Metal Gear Solid V: From Cold War Porn to Torture Porn

Weirdness, as applied to the Metal Gear Solid series, is something of a problematic term. Arguably, the franchise has always been mildly schizophrenic, skewing heavily toward the unusual as a matter of course. On the one hand, it’s the height of Cold War porn, as seen in Metal Gear Solid and Metal Gear Solid III: Snake Eater. Whereas MGS II: Sons of Liberty and MGS IV: Guns of the Patriots are a cautionary tales on technology run amok. And like any good piece of anime inspired popular culture, there’s a distinct thread of existential angst running through the whole thing. To its credit, or tedium (I can’t decide) MGS never stops opining about the place of the individual, particularly the individual warrior, with respect to the rest of society. Yet all of the above is Metal Gear Solid being comparatively normal.

Allow me to rattle off a few of Metal Gear’s more bizarre moments.

MGS has a floating psychic who temporarily turns the lead female character into a sex kitten before breaking the fourth wall and reminding the player that they are, in fact, playing a video game. The whole affair lands somewhere between meta and clumsy.

MGS II: Sons of Liberty features an overweight serial bomber using roller blades as his preferred means of transport. He also drinks wine through a straw. There’s also a revelation of an incestuous relationship between one of the lead characters and his step-mother. Impact of said relationship on MGS II’s plot: zero.

Even though MGS III: Snake Eater is set in the 1960s, it somehow manages to find a way to maintain the previous game’s lunatic content. In short, there’s a human bee hive, a sniper so old he occasionally falls asleep/dies during battles, another psychic/ghost/astral projector, and finally a sadist Russian colonel whose hobbies include electrical torture and using electrical powers, think along the lines of Bison from Street Fighter, to fire bullets held between his fingers.

In 2006, I bailed on Sony for an XBox 360, and never played more than an hour of MGS IV: Guns of the Patriots. Despite that, I think the fast facts in this video speak to some potential for, if not outright, weirdness.

All of this is a preface to Monday’s revelation that Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain earned a “sexual violence” caveat to its “mature” rating from the Entertainment Software Review Board. Here’s the ESRB’s specifics on why MGS V merits the second ever use of the “sexual violence” brand.

The game includes an audio file in which a female character is sexually assaulted by male characters; while there is no visual depiction, sounds of ripped clothing and struggle can be heard. The words “f**k” and “sh*t” are heard in the dialogue.

Hideo Kojima, the creative power behind the Metal Gear series, has always walked a fine line between necessary brutality and salacious pandering. Though scenes of degradation are always going to ruffle feathers, usually to the extent that they open a can of worms on the limits of art and expression, I will argue that the merit of such things are dependent on the context and execution. Consider the torture scene in the original MGS. It integrated actual narrative consequence with the new technology of the PS1 to produce an experience that was unique in gaming at that time. In comparison, the revelation of MGS III’s Colonel Volgin as a sadist added very little to the narrative. If I recall the game correctly, Volgin’s electro-kink torture cutscenes were little more than an excuse to frame him as a particularly bad guy while showing off a little implied nudity for the juveniles in the audience. That, in my estimation, is lazy writing and apt to be criticized as sensationalized violence.

The Quiet’s potential off-camera rape in MGS V would certainly raise the bar on the series’ past forays into the danger zone. In terms of shocking the audience, torture is one thing, but sexual assault and rape are on a different and much more problematic plane. My loyalty to the series, even when it is at its worst, makes me want to believe that there will be a good reason for this narrative choice. Yet fiction, regardless of genre or medium, all to often mobilizes rape as a lazy tool for adding texture to a villain. Pair that with memories of a “press button to stare at tits” mechanics in Metal Gear Solid II, III and IV, and I’m somewhat concerned that Hideo Kojima may have finally fallen off the metaphorical tightrope. Let’s face it, his games aren’t exactly known for being fair and balanced in their depiction of female characters.

I suppose we’ll just have to wait and see how it plays out. Regardless of what Kojima does or doesn’t do with MGS V, I fear for the nature of the spin-off discussions the game is going to create. This issue is not going to go away without greater examination (nor should it), and it’s almost inevitable that the internet’s knuckle draggers will dude-bro all over a meaningful conversation on depictions of sexual assault in the media. If history is any indicator, the real life debates on MGS V are going to get much, much uglier than anything we see in game.


About Adam Shaftoe

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