Misogyny in Hideo Kojima’s Snatcher

March 19, 2014 // Published by Rei

Amnesiacs Gillian and Jamie Seed both awaken from cryogenic sleep fifty years after a biological catastrophe wipes out half of the world’s population.  Gillian then joins JUNKER, a police force tasked with hunting down bioroids, dubbed Snatchers, which murder humans and assume their identities.

“Well, you know they say women are uncomfortable around particularly handsome men….”

— Gillian Seed

Several different versions of Snatcher exist—this piece was written with me having only played English translations of the 1988 MSX2 and 1994 Sega/Mega-CD versions.  The Sega/Mega-CD version was the first and only version of the game officially released in North America and Europe.  More problematic sections in the MSX2 version that were cut in later revisions may be mentioned where appropriate (appropriately read as “when I feel like it”).  Scenes unique to a specific version may not be noted and will be treated as part of the same game for the sake of “flow”.  I also strongly warn the reader that what follows may be triggering in many ways.

 

Mika

The player is first given control of Gillian in the front lobby of JUNKER HQ, where he is greeted by its sole receptionist, a woman named Mika Slayton.  Mika is not exposed to open air—her reception desk is an armored shelter with a translucent blast shield.  She gazes at Gillian from across the room, her chin resting in her palm.

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The translator’s use of “oriental” is unfortunate yet typical.

Mika’s outfit stands out among her male peers—her midriff is bared in a pink crop top that matches a pink business skirt, a blue bow-tied ribbon holding up her hair.  Not exactly professional attire by the standards I’m familiar with, but being able to comfortably dress as Mika does in a professional setting without harassment is not unacceptable in and of itself.  In fact, to me, it’s a pretty ideal vision of the future.  There is as of yet no indication that Mika, as a character, dresses the way she does for any other reasons but her own.

Gillian walks over to Mika’s reception booth, and to compensate the camera cuts to a view where Mika’s creepy stare is the center of the action .  Nearly every time the player enters JUNKER HQ’s reception area from now on, this is the only camera view they’re given: Mika peering unflinchingly up at the player, her mouth slightly open.

The player is given the choice to make Gillian “look” at Mika, talk to her or “investigate” her.  What “investigation” means is never explicitly stated, but it is assumed that it entails searching a person in a manner similar to a police officer frisking someone.

If the player chooses to “look” at Mika, Gillian will repeatedly reassure Mika that she’s beautiful and attractive.  Mika thanks Gillian for his compliments.

“Investigating” Mika is impossible because of the protective shield around the reception desk.   Repeatedly choosing to investigate Mika, however, leads to Gillian saying, “It’s too bad I can’t get in there…she’s beautiful”.  In original releases of Snatcher, Gillian will eventually yell at Mika to lower the shield so he can get to her, adding, “I’d like to feel your body heat.”

“Ridiculous…,” Mika grumbles.

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Quite a few of Snatcher’s problematic interactions are optional; the player does not have to trigger these scenes to see the game’s ending.  The game does, however, greatly encourage the habit of triple-checking everything in order to progress.  Regardless of whether screens of in-game text are optional, they were put into the game for the player to experience, and, on top of that, some of the questionable choices are the first to be listed.  These scenes aren’t hidden in mountains of programming code that only a hacker could find; they can be experienced through normal play.  Gillian could be given any number of other choices when interacting with women, yet sexual harassment is often the first alternative to unremitting detective work.

With Mika, things can escalate to the point where Gillian is already guilty of sexual harassment with his frequent sexual advances and remarks on her beauty.  Despite this, Mika merely wonders aloud how Gillian will possibly succeed professionally with his gross behavior, calling him overly persistent with his advances.  Mika’s rebukes in the Sega CD version are a little more firm, and don’t seem as disingenuous or put-on as they are in original versions, where it’s implied Mika would be more interested in Gillian’s sexual proposals if they both didn’t have a job to do.

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Unfortunately, due to the failings of the game design and writing, Mika seems dubious and capricious.  She can immediately go from scolding Gillian for his harassment to saying things like, “I have a pretty good memory, Mr. Seed.  Especially if it’s concerning an attractive man like you.”  A “good” memory, the writing has Mika say of herself, though she proves just the opposite.

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Gillian’s gaze doesn’t ease off of Mika when she shows him around JUNKER HQ; he is staring at Mika the entire time they’re on the conveyor belt leading to various sections of the building.  One aspect that has been removed in the Sega CD version is the potential for Gillian’s sexual harassment to escalate when he and Mika enter a section of the building alone.  When this occurs, Mika tells Gillian to have a look around, and several options become available to the player.  One additional choice in the uncensored version is “Breasts”.  Choosing to look at Mika’s breasts causes Gillian to mutter to himself, “Probably bigger than I thought.”  Mika seems to overhear Gillian and says, “What are you looking at!  Oh my….”

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Repeatedly looking at Mika’s breasts leads to Gillian asking Mika her body measurements.  Some of her replies are: “I’ll leave it to your imagination” and “Some other time, if we have the chance….”  Mika’s not making any effort to tell Gillian that what he is doing is wrong, and is actively encouraging him to imagine what her measurements are—even deferring to a later time when discussing her body may be more appropriate.  Gillian can also desperately shout to Mika that they were destined to be with one another.  Mika’s answer: “Aren’t you married?”

Mika’s characterization is utilized most effectively when she is a battered shield for a Snatcher to hide behind during a shooting sequence at the end of Act 2.  In this pulp-inspired scene, Mika gazes at the player with an expression frozen somewhere between agony and arousal, her chained arms splayed up and outward by the tug of manacles.  Of all the details of this scene, Mika’s peering out at the voyeur, the player, is most important.  In a time of crisis, near death, Mika abyssal gaze is still fixed on the player, her sole purpose for being.  Mika exists to do little more than be seen as an object; she has little to no agency.

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Mika’s existence in the game can be effectively summed up as “beautiful woman who works the counter”.  She could’ve been replaced by a slim pamphlet at the front desk.

