The Meryl Dilemma

Despite its consistent praise and adoration by fans, Hideo Kojima’s Metal Gear Solid series has often come under flack for its portrayal of women. Recently, the sexualisation of the female sniper Quiet in the upcoming Metal Gear Solid 5 has been deemed unnecessary titillation, being condemned to the extent that Kojima felt the need to make a statement about his reasons behind her revealing outfit.

Yet, it’s quite interesting that many feminist gamers seem to like the character of Meryl Campbell in MGS4. She’s cocky, hardy, independent, and completely obsessed with belittling Old Snake’s power fantasy. It is argued that she is as an example of a strong female character in games.

I completely disagree.

Meryl
Meryl

We see too many Meryl Campbells in fiction these days, particularly in video games. In the first Metal Gear Solid, she was a young, naïve soldier who was out of her element in-mission. This wasn’t because she was a woman, but because she was young and inexperienced. In the three years leading into Metal Gear Solid 4, she has evolved into a throat-ramming feminist, devoid of any quote-unquote ‘feminine,’ traits. Kojima’s idea of a strong female character is a character who sheds any qualities which could be considered feminine. Meryl is not a strong character in MGS4 because she’s just a walking ideology who consistently points out how much of a feminist she is.

“So,” Old Snake states for exposition, “you’re in charge of this unit.”

“Something wrong with that!?” Meryl blurts out, preparing for an argument.

Feminists that keep stating that they’re feminists are about as convincing as a king who keeps shouting about being king, and as Charles Dance has already explained, “any man who must say ‘I am the king,’ is no true king.”

Also, can we all please agree that you don’t need to be blindly angry at all men in order to be a feminist? Meryl Campbell’s blind misandrism until the last hour of MGS4 was, for lack of a better word, irritating. There were clear inflections of the old Meryl from MGS1 in her writing, but these were overshadowed by the consistent but I AM a feminist. Look at me! I’m my own woman. I’m independent. I’m angry at men so I must be!”

This isn’t characterisation, it’s a step backwards for strong female characters. You can’t just strip a female character of all of her feminine traits and say she’s a strong character. Just because Steven Moffat gets away with it in Dr Who doesn’t mean Hideo Kojima can. One of the reasons why I loved the Tomb Raider reboot so much was because we got to watch Lara Croft grow from a frightened girl to a frightened girl who matures very quickly and understands the harsh reality of her situation. Whilst Tomb Raider had numerous flaws in its gameplay – mainly the ludonarrative dissonance and the weird ending – it at least tried to recreate a strong female character, rather than play off of the confident, expressionless sex symbol Lara Croft had become before then.

More development like this, please
More development like this, please

It’s clear that, despite its improvements, writing female characters for video games is still in its infancy. When was the last time we heard a black character rant about racism? It happens in movies, sure, but that’s for the purpose of comedy, not ideology. The best way to write out gender roles and stereotypes from our society is through our mass entertainment. Our fiction, be it novels, movies, comics or video games, needs to stop preaching about sexism or racism, and just subvert these concepts. Create more characters like Faith from Mirror’s Edge, where she is just a woman with deep characterisation who loves her sister very much and gets caught up in an adventure. The fact that she is a strong heroine is never discussed in the game, it’s just a fact. If more young men and women played games like this, and experienced characters like this, it could help the next generation grow up without these misconceptions of gender roles and stereotypes. Where being feminine is okay, whether you’re a guy or a girl, rather than stripping our interpretation of the word strong to unnecessarily masculinised characters like Meryl Campbell.

Faith
Faith

“Men. Selfish, egotistical pigs.”

Meryl. Suddenly a two-dimensional, boring character.

[Alex Lamont]

1 Comment

  1. There seems to be serious lack of diversity for anyone who isn’t a big burly white dude in the gaming industry. Unfortunate for all since i’m sure even the majority of men playing aren’t exactly walking tanks of spewing hyper-masculinity themselves. I don’t think the issue is necessarily ‘strong female characters’but women that are actually realistic that serve some purpose rather than being pretty wallpaper. Like you said, femininity is not a bad thing be that in male or female characters and certainly not a trait that defers from the character being ‘strong’. Likewise, some women are masculine and for the case of Meryl Campbell is of course as you stated ‘irritating’. It’s the same irritation I find in the majority of video games, be it on a slightly more subtle level, when any token ‘strong female characters’ gets that one brief moment to shine (just so we’re all clear that she’s most definitely a ‘strong female character!’) only to be met with some throw away comment along the lines of ‘ha! silly women trying to do things’ (usually by some slightly less attractive or physically fit burly dude) which isn’t the issue, his backwards ways are supposed to be scoffed at. The issue is what follows, which is most often nothing. The ‘strong female character’ has one moment to do something productive before returning back to her place as wallpaper in failing that our ‘protagonist’ might pipe up along the lines of ‘Hey! women can do things too!’ as we all nod in approval. If anything, the fact that so many women are fond of Meryl only goes to show the industries own failings in creating any relatable female characters. After-all, I’d rather identify with a screaming feminist than an overly-sexualised piece of eye-candy.

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