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.