It’s a good thing to have one’s taste’s challenged. Where such challenges occur around things that one is passionate about, the reconciliation of any potential cognitive dissonance with the points that are being made by any given person can be a difficult task: it takes a fair amount of humility and introspection to be able to do anything other than lash out with an instinctive, knee-jerk reaction along the lines of a denial coupled with some lazy rationalisation. With that in mind, I must thank Ria Jenkins, Lucy O’Brien and Cam Kunzelman for their thought-provoking pieces on the inclusion of both an audio tape depicting sexual violence and the decision to use the sole female character in the game’s sexual organs as a weapon: they have been of great service in working through what would otherwise be likely to be blind fanboyism in an “analysis” of how I felt about the game’s more potentially troublesome elements. In the following, I do not seek to provide a rationalisation for the decision to include the scenes in the game – indeed, I’m not sure that I would be capable of providing one – I aim more to add to discussion from the point of view of someone who was initially made uncomfortable by their inclusion, but perhaps for different reasons than those currently articulated.
The shock of Chico being “underage”
Kojima has somewhat made a rod for his own back in the run-up to the release of either of the MGSV installments: claiming that, even when the title was being developed as Project Ogre, the game would deal with taboo subjects, and that the Phantom Pain character Quiet was designed to be sexy to inspire cosplayers. In the first instance, the comment could be taken as either a commitment to attempt to challenge what was possible within the medium of video games – to tackle mature subject matter in a sensitive and responsible matter – or to be shocking for the sake of being shocking. Coupled with the second remark, however, it becomes apparent that either translation has not been kind (perhaps a charitable interpretation) or that Kojima’s public persona is not as sensitive as perhaps it should be to the concerns of others – perhaps to the point of his being considered an auteur of sorts blinding him to the wider repercussions of tackling taboo.
While Chico’s being thirteen and being coerced to engage in sexual intercourse is likely to prick hair in the West, where the age of consent for sexual intercourse tends to lie between sixteen and eighteen, the age of consent of Japan rests at thirteen.In the traditional Lockean interpretations of autonomy and rationality that have informed both “Western” and Japanese political thought, reason is what qualifies us as autonomous persons, with this being a range property. Japanese law rules that this autonomy is realised at an earlier age by statute. If we follow this course of reasoning, this aspect of the feeling that the events of the tape being grotesque is informed by the differences in culture around sexual consent between Japan and ourselves. Even if this is the case, there is enough to be upset about without considering that Skull Face is essentially coercing a child to have sex, and to accept such a course of reasoning is to ascribe an insulting amount of naivety to the production staff of the game, particularly where themes of the corruption of childhood in MGSV had been hinted at previously.
Multiple views can be taken as to the ascription of intent to Kojima in insisting that this teenager should engage in such activities: the first being that it is something that was known would cause offense for the reason of the youth of the person committing the primary act of rape, with the second being as a set up to “character development” for Chico going into the Phantom Pain. Neither intent can be seen as particularly noble. In the first case, that is indicative of immature writing in the vein of the pornography of violence of Hostel, made more difficult by the fact that it is more difficult for more people to abstract the reality of rape from a depiction of it purely on the basis that rape as a “real-world” occurrence is more widespread than the sort of violence found in “gornos.” In the second case, we can talk again about lazy writing creating character motivations through terrible things happening to them, with sexual violence being a particuarly abhorrent way to develop a character in any way.
A perverse “reward”
In the case of the recording of the rape of Paz by both Skull Face and Chico, it is an element of the story than can go completely unnoticed by the player, being included as it is in a tape recording that the player must actively seek out: it is not necessary to pick up the tape, and therefore claims that it is not necessary for the story are understandable. On the other hand, it appears to be a concession to, on one hand, the medium of video games and, on the other, the braying nature of fans of the series.
Video games have collectibles: this is almost universally true across all games, irrespective of genre, in some form or another. From coins to multiple endings dependent upon actions the player has taken over the course of a game, players are conditioned to expect to have to do something to get something. In the case of MGS, the most valuable collectibles are story collectibles traditionally found through repeatedly speaking on the codec to the same person or doing something slightly off-piste in terms of the normal progression of the story. In a sense, the tape is a perfect distillation of this attitude to story-telling taken to its logical extreme. Such methods of story-telling are incentivised by the release strategy for MGSV, particularly given the short length of the primary mission in Ground Zeroes: what is better to incentivise replay for fans of a series with a heavy reliance on its narrative than secreting away story elements? While it is reasonable to expect that Kojima would have always wanted this scene to be exposed, it’s non-essential nature cheapens the horror of the things that Paz and Chico had to endure during their captivity.
MGS canon and theory-crafting
As has been mentioned in most commentary on this issue, MGS canon is not something that could be considered in the slightest bit rational with multiple story elements being rewritten over the course of installments of the series. The shift to a “grittier” tone will likely involve a great deal of the same treatment. Such fluidity of the storyline, even in extant canon, leads to a great deal of speculation prior to the release of games in the main series: key in this case is the theory that the Phantom Pain’s Quiet is actually Chico, driven to identify as a woman owing to the ordeal that he went through with Paz and Skull Face. While wild speculation at the moment, if this is the case, a diagnosis of sexual dysmorphia as the result of a traumatic event (and thereby pathologising it as “deviant”) is hideously regressive.
The future of MGS
As a long-standing fan of the series, I worry about the Phantom Pain because of the great tone shift from the previous games to Ground Zeroes. In spite of silliness, MGS has previously managed to tackle adult themes without resorting to a “South Park” definition of mature. The inclusion of the sort of sexual violence in Ground Zeroes feels like the will of a boy to grow a moustache and squealing with joy once the first set of hairs first start to poke their way through the hypodermis: desperation to be taken serious as a fully-fledged contribution to the canon of the video game. MGS2 already achieved that through its discussion of the theme of postmodernism: resorting to the shock of sexual violence is nothing but a regressive step.