Thursday, 5 September 2013

I sense an incoming Metal Gear Solid backlash.

Earlier today, Hideo Kojima -- creator of the Metal Gear Solid series -- tweeted about wanting some of the characters of MGSV redesigned to be more "erotic". He cited appealing to cosplayers and selling more figurines of the game's characters as the reasons why he wanted these redesigns.

I suspect we'll be seeing some vexed responses to this in the next few days. Personally, I'm delighted.

First of all, I love how different the attitude towards sexualisation is in Japan compared to the West. When I wrote about Dragon's Crown, I brought up how the most sexualised characters broke my immersion in the game. From what I hear, the only mention of the exaggerated character designs in Japan was joking about how big a deal was made of it outside the country. Unfortunately, I haven't been able to find any Japanese articles saying that directly (obviously because the Japanese language isn't my forté and English isn't much use at finding Japanese articles in search engines) but I'd like to read some of them first-hand if I get the chance.

I'd love to be able to have that same nonchalant attitude towards sexualised characters in the media that they have in Japan. Logically, I can see why people would argue that living in a culture with so much fiction featuring sexualised women would lead people within that culture to have a lower opinion of real women; women being sex objects in games could lead to people viewing them as such in real life. Having said that, I completely disagree. If anything, I think that Japan's line between fiction and reality is more distinct; Dragon's Crown's art style can be joked about because it's clear that a sexualised, anime-esque mermaid doesn't represent real women in any way. The connection hasn't been made between reality and fiction in the same way it has in the West, so it's easier to view sexualised characters purely as entertainment.

That's just a guess, so don't quote it as if it's fact. The point is that I see the integration of sexual characters in everyday media to be a far healthier attitude than trying to stamp it out because we dislike it. There are times when I don't think it'd be appropriate but providing it fit in with the setting/art style and wasn't aimed at kids, I think it'd be fine.

Luckily, Metal Gear Solid isn't a series that has ever had to worry about a Dragon's Crown-level of controversy but it's odd to see so many people in the comments section on Gamespot condemning Hideo Kojima for his decision. I'm surprised at that and, even though I don't like to play the "they've probably never played the game" card, I feel it's appropriate in this case; for those of you who don't know, the Metal Gear Solid series has always had a light-hearted, almost Benny Hill-esque approach to eroticism. From figuring out which soldier is female by staring at their behinds to distracting lustful guards with non-nude erotica magazines, the Metal Gear Solid series, more often than not, treats eroticism as being funny. So why this response to Metal Gear Solid V?

Assuming Kojima's critics have played previous games in the Metal Gear series, it could simply be because Kojima is being so blatant. "I want to appeal to cosplayers and to sell figurines". Making decisions based on merchandising has left a bitter taste in the mouths of fanbases in the past, most notably for Star Wars. Perhaps it's because he joked that the CG model for Quiet -- the female sniper seen in the Metal Gear Solid V trailer -- being revealed this Friday would be "uncosplayable". Personally, I think that statement was just to create some hype for the reveal and possibly to get a rise out of people. If that's the case, it seems to have worked.

Quiet is dressed beneath the border of this picture, I should point out.

It's also very possible that they think eroticism has no place in video games; there are certainly a few comments underneath that Gamespot article that make the typical comments we saw during the Dragon's Crown controversy, such as erotica "only appealing to twelve-year-olds". There's also at least one mention of this kind of attitude preventing games from being "art".

I've never been particularly interested in the "are games art?" debate because, to me, it seems inconsequential; I enjoy games and that's all that really matters. I don't particularly care if they're recognised as art or not. Having said that, I have to wonder why featuring eroticism is enough to categorise a game as not being art. Not that I think the Metal Gear Solid V erotica -- if there is any, apart from Quiet's character design -- is going to be at all serious, in which case I have to ask why should MGSV change? If you've played the previous games in the series, noticed the light-hearted attitude towards sex (as well as other immature content like one character being the victim of constant diarrhoea jokes), then why should the next game in the series be any different?

