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.