The Women of Metal Gear Solid (Part 3)

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A prequel to the entire Metal Gear storyline, Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater (2004) has us following Solid Snake’s father, Naked Snake, on a critical mission he takes part in during the 1960s. The game features three female characters, all of whom serve consistently important functions and are never at any point reduced to tokens. We have Para-Medic, Naked Snake’s doctor; EVA, a spy; and the Boss, Naked Snake’s mentor.

Para-Medic, aka Dr. Clark, is introduced to us as Snake’s radio-based health and survival expert, charged with everything from instructing him how to perform field dressings to looking up what animals are good to eat. This could be a pretty boring gig, but Kojima manages to inject one hell of a personality into this woman: as the character who saves your game data in this installment, Para-Medic follows up every save request by asking Snake if he’s seen a certain film. Para-Medic, it is revealed, is a cinephile of the first degree, a kind of self-indulgent Tarantino- or Godard-esque director-character who latches onto the period setting of the game to talk about everything from Godzilla to Sergio Leone. Early attempts at flirting with the good doctor fizzle out within the first radio conversation, after which Para-Medic becomes Naked Snake’s trusty nerd-buddy, the 60s equivalent of Solid Snake’s best friend Otacon. When her personal life does come up, it’s simply one friend relating their situation to another, and Naked Snake seems honestly interested in getting to know her better, rather than working an agenda or merely humoring her. (In fairness, he is still largely apathetic, but that’s how he treats everyone.)

Anyway, let’s applaud the post-sexual female buddy character while we can, because where we’re going next is far less interesting. EVA is Naked Snake’s love interest, something that becomes almost her defining characteristic until her classic femme fatale backstab at the end. When we meet EVA, she takes the opportunity to unzip her practical tan jumpsuit down to her waist, revealing a satiny bikini top. Players can even press a trigger on their controller to get Snake’s point of view on her breasts, right before cutting back to a shot of him staring like a teenage boy. Classy. Even classier, this is how EVA always dresses when she’s around him, presumably as part of a general effort to seduce him. Other high-brow EVA moments including shoving her bikini-clad posterior right in Snake’s face as he’s waking up, crawling around in her underwear to show off the game’s fabulous boob physics, making suggestive comments, and kissing his completely unresponsive lips.

While it is part of her job, one has to wonder what kind of spy feels that aggressively asserting her sexual appetite on an unwilling man she hardly knows is the best possible strategy. Naturally, Snake has to be the responsible male and shut things down before the whole mission is at risk, though by the end of the game her incredibly obvious overtures are rewarded, and she does run off with his hard-won prize. (Of course, the prize was a fake and she was being tricked all along, so EVA trades sex for nothing.) Her other ploy is to play the sexual servant to the game’s main villain and so gain his confidence, a strategy which fails and lands her in a classic damsel-in-distress situation during a tense part of the final act. Oh, but EVA really does fall in love with hero Naked Snake, of course, and [SPOILER FOR MGS4] she wants his babies, even collaborating with others to get them without his consent, in a way which may or may not be read as rape [END SPOILER].

Though EVA comes through as a useful ally at critical points in the game, the story’s choice to communicate this character as a “free love” hedonist seems on the unnecessary side, even painting her as somewhat shallow. EVA is initially unconvinced that men and women can have any sort of a relationship except a sexual one, something that agitates Snake considerably. This is for one critical reason: the god figure in his life is a woman, and he balks at the indignity of reducing her to a sexual object.

This woman is the Boss, Naked Snake’s mentor. She is known canonically as “the mother of modern U.S. Special Forces,” fabled for defeating the Nazis at D-Day. She can break pretty much any bone in Snake’s body without trying, bench press at least 880 pounds (well, this is a video game), and track a single bullet among three identical revolvers. She personally trained Naked Snake as well as her elite Cobra unit, all of whom would gladly follow her to their graves; even Colonel Volgin, the main villain and one of the meanest, most irredeemable creatures this series has to offer, is terrified of her. Lest you think this all comes with the punchline that the Boss is “hilariously” depicted as an oversized transvestite, she basically looks like Cate Blanchett, and she’s even a mom. Remember when I was telling you about Olga Gurlukovich, the Russian mercenary from Metal Gear Solid 2 who fought to her death to defeat the Evil Organization holding her daughter hostage? The Boss makes Olga look like Princess Peach by comparison: she gave birth on D-Day, at Normandy, performing an emergency Caesarian section that left a scar running the entire length of her torso. And then she went on to beat the Nazis.

