Does Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes take it too far?

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(Editor’s Note: Patrick’s views are his own and do not reflect on Pixelitis as a whole, but we expect everyone to be kind and remember Wheaton’s Law. Also, this article contains heavy spoilers for Metal Gear Solid: Ground Zeroes and mentions of disturbing sexual violence.)

Leading up to the last week’s release of Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes, both Konami and series creator Hideo Kojima stressed that it would ruffle a few feathers with its grittier style of storytelling.

After playing through Ground Zeroes, it dawned on me that he really wasn’t kidding.

During a preview event for MGSV in Tokyo, Kojima said he was “already thinking about sensitive things” during the writing process.

“If we don’t cross that line, if we don’t make attempts with what we want to express, if we don’t go beyond that, we won’t be able to achieve what movies or novels have achieved,” Kojima said. “It’s trying to go beyond what the original media was supposed to be. If we don’t go this far, games will never be considered as culture.”

And the nine-minute long E3 2013 trailer for The Phantom Pain gave us a glimpse into the controversial themes that we can expect: child soldiers, torture and ruthless executions.

While the release of MGSV’s prologue has given us an early glimpse into how dark the series can get, it was one moment of jaw-dropping, sexual violence that personally left me with chills as the credits rolled.

The sexual violence in Ground Zeroes starts off with an audio cassette that the player can find by rescuing a prisoner during the game’s brief main mission. The tape in question is a nine minute-long audio clip that heavily implies that Paz, one of the game’s targets that Big Boss has to rescue, is raped while in captivity.

Without going into too much detail, the player hears Paz being tortured and gang-raped by guards as a way to get the child soldier Chico to divulge the location of Big Boss’ and Miller’s Mother Base. Following this, the captured Chico is forced by the game’s villain, Skull Face, to rape Paz.

This revelation is also combined with the game’s conclusion in which players bear witness to a gruesomely disturbing scene that sees Paz’s guts opened up in order to extract a hidden bomb. And as if that wasn’t unsettling enough, it is heavily implied that the second bomb that ultimately kills Paz and takes down Big Boss’ chopper during the game’s ending was lodged into Paz’s womb by Skull Face.

All of this has caused a lot of consternation on social media. Some argue that Paz’s torture and rape are used as a plot device to make Skull Face look even more terrible and for fueling Big Boss’ and Miller’s revenge that will eventually come to a head in The Phantom Pain. There’s also the thought that Metal Gear Solid V will need a far more evil villain, given that it will be the entry to show Big Boss’ fall from grace.

While the latter argument could theoretically make sense, it fails to address the recurring misogyny that permeates the games we play.

Though Ground Zeroes certainly depicts rape as a terrible thing, it doesn’t do anything to raise the issue in a thought-provoking way. Gearbox Software writer Anthony Burch argued on Twitter that the game’s portrayal of rape only serves to further the development of the male villain, and not the female side character.

“It makes the victim not a person, but an object that furthers a story which is not their own. We think ‘Skullface is bad’ not ‘what will become of Paz, how will she overcome this, what is her experience like[?]‘”

For the entirety of Peace Walker, Paz deceived Big Boss and Miller into thinking she was a sweet, youthful girl caught up in a conflict that was out of her control, when in fact she was a spy for an organization named Cipher that was hellbent on taking out Big Boss’ operation. Even then, it never felt like her or the child soldier Chico were as remotely fascinating as other supporting characters in other Metal Gear titles. We learn a little more about her and Chico through optional audio tapes in Ground Zeroes‘ main menu, but it never felt to me like they were well-developed characters.

By having Paz subjected to these atrocities and ultimately die before the player gets to know her really makes her seem like a throwaway character. Considering how she’s the only female in Ground Zeroes, it really flies in the face of what BioWare Montreal gameplay designer Manveer Heir said just over a week ago at GDC when he spoke about how games need to eliminate the sort of social injustices found within the medium. Heir specifically tailored his speech to address such issues as misogyny, sexism and racism, among others.

In his speech, Heir said game makers “should use the ability of our medium to show players the issues firsthand, or give them a unique understanding of the issues and complexities by crafting game mechanics along with narrative components that result in dynamics of play that create meaning for the player in ways that other media isn’t capable of.”

Ground Zeroes fails to give players any understanding in regard to Paz’s treatment other than “it’s bad” and “this is why Skull Face is a terrible person.” Worse yet, the sexual violence in the audio log is something that the player needs to go out of his or her way to actually get, which indicates a reluctance by Kojima Productions to tackle an issue like this appropriately. For many game critics like Ian Miles Cheong and Burch, it’s an example of lazy writing, of using a stereotypically helpless female to further develop a diabolical, Bond-like villain.

In essence, it does nothing to help eliminate the lack of well-developed female characters in games.

Good female characters are hard to come by in videogames, even in huge titles like Metal Gear Solid. For every strong female in the series (MGS3‘s The Boss and MGS4‘s Meryl come to mind) we still get ones like Eva and the B&B Corps that are overly sexualized in various ways, be it through the camera focusing on particular parts of their body during cutscenes or a mode in which players could engage in a “photoshoot” with said characters.