Videogame characters are already objects, representations of things.  The pixels on the monitor represent a discernible image of “woman”, and how that image is depicted has significance, especially when a narrative contains moments wherein women as a whole are denigrated.  Context surrounding the objectification is what decides its nature—meaning objectification is not universally deplorable and, if examined, should be done so on a case-by-case basis.

 

Katrina

(Fair warning: rudimentary pictures depicting the sexual harassment and nudity of a fourteen-year-old character.)

Snatcher’s range of problems broadens the more the plot thickens.  Gillian’s first call as a JUNKER investigator results in the death of Jean Jack Gibson, the only other field investigator besides Gillian.  This makes Katrina, Jean Jack’s fourteen-year-old daughter, an orphan.  Gillian is required to visit Katrina’s home to interview her and search for clues her father left behind.

The idea of sending a potential sex offender with a gun to a fourteen-year-old girl’s house may seem troubling.  No worries—JUNKER has already assigned Gillian with an unarmed, half-meter-tall robot to rein him in.  Unfortunately, the robot is hardly morally superior to Gillian and is staunchly misogynistic.  It’s also named Metal Gear.

Enduring the visit to Katrina’s house without at least objectifying her is impossible.  Before she allows Gillian through the front door, she asks to see his JUNKER ID badge.  The player can then go into Gillian’s inventory to show her the badge.  Next to the JUNKER ID there is another, inexplicable option.  At least, there is in the original Japanese versions; this detail was removed in the international releases.  It is the option to allow the orphaned fourteen-year-old a glimpse of Gillian’s penis, which is labeled “Gender ID” in Gillian’s inventory.  (Another English translation is “proof of manhood”.)

The transphobia is obvious, but I cover this and other transphobic instances in Kojima’s ludography more thoroughly in an essay called Gender Brief.

The insensitivity with which this scene is handled can make it more triggering than it has to be, especially for those who have been sexually abused.  It was triggering for this author.  I could feel adrenaline squirting somewhere in my guts as my pulse and breathing quickened.  I was going into fight-or-flight mode.  But why?  This is silly.  Just a game, right?

It was hard to choose “Gender ID”, but thankfully there were no graphic images; just a picture of the front door of a big house with some scrolling text in the margin below.  The text indicates that Katrina is screaming.  We can only assume that our ostensibly thirty-one-year-old hero Gillian has shown the fourteen-year-old Katrina his penis.

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As Katrina shrieks, Metal Gear cuts in to barely scold Gillian.  Gillian says he was only trying to help, and seems surprised that what he did was wrong.  The player is then left to show Katrina Gillian’s JUNKER badge from the inventory as if nothing never happened.  But it’s still not over; after this, Katrina refuses to allow Gillian in the house unless he can answer a question about her body.

In Japanese versions of Snatcher the player is asked by Katrina to tell her her own body size measurements in order to enter her house.  In international versions, this was changed to the player having to know of a heart-shaped birthmark on Katrina’s inner thigh.  The body size measurements and the location and shape of her birthmark are stored in JUNKER HQ’s computer.

The computer also informs the player that the fourteen-year-old Katrina is a model for holographic ads.  This brings to mind troubling connotations, as in a later scene, Gillian sees a 3-D holographic ad of a dancer named Isabella Velvet.  Gillian and Metal Gear peer into the clothes of the 3-D model in order to get ample looks at Isabella’s breasts.  This is all related via in-game text.

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It’s odd that a database computer at Katrina’s father’s workplace would have details on Katrina’s body measurements.  Granted, Katrina is a model, and a popular one at that, but considering the sparse biography on Katrina in the computer and how no similar personal data exists for anyone else, even other models like Isabella Velvet, to then have a tangential aside on body size measurements or birthmarks specifically for Katrina is ludicrous.  By making Katrina ask Gillian her body size measurements as Gillian asked Mika earlier,  Katrina is objectified and made an instigator to Gillian’s advances.

The objectification of Katrina is not even necessary.  If Katrina knows Snatchers are plotting to kill her at some point, then she should know that Snatchers mimic the person that they kill.  Snatchers should have some idea as to Katrina’s body size given her popularity as a model (and how her measurements are accessible by computer unlike, say, Isabella Velvet’s).  If she was to be mimicked, the Snatchers would probably already have enough data to simulate her anatomy because Benson Cunningham, the chief of JUNKER, turns out to be a Snatcher.  This leaves us with the one most likely answer for Katrina’s body question: she is a vehicle for sexual tension.  Katrina’s introduction into the story leaves the audience with discrepancies that break narrative flow and suspension of disbelief for the sake of sexual gratification.

Katrina is portrayed as a doe-eyed girl with her mouth, like Mika’s, almost eternally open.  Katrina’s outfit is changed in the official English version to a long-sleeved dress; in the PC-88 and MSX2 versions she wears a sleeveless striped shirt with overalls and gloves.  She seems anxious, too—a clenched fist rests on her chest, her troubled gaze fixed on Gillian—on the player.

Once Gillian is inside Katrina’s house, it’s possible to have him thrown out quite quickly.  The player doesn’t need to do anything out of the ordinary; simply choosing to look at Katrina in general makes Gillian say to himself, “Abundant natural resources.  No wonder she’s working as a model.”

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Just as the player could Mika, Gillian can attempt to “investigate” Katrina.  In Snatcher, “investigate”, depending on the circumstances, takes on a double meaning of  “commit sexual assault”.  It should be noted the player can do this to nearly every character they encounter, whereas the dialogue for attempting to investigate male characters is not as consistently sexual in nature.  Touching women is endorsed over touching men at one point within the game: When the player investigates Harry Benson at JUNKER HQ, Harry tells Gillian not to “investigate” him, and that he should instead try “investigating” pretty girls.  A later plot twist reveals that Harry is Gillian’s son, which explains a lot.

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Okay, so Gillian is a detective, and Katrina is a possible witness in a troubled emotional state with valuable information, right?  So the inclusion of a “persuade” command with the “look” and “investigate” commands doesn’t seem too strange, right?  After all, if a witness is emotionally distraught, some form of gentle persuasion or coaxing may be required—this is the headspace I was still somehow inhabiting, at least.  Yet how easily Gillian sours everything with his own perverted interpretation.

