This article contains spoilers for Metal Gear Solid 5: The Phantom Pain, specifically regarding the character Quiet.
As anyone who's watched my video output on the Eurogamer YouTube channel can attest, I love talking about sex in games. More often than not its execution is hilarious, sometimes it's even erotic, and I believe that talking about sex positively, celebrating it, making it less something for people to be secretive and ashamed of is a good and healthy thing. Saying all that, I don't think Quiet's scantily clad appearance in Metal Gear is about sex. Not really. It's about Tits.
Back when Quiet's character was revealed and some people expressed doubts about how she looked, director Hideo Kojima was quoted as saying he wanted a more "erotic" character. He later corrected this, claiming there was a mistranslation; "She's a really unique character, I wanted to add that sexiness to her. It wasn't really supposed to be erotic, but sexy.
"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. The response of 'Quiet' disclosure few days ago incited by the net is exactly what MGSV itself is."
The reason that Kojima is referencing here - the plot point that means Quiet has to wear as little as humanly possible - is that she is infected by a parasite that grants her superhuman powers but means she must breathe through her skin. She also takes in water and light like a plant. Photosynthetic transcutaneous respiration, if you want to sound smart. That's it. That's all it is. With that in mind, let's proceed.
Now, we'll come back to the feeling ashamed bit; I'm not convinced that Quiet is a sexy character. Kojima is a great designer. I'll always give him props for being one of the few gaming auteurs to include multiple bisexual characters in his universe, even if they more often than not turn out to be sadistic killers. Better to be present and accounted for and a little bit perverted than never there at all. The Boss is a fantastic female character, too - strong, principled, noble yet not totally robotic, and I see echoes of her design in Quiet. But most of the time in Metal Gear Solid 5, Quiet is just Tits, floating front and centre of your vision when you're supposed to be listening to someone talk smack about a walking robot.
As someone who both possesses tits and is attracted to people who have tits, I am of the opinion that tits are awesome. But they're just tits - and for a large portion of the game, Quiet isn't a sexy female character but an appendix to her Tits. Her character is a footnote to the two swinging, wibbling mammaries the camera transports into our eyeline at every opportunity. They're often framed front and centre of any scene she's in, or just dangling into vision as Snake checks his iDroid for the next mission or someone chats about how bipedal robots are the future of modern combat and definitely not massively impractical. When someone's talking to Quiet during a pivotal, emotional moment, there we are, stuck staring at her chest. There's a torture scene where the fact that she has a bag over her head makes it literally impossible to look at anything else. There are moments where she's in real peril, again punctuated by these rogue jiggling Tits which always just so happen to be right in the middle of the screen.
By the way, if I'm using the word tits too much, this is exactly what playing the game is like. And for the record, they are tits. Boobs and boobies have a lovely warm curvature about them; breasts exist solely for medical screenings and renaissance art where women draped over a chaise longue or a surprised-looking horse leave them tastefully uncovered. But tits are hard and flat and unsexy without context. "Get your tits out love." You can see how much I've thought about this, but I don't see what other choice I have when this was a large portion of my experience playing Metal Gear, despite Tits not being the reason I play Metal Gear. Am I typing the word Tits too much? Tits.
Even if we assume that all the hetero males out there getting a kick out of it was the intention - because let's be real, they weren't put there for the benefit of queer women - are we just never going to talk about or reference these wobbling mounds of flesh? If you have something to say about Tits, say it - they get enough screen time to have earned their own credit on the end-roll. It's the Tits without context or commentary within the story that's odd. In Metal Gear Solid 3, we knew exactly why EVA kept unzipping her boiler suit to reveal her super sixties space-age silver bra underneath. She was sexy, and she was playing Snake (and us - don't deny you hammered R1 every single time you were able). It had exactly the desired effect. She, shades on, made off on a badass chopper before Snake had even emerged from his post-coital coma. EVA knew what she wanted and exactly how to get it. Her Tits had earned their place in the story.