Given the series’ history, it’d be incredibly difficult to think that Kojima Productions could turn The Phantom Pain around in its depiction of females. Even before Ground Zeroes‘ release, there was controversy surrounding The Phantom Pain‘s Quiet character and her lack of an outfit. Kojima explained that he envisioned Quiet as a “sexy” character but that her outfit serves a deeper purpose, as an “antithesis” to the stereotypical female characters one would often find in the fighting genre. He ultimately believes that players will “be ashamed of [their] words and deeds” when they discover the secret reasoning behind her revealing look.

Kojima talks about pushing boundaries for the sake of the medium, but the sexual violence in Ground Zeroes comes off as being edgy for the sake of being edgy, without providing any meaningful impact. It’s a real shame too, given that Ground Zeroes proves that The Phantom Pain shows great promise both gameplay and plot-wise.

Paz’s traumatic suffering shouldn’t just be there for shock value. In line with what Heir was talking about, there needs to be depth to it, where the player can learn something more than simply “war is bad.” That latter idea has been fed to us since 1998.

As deplorable as this whole portion in Ground Zeroes is, it’s encouraged a lot of discussion in the community. It’s certainly made me contemplate how something as utterly atrocious as rape could be used in a way to, as Heir stated, to help players understand the issues and complexities of it and create meaning.

I think it’s entirely possible for games like Ground Zeroes to discuss rape in a meaningful way that does not seek to employ it for narrative’s sake. I only wish we could have seen that with Paz.

The Phantom Pain is far from finished, but judging by the game’s E3 2013 trailer, we’ve barely scratched the surface of controversies that Kojima Productions is brewing. I can only hope that the game’s impending controversial topics will be better handled than what we’ve witnessed in Ground Zeroes.

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Author: Patrick Kulikowski View all posts by
Patrick Kulikowski is a Rutgers University graduate with aspirations of joining the game industry. I have a strong love of games and their music. When not serving as Associate Editor for Pixelitis,net and a writer for Game Music Online, you'll see him working on a game music drum cover project entitled "VGdrum" and managing his Breath of Fire Facebook and Twitter fan pages.

14 Comments on "Does Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes take it too far?"

  1. LordSaxon March 26, 2014 at 9:43 am - Reply

    Well after the things she did in PW I can surely say that she got what she deserved.

    • KarenRivera March 26, 2014 at 11:04 am - Reply

      We;lp. The story construct may have been negative regarding Paz’s choices as a double agent, BUT I hardly think that within the world of MGS does that qualify her, and only her, to have been the victim of horrible torture, gang-rape and being turned into a bomb.

      Her storyline is kind of irrelevant to her demise. It wasn’t the fact that Paz did some terrible things, because that’s what MGS is about. No one is truly good or truly bad. The treatment of Paz as a character seems ultra-violent and shocking for no good cause, especially with the extremely vulgar sexual assault.

      Also, I don’t think that in any shape or form anyone should deserve THAT kind of treatment in a game. I’ve hated a lot of characters, but that depiction and cruelty begs to ask the question as to WHY it was so necessary to even go down that route.

  2. Guest March 26, 2014 at 10:02 am - Reply

    Why was my comment deleted?
    If you don’t want people to comment to your articles disable comments altogether.
    Or just inform us that you only allow comments agreeing with you.

    • Pixelitis Editor March 26, 2014 at 10:51 am - Reply

      The original comment, listed below, was erroneously found in the spam folder of our commenting system. It has since been approved.

      • LordSaxon March 31, 2014 at 7:19 am - Reply

        I tried to delete the above comment but it just deleted my name from it and left it as a guest comment.

  3. Gryffin DarkBreed April 2, 2014 at 1:13 am - Reply

    Because being sexualized is the worst thing that can ever happen to a character in a video game. Having their bodies be appreciated and admired is sooooo misogynistic. By the way, did you happen to give half a thought to the literal millions of male characters that are killed every day in video games? None of them have so much as a name. How often are male side characters simply there to spout off catch phrases or be comedy relief? I have yet to see a game on shelves aside from that “Guy Game” that legitimately hated women, but every single game involving guns treats men like nothing more than moving pop-up targets, something to pump full of bullets until it lays down and stops moving. Just because something offends your rice-paper thin skinned feelings doesn’t make it woman hating. Grow the hell up.

    Rape is bad, but movies have addressed rape, literature has addressed rape. Music has addressed rape for over a hundred years now. We can’t hold back video games as an art form by dictating what is and is not okay to address in the medium. This game isn’t glorifying what was done to Paz. It’s shown to be vile, repugnant, deplorable and sickening. It’s MEANT to do this. They aren’t bandying rape about like some weak thing like your average feminist. This is crystal clear, it is extreme. You are meant to feel what Snake is feeling, a hard twist in your gut about what happened. It’s meant to give the player and the character a common goal and thus allow the player to better relate.

