“It’s rude to keep a lady waiting.”
— Naomi Hunter
No female character in Metal Gear Solid is treated with any semblance of gender parity, but Hideo Kojima and company come closest with Ukrainian weapons analyst Nastasha Romanenko. This is partly because Snake is never required to speak to her. Nastasha is the only named character other than the already deceased Donald Anderson and Big Boss who, despite having official artwork and a short biography in the user’s manual, never canonically speaks to Snake within the game’s mandatory cutscenes or Codec calls.
Snake is surprised to discover Nastasha’s gender when Roy Campbell first mentions she will be on the radio team.
Nastasha is portrayed as competent and is never associated with obligatory flirtation or sexist objectification like the rest of Metal Gear Solid’s women, but she is also not at all integral to the plot. She is forced by the American government to help Snake via a computer link established at her home in Los Angeles, California. Nastasha’s job is to wait for Snake to call her so she can recite information to him like an encyclopedia. She is the only person on Snake’s radio support team that he is not required to speak to throughout the entire game. Her Codec frequency is mentioned by Roy Campbell at least twice in cutscenes, and the player never has to hear about or from her again.
Nastasha the info dump hard at work.
Since Nastasha is a Ukrainian nuclear systems analyst with barely any characterization other than her being a smoker, we see a real-life incident wedged into Nastasha’s backstory, evoking the horrors of the Chernobyl nuclear accidents that ruined many lives in 1986. Chernobyl is likely mentioned simply because it was shoehorned into the end of the second episode of the second season of The X-Files, the show where Hideo Kojima got a large deal of his reference material for real-world atrocities when writing Metal Gear Solid. Similar backstories referencing real atrocities are written for Natasha Markova, Naomi Hunter, and Sniper Wolf. All these female characters are written as having these tragedies as a central motivation that reshapes and expands their narrow characterizations.
It’s likely that Nastasha Romanenko wasn’t largely written by Hideo Kojima, as he has stated that series co-writer, Tomokazu Fukushima, wrote “some of the Codec dialogues.” Kojima, by his own admission, wrote most of the dialogue and story events for Metal Gear Solid outside of this exception.
The World of Perfect Guy
Konami Computer Entertainment Japan representative: [Which female character is] most popular among the team?
Yoji Shinkawa: Really depends. I think Wolf is popular.
KCEJ: If there is a sequel to come, what kind of female character do you want in it?
Shinkawa: [Laughs.] Absolutely no women at all.
KCEJ: A guy game?
Shinkawa: Right, the world of perfect guy. [Laughs.]
Solid Snake was born into an abusive environment where he was trained to kill and survive outside of civilization. He has to rely only on himself. This is part of the hazy concept of the masculine ideal, and it’s something Americans in particular socially and culturally feed themselves generation after generation in some form; in the ’60s and ’70s you had Clint Eastwood, and in the ’80s and ’90s you had Arnold Schwarzenegger. Time after time, we see these men on the screen—cold, distant islands who seem to move the fictional world around them as they move in it. Impossibly empowered men who coolly control any situation even as they seem unreachably distanced by the mental, emotional and physical toll of what they’ve done.
Just as watching someone smoke on-screen can make an addict get the itch, so too can those who have feelings of powerlessness get an itch for the power they see on-screen. The symbols of power soon become like idols, and when people idolize something, they are necessarily very sensitive about it. If you substitute this symbol of masculine power with, say, something more feminine, you get the long-since-documented fan outcry that came with Metal Gear Solid 2 and the introduction of Raiden.
When you buy-in to this feminine-masculine binary, you have male characters who exhibit barely any emotion other than indignant rage, frustration due to impatience, being really fucking horny, or maybe a villainous laugh. As such, we are never shown Snake’s vulnerabilities like we’re shown Otacon’s and Meryl Silverburgh’s. Snake may have post-traumatic stress disorder and suffer from alcoholism, but we never see him display any symptoms of it in Metal Gear Solid. Meanwhile, Otacon and Meryl have several emotional breakdowns altogether. Snake is not to be humiliated while it happens to Meryl and Otacon continuously.
