David Ellis, a designer for 343 Industries, the company responsible for the Halo franchise, has spoken out against the depiction of Quiet, a female character in Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain, the upcoming game by iconic developer Hideo Kojima. While it's notable that a mainstream developer condemned the depiction of sexualized women in video games, Ellis would have done well to address his own company's problematic take on female characters, as well.
Early Friday, Ellis tweeted,
He followed up with a second, equally ambitious remark a few minutes later:
Ellis’ criticism is fair. Female video game characters are usually constrained to one of just two roles: the scantily clad femme fatale, or the helpless maiden. The sexualization of women in games is often over-the-top. In Duke Nukem Forever, for instance, the male protagonist gets “ego boosts” for slapping a pair of disembodied and lactating breasts that have been attached to a wall. Highbrow stories aren't exempt, either; take Mass Effect 2's focus on character Yvonne Strahovski’s derriere. Couple that sexualization with the characters that are just waiting to be rescued in kid-friendly games, and gaming seems to seesaw between objectification and minimization when it comes to women.
Some games have transcended this binary. Beyond Good and Evil and Mirror’s Edge are just two examples of games with nuanced and multifaceted female characters. But for every such character, there are 10 helpless Princess Peaches, and 20 “let’s wear a bikini to a battlefield” characters like the aforementioned Quiet.
Kojima, for his part, hasn’t done much to inspire confidence. He originally stated that he had ordered his artist to make the characters “more erotic”:
To cap it off, Kojima then tweeted a picture of the character’s backside, which is clad in a thong and torn stockings, saying, "Dear Cosplayer friends, something like this for example." Kojima later "clarified" these comments, stating, “Maybe the phrase 'erotic' wasn't really correct with what I was trying to say ... [w]hat I'm really trying to do is create unique characters. One is, of course, Quiet, she's a really unique character. We wanted to add that sexiness. It wasn't very erotic, but, more of the sexy.”
Developers and fans often claim that characters are being made sexy across the board. In this case, the male protagonist, Solid Snake, may be "sexy," but he gets to keep his armor. In contrast, for Quiet (isn’t that such an apt name for a woman designed to serve as an object?), being sexy means wearing a bra, thong, torn stockings, and not much else to a warzone.
The studio has since released a video of Stefanie Joosten, the model for Quiet, working on some motion-capture for the character. Although Joosten says she was taken aback by the character's final depiction, she still defended Kojima, stating, “Of course, I was surprised to see Quiet's outfit at first. But, you know, it fits in the Metal Gear universe, I think. I don't think I'm allowed to say a lot about this, but, well, Mr. Kojima has his reasons for deciding why Quiet [is] wearing what she's wearing."
Kojima's reasoning remains to be seen, but it can’t be denied that he's an almost unparalleled icon of Japanese gaming (if not quite Shigeru Miyamoto), so anything he creates will be seen as indicative of larger trends within the industry.
While Ellis was correct to point to the problem with Metal Gear Solid V and Quiet, the onus is upon him to extend the same courtesy to Halo, the franchise developed his own employer, 343 Industries, and its problematic treatment of female characters.
In developing Halo 4, the latest entry in Microsoft’s megahit franchise, 343 Industries got the chance to recreate Cortana, a humanoid artificial intelligence program that serves as the series’ main female character. In doing so, they took some liberties with the design.
Image courtesy Dorkly.
Ellis' calling out of "man baby" Kojima for his "disgusting" portrayal of a female character carries a little less weight when you consider that Ellis' employer managed to sexualize a character that's a computer program.
At times like this, the old saying is apt: the black pot living in a glass house should not throw stones at the black kettle.
It's great to see a mainstream developer step forward and take a stance against the crude representation of women in gaming, but Ellis should have taken some time to analyze his company’s own faults, as well.
(To be fair, Ellis probably has nothing to do with Cortana’s artistic design, while Kojima is a revered story writer and director that controls nearly every aspect of his game, and explicitly admitted to ordering this look for Quiet. As such, Ellis isn't quite a hypocrite, while Kojima is exactly the man baby he comes off as.)
All this is not to say that the representation of men in gaming isn’t problematic. Protagonists such as Kratos and Master Chief are proof that the only form of masculinity acceptable in gaming is the bone-crushing he-man. But animalistic, ridiculously buff, armored he-men make sense for a battlefield; a 120-pound swimsuit model in a thong does not.
In case you missed it, Kojima has since tweeted a picture of himself with Joosten, emphasizing how long her legs look in her skirt:
Classy, Kojima. Classy, indeed.