Massive spoilers in this article for Metal Gear Solid: Phantom Pain
Back in 2013, Metal Gear Solid fans were presented with the barely-dressed character design for female sniper assassin Quiet. The reaction wasn’t entirely positive, but Hideo Kojima stepped forward to assure fans that there was a perfectly reasonable narrative justification for the character’s attire.
“I know there’s people concerning about ‘Quiet’ but don’t worry,” he wrote in a series of tweets. “I created her character as an antithesis to the women characters appeared in the past fighting game who are excessively exposed. ‘Quiet’ who doesn’t have a word will be teased in the story as well. But once you recognise the secret reason for her exposure, you will feel ashamed of your words & deeds.”
So, two years on Phantom Pain has been released. No one has forgotten Kojima’s words and we have the full story behind Quiet’s attire. Are we ashamed? Well, not for ourselves.
It turns out that the reason Quiet wears that bikini outfit is because of a parasitic infection. This infection means that she has to breathe through her skin, using photosynthesis to absorb air, water, and nutrients. So, you see, Quiet doesn’t want to be exposed in the way she is. She has to be. And that’s empowering how exactly? She’s essentially a houseplant. Quiet is actually the second photosynthetic character in the series, the previous character being The End, but for some reason he gets to wear a lot more clothes than Quiet does. Probably his lack of displayable tits.
At a later point in the game there’s a distressing scene where Quiet is attacked. Quiet is taken captive and dressed in prisoner clothing, which, in covering her skin, causes her to slowly suffocate. In this scene, a guard grabs Quiet by the throat and forces her head into a tank of water, holding her head under the surface until she stops resisting him. The camera zooms in on her lifeless face, holding there whilst the player can hear the sound of a zip being undone and Quiet’s clothing being removed. It’s with this removal of her clothing that Quiet’s skin is once again exposed and, able to breathe, she overpowers her attackers and escapes a grotesque rape. There’s a video, but we’re not going to link to it because it’s triggering and horrible.
I’m not entirely sure what the purpose, if any, of this scene and of Quiet’s character design generally is. It will no doubt be argued that it’s an attempt to empower her, to say that women should wear as little clothing as they want; that we’re ‘suffocating’ these female characters with our censorious attempts to force clothes on them, and that, hey, maybe full body armour isn’t always the most sensible option in battle, so why don’t we stop complaining about it? But, honestly, if anyone tries to argue this with reference to Quiet’s character they are seriously missing something: Quiet’s exposure is forced on her. I’m pretty sure, given any kind of choice, she would rather go into battle at least slightly more protected than she is. Maybe not head-to-toe kevlar, but a nice bullet proof vest would probably be preferable to a bra with no discernible underwire, ripped tights, and a g-string that would probably feel like it was cutting you in half if you tried to get into any kind of sniping position.
But no, to live, Quiet has to be almost entirely naked. To continue to exist in the world of Phantom Pain she must be silent and in a state of undress, one of the most perfect examples of a needlessly undressed and objectified female character I’ve ever seen in videogames. If Kojima absolutely had to keep the parasitic infection storyline, why not have her dressed in a super cool original body suit made from a breathable fabric? Probably because that would take away the entire point of the storyline: to lazily excuse the continued use of female characters whose sole aesthetic purpose is to be sexy.
I’m not entirely sure why Kojima thought I, or anyone else, would be ashamed of our initial negative reaction to Quiet’s character design because I honestly can’t see how my expectations were defied. Quiet isn’t the ‘antithesis’ to other bodily exposed women in gaming; she’s designed the way she is because the game creators think it looks sexy and entertaining, and they don’t want to release an action game without some tits on show. It would be nice if they would treat players with more respect than they’re willing to treat their characters and not pretend there was any higher purpose, because somehow that’s even more embarrassing.
Main Image: © Konami