If the player chooses “Persuade”, Gillian will reference the death of Katrina’s father by saying, “Y’know, it’s perfectly natural, when surrounded by death, to have sudden ‘urges’.”  This is Gillian hinting at an urge to have sex with Katrina, and he’s letting her know it’s okay if she has those urges, too.  After all, it will benefit Gillian.  What’s unforgettably disturbing is how Gillian exploits Katrina’s trauma from the days-old death of her father in order to attempt to take sexual advantage over her.

Only by almost completely ignoring Katrina can the player avoid Gillian mentioning anything inappropriate around her.  Instead, the areas around Katrina must be searched thoroughly.  The player has to take specific care when interacting with women to keep Gillian from doing anything reprehensible to them.  To stifle his outrageous perversions, Gillian’s gaze can hardly ever stray from his work.

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Depending on the version played, there’s a special option to “take” Katrina as an object, or attempt to remove her clothes.  Either option ends in Gillian saying he “wants” Katrina; that is, to have sex with her.  This leads to Katrina kicking Gillian out of the house, forcing the player to ask for Katrina’s forgiveness to continue the game.  Gillian is scolded by his coworkers back at JUNKER HQ, and a flat, brassy musical phrase plays.  Considering this is the worst admonishment Gillian suffers for his actions in the entire game and it’s still an insubstantial and inconsequential one-time thing, the general feeling evoked is “sorry to get caught” more than it is “sorry for what I did”.

The player can make Gillian ask Katrina to take off her clothes again after she’s already kicked Gillian out of the house and let him back inside.  This leads to Katrina saying, “Thank you for trying to make me laugh”.  Gillian replies with, “I wasn’t joking.”

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Gillian gives Katrina his address during his first meeting with her, so she heads to Gillian’s apartment with an important clue later in the game.  Upon arriving, Katrina lets herself into Gillian’s apartment and helps herself to a shower.  Gillian returns to find his shower blinds opaque, the water inside the shower booth running.  There is also lingerie strewn about the floor.

In the PC-88 and MSX2 versions, the player is required to smell the lingerie to progress.  Metal Gear declares that Gillian is perverted despite Gillian’s expected protests.  Further prodding of the lingerie elicits jokes from Gillian about wearing the lingerie.  He snatches the bra and panties up from the bathroom floor and then stuffs them in his pocket.

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Of course Gillian is joking about cross-dressing; he flees in terror of a cross-dresser in another scene.

The misogynistic li’l robot has interesting things to say about the lingerie when examining it, too: “Lingerie are women’s last weapons.”

This isn’t the last time Kojima will inexplicably have a character compare women’s underwear to weapons; ten years later in Metal Gear Solid, Meryl Silverburgh will hold up a fifty-caliber Desert Eagle handgun to Solid Snake and proudly say of the gun, “I’m more comfortable with it than I am with a bra.”  Women’s underwear and weapons—a similar, idiosyncratic pattern of association in a work written by the same author for another female character.  Women’s underwear are weaponized, and women use their appearance as a weapons according to two videogame characters written by (gasp) the same writer.

What are these weapons used against, going by the game’s recurring viewpoint?  Men, undoubtedly.  Women’s clothing are weapons utilized in their implacable pursuit of Beauty in the eyes of man, but not only in that; clothing are incorporated into women’s schemes to deceive and subjugate men with their Beauty.  After all, what is Diane doing when she “uses her feminine charm for intelligence activities” in Metal Gear?  When Rose changes the entire way she looks to suit Raiden’s personal tastes and deceive him in Metal Gear Solid 2?  And in Metal Gear Solid 3, with EVA’s dangling of herself like bait in front of Naked Snake, Sokolov, and Volgin in order to steal from them?  When EVA unzips the front of her suit to show a man her breasts, it’s portrayed as not being that much different than when Snake points a gun at someone and tells them to freeze.

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Something I’ve been avoiding is the unavoidable shower scene with the fourteen-year-old Katrina.   After sniffing Katrina’s panties while she waits patiently a few feet away in the shower booth, Gillian sets his sights on her place of concealment.  The deathly slow interface here requires the player to look at the shower booth several different ways before Metal Gear opens it up.  This allows Gillian to walk in on Katrina as she showers, her bare butt showing.  Katrina regards Gillian and the player sheepishly as she holds the showerhead aloft.  An inset of Gillian’s portrait shows him to be incredibly ecstatic and offering the audience a wide-eyed smile.  Katrina covers herself and screams, turning the showerhead on Gillian and spraying him with water.

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After drenching Gillian, Katrina inexplicably emerges from the shower wearing a pink towel around her head and torso.  In some versions of the game, the towel is somehow so thin that the outlines of her breasts and nipples are visible.  Katrina asks Gillian why he opened the shower door on her, and when Gillian hesitates to answer, Metal Gear tells him to “face up to it like a man”.  Men are the ones who face the truth.  Women, as Metal Gear attests, mostly deal in perfidy.

Katrina later apologizes for “the way she reacted in the shower”, and goes on to tell Gillian in the Sega CD version that “Maybe if your timing had been a little better, we might’ve….”  The translator may be putting words in Katrina’s mouth here, saying that the character feels guilty, so she apologizes and implies that they might’ve had sex had things been a little different.  Or maybe Kojima just objectified Katrina that much as a character.  Either way, Gillian never apologizes for what occurred in his apartment.

Katrina admits to having broken into Gillian’s apartment as well as slipping past his door’s lock and security sensors in order to surprise him.  Gillian says Katrina has a promising career ahead of her.  As if to make Gillian’s point, Katrina removes the towel from her head to let down her hair, leaving Gillian and even Metal Gear in awe at her beauty.

Gillian is given the option to try to remove Katrina’s body towel, ask Katrina her age, or look at her face or elsewhere.  These choices provide the illusion of consequence, but really boil down to “be a reprehensible creep or proceed with the plot”, like much of the game.

