Editorials, Featured, PS3, PS4, Xbox 360, Xbox One

A Conversation on Metal Gear Solid V’s Quiet, Strong Female Roles, Empathy and Sexism

by on June 21, 2013 12:00 PM 12

A few days ago our own Allisa James reported on an interview with Hideo Kojima in which he talked about Quiet, the female lead that will appear in Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain. To my surprise the comments to her article were full of controversy.

That’s why I decided to get together with Allisa and have a heart-to-heart boy-meets-girl conversation on Quiet’s character, her role, her background and on the issues her design seemed to have unearthed. Do you want to know what we talked about? Read on…

Giuseppe: Quiet seems to be quite the interesting character. She can’t speak, so she has to communicate with her body language. Yet she’s a very competent sniper on the battlefield, and she doesn’t let herself be dragged down by her handicap. Also, notably, she’s a lady, and you don’t see many stern and silent female roles in video games, or in media in general. What do you think Allisa?

Sniper_WolfAllisa: To be honest I was very surprised when Quiet was first revealed. As I wrote in my previous article, the “Strong and Silent” archetype is very male-dominated and only very rarely you see female characters written in that manner because — I think — game writers fear that robbing a woman of her ability to speak will make her character less relevant and will cause her to fade into the background.

However, I completely disagree with this. Quiet, for instance, looks like a competent, talented and experienced soldier on the battlefield and she seems to be very expressive in terms of her facial expressions and body language. Humans communicate the most with body language so a female who cannot speak but is strong and doesn’t let her disability get in the way of her actions should be perfectly fine in a video game, in terms of exposure, as long as she is written like a proper human being.

G: True, and Kojima has always been very good at portraying characters like proper human beings. Some of his characters gave me a kind of emotional connection that I struggle finding in many other games. Even characters that don’t have many spoken lines, designed when technology really didn’t allow showing complex expressions as it does now… Do you remember Sniper Wolf?

A: Yes and I completely agree. Sniper Wolf was this really sympathetic character who was raised on the battlefield, knew no peace or comfort, had no living family or friends by the time she was an adult and was abandoned by the world. You could really feel her struggles and understand her hatred for the political world. And to be honest, even though we only saw Quiet for a little bit, I felt the same humanity and emotion with her and her suffering. It seems so far that Kojima might have done a great job writing her character.

G: Do you think they could actually be related in some way? They’re both snipers after all. While many think that Sniper wolf was eastern European because of her blue eyes and blond hair, she was actually Kurdish from the north of Iraq, and that isn’t exactly a long shot from Afghanistan. Metal Gear Solid V also features the theme of war children, and Sniper Wolf was one herself. Considering that the game is set in 1984, she would be about four by then…

A: That would be very interesting…. Maybe she could even be Quiet’s daughter? I have to admit that idea would be very intriguing but also very depressing, seeing as how Sniper Wolf ended up on the battlefield just like her possible mother. But there’s also a large part of me that doesn’t want to see them be related because it would make the world of Metal Gear Solid that much smaller. To clarify, the concept of many seemingly unrelated characters in a work of fiction turning out to be long lost family members is sort of overused. But how you feel about this? Would you prefer to have them related?

MGS5_Quiet_1

G: I didn’t necessarily mean as family members. A relationship can be formed in many ways. For instance Sniper Wolf could have seen Quiet in action during her childhood, and have been influenced by her. That would be a lovely way to have Sniper Wolf appear in a cameo in Metal Gear Solid V. Maybe it’d make the world feel a little smaller, but I miss her. Call me emotional, but I’d like to see a little bit more of her.

But let’s move on. There has been a lot of controversy about the fact that Quiet is portrayed while she’s tortured, with people complaining because they perceive it as misogynistic. I know you consider yourself at least in part a feminist, but as a lady, how do you feel about the portrayal of a woman being tortured in a video game?

A: To answer that first part, I think the scenario you presented above concerning Quiet and Sniper Wolf’s relationship would be a more interesting and not so overused connection between characters, so it would be far better to see that in the game than an actual blood relationship.

And as for the second part, as a woman it’s very refreshing to me to see that ugly side of war in general and especially to see a woman go through it herself. In real life, women are a relevant part of the forces involved in many conflicts and they suffer just as men do. I’m grateful that Kojima was willing to show such a moving and meaningful scene with Quiet, and also portray her resilience since she jumps right back into action after the ordeal. If you are truly for women’s equality in games then you must realize that every experience women go through should be represented. Both the good and the bad. But as a man, did seeing her in pain make you feel uncomfortable?