You'll notice Punished Snake never looks at Quiet's chest with anything approaching sexual intent, and nor does anyone else on Mother Base under his watch. He's the noble hero, saviour of men, women, wild animals and children and beloved by his soldiers. Even when Quiet strips down to just her ammo belt and dental-floss underwear (which would give you serious wedgie issues if you were to sit in her sniping positions, just FYI) and dances in the rain, he's always looking her right in the eye. He wouldn't even think of looking at her in any other way. But we would, wouldn't we? We keep stealing furtive glances, mostly because we aren't given a choice either way. "Snake I need you to extract this target from theTITS and then take it back to TITS for a full debrieTITS. It'll be dangerous, so don't forget to TITSTITSTITSTITSTITS or you'll most certainly die. God speed."
I'd much prefer it if Quiet and Boss were off christening every platform of Mother Base. It'd feel more honest, for one thing. If you want sex, bloody well put sexy sex in your game. Having a character naked and then having no-one else really referencing it seems like having your cake and gawping at it. It wouldn't be so glaringly obvious if Quiet weren't the sole female character for a large portion of the game. An elite all-female sniper team shows up at one point, emerging from the mist all badass and bald-headed and grey-skinned. And the camera, like that one horny little dog that rushes to hump your leg at a family dinner, eagerly zooms in for a close-up of each of their Tits - well, pair thereof - in turn before swinging around to rest on their arses. You have to laugh.Lionhead: the inside story The rise and fall of a British institution, as told by those who made it.
In fact there was really only one point in the game where I wasn't gut-laughing at the sheer silliness of it all. In a no doubt deliberate move by Kojima, the most uncomfortable and - in my opinion - woefully misjudged scene involving Quiet occurs when she's wearing the most clothes. Another warning, we're entering into serious spoiler territory here, so proceed at your own risk. Taken captive, she's dressed in prisoner garb - trousers and a shirt - and, because she breathes through her skin, she's slowly suffocating. An unnamed guard grabs her by the throat and forces her up onto a tank of water, and whilst straddled between her legs he bends her over backwards with her face into the water, throttling her until she stops struggling. The camera zooms in to focus on her blue lips and deadened eyes and we hear a fly unzipped and clothing removed - it's truly grotesque. Yet, with her skin exposed, she's able to breathe again and she turns the tables on her aggressors. An attempted rape has saved her. I'm sure there's supposed to be an empowering message in there somewhere - especially given the monumental dick-stabbing that follows - but personally it just made me feel ill.
Last weekend a friend of mine took a licensed cab home and the driver grabbed her and got his dick out. It was the middle of the night, so I don't think this man was possessed with photosynthetic transcutaneous respiration; I'd hedge my bets that his superpower was just scaring women. Perhaps it's the fresh memory of this and the distress it caused my friend, and the memories of countless other experiences women I know have had, that made this scene with Quiet all the more upsetting. I mean damn, would that her revenge or even a tiny part of it could have a basis in reality - if my 45kg frame could scorpion-kick every guy that put his hands on me without my permission you can be damn sure I would - but the wretched truth for a lot of women is that when something like this happens, we aren't in a position to fight back, and forced exposure is the furthest thing from an empowering situation you can possibly get. Being naked in front of the right person can make you feel invincible, as can prancing around at home in front of a mirror lip-syncing to Beyoncé and loving every inch of your boobs and butt just for yourself. So I can almost see where Kojima might have been coming from. But, in practice, making Quiet's strength in that context a weapon that is so often used against women just hurts.
If the purpose of this scene and of Quiet's character in general is to make commentary, perhaps some will say it is that women should be free to wear what they want into battle or anywhere else, but this actually isn't the case with Quiet at all. She herself states she never wanted to be this way. She has this exposure forced upon her, and given a choice, it's safe to assume she'd adopt more practical clothing. She needs to be naked to live now; she needs to be naked to earn a place in Kojima's, and our, world.
So, as per Kojima's original statement, should we be ashamed of our words and deeds regarding the knee-jerk reaction to Quiet's unveiling - and the Quiet action figure with the squeezable Tits that followed? Well, no, and I've seen nothing to suggest that we should. I can't see how Quiet's nakedness serves any other purpose than to provide wank fodder, and I don't see how she's an 'antithesis' to other women in gaming who have been excessively exposed. And that's fine; if you want to lust after big wobbling digital Tits, you go forth and be the best you you can be. But let's not pretend it's anything grander than that.