A scene that was removed in later versions of Snatcher was a remark Gillian would make if the player tried to forcibly remove Katrina’s towel repeatedly.  Katrina will scold Gillian, and he’ll declare, “Women are devils!”

When asked her age, the fourteen-year-old Katrina says she’s “pretty old to be a model”.  Child models are sexualized in Snatcher’s world?  A case of art imitating life.

Katrina saying she is old for a model inexplicably causes Gillian to worry about what that says about his wife Jamie’s age.  Gillian’s frequent fretting over Jamie’s age in the face of women he meets seems to be rooted in the selfish worry of what that says about him—Jamie may be twice Katrina’s age, but Gillian is older than Jamie.

Repeated inquiries into Katrina’s age or otherwise lead to Metal Gear telling Gillian to control himself, or he risks making Katrina angry again.  “After all,” Metal Gear adds, “You’ve got a bad track record.”

“Hey,” Gillian says, “Don’t talk about me like I’m a criminal or anything.”

 

Lisa

(Fair warning: there are pretty intense and bloody images of dead fake women incoming.)

Gillian’s search for two Snatchers who killed Jean Jack Gibson leads him to the apartment of Lisa and Freddy Nielsen.  Freddy isn’t home, so Gillian is only able to question his wife, Lisa, who is constantly holding her cheek because of a toothache.   Looking at Lisa causes Gillian to remark on how attractive Lisa is, to which she replies that Gillian has good taste.  She is wearing a form-fitting black dress with the obligatory breast cleavage on display and, in some versions of the game, the outlines of her nipples visible.  She is, of course, staring at Gillian, the player, the voyeur.  There are options to investigate Lisa, which cause Metal Gear to argue with Gillian over who gets to touch her.  It soon becomes a textual tug of war akin to animals fighting over a piece of meat.  Lisa then yells at them both, telling them to stop touching her.

Of course, in case you were wondering, there is also an option to (unsuccessfully) take Lisa’s clothing.

Eventually Gillian asks to investigate Lisa’s bathroom, which Metal Gear sees and declares, “As usual, homes with women living in them always have nice bathrooms.”  The misogynistic robot provides a generalization out of the aether about the stereotypical cleanliness of women.  A backhanded compliment with a revelatory set of prejudices to unpack, but where to start?  The bathroom isn’t clean because Lisa likes clean bathrooms; it’s because she’s a woman.  The comment takes away everything Lisa is and makes everything she does symptomatic of a disease called Woman.

Lisa steps into the bathroom doorway, dropping her hand from her face to reveal a gouge in her cheek, a mechanical jaw working underneath the gaping wound.  Looks like womanhood has been eating away at her for a while.

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What a surprise: The first Snatcher Gillian encounters is a woman who deceives him by obscuring a ghastly wound on her face.  Lisa attacks Gillian, and the player has the honor of helping Gillian shoot her in the face.  Lisa falls on her back, her bloody skull turned up toward the player as her jaw hangs open. Without her face, Lisa is even more of an object.  Meaning that, by the laws of Kojima, her breasts are to spill out of her dress as she lies with her legs spread open.  Her forearm is supinated as she lies with her wrist canted back toward her head, fingers curled into the palm.  Lisa is in a blatantly submissive position.  Gillian conquered Lisa with violence, and the way she died sexualized the violence.  For Gillian and Metal Gear to remain and look upon Lisa as they do carries with it an air of morbid voyeurism.

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Fun Fact: Genji: Time Suspense Adventure, a graphic adventure game released a few months before Snatcher, also contains scenes wherein a female character’s breasts are exposed as she is graphically mutilated.  The two games are evidence of the hopeful era when the Japanese manga, anime, and videogame industries did not seem shy in supporting a competitive market for graphically mutilating nude women’s bodies.

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  Isabella

The player may first see Isabella Velvet via a 3-D holographic ad outside the Outer Heaven masquerade bar.   If the holographic ad is investigated, Metal Gear informs Gillian that he can see down Isabella’s dress if he hovers above the 3-D projection and looks down.  Regardless of the player’s intent, Gillian does just as Metal Gear describes, saying, “Well, I’ll be…you can see ’em.  Look at the size of those peaks!”—meaning Isabella’s breasts.

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Inside the Outer Heaven bar, Isabella is dancing onstage in a two-piece black leather bikini.  She is being watched by an audience of men in costume.  In the original versions of Snatcher, the men in the bar are dressed as Japanese characters like Kamen Rider and Western sci-fi movie creatures, some of which are known for symbolically terrorizing women like Giger’s Xenomorph.  In later versions, the men are dressed as videogame characters gazing at Isabella on the center stage.  Calling Isabella down to interrogate her causes everyone in the bar to look at the player.  Again the eternal presence of the player as voyeur is evoked, but now the player is being watched by men in costume.

Isabella has her mouth open, her fingers running through her hair, her eyes on the player.  Of course, there’s the option for Gillian to look at Isabella, inciting her to tell him not to stare at her.  If the player looks around the area with Isabella in front of them, Isabella says, “Now-now, don’t you let those eyes wander with someone as gorgeous as me standing in front of you.”

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Gillian responds: “One minute it’s ‘Don’t stare at me like that,’ the next it’s ‘Don’t let your eyes wander.’  Make up your mind, woman!”  Note that Gillian internally addresses Isabella as “woman” instead of by her name.  Other female characters react to Gillian’s flirting in a fashion similar to Isabella: their responses are erratic.  In a way, Kojima is attributing his own inconsistent writing and game design shortcomings to the womanhood of the female characters.  The women all act so fickle because they’re women.

Options with Isabella include asking her out on a date, harassing her for her phone number until she gives Gillian a fake number, and asking for an autograph until she gives Gillian a kiss.   Asking Isabella out on a date just once has her tell Gillian that he “has to come on a little stronger than that”, encouraging his harassment.  In his quest to endlessly compare women to his wife, Gillian says Jamie looks like a “little boy” compared to Isabella.  Maybe it’s best if I don’t explore the implications of that comment.