G: Of course it did, but not for the reason I hear from many. I think seeing someone tortured and in pain, regardless of gender, should make anyone feel uncomfortable. The trailer includes many scenes of torture and brutality, and they all made me feel uncomfortable, especially the one in which a package is painfully extracted from someone’s open and bleeding belly. But you know what? It’s ok that we feel uncomfortable. It’s entirely acceptable and even laudable for a game to include scenes that make us feel uncomfortable. It is and should be part of video games’ maturation as a form of narrative media.

Ultimately, games that manages to stimulate our empathy as human beings should be seen as something positive, not negative. I actually wish there were more scenes in games that made me feel uncomfortable, sad, moved to tears, happy, angry and even outraged. It would be a good sign for the industry, and it would be an even better sign if people stopped getting their underwear in a bunch about it.

Speaking about underwear… How do you feel about Quiet’s outfit? That sure caused quite a lot of teeth gnashing. Be honest…

A: Well, to me her outfit made sense when I first saw Quiet being tortured. They would remove her shirt to electrocute her in that fashion and her leggings were probably full of holes because of the other methods of torture used on her, rough treatment, beating, etcetera… And to be honest it worries me quite a bit that the first thing people noticed when seeing Quiet in such agony is that she’s dressing less than modestly…However I do hope that later on the game she is properly outfitted in military gear. It does annoy me when women are dressed in “bikini armor” while men get to run around in more comfortable and practical clothing. But I think people are jumping the gun a bit since we haven’t seen what she wears later on in-game.

G: I’m not sure it’ll happen. Kojima does love his fanservice, and does so for both genders actually. I think I’ve seen more semi-naked men in speedos in his games than in any other series out there… But that’s beside the point. I don’t think fanservice should be outright banned from games.

Once in a while it isn’t too bad to appreciate the beauty of the human body, especially when it’s justified. There’s a little scene in which the dirt (or whatever it is) around her eyes suddenly fades out and disappears, so she might actually have some kind of octocamo implanted directly in her skin. But back to the topic at hand, I honestly dread an industry in which any display of sexuality or naked skin is seen as taboo and ostracized. We fought against censorship for decades, and now some of us are becoming the next big censors.

MGS5_Quiet_3

A: That’s a good point and one that I think many people fail to consider when they quickly judge an outfit as misogynistic. And while I personally enjoy fanservice in video games I think the North American society is still very repressed in terms of female sexuality. When people see woman’s cleavage, they think “Oh we can’t take this woman seriously because she is showing too much skin” and so forth.

To get to the point that the human body cannot be celebrated in video games at all would be very detrimental to the industry as a whole and to freedom of expression and creativity. It would be a new form of radical censorship and to a large degree very sexist in its own right. And just to briefly discuss the point of the part around her eyes changing color, she might indeed have octocamo grafted into her skin, which could also explain her outfit.

G: Speaking about cleavage, let’s go back for a moment to Sniper Wolf. Remember her outfit? She definitely had a very eye-catching cleavage, and she didn’t have any trouble flaunting it. As a matter of fact I’m sure many had quite a few dirty thoughts on her when they first saw her on screen, yet I’m just as sure that, by when she met her end, those thoughts were pretty much gone, replaced by the feelings of sympathy, respect and grief created by her character progression and solid design as a strong female character.

A: And I believe that’s what truly matters for a female character—her actions, not her outfit. Yeah you’ll notice someone’s flaunted cleavage at first but, just like in the case of Sniper Wolf, the most meaningful aspect was her struggle, her strength, her story and her death. And from what we’ve seen already with Quiet, she looks to be a very strong, positive female character herself. If you see Quiet and immediately judge her solely based on looks and clothes without trying to understand her, then you, my friend, are the sexist one here.

G: One of her most prominent traits is that she can’t speak. Apparently her tongue has been removed. Some took even this as misogynistic. As you said earlier some feel that depriving a female character of her ability to talk turns her into some sort of sex doll that “can’t talk but can moan”. Personally I feel this can’t be more unfair. Speech is not necessary to express oneself, and I feel the handicap actually makes her character more unique and rich.