We can get into virgin/mother/whore dichotomies here if we like, but the way the game treats the Boss is, I feel, far more nuanced than that. The Boss is depicted as a woman who gave everything for her country, even her own child, and never wavers in her fortitude. The Boss’s sacrifices during MGS3 become the founding impetus for what Naked Snake, as Big Boss, does for the rest of his life. Her memory becomes central to the philosophy of virtually all the main characters, with [SPOILERS FOR MGS4] the next game overtly depicting her as a Virgin Mary/goddess figure. Her final student, Naked Snake, is also featured as a Christ figure. [END SPOILERS.] Indeed, all of the Boss’s disciples are dubbed by the game as the “Sons of the Boss,” elevating the concept of motherhood to the penultimate soldier’s legacy. For games that, at the surface, seem to be “men’s own” stories about war and the manly men who wage them, to cast the warrior identity as something feminine and maternal in origin is different and quite bold, in my opinion.

There may be some room to argue the extent to which the Boss’s psychological and physical scars from her dangerous childbirth affect players’ perception of her. Personally, I felt the game did a great job of depicting the Boss as gender-neutral figure, able to inspire awe without either eroticizing her or glorifying her just as a goddess/Virgin Mary figure. It’s important to underscore that in the entire Metal Gear pantheon, the Boss is ranked at the very top: no one is as strong, wise and noble as she is, but she is able to come across human as well. It may be argued that her principles end up betraying her –she dutifully follows her country’s orders even at the sacrifice of her reputation and life– but she can just as easily be seen as a martyr who inspires the next generation of warriors to finally overthrow a system she, by herself, could not. Given how older women and mothers are normally treated in video games (if they are present at all), this was, to me, a refreshing and quite welcome change of pace.

We cap off this series next week with a look at Metal Gear Solid 4 (2008), the game which was intended to round off the MGS storyline and provide closure to both generations of characters. Some of it has been detailed here, and while the game’s women are not all good or all bad, it’s a last look at the series with plenty to talk about.

Comments

  1. DSimon says

    Patrick, there’s a scene where an expert gunman, Ocelet, is rapidly juggling three revolvers and occasionally firing them at a captive as he catches them. One of the revolvers has a bullet in one of its chambers, and the other two revolvers are empty, so it’s a 1/18 Russian Roulette.

    The Boss, paying only off-hand attention, is able to keep track of which of the quickly moving revolvers has a bullet and which chamber in that gun is on top, and interrupt Ocelet at just the right time to stop him from firing the bullet.

  2. DSimon says

    Well, it’s pretty cool to watch. Describing it doesn’t really do it justice. It fits into The Boss’s overall sense of extreme competence; she does everything well, and is thoroughly respected for it by all the other characters, even the ones with over-the-top supernatural abilities.

  3. says

    Great post! To be honest, I had largely forgotten about Para-Medic and, comparing her with Mei Ling, I think I have to agree with you that she definitely stands above the crowd.

    Your section on The Boss really made me appreciate her much more than I had previously. I think what happened for me when I played Snake Eater is that EVA just ended up overshadowing everyone else and was largely responsible for forming my negative impression of the game (in terms of the portrayal of women). I do think that she is one of, if not the most damaging depictions of women in the entire series, more so than anyone from MGS1, and the whole love interest/femme fatale thing really soured Snake Eater for me. And yeah, the “boob cam”…like with the inclusion of “girly” pin-ups/magazines and the increased power of the PS2, some of the gameplay/graphic developments really drag the series down with each installment.

    Re-considering Para-Medic and The Boss, I am definitely persuaded by your argument that it is better than MGS1 (though I still think MGS1 does better than MGS2 overall), but the baggage of EVA was what held me back initially. It is really unfortunate that Kojima took leaps forward with some of the women, and leaps backward with others. Like you said with reference to MGS2, it’s like how did the same person who made someone so awesome simultaneous mess up so bad with others?

    Ultimately, I really do think that MGS1 has the strongest supporting cast of the series, but no one can really compare to The Boss. :-) The other thing is that I think MGS1 overall has the best plot and was the strongest of the series in terms of quality storytelling, so that also makes me more favorable to the the first game in general.

    There may be some room to argue the extent to which the Boss’s psychological and physical scars from her dangerous childbirth affect players’ perception of her.
    Yeah, this is a line of thought that I really want to explore in a second playthrough, especially by way of comparison to some of the villains (who are made “freakishly” unique in a gendered way) and to Olga (in terms of the portrayal of motherhood).