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Jamie

Both Jamie and Gillian were in suspended animation for fifty years and, having been awoken and then informed of their identities yet sharing no memories of their past marriage, they soon separated.  There are hints from Jamie regarding arguments and stress in their more recent relationship.  Jamie needs time to herself and feels they should stay separate, though Gillian seems adamant about being together with her again.

The player can call Jamie on Gillian’s videophone and catch her while she’s heading outside or lying in bed.  Sometimes Jamie will be at work.  When she’s lying in bed, the player can ask Jamie about her lingerie, and she reveals that she wears no underwear when she sleeps.  Gillian then tells Jamie there’s a bug in the bed with her, hoping to scare her so he can catch a glimpse of her genitalia.  Jamie tells Gillian he hasn’t changed.

When talking to Jamie on the videophone, there are options to ask her out on dates.  One option has Gillian asking Jamie out to an amusement park.  He wants to try the new anti-gravity ride.  He also hopes Jamie will wear a skirt when they go, he says, chuckling.  Though it must be evident by now, it’s not uncommon for a seemingly innocuous player choice to lead to Gillian appending that choice with a perverted remark.

Nothing the player does to affect Gillian’s relationship with Jamie changes the storyline to any significant degree; all that is changed are a few lines of text that all converge toward the same ending.  What does change are things like Jamie scolding Gillian for making passes at Mika and trying to have sex with Katrina.  Gillian will yell at Metal Gear for telling Jamie, but Jamie points out that the robot displayed more concern for her than her supposed husband.  Gillian tells Jamie he’s sorry he was immature.  In response, Jamie assures Gillian he’s the only one for her, and that he should keep that in mind.

Gillian can also accuse Jamie of speaking to and seeing other men and she’ll hang up on him.

 

Junk

The third and final act of Snatcher is aptly titled “Junk”.  Act 3 is not present in the original 1988 versions of Snatcher and was an exclusive addition for the early ’90s versions, starting with the PC Engine.

Near Act 3’s beginning, Mika suddenly becomes emotional and, with tear-filled eyes, asks Gillian out to dinner.  The reason Mika asks him is because Gillian saved her life during Act 2’s finale, so he gets to go on a date with her.  Gillian hesitates to tell her yes, despite him being characterized as someone who would emphatically consent to the opportunity.  It doesn’t make much sense, especially when Mika used Gillian’s marriage as a reason not to get closer to him previously.

What makes Mika’s date proposal even more awkward is that Jamie has just been kidnapped by Snatchers at the very end of Act 2.  Mika moves quickly indeed.  When Jamie survives and meets up with Gillian and Mika at the game’s end, Mika, incredibly, brings up the date with Gillian again in front of Jamie.

Snatcher’s sexual exploitation of its female characters was nothing new to the videogame industry.  Sexual exploitation was common practice among Japanese visual novels and text adventure games from the early 1980s and onward.  (But certainly not limited to Japanese culture.)  A known trope in these types of games is to introduce one male protagonist alongside many female supporting characters that also act as love interests, creating a situation much like a harem.  Indeed, some of the seemingly out-of-place inclusions of sexual situations in the game are partly the result of Kojima’s milieu.  Kojima may have included elements of eroge, or erotic games, in Snatcher because such writing was at least expected of him, given the type of game he wanted to make at the time.  Erotic situations can help sell your fiction.

What was it, though, that made Kojima include non-sequitur expressions of contempt toward women in his game while including sexual harassment and assault of women as a big alternative?

Developers who worked on Snatcher don’t interpret Gillian’s actions as harassment or a form of sexual assault; instead, they consider the events within Snatcher a romance and seem to believe that the women are flirting with Gillian Seed.  There are optional in-game videophone calls where a “Miss Hayasaka”, a worker at Konami who was allegedly obsessed with Snatcher, gushes about the game and mentions Gillian’s “romance of all the women around him”.  Another videophone call features Jeremy Blaustein, Snatcher’s translation supervisor, telling Gillian Seed, “You get to do all these exciting things, surrounded by beautiful women who flirt with you constantly.”  Why would Blaustein say that the female characters flirt with Gillian?  Why shift the role of constant provocateur from Gillian over to the women when it’s blatantly untrue?  If the option to harass women is secondary to the plot, why is it brought up as a key aspect of Snatcher but then framed as romantic flirtation?

The answer may be in the following scene that Jeremy Blaustein wrote himself.  The scene in question either betrays Blaustein’s own internalized sexism, or displays an acute awareness on Blaustein’s part of the intrinsic sexism in Snatcher’s story.  After all, part of Blaustein’s job was to ensure the game remained coherent and consistent when merged with the new content he was tasked with adding.

In the final scene of the third act, Gillian is surrounded by a harem of three women, all of them glancing over at and staring at Gillian, the center of attention, the center of their worlds.  Gillian and Jamie both stare at Mika and Katrina, and Mika and Katrina stare back at Gillian.  Gillian has his arm around Jamie like a hard-won possession as he introduces her to Mika and Katrina.  Jamie tells Mika and Katrina her name, but adds, “I suppose it’s a little odd introducing myself a second time, though.”  Gillian speaks before the girls can interact, letting everyone know he’s bewildered that Jamie has met Mika and Katrina before.  “We’re good friends,” Mika says to Gillian, and Katrina echoes these sentiments to Gillian.  The two other women never respond to Jamie.  No women ever exchange dialogue with one another, nor do they ever say anything to one another beyond Jamie’s single introductory sentence, which Gillian allowed but then made sure it wasn’t replied to.

No two women ever exchange words with one another in the entire game in any version of Snatcher.  The illusion, the deception of women talking to one another, is there.  The game allows the player to look at Mika and Katrina and talk to them for a while, but they’re not allowed to talk to one another.

Talking to Mika reveals that all three women became friends trying to learn more about Gillian, so even their imaginary, off-screen talking was about a man.  The women became friends behind the man’s back so they could talk about the man privately.

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The player must talk and look at the women repeatedly to progress, making much of the troubling dialogue in this scene required viewing.  One option includes Gillian looking at Katrina and saying, “I’m going to memorize every detail of Katrina’s lovely face so I won’t forget it.”  “Gillian, would you stop that,” Katrina commands, “I feel like you’re undressing me with your eyes.”

