Tuesday, June 27, 2017

MGS5: Quiet Revulsion

The most controversial figure in video game auteur Hideo Kojima's last installment in the Metal Gear Solid franchise was the scantily clad sniper "Quiet."

It's even more disturbing in the game, with motion, and rain, and dancing, and Kojima's typical "in your face" blocking.

But we need to remember that when something is disturbing in art, that's truth. We need to move towards the discomfort, and find why we are so unsettled. So let's fully investigate this character.

First off, we need to dismiss the idea that Kojima is just an autistic otaku who doesn't know what he's doing. This largely owes to a series of tweets that compared her to anime figurines.

And of course the transparently ridiculous plot-level explanation for her surfeit of skin, which is that she lives on photosynthetic parasites. Clearly the worst diagetic science since midichlorians.

Besides her visual appearance, Quiet is also dramatically different for not speaking. This causes a lot of apprehension because that further reduces her to a physical object for men.

From this, it's been concluded that Kojima just doesn't know how to write women, and he must not respect them, and he thought this sort of character would go over smoothly.

While Kojima's "intent" is not the basis for understanding his work, we should use his other work as context. And in this case, the context is his history of challenging woman characters in Metal Gear Solid, ranging from the exploitative Eva, to the legendary Boss. Either he's a Mr. Magoo idiot-savant who consistently makes brilliant archetypes by accident, or he has some idea of what makes for compelling art. It doesn't really matter either way, we need to do the work of reading the text ourselves, and that means not dismissing the awkward parts out of hand.

A moment to explain the Boss. The first villain for Metal Gear was "Big Boss", a disillusioned super-soldier who had been the mentor to the hero Solid Snake. Metal Gear Solid 3 was a prequel that dealt with Big Boss's formative mission, and his relationship with his mentor, the WW2 hero "the Boss."

She was a videogame villain/badass unlike anyone had ever seen. She was a a woman.

Not "a sexy vixen who uses her wiles to seduce the hero and is identified with poison and hypnotism and witchcraft." Not "a woman overcompensating with masculinity who is in all other ways coded as a man." Not a "naif still learning her powers." But just a woman who you could believe could beat you up, and had the dedication to her country of a true patriot.

She frankly looks like a gender-swapped George Washington, a comparison made all the more obvious when she rides into her first scene on a white horse. She's maternal enough to clearly not be afraid of her femininity, but otherwise she is as tough and as composed as any of the boys.

It also helps that in her first scene she casually defeats Big Boss (the legendary supervillain of the previous games) in hand-to-hand combat, she makes the lightning enhanced general of this game flinch just be looking at him, and she, well:

Understandably, she's considered the best female videogame character by a lot of critics.

But we mustn't forget that this is the same game that introduced Eva, a Bond-girl ripoff, who needs constant rescuing, eventually sleeps with the protagonist and steals the Macguffin, and the character for whom cut scenes give you the option to (as Big Boss) stare down her shirt.

This is to say, it's not that Hideo Kojima gets "credit" for having made one good female character, so he can be excused for making other exploitative characters to earn some fan-cash. That's stupid purity politics and the calculus of indulgences. Just that he makes interesting characters, and they should be read intelligently.

Eva goes too far in her sexual kittenishness to be useful fan-bait in this day and age. If you wanted to titillate viewers without getting a backlash, it's pretty easy. To borrow from SMG on "Star Trek: Into Darkness." (commenting on this shot)

Supercar Gautier posted:

And yet we've got DFu4Ever talking about how the scene enables the audience to appreciate beauty, and how titillation is like adding spice to food- so I'm going to guess the scene didn't cause him to feel "deeply anxious".

I'm not trying to hold you to someone else's words (although it can be a little vexing to have to simultaneously argue against contradictory defenses of the scene), but it's a bit bold to claim that the scene was neither used nor responded to in an erotically-charged manner.

If you've just found out that people on the internet can ruin something by sexualizing it inappropriately, then I have some very bad news for you!
The problem is with these folks and not with the woman's body. Their interpretation of the scene is wrong.

Ferrinus posted:

I think you're exactly right about this. The scene makes an ostensible effort to be above pointless cheesecake and male gaze and so on, but oops! Not quite there!

That's a good definition of "Whedonesque".

A Whedon character would never appear in a bra. Instead, she would wear a 'functional' short-sleeved jacket over a tight tank top and tight leather pants. 
She would also pretend to be down with Kirk's advances before revealing herself to be a kung fu werewolf/kung fu robot/kung fu alien, because [boilerplate menstruation symbolism]. She would then hurt him physically, though not so much that he is actually injured.
The Marcus character cuts through the bullshit. Here is a woman's breast. How do you react? 

Which is a good description of Eva, and even more of Quiet. Quiet is pretty clearly in part a commentary on anime toys, who take existing characters and further sexualize them for commodification. Quiet looks like a toy, and presents fans with their fantasy realized, and demands "why are you suddenly so uncomfortable?"


This is the part where someone responds with a meme saying "Oh, so it's bad on purpose." with some famous cartoon character looking skeptical.