As for erotica "only appealing to twelve-year-olds", I've often thought that an inability to handle erotica -- especially the comedic take MGS puts on it -- is a greater sign of immaturity than enjoying it. The Metal Gear Solid series is for adults, so why shouldn't adult themes be present? I can't help but feel that not featuring the light-hearted erotica in MGS would be comparable to putting your hands over a child's ears whenever you mention something sexual. Or trying to convince people that storks deliver babies. It exists, we might as well laugh at it.

I'd also quickly like to mention that Kojima stated he'd be revealing Quiet's CG model on Friday but he may not have been talking about her when he mentioned the erotic redesign; anyone who remembers MGS2's naked Raiden will know that the gentlemen of Metal Gear Solid aren't immune to comedic sexualisation either. I'd still place bets on Quiet but you never know.

Anyway, it'll be interesting to see how this develops over the next couple of days, before Quiet's CG model is revealed, and the fallout afterwards, until it's engulfed (hopefully) with news from the Tokyo Game Show.

Thanks for all the comments last time, by the way. Very interesting reading.

Added on 6th September 2013 - And, to the surprise of absolutely nobody, someone has complained! Someone rather high-profile too.

David Ellis, a designer on Halo, commented on Twitter after seeing Quiet's design "our industry should be better than this" and the "industry is full of man-babies". Take a look at the article here and I highly recommend reading the highest-rated comments below. They say everything better than I could. I'd never heard of David Ellis before this article but when I was in high school, Halo was the game that everyone talked about playing online. It was the precursor to games played by so-called "man-baby" audiences such as Call Of Duty so who is David Ellis to point the finger at anyone else?

And remember, boys and girls; designing a scantily-clad female sniper who works in the middle of the desert is wrong. On the other hand, designing a needlessly large-chested and scantily-clad female character who is literally an object is just fine!

This picture is worth looking at if you want to see how Cortana became more sexualised when David Ellis and 343 Industries got their hands on Halo. A member of the NeoGAF forums also made a short and simple post about male sexualisation in the Metal Gear Solid series that didn't even mention naked Raiden. It's worth pointing to if anyone ever thinks Hideo Kojima only ever sexualises female characters.

As for David Ellis, I have no idea how anyone can be so hypocritical and yet so completely unaware, about both his own series' character designs and its "man-baby" influence. Speaking of which, it's disheartening to see just how many gamers, journalists and even developers casually throw out insults about immaturity towards people who have a different opinion to them.

I'm sorry for stating the obvious but there is nothing immature about people holding opinions different from your own, regardless of what the subject is. Insulting those people for having a different opinion, on the other hand, is very immature. That's something children do in playgrounds. If David Ellis really wants to talk about how "our industry should be better", I'd start with that.


  1. I think that it's interesting to note that feminists like Anita Sarkeesian don't often bring up the MGS series as particularly sexist [though I get the impression Meryl might well be brought up as a 'Sexy Sidekick' or even 'Fighting F@#k toy'...]. I think this is because, overall, the series possesses a remarkable level of gender equality.

    Of course, if you want to pick apart every element that might possibly be construed as sexist it's not hard to identify the "Beauties" from MGS4, MGS's Sniper Wolf's open top and even odd [possibly badly translated] quotes from Metal Gear 2 as targets. The truth is that it's obvious that Kojima DOES like to highlight the sexuality of his characters and, as you say, some people won't appreciate any eroticism in their videogames whatsoever.

    What they overlook [or simply prefer not to bring up] is the fact that Kojima also arguably creates some of gaming's most interesting [or at the very least iconic] characters and they are hardly defined by their erotic elements at all.

    If anything Kojima's female characters demonstrate that he believes women to be as capable as men, if not even more so, in the fields of espionage and warfare. [SPOILER ALERT] First of all, he gave us Meryl who, yes, was the sidekick but who proved herself from the very start to be a capable and strong-willed one at that. After all, she manages to escape her cell even before you do and though she then shows her lack of experience when facing off against the 'legendary Solid Snake' she proves herself more than capable of infiltrating and fighting, up until the storyline sidelines her for the sake of adding agency to your actions and, indeed, eliminating the need to come up with some other reason to separate the two of you.