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Yeah, Gillian is really bad about that creeper eye.

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Jamie tells Gillian she hopes he doesn’t get his memory back, “because getting your memory back will mean that you’ll remember those things about me that you hated.”

Totally not denying Jamie’s worries about being hated, Gillian says, “Things that I hated?  What are you talking about?  Dealing with each other’s imperfections is what marriage is all about, Jamie.”

So whether or not Gillian hates things about Jamie, dealing with that is a mandate of marriage.  Gillian does nothing to assure Jamie that he does not despise her for her perceived imperfections.

“Thank you, Gillian,” Jamie replies, “It’s good to hear you say that.”

When the scene winds down and Gillian has to leave, Katrina and Mika are crestfallen.  “When you get back from this job, you still have a dinner date to keep with me, you know,” Mika says.

“Don’t worry,” Gillian replies, “I won’t forget my promises to either of you.  Whoops!  Oh, almost forgot. ’Course, I wanna spend some private time with my wife, too, eh?”

“We’ll be waiting for you,” Katrina croons.

And the game ends with Gillian’s women longingly watching him fly off into the sunset as they anxiously await his safe return.

 

 

  Underlying Themes of Misogyny

Snatcher is about the superficiality and deceptiveness of appearance, the untrustworthiness of what we see, and how our lives are tied to our identities.  Gillian tells Jamie: “I think there’s a Snatcher in all of us.”

The player is Gillian’s Snatcher, and Gillian is the player’s mask as well as their abider.  We all essentially wear masks, and no one but the wearer can truly know what lies beneath the surface.

These two motifs, deceptiveness of appearance and life-in-identity, are both evident in the face-to-face optical illusion on the flowered vase picture in Benson Cunningham’s office.  Vases that create these illusions are called Rubin vases.  It seems odd that Gillian and Metal Gear make such a big deal about the flowered vase in the picture at first, but this is Kojima trying to beat the player over the head with symbolism.  The vase’s outer design is an optical illusion of two faces gazing into the abyss of one another’s outer shell.  The vase with faces is a container, an empty shell of identity, but inside the vase are flowers, which symbolize life.  Flowers, generally, are nourished by sunlight; it causes cancer in Snatchers.  The vampiric Snatchers must wear sunscreen to shield themselves from the revealing light of the sun, which eats away at their skin, the fiction of their stolen identities and lives.

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The flowerless vase found in Queens hospital is a switch that reveals a secret passage leading to the Snatcher hospital where Snatchers are skinless and have no identity and thus no life, hence the lack of flowers in the vase.  The Snatcher who stole Benson Cunningham’s life and identity has flowers in his vase picture to reflect his new life.  Benson’s vase picture has a switch revealing a secret beneath its surface just like the vase in Queens hospital.

Faces are tied to identity, and many scenes in Snatcher are deliberately portrayed to reflect that.  One example is that Jamie and Gillian Seed’s faces are missing from their son Harry’s childhood photo because they have amnesia and have lost their past identities.  When the Seed family’s past is revealed in Act 3, their faces are restored in Harry’s photo when it is seen again afterward.

Many characters who die throughout Snatcher have their face—their identity torn away: Jean Jack Gibson loses his head to Snatchers; Lisa Nielsen’s face dissolves when Gillian kills her; Freddy Nielsen has his head blown off by Randam Hajile; Benson Cunningham’s corpse’s face is eaten away by maggots.  Randam, when conflicted as to his true identity, is missing half of his face as he holds the head of a struggling Elijah Madnar, the man from whom he was copied, in his grasp.  By willingly dying with his original in an explosion, Randam professes that he will “snatch” Elijah and get his “real self” back.  Lastly, Gillian puts a gun in Ivan Rodriguez’s mouth, threatening to take away his life.

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Faces are thematically and symbolically tied to deception within Snatcher’s narrative .  Women are tied to deception in similar ways, and scenes in Snatcher also reflect that.

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Videophoning Jamie and getting her answering machine triggers a one-time scene wherein a Snatcher’s skull with Jamie’s hair answers.  A shrill musical sting plays and then Jamie peeks at Gillian and the player from behind what is now obviously a Snatcher mask.  Gillian and the player were deceived by Jamie using a Snatcher’s face.  Jamie even did it with an answering machine so she wouldn’t have to face Gillian in the moment of his panic.  Later Gillian asks Jamie if she considers deceiving him with a Snatcher mask as going “a bit too far”, as if Gillian is ever an adequate judge of what excess is.  Jamie asks if her actions scared and worried Gillian.  He says they did.

“Good,” Jamie replies.

Snatchers deceive with human masks, but women are such masters of deception that they use Snatchers as masks.

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 Hi, I’m Jamie.

It’s no mistake that one segment of the game has Gillian enter a place called Joy Division and choose a mask over happiness.  (Plato’s Cavern in the official English translations.)  The masks available for purchase in most versions of Snatcher are that of a mummy,—the appearance of which is obscured and buried beneath the surface for generations, a trait seen reflected in Gillian’s cryogenic sleep as well as the lifestyle of Snatchers,—and a Moai.  Easter Island statues were called “Moai heads” because the bodies of the statues were buried underground for hundreds of years.  Only the heads were visible, betraying what lay beneath.  The mummy and Moai masks both represent things that hold secrets buried under surface appearance.  Like Snatchers.  Like real people.  Like women.

Gillian dons one of the masks and enters a masquerade bar called Outer Heaven, a name which may evoke thoughts of the antithesis of Outer Heaven—Inner Hell.  Inside Snatcher’s Outer Heaven bar are men in costume, men pretending to be something they’re not in an environment that condones it.  Alerting the bar’s inhabitants to Gillian’s true identity in any way causes him to be thrown out.  However, there’s one important thing about the scene in the Outer Heaven bar: Isabella Velvet.  She’s the only character in that bar not pretending to be someone else.  Isabella being the night’s entertainment is advertised out on the street in a holographic ad, so her presence is no secret.  All of the cosplayers in the bar are staring at Isabella up on the center stage.  She is symbolic of something.

