Just a few months ago, millions of fans were preparing themselves for the imminent release of the fifth instalment in director Hideo Kojima’s renowned Metal Gear Solid series, anticipating yet more quality ‘Tactical Espionage Action’ with Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain. The game was set to be one of the biggest in the series, and would end it in spectacular fashion. Except that for all it looked to be Game-Of-The-Year, there was one particularly controversial problem: Quiet.
Without wanting to give away crucial plot spoilers, I’ll suffice in saying that Quiet is a silent female sniper whose role in the plot of The Phantom Pain is (or rather, can be) rather prominent. Controversy exploded across the Twitter-sphere when her character design was unveiled in early trailers, revealing an outfit that was rather… well, revealing. Yet Hideo Kojima himself insisted that there was an excellent reason as to Quiet’s lack of warzone-suitable clothing, and the criticism began to subside.
The explanation behind Quiet’s appearance was ultimately flimsy. It had clearly been written into the storyline after she was designed, rather than her design being based around her writing. But far more troubling was the fact that this explanation was, according to Kojima, enough to outweigh all of the critical first impressions levelled at Quiet’s design. This was also quite frustrating, because design aside, Quiet is an endearing character. She’s incredibly competent in her own right – far more so than the protagonist in many respects – and most of her storyline is compelling and, at times, tragic. But her clothing design and absurd, sexualised posing haunts any attempt to appreciate her as a character, and leaves a somewhat bitter after-note to the whole affair.
There are obviously arguments for and against ‘sexy’ character designs. Many fans and online journalists have justified Quiet’s design by arguing that ‘sexy’ doesn’t necessarily mean ‘objectified’, or that demanding a reason for her attire is shaming her. I personally believe that the developers’ focus on Quiet’s sex appeal is utterly dissonant and out of place with the brutal themes of the game, most of which involves moving around in the middle of a warzone trying not to get shot. Besides this, the rest of the game’s primary cast of characters consists of gruff, muscle-bound soldiers who remain fully-clothed throughout—The Phantom Pain thus falls into the trap of video game double-standards, where the go-to design brief is that male characters must be ‘cool’, and female characters must be ‘sexy’.
That said, I hope that as The Phantom Pain’s biggest flaw, Quiet doesn’t simply get swept under the carpet. It’s no benefit to the future of video games to simply dismiss her as the product of the abominable male gaze and then simply forget about her. Instead, developers need to take heed of the debate raised because of Quiet, and many other characters like her. After all, it’s way past time they cut the double standards out of gaming, and started treating male and female characters with the same amount of respect.
Feature image from forbes.com.