Compare Meryl’s treatment in Metal Gear Solid to the 2012 film Dredd, wherein the eponymous male protagonist, like Snake, has a newly recruited female partner (named Anderson) who fights alongside him in a location cut off from the outside world by criminals. Whereas Meryl is sexually exploited by a male psychic and forced to debase herself and try to have sex with Snake, Anderson is psychic. While Anderson monitors a male character’s mind during an interrogation, the male character vividly thinks about sexually assaulting her, but Anderson overpowers him with her mental prowess. Her winning the mental battle results in the male character soiling himself after the struggle. Not only that, but prior to this, Dredd kept punching the man in an attempt at interrogation, thinking simple male aggression and violence will get him the information he needs. Anderson shows Dredd another way.
It is not that women cannot be portrayed in a negative environment; it is more that Meryl never has any small victories like this. And really, it is always women who are targeted in these psychic sexual invasions. Notice in my example, both Judge Dredd and Solid Snake are not to be humiliated.
Judge Dredd also has a twin brother.
We see these types of androcentric narratives often in videogames: a super-tough man is sent to a severely isolated location where he has to kill or avoid just about everything in his path and confront parts of himself. At the end of such narratives, the isolated location is usually left in ruin, since it is often only destruction that can be left behind.
Like Meryl, Otacon serves as Snake’s sidekick. Otacon becomes the male repository for all of the traditionally undesirable traits that would ruin Snake’s manufactured image as the American ideal of the mythical badass. Solid Snake is a manifestation of the masculine-American collective unconscious reflected back at an assumed male-dominant audience, and the audience certainly loved what they saw—Metal Gear Solid sold millions in America and Snake is often touted as one of the best videogame characters to ever grace a screen.
Solid Snake is, as intended, the least vulnerable character in Metal Gear Solid, despite being constantly inches from death. One easy tell is that Snake never cries. To offset and support Snake’s carefully manufactured image, Otacon is the sole character who takes up male crying duty. Otacon is reserved for crying duties in the Metal Gear Solid series so no other man has to do it. Otacon embodies the effeminate in the masculine, and this is shown by having him be a passive, weak, overemotional caretaker to Snake.
Hideo Kojima has gone on-record saying he prides himself on his ability to write the usually non-violent Otacon into a narrative where the environment is hostile at pretty much all times. What Kojima did not say is if he killed Otacon off because then there would be no more men to cry. It has long been a trope in tough-guy fiction that the super-cool protagonist has a sidekick who exhibits all the emotions the hero cannot.
In absence of a character like Otacon becoming a male crying receptacle, Metal Gear Solid 3’s entire ending then becomes an entanglement of female death and deceit that only serves to deepen the two-dimensional male protagonist, Big Boss. The game ends with Big Boss saluting over a dead woman’s grave and shedding one necessary, manly tear. Crying is so intense for men that in Metal Gear Solid 3 there is a male boss character who specializes in being sad. He is called The Sorrow and he sheds a single bloody tear that cracks his eyeglass lenses. Kojima treats men crying very seriously.
Penguin Adventure is Hideo Kojima’s first published game. Note the all-important single tear.
Meryl’s death changes Metal Gear Solid’s ending, which is similar to the dual endings in Penguin Adventure, the first published game Hideo Kojima assisted in developing. In Penguin Adventure, the only way to save the damsel-in-distress is to hit the pause button once. Pausing anymore or not at all leads to the female penguin’s death. (In Metal Gear Solid, Meryl’s death is tied to pressing the Select button once.) This is another case of a female character’s death referencing the fact a female character in a past Hideo Kojima game died.
So, with Otacon, you have one male character relegated to a crying role with dead women at his feet, and nearby are the tobacco-smoking fantasy men who made it all possible. With all the women dead, who are the men left to bond with? Each other, of course!
If Meryl dies, Otacon retains most of the “girlfriend elements” that were previously attributed to Meryl. In Metal Gear Solid 2 and 4, Otacon and Snake are heavily implied to be living together, and the passive Otacon stays at home and handles their finances, while Snake, the active agent in the relationship, goes out into the world and brings back significant changes to the family unit. In androcentric fiction, men are frequently coded to be active, while women are coded to be passive. Snake is the agent of change in the relationship, while Otacon, who has coded feminine aspects, is passive. Otacon’s passivity is one reason why he is an appropriate substitute for Meryl; it is one of the things that makes Otacon similar to a woman according the game’s weird internal logic.