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Isabella Velvet can give Gillian a fake videophone number under the pretense that it’s her real number.  She does this if Gillian keeps asking for her number.  If Gillian calls the fake number, he gets upset.  Metal Gear then says: “You were deceived?  Women will do that if you give them the chance.”  Gillian responds to Metal Gear’s line about women being deceivers with “Phooey!  On them!”  A casual curse on these women for being women!

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The unofficial translation of Metal Gear’s words in the MSX2 version is: “Did she fool you?  That’s the woman’s way.”  Women seem to be held in contempt in Snatcher.

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Consider this scene in a veterinary hospital, filled with women who have their pets genetically altered for the sake of appearances, palatability, and the women’s own narcissism.   Examining a cat on a woman’s lap leads to Metal Gear revealing that the cat has been genetically altered, and that many cats have carrying pouches designed at women’s behest.  The cats double as living carrying cases for women’s baggage.  The cat Gillian is examining is assumed to be at the hospital because, as Metal Gear, explains, “Women’s sharp cosmetics cases end up hurting the inside of the animals’ pouches.”

“Those poor animals,” Gillian responds, “Women just won’t let anything stand between them and their pursuit of beauty.”  “And you wonder why you have trouble getting along with women,” Metal Gear quips.  It’s possible to see this as Metal Gear criticizing Gillian for what he just said about women, but, in light of evidence that Metal Gear is contemptuous of women, the remark is quite the opposite.  Metal Gear is agreeing with Gillian, saying he has trouble getting along with women because they will let nothing get in the way of their quest for Beauty.  Women will treat Gillian just like that poor cat if he lets them.

The above-mentioned scene is reminiscent of Meryl’s monologue in Metal Gear Solid.  “I don’t use makeup the way other women do,” Meryl says.  “I hardly ever look at myself in the mirror.  I’ve always despised that kind of woman.”  Throughout Kojima’s ludography, women who wish to be beautiful or devote more than scarce time to their appearance are the target of scorn, criticism, or skepticism.

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Consider these instances in conjunction with a street conversation Gillian can have with a woman in Snatcher‘s Alta Mila Plaza, where at one point there is an option to try to “Pick Up” women in public.

[Video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OoYMDb06NWA]

Most of the women refuse Gillian’s proposals until it occurs to him to con a particularly sympathetic woman into believing that his fiancé has just died.  Gillian even manages to secure a date with her.

Metal Gear steps in, pulling Gillian aside to tell him that he has scanned the person who has just accepted Gillian’s date.  “This she is actually a he,” Metal Gear lies to Gillian, “He is wearing very convincing makeup and clothing.”

“A transvestite?” Gillian exclaims, and then runs away.

Upon safely escaping, Gillian, out of breath, comments on what a “close call” that was, and then Metal Gear tells Gillian that the person was a woman the whole time.  Metal Gear was using Gillian’s transphobia to control him.

Metal Gear can scan objects to determine their biological compositions.  Hideo Kojima wrote Metal Gear as determining gender through physical examination.  This is both ignorant of how gender works as well as transphobic.  What’s most telling, though, is that a woman’s likeness and “very convincing makeup and clothing” are used by Metal Gear as elements in deception.  Remember, according to Metal Gear, lingerie are “women’s last weapons”.

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Weaponizing women’s clothing as a last resort; someone call a psychoanalyst.  What could this even mean?  Does the picture above plus this picture below…

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…equal Paz controlling Metal Gear Zeke?

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That was a joke, but the more I look at the three pictures the creepier the “bigger picture” gets.

These and other views on women that are expressed in Kojima’s games are so enduring that he seems to have retained them twenty-five years later with the release of Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes.  There is a scene in the game where a teenage boy named Chico is held hostage with the twenty-something-year-old Paz and both are victim to sexual assault.  Chico is forced to choose to either have sex with Paz or relinquish information that will doom his comrades.   Kojima writes the whole reprehensible mess as being staged by a villain named Skullface.  Before Skullface does this, he makes a point to spew misogynistic utterances out of nowhere:

“She’ll get what she deserves.  We were comrades once, but she betrayed us.  Deception and deceit; what better proof she’s a…real woman?”

[Audio: https://soundcloud.com/reicifr/what-kojimas-women-deserve ]

 

Snatchers are symbolically conflated with women.  Kojima’s brand of overly convoluted symbolism, though almost surely not intentional, seems evident in the Snatchers hiding in Queens Hospital.  The hospital of queens, of ruling women, is comprised of humanoid deceivers.

One hint Gillian receives about the Snatcher’s hideout is a queen piece from his dead colleague’s chessboard.  The queen is the most powerful playing piece in chess, a game of strategy and deception.  The queen can move anywhere in any direction.

And Queens hospital is abandoned when Gillian first arrives, but only seems so—the queens, as is their way, are treacherous.  Gillian finds an empty vase in the hospital, much like the one in Cunningham’s office; activating a switch reveals stairs leading to an underground hospital, which is well-lit and alive with activity below the façade on the surface.  This is the Snatchers’, the queens’, the ultimate deceivers’ hospital.

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The Queens hospital’s surface was placid, available, always waiting for Gillian to push its button before it could come alive and have purpose.  Just like the women in Snatcher.  It is in the nature of a videogame character to wait for the player, but, as Snatcher tells us, so is it women’s.

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Mika is almost always waiting at the reception desk for Gillian.  Isabella only dances onstage at Outer Heaven, and will only get off the stage for Gillian.  Katrina waits in her house for Gillian, and only ever leaves to surreptitiously enter Gillian’s home, where she waits naked in his shower.  Jamie is at Gillian’s call, and the first time she isn’t her answering machine activates and she deceives him with a Snatcher mask.