MGS5_Quiet_2

It’s also a great challenge for the developers, as creating a deep character that can only express herself with gestures and facial expressions is not easy, especially not when we’re talking about texturized polygons. As much as the game looks gorgeous, and facial capture helps, it’s still not live action. Yet they’re embracing this challenge, and I’m impressed by that. How do you feel about it? Can she be a strong, deep and relevant character even without a single spoken line?

A: Of course, like I said before, humans communicate mostly with body language and facial expressions, so Quiet can still be an expressive and deep character without having to speak a single line if she can connect with the audience through her body language and her eyes, like any real human.

Now, since this is a video game and not live action as you’ve pointed out, making her expressive enough to be understood without words is going to be very tricky, but I’m truly pleased about Kojima deciding to go down this route. And I’m especially grateful that he chose a female character for this role—he could have gone the safe route and used a standard “straight white male” (And if he didn’t speak and wore a similarly revealing outfit, no one would unfairly judge him…) but he didn’t. I believe that seeing women in all types of roles, and not just the same boring “pithy action type female”, is the breath of fresh air this industry needs.

Join the Discussion

  • Raeed C.

    Interesting read, especially since it has a woman’s perspective on it. I’m still not convinced, but a well thought out argument

    • Allisa James

      Well thank you very much :D My goal wasn’t so much to convince people that I’m right or anything but to present an opposing and reasonable argument. Thanks for commenting!

  • Levi Elwood Myers

    “To get to the point that the human body cannot be celebrated in video games at all would be very detrimental to the industry as a whole and to freedom of expression and creativity. It would be a new form of radical censorship and to a large degree very sexist in its own right.”
    The amount of respect I have for you as a journalist… so very much. Many journalists do not understand this and outright attack things that “offend” them, such is the case with Kotaku, and at times even Destructoid(though that’s mostly Jim Sterling), they don’t realize what they actually support(censorship of creative expression). I’m sure most of the time they don’t even believe the crap they are typing and do it simply for page hits, because lets face it, say something half thought out as a journalist on a popular topic and you are bound to get people from both sides of the topic flocking your page. It’s a very negative thing in the long run and really it doesn’t push towards good conversation, or a solution to any of the “problems” that these journalists perceive. It just ends with both sides arguing back and forth until they get tired. They aren’t talking, and they aren’t working towards understanding.

    Good read, and a damn good conversation.

    • Allisa James

      Thank you much–I’m truly honored to have your respect. :) And honestly, that was why I felt this conversation needed to happen. So many official gaming sites show just one side of the debate and shut down anyone who disagrees. What we need is true conversation and not mindless hate and suppression.

      I really enjoyed the conversation as well. I’m glad you enjoyed the article and thank you for commenting!