No. Identifying that Quiet makes us uncomfortable is the start of understanding her character, but we still have to read the text. We have to play Metal Gear Solid 5, and understand the specific dynamics that go on, in order to see how this reaction fits into her entire character.

For instance Quiet has three appearances, adding complexity to the ubiquitous screenshots of her smooth, flawless skin. I'm not talking about the capitalist-frenzy-achievement style system where you can "collect" different outfits for her, and see her in gold lame or camouflage spandex. That's just dressing her up.

Here are the other two appearances of Quiet in game:

Oh hey, here's the Kojima of MGS3. This is a flashback to Quiet's first chronological appearance in the game, when she was a mercenary assassin sent to kill you in the hospital. She's competent, talkative, and as you can see, professionally dressed without being slightly provocative. This whole scene is a studied contrast to Quiet-the-toy.

Then she gets thrown out a window by Big Boss, burned in a fire, rescued by her employer and the villain of the game, who turns her into an object. He gives her those photosynthetic parasites, and implants her with the virus that leads to her not talking, and forces her to hunt down Big Boss. The entire message is that Quiet was a badass character, who has been dehumanized (and sexualized) by her employers.

(I'm not going to go into her employers here, but there's nothing subtle about how they are a standin for faceless global capitalism and military-industrial relations. That's just Kojima's repeated, blatant theme.)

Quiet was a woman like the Boss, like you, but the villain made her into this disgusting toy. But we're not done yet.

This is her other appearance you never read thinkpieces about:

Oh right. Quiet's skintastic appearance itself is just a costume. She's actually a zombie who's being eaten alive by her parasites, and in times of stress she loses her composure and you see the blood and exposed flesh, generally starting with dark shadows around her eyes. Her behavior matches suit, and she becomes a feral demon, abandoning the elegance of sniper combat and using knives and biting. It happens several times throughout the game, there's nothing subtle about it.

(Not to mention that we know Quiet is just the prototype for becoming this.)

She is the ultimate degraded subject, the rotting flesh of horror films and nightmares. The process the villain put her through made her into freak, with only the disguise of being a sensual, mostly naked woman. (And MGS5, through its fantastic Resident-Evil-style scene of fighting your former, infected comrades, has a lot to say about zombies.)

Stop and think about that for a minute: a character famous for being naked, is actually a costume over their real, abject self. And before that, they had an outfit that was a layer above that, of the professional military woman. I hesitate to talk about art in terms of "depth" and "layers" but there really is no other term here.

Her nakedness is her disguise. And not in the sense that "the real Quiet is when she wears the clothes she chooses", as merc-Quiet is just as much a tool of others. The real Quiet is the bloodthirsty zombie, which is true of absolutely everyone. It is only the illusion of our social relations that rescue us from being treated as this scum.
The blundering, awkward and yet "driven" movement of zombies can first be read metaphorically as pure trauma or a repetition-compulsion of one traumatic, quintessentially grotesque, event—death. Žižek’s distinction between drive and desire is explained through one radical difference. Desire implies an ulterior motive—I want this, but to what end, what do I really want?—“Drive, on the contrary, persists in a certain demand, it is a ‘mechanical’ insistence that cannot be caught up in dialectical trickery: I demand something and I persist in it to the end” (Žižek 1992: 21). For the zombies, Lacanian/Žižekian desire is impossible, but drive remains. They are pure Freudian Id,
but further reduced to one component only: hunger. In the space created in between the two/three deaths from above, there is no desire, and that space is constructed only by drive. The zombies cannot remember anything from the previous life because then they would gradually shift into beings of desire. 
Journal of Zizek Studies.

And Quiet's layers of appearance play on the gross commodification for fanboys in anime toy stores. Now, would Kojima really make an entire character in his game just to say "haha, fuck you nerds."

Oh right, Kojima made Metal Gear Solid *2*. Never forget that Hideo has a serious claim of being the greatest troll ever.


Let's bring this back around by leaving her appearance, and talking about her nominative feature: her voicelessness. Obviously a woman deprived of her voice is a powerful metaphor for robbed agency (a la the Little Mermaid.) That she can't speak is part of what makes her such an upsetting object.

Except for the late game revelation that she can speak, she just chooses not to (just like Darth Maul.)

The hilariously metaphorical villain has infected Quiet with a virus that spreads by speaking languages, in her case English. If she spoke a word of English, she would kill everyone on the military base that is holding her prisoner.

She's holding back for them. Quiet is the powerful one here (just as she is in every mission where her sniper skills make her the most useful ally.)

This is why you must read works for yourselves, and never trust the clickbait-machine of quippy reviews. All any of them wrote about this complex character was screenshots of one of her three appearances, and tweets from the author, ignoring everything about Quiet that made her interesting and put her cheesecake into context. You can not tolerate that bullshit.

Hell, I've barely done any real analysis here, or grappled with the philosophical concepts around sexual overabundance, the capitalist commentary of the mercenaries who destroy through linguistic sabotage, or the state of the zombies in this game. I just pointed them out, and I'm years ahead of Games Radar or Reddit. This isn't that hard people.

No comments:

Post a Comment