This week marks the Metal Gear series’ 35th anniversary—the first game came out for the MSX on July 13, 1987—and Quiet, Metal Gear Solid V’s taciturn sniper, is forever wearing a bikini. Metal Gear artist Yoji Shinkawa pictures Quiet as naked in some early concept art, a meditation he performs with many of his female characters. It’s a ridiculous practice, another confirmation that women video game characters are designed with a man’s libido front and center, but in the peculiar case of Quiet, Shinkawa might have been onto something. If Quiet’s final design had fully committed to her distinct backstory, I think Metal Gear could have presented something more compelling to the canon than another hot video game girl designed to sell collectibles.
A black bikini, torn fishnet stockings, boots, gloves, a tactical belt slouched against a flat, muscled stomach. Since Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain released in 2015, Quiet’s default outfit has been heavily criticized by players and fiercely defended by series creator Hideo Kojima. On his English Twitter in 2013, Kojima generously identified Quiet as an “antithesis” to “excessively exposed” women characters, and shook his finger at detractors, saying they’d all be “ashamed of [their] words & deeds” upon playing the game. Playing the game revealed that Quiet simply has to wear that straining bikini, you see, because she’s…um, riddled with parasites.
In Metal Gear Solid V we learn that Quiet was treated with mutant, language-specific, vocal cord parasites that give her a range of superhuman abilities: invisibility, lightning speed, and the ability to breathe, eat, and drink through her skin, like a plant. Quiet is no traditional bioweapon victim—her parasites don’t melt her face off, destroy her intestines, or give her kids cancer. They bless her with thinness and eroticism.
The eroticism, created with viewers in mind and unbeknownst to silent, unsexual Quiet, is primarily what bothers me. Writer Michael Thomsen noted in a 2015 Forbes article that “Quiet’s sexualization doesn’t seem to be acknowledged by anyone in the game world. She has no expressed libido, nor do any of the game’s bumblingly inelegant men.”
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But, while hiding behind parasites, the game encourages players to delight in Quiet’s body. We’re made to watch her unnecessarily jump out of a helicopter to writhe around in some rain puddles, her body glistening as if dipped in perfumed oil. Metal Gear Solid V’s camera loves that body, occasionally switching to first person to better observe the perfunctory jiggling of Quiet’s breasts. Her breasts, by the way, translated well into a squishy action figure that could be “pushed & lifted,” Kojima said, “lol.”
I’m sure that Quiet’s design sells action figures to pent-up people looking to test out her character’s push and lift, but the spectacle Kojima makes of her body is embarrassing for both Quiet and for us. Metal Gear Solid V is obsessed with her softness, the forbidden feeling of imagining what’s under a bikini, instead of the more compelling fact that a mutation has transformed every inch, every pore of Quiet’s body into a sexless weapon.
Try to challenge your expectations of character design and engage in a thought experiment with me. At one point in Metal Gear Solid V, two Russian snipers express surprise at seeing a “naked” woman, Quiet, near the Serak Power Plant. Well, what if Quiet was naked? Like, actually naked, not flatteringly concealed in some places, tantalizingly bare in others. Why can’t women be naked in video games without having to be in a male character’s bed or an actual robot?
A naked Quiet—or a Quiet wearing an airy, high-tech bodysuit—would confirm her body is a tool of war, not a vehicle for bikinis meant to titillate players. The game would no longer waste time on pretense, on mystery about what lies under a few inches of cloth. Her movements would lose their sexual drama. The camera would no longer need to desperately zoom in as Quiet bends over to catch an extra stretch of skin. And even if we went with that fully nude option, what you would see is what you would get: tits, ass, and a gun.
Being naked or (less sensationally) creating in-universe technology to accommodate her parasitic needs would let Quiet breathe better. With her skin exposed as much or as little as her character desires, she could eat and drink more frequently and efficiently. She’d become even more fantastically strong than she is in the sexually frustrated game that shipped.
When Raiden ran around nude in Metal Gear Solid 2, completely on display aside from both hands in front of his pelvis (perhaps in 2001 we lacked the technology for dick physics), the camera stayed politely back. The game communicated that Raiden’s nakedness was out of necessity, nothing else. Quiet and her compelling backstory would have benefited from the same sober eyes.
“Woman is desexualized at the very moment when she is stripped naked,” French literary critic Roland Barthes wrote about the striptease. “We may therefore say that we are dealing in a sense with a spectacle based on fear, [...] a sort of delicious terror, whose ritual signs have only to be announced to evoke at once the idea of sex and its conjuration.”
But Kojima couldn’t help himself from conjuring sex.
“I’ve been ordering to Yoji to make the character more erotic, and he did it well,” Kojima’s English Twitter said about Quiet on September 4, 2013. “The initial target is to make u want to do cosplay or its figurine to sell well,” he continued, later posting a close-up of Quiet’s posed, stockings-covered ass as an example of cosplay inspiration.
That’s what Quiet’s bullshit vocal cord parasites really are. Not a plot point created by a genius to make us feel ashamed of our words and deeds and counter the exceedingly tired confines we impose on women in media. The parasites are nothing more than a handwaved explanation for softcore capitalism. Quiet’s bikini body sells products, not empowerment, though the game tries to align with Kojima’s argument for skimpy clothing cleverly indicating female empowerment as well.
In one brutal scene, Quiet hums, fully clothed and weakened while soldiers take off her pants to rape her. When her legs are exposed, her vitality is restored by the sun. She’s able to suddenly, aggressively murder the soldiers, ripping out one man’s neck with her teeth. As the camera lingers on the cut of her thong, she kicks her combat boot high, crushing a man’s groin.
I want this moment to feel like retribution, but you can’t ignore the rape in a rape revenge plot. Art has relied on this formula for decades as a quick shortcut to building audience empathy and turning its female protagonist into an almighty livewire. In the 1973 Japanese art film Belladonna of Sadness, rape lets its protagonist transform into a supernatural angel of death. In the 2007 movie Teeth, would-be rapists are disappointed to find that its victim’s vagina is covered in, as it were, biting teeth. Like the art that came before it, Metal Gear shallowly tries to find a woman’s inspiration in this gender-coded attack.
But in introducing sexual violence as an obstacle for Quiet, Metal Gear decides that Quiet’s body isn’t the reason for her godlike power—in fact, it’s a liability. Being a woman made Quiet more vulnerable than her male peers, despite being both stronger and faster than them. The game’s trickiest outfits to unlock are the protective ones that cover Quiet completely. You have to earn her safety from the male gaze, as her mutated body isn’t enough on its own.
Maybe in the next 35 years of Metal Gear, a woman’s body could be enough on its own.