: using boobs and butts as easter eggs.
There are lots of ways to get the game to acknowledge that you’re thinking too much about Meryl’s fun bits. If you go into first person mode and stare at her chest, you can get her to blush. If you perform a particular sequence of actions near her prison cell early in the game, you can see her exercising in her underwear. Later on, if you’re fast enough, you can literally catch her with her pants down.
It’s worth noting that MGS1 has lots of non-boob-and-butt related things to discover. The game is very responsive to observant players who are willing to experiment. But that doesn’t change the notion that Meryl’s butt is a kind of reward — positive reinforcement for poking the game world. It’s all in good fun, and it might actually be in-character when you consider what a caveman Snake is, but still: play well enough, and you get to see panties. That’s a pretty low bar to set.
There’s a section of Metal Gear Solid 2 where Raiden has to escort a barely legal young woman through an obstacle course. You can knock her unconscious, lay on top of her, call her brother to brag about it, and the game acknowledges you’re doing this. That’s pretty horrible already, but still not as bad as Rose.
Imagine every sitcom wife you’ve ever seen, and all the associated tropes. All the nagging and scolding, all the long-suffering humorlessness, every instance of “she’s right even when she’s clearly wrong”. Now, transplant that character into a video game about guns and explosions. MGS2’s story is all about subverting expectations, but even so, Raiden’s girlfriend Rose was too much genre cross-pollination to handle. Never mind being a cringeworthy portrayal of women. Rose is just a bad character, period. As codec support, she’s not fun to talk with the way Mei Ling and Para-Medic are. As a girlfriend, she’s the mean girl the plucky heroine of a romantic comedy needs to convince the leading man not to marry. She’s utterly ineffective at conveying… whatever it is her constant whining interruptions are supposed to convey.
The key word really is “constant”. Every time Raiden does something Rose doesn’t approve of, the player gets a codec beep to make sure he hears about it. Disarming bombs in the women’s bathroom? “Pervert!” Holding a young girl’s hand because her legs don’t work and she can’t move otherwise? “Is it because she’s prettier than me?” Capturing an enemy uniform to infiltrate the most tightly-secured location in the plant? “Jack, do you remember the day we met?” At one point Raiden gets yelled at because his bedroom is too clean.
There’s a plot twist later on when we learn that Rose may or may not be an artificial intelligence designed to make Raiden believe he’s talking to Rose. That it does such a good job, though, merely indicates that the real Rose is actually that bad. She’s one-dimensional in a series filled with complicated characters, and we know it’s not the product of lazy writing. Someone worked really hard to make her this much of a blatant stereotype.
#2: The Beauty & Beast Corps
There’s nothing wrong with an all-female military unit in an MGS game. In fact, there’s something refreshingly progressive about being able to choke out generic balaclava-clad ladies for a change. But the execution of the Beauty & Beast Corps is so badly botched that it doesn’t matter whether the original idea is good. It is so painfully obvious that the characters themselves are simply the product of Hideo Kojima wanting to do mo-cap sessions with supermodels, and nobody having enough clout to tell him otherwise.
After defeating one of the B&Bs you are treated to a very long cutscene where her robot armor falls off, leaving her in a skintight bodysuit that leaves very little to the imagination. Just to make sure you see every square inch of their high-definition boobs and butts, several minutes of cutscene follow where the boss writhes about as the close-up camera pans around all her curves. Then a second boss fight begins, but the boss no longer has any attacks or poses any threat; she simply walks slowly and seductively towards Snake, tittering suggestively, and will attempt to latch onto him if she gets close enough. For most sane players the nonsense ends here. Finishing off the Zero Suit form of the boss takes little effort and is accomplished in short order.
If you drag the fight out, though, eventually the background fades away and Snake is left alone with the beauty in a featureless white room. At this point Kojima passes on his personal fantasy to the player, as Snake can pull out the in-game camera and stage his own personal photo shoot. As Snake snaps away the beauty will continue to pose, thrusting and smiling and giving naughty looks. When you get tired of that, bust out your iPod and play her some J-pop, and she’ll dance for you.
I have nothing against a little cheesecake, nor against breaking the fourth wall. But when these things are combined so gratuitously and plastered on my screen for minutes at a stretch, it ruins my experience. The pacing of the game is destroyed, along with any hope of caring about who the beauties are as characters.
#1: Date with Paz
How does it get worse than shameless, exploitative, fourth-wall breaking T&A? How about shameless, exploitative, fourth-wall breaking jailbait T&A?
Date with Paz is one of those squick-y anime dating sims shoehorned into the MGS engine. It involves the 40-something-year-old Big Boss and the 16*-year-old Paz sharing some, er, quality time together on the beach. To clear the mission you have to use the game’s built-in squad communication feature to say encouraging things and make little hearts appear over her head. She likes phrases such as “Get inside!” and “Box time!” Once you’ve gotten enough hearts, pull out your Love Box (which is a real item in the game) and invite her to join you. The box immediately starts a-rockin’ and you even get an achievement!
If you use communications Paz disapproves of, she’ll emit a broken heart icon instead. (My favorite example: “We’re pulling out!” “Do you not like being with me?”) Do this enough times and you’ll fail the mission. Of course, if that’s your goal, a faster method is to stand next to Paz and use the CQC button, which for this mission is helpfully replaced with a “grope Paz’s breasts” button. Then she’ll slap you to the ground, call you a creep and storm off indignantly.
If your only desire in life is to see the teenaged Paz in her underwear, S Rank the mission and then play it again. If you S Rank the mission twice, the rest of the Mother Base ladies strip down as well if you bring them up in the staff menu model viewer. Amanda’s unmentionables even have MSF branding, which means Mother Base’s manufacturing facilities are hard at work churning out women’s underwear in addition to lime soda and spicy curry.
* Yes, yes, I know she’s not really that young. But Snake doesn’t, and that makes it worse.
Socially offensive characters aren’t the only missteps the Metal Gear Solid games make, though. Sometimes the gameplay screws the pooch as well! We’ll talk about that tomorrow. Thanks for reading.