    Now, people can certainly complain that the strength of Meryl's character is undermined by the narrative's need to 'damsel' her even though it's something that is so often done in games to add to the odds the protagonist has to overcome while saving on considerable AI coding. What really undermines any such arguments is the fact that Meryl is partly sidelined so we can be introduced to the 'other sidekick' in the game - Otacon. If we compare the two of them... it's not hard to see which one comes off looking stronger and more capable of looking after themselves. Don't get me wrong, Otacon demonstrates a reasonable level of technological expertise [not to mention his knowledge of anime and movies] but compared to Meryl he's weak, whiny and, hell, he can't even find love on the battlefield, hehe!

    Anyway, I don't want to make a giant thesis of this. After all, I haven't even started on the even more capable women in the series - the most admirable ones being of course the even more legendary Boss [who makes for a more talented and less gullible soldier than even Naked Snake], Eva [a Bond girl who falls for the hero but still stays loyal to her mission] and my favourite Olga Gurlukovich [a kickass Gray Fox substitute who fights for the much better reason of saving her child... as opposed to some pseudo-masochistic compulsion].

    Save to say, I think Kojima has more than earned his selected forays in equal opportunity perverted moments [seriously what with all the Snake's gun fetish, Otacon's "family issues", frequent male nudity, Gray Fox's "Hurt me... mooore!" etc], and not just because he created some groundbreaking entertainment. His games also delve quite substantially into psychological and philosophical questions, the far-reaching effects of warfare in particular, so it makes sense that sex also be a topic he should be allowed to include.

    But yeah, I'd like to see people try to backlash against this like they did with Dragon's Crown [which admittedly was more to do with it's, shall we say, less self-aware and more juvenile erotic ascetics].

  2. The argument that erotica prevents something from being art is patently ridiculous. Some paintings and sculptures of naked men and women are regarded as the greatest pieces of art ever created. Not to say something is art because it features nudity but it clearly doesn't prevent it from being so.

    1. I thought the exact same thing. Obviously, eroticism in paintings and sculptures isn't likely to be the same as in video games but you're right, erotica doesn't automatically nullify any artistic merit the game has.

  3. I've never understood the "erotica appeals to 12-year-olds" argument, or the "12-year-old boy" references in particular. I guess it's because of the idea that only adolescents, and adolescent boys in particular, are interested in sex and that somehow being "above" interest in sex makes you more adult. Never mind that most sexually-oriented material is cordoned off as being for Adults Only (though with the internet, it's harder to keep it restricted for very long).

    At least that's my guess as to the anything erotic being met with the inevitable "totally for 12-year-old boys lol" retort, as if sexuality is only an adolescent male thing, and that anyone over twelve and, heck, any woman at all, is somehow "above" having a single sexual thought. Forgive my rambling, it is a bit of a sore spot for me.

    1. I think there is a point to be made in recognizing how our culture doesn't treat sex in a mature way. Most adult content isn't very complex or thought-provoking (mostly because sexuality is seen as dirty and no respectable wants to work with it but go with me here). So when people see something involving something sexual, they automatically assume it to be in that category as well. This can go as far as seeing a work they originally had much respect for as being "dragged down" by the (semi-)nudity or whatever the problem is. I see the ones complaining as just perpetuating this idea that sex is something dirty which needs to be kept out of anything more "worthy", for lack of a better term.

      There is something about certain portrayals of sexuality which could only be appreciated by 12-year-olds or people with similar mindsets. But this isn't the issue here because we haven't even seen the characters or, even more importantly, their context in the game.

    2. Rambling is welcomed on this blog!

      I completely understand. I'm sure I've made sweeping generalisations before but there's something very obnoxious about the "only 12-year-old boys could enjoy this lol" statement. Simply because they dislike a game's content, they have to put down and insult everyone who enjoys it.

      It's actually quite arrogant to dismiss a high-quality game and its fans based on the fact that it features something that is, essentially, harmless fun. There's something very wrong about the idea that using broad, exclusionary and insulting remarks towards real people is fine because you dislike something fictional. God forbid other people don't feel the same way as them, right?

  4. As far as I can tell, sexuality was never a taboo in Japanese culture, or at least not stigmatized to the extent it is in the west. Either way, we seem to have religion to blame for it's status here. And come to think of it, Japan never had a theocracy, either.