While Otacon retains traits that would make him a love interest to Snake, the narrative noticeably foists a fervent heteronormativity onto the alternate ending where both men leave Shadow Moses island together. In scenes occurring before Meryl’s death we find Snake sometimes touching Otacon, or grabbing and shaking him. The first time Snake grabs Otacon it’s because Snake suspects Otacon of lying, but there is also a later scene where Snake is imprisoned in a holding cell and Otacon brings him food.
In the holding cell, Snake desperately yells for Otacon to help him, and he grabs Otacon by the shoulders through the bars and holds him close. Snake shakes Otacon twice because aggression against a physically weaker man is one of the only ways Snake can express himself or be characterized according to the game’s principles. Snake grabs Otacon and holds him close multiple times.
In the 2004 The Twin Snakes remake, a homoerotic interpretation of this scene is much less plausible, as Snake grabbing Otacon through the bars is treated as a ridiculously comical occurrence. Otacon’s role as comic relief is emphasized much more than it was than in the original to downplay any furtive homosexuality between the two characters. We see Otacon falling for humor’s sake in at least two scenes in the 2004 remake: Otacon trips while bringing Sniper Wolf her rifle, and he slides down a cliff path on his stomach during Naomi’s ending monologue. Scenes where Snake and Otacon could possibly be seen as sharing an intimate moment together are infused with comic relief; this is why Snake laughs more with Otacon in his short time with him than he ever does with Meryl.
Otacon also brings Snake a handkerchief from Sniper Wolf in this scene, as if to reinforce that Otacon is strictly heterosexual.
Not bisexual enough for me.
As mentioned, Snake tells Meryl after he kills Psycho Mantis that he’s never been interested in other people’s lives, but after he saves Otacon in a previous scene, he sits and listens to Otacon, even chiming in at times. He’s so interested and takes such a passive role in Otacon’s presence during this moment that he actually sits down and crosses his legs and listens. The only character Snake had done this for previously to such an extent was Natasha Markova in Metal Gear 2.
Otacon has a later scene with Snake wherein he asks him if love can bloom on a battlefield. Otacon is supposedly asking because he has a romantic interest in Sniper Wolf, and Snake has a similar interest in Meryl, but there is also a homoerotic undertone to this that is not addressed as much as it is buried. During this same scene, Otacon says Snake is “incredible” and “like a movie-hero or something”, and Snake tells Otacon he’s wrong because “in the movies, the hero always saves the girl”. Homoerotic undertones between men in MGS are repressed by open mentions of women or outright aggression. If any homosexuality does crop up in an MGS game, however, it’s sure to be treated as a joke.
If the player submits to Revolver Ocelot’s torture, Snake will find Meryl dead atop Metal Gear in an alternate ending. After Snake screams Meryl’s name, he shows emotion the only way in which a badass is allowed: anger, indignation, guilt, or self-hatred. Take your pick.
Snake saving a woman is one of the prerequisites to Snake being a manly man. A damsel in distress is a man’s win condition, the object that makes him strong and triumphant. Without a helpless woman needing to be saved, a man cannot be a man.
Snake says: “Forgive me. Damn! I gave in to my fear. I gave in to my pain. I sold your life to save my own! I’m a loser. I’m not the hero you thought I was. I’m nothing! Meryl, I’m sorry! Forgive me.”
Otacon appears out of the shadows behind Snake, having disengaged his cloaking device. “Meryl can’t forgive anyone anymore,” he says.
Snake says Meryl is dead because of him, but Otacon won’t let such blasphemy befall his messianic Snake, even if it comes from the great man’s mouth himself.
“I guess blaming yourself makes it easier, huh?” Otacon ventures. “If you do that you can keep the pain at a nice, safe distance.”
Snake, who goes through the game telling people like Mei Ling that killing people isn’t a game, betrays his childish viewpoint: “What the hell do you know! Meryl’s dead! I lost!”