    • Patrick Kulikowski April 2, 2014 at 11:38 am - Reply

      You’re using a strawman argument here to shift focus away from why over-sexualization of women is bad in media. Over-sexualization dehumanizes women and makes them out to be desirable sexual objects and nothing more. Also, there’s no cultural stigma surrounding the use of men’s bodies to shock the audience in relation to sexual violence.

      I think you missed the part of my piece where I state that I believe that controversial topics like sexual violence can be used in videogames in a meaningful way. Ground Zeroes doesn’t use it in a meaningful way however, and that’s why I’m criticizing it (we’re allowed to criticize games we like, right?). Do we learn anything about how Paz feels or how she learns to cope with her traumatic experiences? No, we don’t.

      Yes, her rape is used to make Skull Face look even more deplorable and it’s used as a way to invoke a feeling of revenge within Big Boss, and that’s the big issue here. You say “You are meant to feel what Snake is feeling” and that right there is exactly the problem, why is the sexual assault in this game only used for that purpose? It does NOTHING to further develop Paz as a character, given that she turns into a throwaway, or a “Woman in Refrigerator” (see: Wikipedia) during the game’s ending and THAT’S what makes it misogynistic. The game could have kept Paz going for a while, delving into her psyche and exploring how she learns to cope with her pain.

      • Wade RAGE May 29, 2014 at 4:14 pm - Reply

        Yes, i think we learn that after her ordeal, she is still strong enough to try and save the lives of the surviving MSF by jumping out of the helicopter, rather than allowing them to die with her. I think that is the final part of developing the character, and how we remember her.
        The fact that this is a female character going through some bad shit makes every jumpy for no reason. No-one mentions that Chico was forced to have sexual intercourse with Paz to save himself from going through the same fate. Has it developed his character? I suppose you could say that it might help us understand him in the TPP. But who knows what information about Paz we will discover in the TPP to help us understand her and explore her more?

        It isn’t misogyny. Its a story telling device. Paz has served her purpose very well and is a character we all loved, hated and loved once again. When she jumped from the chopper to save the men who had once saved her, she showed the depth of her character.

        Just try and enjoy Games, its people who pick wholes like this that make gaming boring.

        EDIT: And did ANYONE see Paz with a shaved head, beaten and bruised and having had bombs planted in her, and ten think “Paz isn’t desirable and sexualised anymore, so therefore she is useless for this story”?? Because i thought the change from the pretty young girl to the prisoner was such a shocking, hard hitting moment that made me think wow, Paz has been through so much and is still kicking. If anything it made me appreciate her strength and courage more and made her character more meaningful.

  4. Relytgninroht April 3, 2014 at 3:33 pm - Reply

    You can’t really say for sure that what Paz went through was merely to make the main villain seem evil. It could serve a completely different purpose in the plot of MGS V- which this is basically a prologue to. Can’t say anything for sure until Phantom Pain releases. I don’t think Kojima would throw that in there for absolutely no reason other than to make the bad guy more bad- that would just be stupid and sloppy.

  5. David Garsaball Fernández April 7, 2014 at 7:41 am - Reply

    You don’t know what you’re talking about.

    First of all, saying Paz dies before we get to know her is absurd. She got plenty of character development in Peace Walker, and then an extra helping in Ground Zeroes. We know everything about her.

    Second, the way you interpret Paz’s ordeal is quite telling. You see her as a tool. I would say the fact thats she endures all that crap without ever breaking makes her one of the strongest characters in the series. And it’s the final step in her character development. She was the villain in Peace Walker, but what she experienced in mother base, in the company of Big Boss and all his people, changed her so much that she became completely loyal to them.

    I also find it quite interesting that the issue here is what Paz goes through. Chico goes through pretty much the same stuff. He is beaten, tortured, he gets bolts drilled through his achilles, he’s forced to have sex with Paz… That’s also counts as being raped, by the way. But he’s a 13 year old BOY, so who cares, right?

    EDIT: I forgot to mention something… Paz’s death has nothing to do with “fueling Big Boss’ and Miller’s revenge”. They were both quite willing to kill her should the need arise. She was not a damsel in distress. She was a liability. The damsel was Chico, actually.

    Anyway, the thing that actually motivates Big Boss and Miller’s need for revenge is the destruction of mother base. And in Miller’s case, I guess he’s not particularly happy about losing a couple of limbs while being tortured in Afghanistan.

    So again… You don’t know what you’re talking about.

    • Flying Fox April 24, 2014 at 6:04 pm - Reply

      would also like to add they were going to gang rape Chico if he had refused to do the deed with Paz. I think Kojima chose wisely not to have the boy raped and let Paz be the sacrifice instead. In the tape Skull Face says, ‘do it or you’ll be the one strung up’

      • Richmond Lee April 25, 2014 at 5:47 pm - Reply

        I’m pretty sure Kaz is going to get raped too.

  6. CJ June 6, 2014 at 12:54 am - Reply

    What needs to be discussed? We are in consensus that rape is bad. Do we expect a video game to stop the game to have a lecture about how rape is bad? In all of these articles, not one suggestion is given in how they feel it should be dealt with “meaningfully.”

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