Napoleon, a man of many disguises, has to be called by Gillian to initiate a meeting.  While waiting to meet Napoleon, Gillian says, “I can’t stand waiting unless it’s for a woman.”  When meeting Gillian, Napoleon asks if he would have preferred a woman.  Harry Benson is not in his workshop when Gillian first arrives at JUNKER HQ, and later leaves to pursue a Snatcher.  Randam Hajile is never at Gillian’s beck and call, and is always written as doing something behind-the-scenes until he crosses paths with Gillian.  Jean Jack Gibson is doing investigative work at the story’s outset, and is only ever available to Gillian as a headless corpse.  Benson Cunningham is only ever available to Gillian because he’s a Snatcher, and Snatchers are comparable to women going by the game’s commentary and symbology.  When Cunningham is revealed to be a Snatcher, his face is already ripped away to reveal the lie underneath, and he eventually hides behind a shackled Mika.  Mika is a female character, and women in the game are a symbol of hiding behind appearances, of deceitfulness.  The perfect shield for a Snatcher.  It’s only fitting that when Jamie calls Gillian at the end of Snatcher’s revised second act to tell him she’s kidnapped that there is a Snatcher behind her.

Snatchers are the work and planning of one mad scientist: Elijah Madnar.  He caused the Lucifer-Alpha biological catastrophe that wiped out half the world’s population, kept both Jamie and Gillian Seed in cryogenic sleep, and unleashed the Snatchers on Neo Kobe.  One reason Elijah chose Neo Kobe is because of the “element of suspicion, or mistrust, which runs deep in Japanese culture.”  Kojima wanted to do something few if any videogames had done in 1988: make an earnest comment on society.  Granted, Kojima’s comments are rarely revelatory, but if distrust runs so deeply in the culture in which Kojima grew up, could distrust of women have unwittingly seeped into his writing?  I don’t think the symbols associating women with duplicity were intentional; rather, I think Kojima unknowingly imbued these people, places, and events with their own inadvertent meaning.  Subconscious sexism and misogyny.

Elijah wipes out half the world’s population, brings Neo Kobe under nuclear threat from other nations with his Snatcher menace, and then offers only one excuse.  Elijah blames a woman: Jamie.  “Your beauty is the cause of all that has come to pass here,” he says to Jamie.  He did everything because Jamie wouldn’t reciprocate his love, and instead loved Gillian.  Jamie’s deceptive outer beauty lured Elijah in, drove him to obsession, but possession of her heart eluded him.  Elijah blames Jamie for everything wrong he’s ever done, and Jamie calls him a “poor, poor man”, showing sympathy for a mass-murderer who attributes all of his evils to a woman.  No one condemns Elijah for this; instead, they listen to him monologue further.  The mastermind behind all the death and destruction caused in Neo Kobe is a misogynist, a man who projects all his inadequacies and self-loathing onto a woman and her beauty.

The voice actor for Elijah Madnar even gets the last word in the closing credits of later versions of Snatcher.  Could Elijah the misogynist be the intended arbiter of Snatcher’s overall message?

The Real Villain turning out to be a misogynist doesn’t villainize misogyny when the heroes are misogynists, too.  In fact, most of the characters and many of the events in this game contribute to this atmosphere of prejudice and contempt toward women.  The titular Snatchers, for example, exist because of a woman not returning a man’s love, the woman who snatched the man’s heart.

As Metal Gear says to Gillian: “I’m fully aware Jamie has ‘snatched’ your heart.”  Did Jamie do this to Elijah’s heart as well?  And if she did, she did with her beauty, as Elijah emphasizes.  Jamie stole a man’s heart with her appearance.  Again, women become associated with Snatchers to the point where the verb snatch is the preferred term when referring to a woman’s handling of relationships with men.

Gillian does not trust Jamie.  He can tell her at some point: “I hope that while I’m gone…you won’t have too much time to meet any other men.”  The moment Jamie is given free time, she will pursue men and betray him.  So much for getting over suspicion and mistrust.  And just like a privileged sexist, Gillian will sexually harass all the women he likes while his wife must remain faithful.  This particular scene, though written by Jeremy Blaustein and not Hideo Kojima, fits Snatcher’s themes with eerie aptitude.

 

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We go back to the Outer Heaven bar, a place symbolic of the deceptive nature of appearances, wherein the centerpiece is a woman named Isabella.  A woman whose outer shell is considered heaven, who is the only person attending the bar as herself and under the watchful gaze of every costumed man in attendance.  Isabella is wearing the least amount of clothes because women don’t need to wear clothes or cloak their identity in order to hide and deceive, the game tells us.  It’s in woman’s very nature.

If Snatcher is about the distrust people have of one another, it is also inadvertently about distrust and contempt toward women.  Snatcher is thoroughly immersed in a bottomless reservoir of casual sexism, which makes the moments where direct contempt for women is expressed all the more alarming.  And then you have characters as supposedly different from one another as Gillian Seed and Elijah Madnar, whose misogynistic viewpoints are bafflingly similar despite the fact they have never met before.  Both express disgust for the insatiable desire women’s beauty creates in their hearts.

The most assertive and consistent misogynist of them all, though, is the robot named after Kojima’s most famous series.  Metal Gear is supposed to be the voice of reason that reins Gillian and the player in, the trusted narrator who relates details and ideas about Snatcher’s world, which is based enough on the real world for Kojima to feel comfortable directly criticizing Japanese culture.

Metal Gear functions as Snatcher’s moral code, in a way.  But no funny music plays when Metal Gear says something misogynistic like it does at other times.  It’s not another one of Kojima’s “jokes”.  No one points to Metal Gear and says, “Wow, you’re a cold, analytic machine that can totally deconstruct any person you encounter, but you really need to filter out the misogyny.”  Instead, Metal Gear’s misogyny is sometimes presented within Snatcher in a persuasive manner, with Gillian himself stopping more than once to add his own particular seal of approval to Metal Gear’s statements.

Is Metal Gear a buffer for Hideo Kojima’s own voice and misogynistic beliefs?  My answer, given the context, is almost certainly.

Snatcher’s misogynistic themes are never condemned despite its prevailing message; they are tolerated and condoned until the very end.  One of the more enlightened misogynists expressed views similar to those in Snatcher when he said: “There are women who, however you may search them, prove to have no content but are purely masks.”