Quietly Rocking the Boat: Metal Gear Solid V and Controversy in Gaming Culture
The Internet is beginning to stir somewhat uncomfortably at the release of images showing the new renders of the character Quiet from Metal Gear Solid V. Instead of my description potentially influencing your opinion too soon, here they are on their own:
There have been quite a few contesting opinions over these images from both gamers and developers from other studios. This is to be somewhat expected as the gaming world has become somewhat explosive when it comes to the portrayal of women in games with the controversy over the Cyberpunk 2077 trailer and its depiction of a scantly clad woman on her knees being shot at, Adam Sessler’s criticism over a trophy title in the most recent God of War title, and Anita Sarkeesian’s series of videos analyzing the role of women in various games. It’s clear that something’s reaching a boiling point as this issue is increasing in frequency and reaction. I think it’s fair to say that this latest controversy with Metal Gear Solid V may be the one that brings the discussion fully out in the open—especially since other developers are voicing their criticism.
The issue of whether these images are offensive or sexist is difficult to determine at best, as these are—much to the dismay of some social theorists—subjective in their nature. Those who find such things as offensive or sexist will undoubtedly find these particular images as such. Those who proclaim this character design perpetuates oppression are left with the burden of proof. And before we can even use the words feminism or feminist, we have to be clear as to what particular discourse of feminism is being used or discussed. One unfortunate truth about much of our culture is that we tend to have a very narrow perspective of feminism on its own. We either neglect or are unaware of the fact that feminism has a very diverse discourse and many of these don’t necessarily agree with each other within the movement. Anyone who either puts forth feminist ideas or speaks against it should be expected to describe which branch of feminism they are referring to or which writers they are speaking of (and no, the answer can’t be some random blog). Feminism simply too diverse a field to be summed up or debunked in a three-sentence comment at the bottom of a web page.
One major issue with the design of Quiet is the question of why she looks the way she does. This extends to both the criticisms that other game developers have said already as well as whether it’s sexist or not.
There is no doubt about the fact that Quiet’s design is in no way related to her being a soldier or sniper; it makes no sense, as others have said, since female soldiers usually don’t look like that. There is also no doubt about the fact that “her choice” of clothing has nothing to do with the climate—dressing like that in the heat would allow sweat to evaporate more quickly and hence destroy the actual purpose of sweat. So why does she look like this? There of course has been Kojima’s claim that he wants Metal Gear Solid V to be more “erotic” and his call for cosplayers to dress like Quiet. But to anyone who is familiar with the Metal Gear Solid series, female characters similar to this should be no surprise. While there have been more “realistic” female soldiers such as Meryl and The Boss, there have also been characters like Eva, Sniper Wolf, and even Naomi who have had seemingly no issue with dressing erotically in the midst of a battlefield. Quiet, however, certainly seems to stand out a little bit more than some of the other female characters in the series.
It is warranted to view Quiet as being a crude character. Without even needing to get into a debate about sexism, we can put forth the position that her design comes off as effortless, easy, and in a way suggestive of the role of a female in a game as being worth nothing more than sexual appeal; a character wearing the minimum to keep the game rated “M” with a name like “Quiet” is hard to ignore as not being a sign of rudimentary character design and a dismissive objectifying role for a female character. I am by no means saying this is definitely the case, but these are reasonable conclusions that could be made.
It is in my opinion that the best reaction to the character models of Quiet is exactly what’s going on: people should be talking about it. People should be discussing back and forth about the reactions they feel. Dialogue is one of the most important aspects of a healthy culture. We shouldn’t censor or bully anyone into any one opinion over another. The zeitgeist of sex and gender roles is one that isn’t easy to decipher and therefore it’s unwise to shoot from the hip with initial opinions without listening and giving a generous amount of credence to an opposing view.
Getting hysterical about issues that aren’t immediately causing harm results in more hysterics that are usually superficial and seldom contain substance. Let’s keep the conversations honest, well intended, and above all, civil and respectful.