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.
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.
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.
“Men. Selfish, egotistical pigs.”
Meryl. Suddenly a two-dimensional, boring character.