TW: Graphic images and discussion of rape and sexual violence
Spoilers for Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes
There have been plenty of Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes reviews, some of which have been greatly revered and lauded as brilliant pieces of writing but, barring the Telegraph’s review, they have all failed to do so much as acknowledge the existence of tape number 4 which depicts rape and child rape.
Yes, the same publications that questioned the implied rape in Tomb Raider, who were disgusted by the torture scene and sexism in GTAV and raged about the oversized breasts in Dragon’s Crown didn’t think it necessary to highlight the fact that a tape depicting rape is used as a reward for the completion of a mission in Ground Zeroes. Or, that in spite of ESRB’s inclusion of a sexual violence warning, PEGI have included this under the illusive ‘violence’ content warning and as such no mention of sexual violence appears on the box or in game.
Instead, publications have focused on dismissing the fact that the main mission can be completed in ten minutes on a speed run and convincing readers not to write it off just yet, it really is worth playing oh and there’s even some depth in its depiction of Guantanamo Bay. The length of the game is the main talking point, not the rape or child rape, not the fact that this is used as a reward, not the fact that there is no warning that this will happen. Every other detail of the game engulfs this miniscule, unimportant tape.
It’s easy to question the function of sexual assault as a catalyst for story progression in Tomb Raider. It’s easy to say that the world of GTA is sexist. It’s even easier to criticise overtly sexual, even comical, depictions of women. But to criticise Kojima? Someone whose stories we’re not supposed to take any notice of and we’re supposed to just humour and pat him on the head and say ‘It’s ok, we don’t expect you to tell meaningful stories’. That is, seemingly, extremely difficult.
The tape in question is picked up as an extra during one of the missions, is just under ten minutes long and depicts the torture and interrogation of Paz and Chico and the dual rape of Paz and Chico (Chico is forced to rape Paz but as he’s a child and is forced by Skullface into the act, is also raped by Paz). The thing that immediately jumps out and makes me extremely uncomfortable is the fact that I’m discussing a game which has a character called ‘Skullface’. A character who looks like a zombie and seems to be evil for the sake of evil, from a series which is known for its ludicrous, over the top antagonists. This character forces two people to have sex with each other against their will, this caricature is used as a vehicle to incorporate difficult themes like rape and sexual assault into a series which is renowned for being playful and not taking itself seriously.
The tape in itself is a catalogue of poor writing and voice acting, with Skullface’s over the top, typical, American ‘baddie’ voice and the oft quoted series of increasingly disturbing lines, said to Chico after Skullface has stripped Paz. ‘Do you like what you see?’ It’s like…fruit. Does she look sweet or sour? A man has to know these things. Time for a taste test. Either you take her now or you are strung up next.’ These all add up to make what could have been an evocative scene, extremely cringe worthy and sickening to listen to as it feels like the subject matter is not being taken seriously in the slightest and is instead, doing its best to create snappy, easily quotable lines of dialogue rather than anything even bordering on meaningful.
It’s laden with childish comments from Skullface about Chico needing to become a man and references to Paz as Chico’s ‘girlfriend’ or a girl he’s trying to impress. Thereby girling Paz and putting her into the submissive, controllable role of ‘girl’ and removing her independence as a grown woman and placing Skullface into the familial father role, with Chico fulfilling the role of child and Paz as the mother, controlled and ‘girled’ by Skullface. This in itself sets the tone for the tape, it’s childish. It contains no nuance at all, it’s a child’s idea of what rape is like. An evil man does an evil thing. It’s as simple as that, and of course the woman (or girl) is at least partly to blame as she specialises in ‘deception and deceit, what better proof she’s a real woman.’
After beating them both, Skullface rips off Paz’s clothes and comments to Chico ‘Repulsive, isn’t it?’ Following this it’s deliberately unclear whether Skullface rapes Paz but the sound is more like thrusting than punching, and as the ESRB rating said ‘a female character is sexually assaulted by male characters’, it is certainly suggested that he does. Skullface then offers up Paz to Chico, like a piece of food on a plate ready for his consumption with no personal autonomy or voice of her own. This interaction is extremely Oedipal, like the father handing over his sexual, phallic power to his son and allowing him to realise his Oedipal desire for his mother (in this case, with Paz as the role of the mother due to the age gap between Paz and Chico).