Note that the knee-jerk consequence of Meryl dying is Snake losing some egoistic game in his head.
Snake is throwing a temper tantrum similar to a player with anger management issues encountering a fail state. A win state in many games involves a male protagonist saving a female character. Meryl is dead, so the player and Snake, according to tradition, have lost. Meryl, the metaphorical pump used to inflate Snake’s ego, cannot serve her main purpose as a woman in a videogame. The woman who saw him as a hero is dead, so Snake cannot believe himself to be a hero anymore.
Otacon replies: “So, are you going to stay here and die along with her? Snake, people die…. But death is not defeat. That’s what Hemingway said. I lost Wolf too. But that wasn’t defeat. She and I will be together forever. We didn’t lose anything.”
Ernest Hemingway quotes have a way of popping up in dudes-with-guns fiction.
“Life’s more than just a game of win or lose. Don’t you think?” Otacon offers.
Snake says nothing.
“Let’s live, Snake,” Otacon says, placing a comforting hand on Snake’s bare shoulder.
The men are the ones who must live and carry on the fight, and women will tell them so.
This concludes our whirlwind tour.
Strong storybook men do not bow to fear, and they do not give in to pain. A woman can, however, rise above a man in the grand character hierarchy if she endures enough agony and abuse to transcend her station and become a tragic martyr. But the only way a woman can achieve this is solely through death. Once Meryl dies of unbearable pain and suffering, Snake is racked with guilt because he wasn’t able enough to save her. How a female character’s death affects a male character internally is usually more relevant than the female character herself was.
After Snake is pulled out of his five-minute depression over Meryl’s death, the Otacon ending is largely similar in function to the Meryl ending. That is, until Snake and Otacon sit on the snowmobile and Snake prepares to drive them away from the island and toward the rising sun.
Otacon and Snake’s relationship is explored much more thoroughly than Snake’s and Meryl’s. Meryl’s ending is frequently filled with the pair sharing sexually-charged moments and obvious double entendres about procreation. Even the mentions of caribou and spring coming to Alaska reflect this. But Snake and Otacon bond in a much more intellectual and sexless fashion.
A scene that comes off as insensitive toward female characters also takes place on the snowmobile:
“So, this is where we say goodbye to our loves as well,” Otacon says, and then awkwardly and immediately follows this up with, “Want me to drive?”
Otacon’s insensitive followup remark above is changed in the remake; Snake lowers his head and then turns on the snowmobile before Otacon offers to drive. This scene seems to be changed more because of the awkwardness and unbelievability of the delivery coupled with the sudden emotional transition, not out of respect for the dead female characters. More care is devoted to depicting emotional moments framed in the game’s tried-and-true stylistic structure rather than the farther-reaching implications within the moments themselves.
So will Snake let the passive, feminine man who wants to take control of his own life take the wheel of the snowmobile?
“No thanks,” the man of action says, “I’d rather do it myself.”
Why Does Mei Ling Exist?
“Have you heard this one? Confucius said it…”
— Mei Ling being a stereotype
Snake can’t resist flirting with Mei Ling as soon as he meets her: “I didn’t expect a world-class designer of military technology to be so…cute,” he says.
What a thing to acknowledge a woman’s life’s work, everything she’s accomplished, and then sweep it all under the rug to hit on her because she is, first and foremost, no matter what she does, an attractive woman. Most of the women in Metal Gear Solid are depicted as highly capable textbooks. Yet above all, these textbooks are also beautiful, and must acknowledge men’s attraction and flirtations without indignation or offense taken.
How does Mei Ling respond to Snake’s flirtations?
“You’re just flattering me…,” Mei Ling says shyly.
“No, I’m serious.” Snake smiles, and then adds: “Well, I know I won’t be bored for the next eighteen hours.”
“I can’t believe I’m being hit on by the famous Solid Snake…,” Mei Ling raves.
Somehow, Kojima forgot he wasn’t writing dialogue for Tokimeki Memorial Drama anymore and that terrorists in his story are going to launch a nuclear missile in eighteen hours.
