Last year, Hideo Kojima, the creator of the Metal Gear series of stealth adventures, caused a minor controversy when he tweeted about a new character in his forthcoming title, Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain. The character is a mute female assassin named Quiet, whose complex backstory will apparently explain why she wears only a bikini and laddered tights while carrying out covert missions in 1980s Afghanistan.
“I’ve been ordering to Yoji [Shinkawa, character designer] to make the character more erotic,” wrote Kojima. “And he did it well.” He later clarified the comment, correcting “erotic” to “sexy” and claiming that his game would provide a context for the character’s clothing. “Once you recognise the secret reason for her exposure, you will feel ashamed of your words & deeds,” he tweeted.
But of course, another tweet (which may well have been loaded with irony) got to the heart of what is going on here:
The initial target is to make u want to do cosplay or its figurine to sell well.— HIDEO_KOJIMA (@HIDEO_KOJIMA)1378275986.0
Which brings us to Kojima’s latest controversial tweet, about the Quiet action figure, which, it seems, will have squeezable breasts made of soft, pliable PVC.
In his message on Twitter, Kojima wrote: “Yoji, a supervisor says some soft materials enables to be pushed & lifted. lol”, and supplied four photos of the model. It does indeed have strangely aerated boobs, like balloons inflated to bursting point – helpfully, a modeller is seen pushing the breasts together slightly – in case anyone is concerned they are not malleable enough.
Naturally, the revelation has attracted plenty of coverage and discussion in the gaming press. Is it sexist? Is it objectifying? Is it just part of Japanese game culture?
In this way, the Quiet action figure has become the latest exhibit in an ongoing culture war between those who want to challenge the often overtly sexualised depiction of women in games and comics, and those who feel that writers and developers are being browbeaten into political correctness by “feminist thought police”, or whatever they call the people who worry about how representation affects people.
It’s pretty creepy though. This is a creative industry in which female characters are routinely sexualised – from the ludicrous sight of Ms Pac-Man lounging provocatively on the front of game cabinets to Lara Croft and the enthusiastically circulated myth of her accidental breast augmentation, women have been envisioned through a certain lens of desire and voyeurism.
This happens in other media, and yes, male game characters are physically idealised, too – but let’s not pretend it’s to anywhere near the same extent, or for the same reasons. There are plenty of female characters who are not sexualised (so please lets not bother listing them in the comments section), but we have to recognise that, well ... this is the industry that brought us Dead or Alive – a whole game series which is effectively about watching digitised breasts being groped by the world’s worst physics engine.
It’s worth pointing out, however, that the Quiet figure is hardly a standalone example. The high-end video game action figure market is huge in Japan, where companies like Play Arts Kai and HotToys specialise in making very detailed, very lifelike PVC models of favourite characters.
Although they often come with accessories (Quiet even has a separate head that features smudged make-up), they are designed for display, and they’re not for children. Female game and manga figures are particularly popular, both those drawn from mainstream titles like Metal Gear, DoA and Street Fighter, and those from the eroge or erotic game genre.
More specialised manufacturers like Lechery, Ques Q and Griffon produce dozens of models drawn from key series, posed sexually, with masses of plastic cleavage. Griffon, particularly, has been producing models with squeezable breasts for years, and emphasises boob pliability in its online advertising. So it’s creepy but it’s not new.
As for Quiet herself, well, she comes from a long line of sexualised female assassins, a game/comic trope (no doubt spawned from the femme fatale archetype), that takes in Catwoman, Elektra, Black Widow, Nikita and just about every female character in Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill.
That’s not justification, that’s the context we need to bear in mind when we ask: “Kojima, what the hell are you doing?” Indeed, Quiet is actually a westernised take on the problematic “silent Asian assassin” sub-trope, which takes in the likes of Deadly Little Miho from Sin City and one-time Batgirl Cassandra Cain. Those depictions were rife with notions of otherness and the Asian as alien aggressor – maybe that’s what Kojima is getting at. But maybe not.
Maybe this is just in extremely bad taste, a sad example of games merchandising inching its way toward the territory of love dolls. What does that tell us about game culture? Nothing great, really.