Trigger warning: This post has brief descriptions and video depictions of violence, torture, and sexual assault.
This week brought us closer to the release of Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes and the mute, female sniper named Quiet. It also brought the announcement that the ESRB has coded the game with the sexual violence descriptor. For those of you who don’t pay close attention to game warnings (most of us don’t) this is a descriptor that almost never gets used. Really. Not in rape scenarios in Heavy Rain, Tomb Raider, or Red Dead Redemption, not in the beatings of prostitutes in GTA games, or murder and sodomy descriptions in L.A. Noire. It’s a warning that (according to the ESRB) has only been given to one game ever. In 2006 the ESRB bestowed this “honor” on Animamundi, an obscure Japanese gothic horror interactive novel/video game that had limited distribution in North America.
So what you may be asking could win MGS V such a rare honor? The following rating summary was provided for the purposes to rating the game (which, incidentally, will be rated Mature and not Adults Only)
This is an action game in which players assume the role of an elite soldier through military missions in Cuba. Players infiltrate various bases and use pistols, machine guns, and rocket launchers to kill enemy soldiers. Firefights are highlighted by realistic gunfire, slow-motion effects, and large blood-splatter effects. Players can also employ stealth attacks (e.g., choking, knife stabbing from behind) and have the ability kill non-adversary characters/prisoners. One cutscene includes a depiction of blood and gore (e.g., a character’s intestines exposed during a dramatic procedure to remove an object). 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.
Now we are making the assumption that this treatment of the female character is more of the backstory of Quiet who we have talked about at length before because of her clothing (or lack thereof) and the fact that she is mute. This description also supports some earlier video of the game where a woman (who is presumably Quiet) is bound to a chair and being tortured with cattle prods.
Designer Hideo Kojima has spent the last several months defending the design of Quiet and has claimed that her backstory would explain why she is mute and why she is dressed in the way that she is within the game. Is the fact that she is a rape survivor supposed to be adequate explanation for her donning fishnets, a bikini top, and ass-less chaps? No wait, she already had those things on in the torture scene. Perhaps it is the fact that she seems to have some kind of bio-engineered camouflage skin system. If that is the case then wouldn’t the male soldiers also be running around bare-chested and in ass-less chaps? I really wanted to give Kojima-san the benefit of the doubt here, but things just really aren’t looking good for him. It seems more and more probable that this is Kojima-san’s attempt at extending the metaphor of the “phantom pain” that others in the game feel from loss of body parts to Quiet and her loss of…what? Virtue? Dress her as a bad stereotype of a prostitute to show that she has been sexually violated (female veterans are nine times more likely to develop PTSD if they have been sexually assaulted and are more likely to have their disability claims denied if that connection is known)?
If the representation of Quiet is about illuminating the phantom pain, then why allow Snake to wear an eye patch? Why tenderly cover the mangled eye of tortured prisoner Kazuhira Miller and have his stumps covered where his limbs have been amputated?
Are these male victims of torture more deserving of respect? Or is it that Quiet is more deserving of torture because she has stepped outside of her prescribed gender role? Is this more of the “she was just asking for it” mentality that we see in rape culture and proliferating the US military where, according to the Department of Defense, more than 70 members of the military are sexually assaulted every day? That is an average of three every hour and the Pentagon estimates that 85% of sexual assaults go unreported. And this number includes both male and female military personnel.
If the gameplay unfolds in the way that the ESRB description, trailer, and Kojima himself have suggested we can easily read Quiet not only as a woman who has been robbed of her voice (as a way of making her both more useful as a sniper and more palatable as a woman), but of using her status as a rape survivor as both a cautionary tale and a means of sexual titillation. In the end it is something that we are going to wait until mid-March to experience (or not).
Image Credit: The Invisible War is a documentary on sexual assault in the military