  • Nintendo Fan 4 Lif3

    The writers-Allisa and Giuseppe-both gave me profound insight on a lot of things that I was still unclear about up until now and give me a more vivid perspective on a lot of the things surrounding the game. I myself am a gamer and find the controversy immature in that video games are supposed to allow creative freedom for geniuses such as Kojima and not be pushed back by what fans think is necessary; so personally I’m glad that you guys sat down and discussed the issues in the article because you’re the only ones who approached not only as gamers yourselves but also as honest human beings who value the message that the game and Kojima has more than how it all looks at first sight. As a 17 year old male, I find the controversy around Quiet understandable in that many people want a certain level of discretion in games since they’re more widespread than most mediums and want decency, but I agree like you guys were saying that if video games are to expand and evolve, then we can’t constantly keep limitations or create new ones that censor the message games have for gamers. Personally-like I had said in the comments of the article Allisa wrote on Quiet- beyond what’s seen on the outside, what the character has gone through, where it has lead them, what they feel inside, and what drives them to go on is what Kojima wants to reflect in Quiet: the unswerving perseverance inside her that keeps her alive and keeps her from losing her integrity as human being and never allowing herself to quit on herself. That is what Kojima wants to make apparent to gamers who play the game. I also find that video games are the scapegoat of nearly every controversy out there; if video games are to move forward, this barrier especially must be erased. Ahem, “until the lights go out the shadows cannot be erased.” But yeah, I found your insight extremely helpful and thank you for taking the time to talk and share with viewers a deeper perspective on the game and especially Quiet. Although I find Quiet beautiful, that in no way means nothing else matters about Quiet, like you guys said, and I believe that what makes her unique-such as her unfortunate loss of speech- and makes her go on should be given more spotlight and detail caught by gamers. I myself am not prejudice nor do I play a game based on whether a female looks good or not: I’m not sexist like that and I believe the direction Kojima is taking with Quiet is not only bold but also exemplary, for he himself is a purveyor of innovation; one of many that is. I want to get this game not only as a fan MG, but also to learn the story of the game, the story of the characters, and experience the journey. Kinda like how The Last of Us lured me in with all that and its atmoshpere( haven’t finished game yet) and made me feel the experience and not just observe the emotion and synergy. Again, thanks for shedding light on the issues around the game, clearing up lotta things and showing gamers and viewers that game protagonists and antagonists ought to be judged by character and not go by looks and that the heart of the game is the soul of the characters; if the story doesn’t align to connect the gamer and influence or change them in anyway, then what purpose does the game have at all? That is what Kojima will prove when he releases MGS V: TPP: If he can show characters such as Quiet who stand on their own can be just as captivating and enigmatic as or more than Big Boss himself and regardless just show that she has purpose, then he would have also proved that imagination is the seed of invention and that no matter what gender, race, or past someone had, they can always emphasize the story in a way that’s only possible if the right pieces fall into place. The way Quiet is highlights that philosophy and shows that no person is too big or too small to make a big difference sprout from a small beginning. Men and women are equal so women don’t deserve the unwarranted condescension that they receive in video games or any medium for that matter. Kojima’s game will now be a masterpiece because instead of “doing the safe thing, he did the right thing.” thank you for putting up this discussion and hope my appreciation for them shone through my comments.

    • Allisa James

      Well first I just want to say thank you very much for the very long and well thought out comment. And I’m very happy that this conversation managed to shed light on the whole issue for you.

      I completely agree with you on the point of the video game industry needing to let go of a lot of censorship in order to truly mature. We can’t keep putting limits on what should and should not be acceptable because then we cripple the industry’s self expression. I’m not saying that mistakes won’t be made but that they need to be allowed to be made in the first place.

      And I’m glad too that Kojima went with the more dangerous route because now maybe it will open people’s eyes to other types of strong females, and not just the currently and apparently only acceptable industry standard.

      Thank you once again for your meaningful comment! :D

  • Nomen Nominandum

    You done good to throw light on this perspective of the argument. I personally can’t stand these “social justice” warriors anymore, especially not after having been to various tumblr pages and “journalistic” articles written about the issues; somethimes the things they said were so out there I couldn’t tell if it was supposed to be satire of radicals or if they were actually really that nuts.

    Let me tell you that you’re doing good here. In order to mature gaming further people need to be able to talk freely and do what they want, no matter how controversial. People need to realize that other people’s rights don’t end where their own feelings begin.

    • Allisa James

      Thank you so much! I definitely agree with you–while reform in this industry is absolutely necessary, I believe the key to that is through proper discussion and debate and not just yelling at people and trying to censor ideas. It’s important to see both sides of the argument and not just cover up one side while shoving your side into other people’s faces.

      And yes, these “crusaders” often forget that freedom of speech is a two way street. Thank you very much for commenting! :D

  • Psireaver

    I… Wait.. You mean there are people here that use LOGIC and actual conversations to make points instead of just yelling at each other self-righteously? Is this a skill that can be taught to the REST of the internet?

    • Giuseppe Nelva

      I’m planning an intensive, full-immersion course, dates will be announced at a later time :D

  • Forest

    Women are sexy.. why is that sexist??
    You don’t see guys getting all “butt-hurt” when developers paint the “heroic” males as 6 foot 2, muscular Adonis.
    Because we accept that we won’t look like that and we don’t expect women to want us to be that. ..
    It would be nice.. but unrealistic..

    many
    men.. (not boys) feel the same way about our game/fantasy women.
    Great to look at, but it’s unrealistic and we don’t expect real women to
    be like that…

  • VW

    To be honest when seeing Quiet i’d be worried more about her shooting me then what outfit she’s wearing. I mean this is MetalGearSolid & it’s scary, harsh, unpredictable.
    Anything can happen to anyone, so a revealing outfit only leads me to believe Quiet is so skilled in combat that armor isn’t an issue.

    In other words there’s more to her then just surface appearance.

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