    Japanese culture is poorly understood in the west though (I'm fairly certain 'Japanophile' is a word people use sincerely...) as well as a handful of values dissonance, and it deserves more analysis.

    Thing I can point out in regards to both this, and Dragon's Crown, though, is that 2-3 years ago, at worst, people would have raised an eyebrow, maybe made some snarky comments, and at best, nobody would care.

    ...welcome to post-Feminism video gaming.

    Sad thing is, browsing articles on the Escapist today, I see contributors seizing the opportunity to make quips in their journalism about industry sexism more and more.

    They recently sought new applicants for writers, and unfortunately I can see alot of people going into gaming journalism now are possibly doing so in order to jump on the sexism/social justice warrior bandwagon, so it'll only get worse.

    I actually considered applying for that myself. However, already being turned off by the current state of gaming journalism, and considering the things I myself might have to stoop to in order to hold the job after getting it...I decided not to.

    And the "Games R Art" crowd has alot of overlap with the sexism hysteria crowd...infact I believe alot of the outcry against sexism is being driven in part by the art crusaders.

    When you hear people rail against sexism in gaming, and then conclude by saying something like they want video gaming to be more 'mature', that's the art camp talking. AKA the "We're desperately seeking validation" camp.

    Funny thing is (as always I guess) the hypocrisy. Back when peopel were demanding a change to the end of Mass Effect 3, it was defended on the basis of that being "The artist vision/expression" of the creator.

    But it's totally different now when a creator wants to put sexualized women in their games, then you'd better change it to suit us (The same people who Mass Effect 3 because it was art), or else.

  5. Why doesn't David Ellis and his team make a game starring what they think would be a better representation of women instead of bitching about what Kojima's doing?

    Let's also not disregard that Kojima created The Boss, arguably one of the greatest video game characters (who is also female) of all time. I think we can give him the benefit of the doubt until the game's out.

    And why are people complaining about her being dressed that way in the desert? Where were those people 15 years ago when we had that sniper battle against Sniper Wolf in an Arctic snowstorm back in Metal Gear Solid?

    Is that game protected by some kinda grandfather clause?

    1. "Make something better" is a very compelling argument when the one complaining does actually have the ressources and skills required to do so. And then still fails at it.

      Back in the day videogames just weren't accepted as anything beyond toys for children. Therefor nobody tried to rush in and make them more accessible because it wasn't something which was acceptable to begin with. But to their credit, the critcs often openly criticize classics as well. Just look at how Tropes vs Women deals with older titles.

      This is a bit offtopic but I don't approve when AIs get called objects. It's still far off but when we have actual AIs I hope we deal with them in a suitable matter.

    2. Cameron - I believe Sniper Wolf was quite well-dressed for cold weather. Then again, Kojima has stated that there are reasons in Quiet's past that lead her to dress the way she does so more people should give him the benefit of the doubt.

      As you said, he created the Boss. Not to mention a lot of other great female characters. Plus, the MGS series consistently delivers good gameplay, graphics and storytelling. I mean, I'm not someone who thinks the story is a masterpiece (and I could take or leave MGS4, truth be told) but it keeps me enthralled until the after-credits sequence. When discussing objectification, it seems like everything else goes out the window; suddenly, Kojima is no longer a legendary game director and is someone we're supposed to be ashamed of. Even if you dislike the objectification, that thought process makes no sense to me.

      Besserwisser - Well I chose a less-than-flattering term about Cortana and I'm sure I wouldn't say the same thing if I ever interacted with a real AI. I just thought it seemed appropriate for that example.

      By the way, I laughed at the first two sentences of your comment. So very true!

  6. They still haven't explained why a character being sexualized is inherently bad.

    The images of Quiet will do their rounds on Tumblr for a while, but it won't be long before feminists find a new Great Satan of gaming to feel rightously indignant about. Meanwhile, Kojima will get a ton of free publicity, and women in Saudi Arabia will still get stoned to death for being raped. But no, clearly a woman being sexy in a game is what we should be concerned about. Great priorities you have, feminists.