When Kojima finally grants Paz a voice she, a 25 year old woman, initiates a sex act with Chico, a 13 year old boy, immediately after they have both been raped. She asks him to move closer to her, seems to kiss him and, in spite of Chico’s protestations, asks ‘You want to do it here?’, heavily suggesting that Paz is initiating sex with Chico. This casts Paz as an evil, deviant, sexually aggressive woman who deserves punishment. This is furthered by the change in her appearance from Peacewalker where she had an extremely feminine look, compared to her more masculine, short haired appearance in Ground Zeroes, allying her with the male aggressor and making her seem more dangerous (because of course, feminine women can’t be dangerous).
The whole thing is tacked on, a silly extra that Kojima uses for additional shock value. It has no bearing on the story and is used primarily as a tool to further our idea of Skullface as an evil character and secondly to portray Chico as the ultimate victim and Paz as a perpetrator, erasing her status as a victim and instead casting her as a sexually manipulative woman who, as Skullface says, will ‘get what she deserves’. This is particularly potent as it links to both the consequent rape and ending of the main mission, Skullface deems Paz to be ‘the kind of woman you’ll want to avoid’, which we’re pushed to agree with, and he punishes her sexuality by putting a bomb inside her stomach and her vagina.
This captivation with inserting large objects into the only woman in the game is disturbing to say the least. Kojima seems fascinated by putting Paz through as much pain as possible, deemed acceptable to us as a player because of her actions towards Chico, portrayed as the ultimate innocent. With the entirely unbelievable end scene where she’s held down by Snake and Chico while a doctor reaches around inside of her as one of them holds her intestines in. It’s an extremely ritualistic scene, bringing to mind sacrificial practices. While the extreme violence of the removal of the bomb from her stomach is not entirely believable, Paz’s pain is undeniably real and the detail that she’s not given any anaesthetic is undoubtedly deliberate, to further enhance the pain she’s subjected to.
The scene borders on the pornographic, the build up with close ups of the stitching being slowly removed, moving onto close ups of hands inside Paz’s stomach, her blood and intestines glistening in the garish lights of the helicopter lights and of her face as she screams in agony. It’s almost as though Kojima revels in the pain she experiences, casting it as a complete necessity – no, there’s no time for anaesthetic, maximum pain must be ensured for some unspoken reason.
The only way that Paz can redeem herself of her actions towards Chico and our realisation of her as a sexually manipulative woman and reach salvation, to become accepted by Snake and his team as ‘one of the good guys’ is to become a martyr and literally destroy her genitals (and her entire body). She saves them from the destruction that her sexuality would otherwise bring and embraces her sacrifice as she dives out of the plane with crossed arms, facing Snake the whole time, able to be at peace with herself in the knowledge that she thinks she’s saved them.
I find it extremely distressing that there is no clear warning of the content either on the box or anywhere around the tape which is simply called ‘interrogation’ and seriously hope that if there is any similar content in Phantom Pain, that there will at the very least be trigger warnings on the box. I was already feeling extremely wary about Phantom Pain, and the content from Ground Zeroes combined with the Phantom Pain trailer and Kojima’s comments about Quiet, have hardly absolved that pit in the stomach worry that comes to mind when I consider Kojima’s reasoning for Quiet’s outfit. Right now I have no hope for the way that child soldiers, or any of the female characters in Phantom Pain will be portrayed, Ground Zeroes has presented no tact or maturity in its representation of tough issues and, unfortunately, I don’t expect that to change in the Metal Gear series any time soon.
The whole of Ground Zeroes is simply a catalyst, a back story for the upcoming Phantom Pain. Paz and Chico’s rapes function only to further Snake’s story, to give him a reason for revenge and to have been in a coma. They are victims for the sake of the progression of another character; the scenes are careless, clumsy and childish. In his desperation to achieve “what movies and novels have achieved” Kojima has created a piece of work that shows complete disdain for the only female character in the game, a fetishisation of Paz’s pain and has failed to create any meaningful portrayal of sexual violence.