    Anyway, I am done with your MGS series for now, but I will definitely be coming back to finish and re-read it with a fresh eye later this year after I’ve had the chance to play MGS4/Portable Ops and (hopefully) re-play 1-3.

  4. says

    If you do read the whole LET plot-strand as rape (which, as a fan I do, though I’m not sure if I do as a feminist, because IRL rape is not a metaphor) then both Eva and Clark are culpable there, something which I think adds a whole new crazy dimension to Clark’s friendship with Jack, one which just gets worse if you drag her torture/necromancy of Frank into it…ahem. She’s your nerd buddy, but she’s also clearly eventually sucked off the deep end. One interesting point there is that the way she is, one might extrapolate from canon, driven to do evil because it fits with her SF/horror obsession chimes really well with Otacon, who was on the same path when Solid Snake broke the cycle he was stuck in. Ocelot and Zero are genre geeks too. It’s like she’s explicitly in a set there with three male characters, and she’s the worst of the lot of them, and I think I love that.

    I love the Boss beyond all reason; I’m not sure how far one should go in identifying her & Jack with Mary & Christ, because, well, Crystal Dragon Jesus, and besides, she’s explicitly not virginal. She has a partner. And she shot him because love was not as important as doing her job. I do think it’s worth worrying about how many of the female characters in this series are portrayed through a lens of motherhood in one way or another, though – see also Olga, Fortune, Rose, Eva, and I think Naomi and Clark are both being portrayed as mothers-of-monsters…

  5. Aldrius says

    I don’t mean to offend, but I kind of disagree with everything you’ve said about EVA in this article. The fact that she’s my favourite Metal Gear Solid character aside (though obviously my motivation for responding to this). I thought, while perhaps not the best role model in the universe, she was at least a compelling character, and not a total screw up who just uses one tactic of sexual manipulation to attain her goals that couldn’t do anything right… as I feel you’ve portrayed her here.

    First of all, I felt EVA’s use of sex as a weapon is more justified in the sense that, unlike Big Boss or the Boss, she doesn’t have friends and allies the way they do. She’s got nobody to support her. And hell, half of the stuff Big Boss even has to use (both guns he starts with, scientist disguise, all those keys and information about Granin) she gave to him. Also, based off of her attitude towards people, I’d say that Big Boss was the first person she met who actually cared for her at all for reasons other than her… assets, and in fact wasn’t interested in them. (The R1 sections mostly just being jokes for the pervy fanboys.)

    Also, EVA’s one of the few people in these games who can actually keep up with Snake (either of them) from an action stand-point. She’s as much of a sharp-shooter, decent at hand-to-hand (seen when she faces Ocelot) and has the drive and determination that some of his other partners in crime don’t.

    And from a stand-point of her individual character. Much like the Boss and Olga, EVA’s got her own relationships with most of the characters in the story. She and Ocelot have a mutual disdain for one another (that becomes a friendship over years of working together) independent of Big Boss, she and Volgin hate eachother more than Volgin and Big Boss do. She’s even sort of friends with the boss, and not because of anything involving Big Boss.

    Also I find it kind of a double standard that EVA is judged harshly for stealing the Philosopher’s Legacy from Big Boss, but Big Boss is sympathized for killing the Boss. A major theme of MGS3 is Naked Snake having to learn what Snake already knows in MGS1: that the mission comes before personal feelings. That’s also something EVA already knows. In fact, she takes it so far that the only reason she doesn’t shoot Big Boss in the head while he’s sleeping is because she promised the Boss she wouldn’t, having nothing to do with her own personal feelings.

    So yeah, while I don’t think EVA is a great role model for teenage girls that play these games, I think she’s a compelling character that is a stab forward for the actual writing of female characters in video games. She’s complex.

Trackbacks

  1. [...] The Boss’s sacrifices during MGS3 become the founding drive for what the game’s protagonist, Jack/Big Boss does for the rest of his life. The theme of sacrifice as well as the Boss’ mother/mentor role become one of the game’s most profound reflections on the nature of war and duty, taking the concept of motherhood into an area that is usually  exclusively reserved for traditional masculinity. ” For games that, at the surface, seem to be “men’s own” stories about war and the manly men who wage them, to cast the warrior identity as something feminine and maternal in origin is different and quite bold.” [Read more about the women of MGS 3 here] [...]

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