Why is Mei Ling on the radio team? Yes, she is the inventor of the Soliton radar and Codec radio systems, but these are both presented as easy-to-use and easy-to-understand mediums that both appeared in previous Metal Gear games. Mei Ling is said to be the “visual and data processing specialist”, but all she does is save the player’s game, read off quotes to Snake, and save all the Codec conversation data at the end of the game. On top of that, the functions Mei Ling explains are rudimentary and easy to grasp. It’s not like no one else on the radio team can read and interpret what Snake’s doing, as Roy Campbell and Naomi are shown as interpreting Snake’s movements via their own displays back at the command post. “We’ll be monitoring your movements by radar,” Campbell says.
In Metal Gear Solid 4, it’s shown that Naomi knows how to send encrypted messages in Soliton radar format. This may provide details on the method of Naomi’s betrayal in Metal Gear Solid, wherein Roy Campbell tells Snake that they’ve caught Naomi and that “she was sending coded messages towards the Alaskan base.” Even after her treachery is discovered and she is subdued, Naomi contacts Snake “on a different Codec”, so she certainly knows how to use the Codec. The player never has to call Mei Ling to save their game, and she’ll only chime in to tell Snake what the dots on the radar are or to give a simple explanation as to why the radar isn’t working. Campbell even adds to these Mei Ling tutorial monologues sometimes, as if he could explain the radar’s functions himself. And he can, because he explained the radar to Snake himself at the beginning of Metal Gear 2: Solid Snake. So Snake knows how to use the radar, too. The only major difference with this new radar designed by Mei Ling is that the player can see the lines of sight of soldiers and cameras. All Campbell has to do is say, “The red dots are your enemies, and the blue cone shape represents their field of vision,” and then Mei Ling becomes pointless.
If Mei Ling is still a teenager, in school, and is an invaluable, world-class inventor who has made a system that several people in the cast can effectively and easily utilize, why is she brought along on a dangerous mission in a submarine? The answer is Mei Ling is a doll meant to appease Snake and, to a larger extent, the player. Her youthful, attractive, unintimidating appearance; the flirting; the fact she and Naomi share crying duty when the player loses and sees the game-over screen; all are there to provide appeasement and motivation to the player. Metal Gear Solid’s development team couldn’t just have an old man, Roy Campbell, raspily belting Snake’s name as he dies—that would be too lonely and unsatisfying. The player needs cheerleaders, women who have only known Snake for a matter of hours and already love him to the point where they will break down into tears and cry his name as he dies.
Oh, and uh, Kojima games are pretty bad when it comes to the depiction of Chinese characters. See: the stereotypical Napoleon and Chin Shu Oh in Snatcher, as well as the outrageous Chinaman character who was thankfully cut from Metal Gear Solid 2.
Questionable also are the choices the English localization team made in conveying Mei Ling’s heritage. As Mei Ling says, her parents are from Guangdong, China, but she was born and raised in America (supposedly in “China Town” some translated official materials read). In the original English release of Metal Gear Solid, it seems Kim Mai Guest was given directions to feign a heavier Chinese accent for Mei Ling. For reasons unknown, Mei Ling’s Chinese accent is completely dropped when Guest reprises her role three years later in Metal Gear Solid 2.
In the end, Mei Ling is a cookie-cutter creation, a half-baked product whose most prominent characterization is her propensity for expulsions of factory-bottled wisdom culled from the writings of dead men.
“Naomi and Rose are Mr. Kojima’s type. Mature, intelligent, talented.”
— Yoji Shinkawa
Naomi Hunter is based on Dr. Marie Lazarus from the 1993 film RoboCop 3. Naomi and Marie are both scientists who shelter and repair dying men who are resurrected as cyborgs. They also both switch sides to aid the male protagonists in destroying totalitarian regimes.
Both Naomi and Marie befriend pre-teen girls who are computer-geniuses (Sunny and Nikko). Sunny and Nikko help them relay a message to the protagonists. During video messages transmitted to RoboCop and Solid Snake, Naomi and Marie look back apprehensively at the room’s only exit, as if someone is about to enter. The breast closeup was Kojima’s idea.
Also notable is that RoboCop 3’s character Nikko is a child who has an affinity for technology. Similar to Mei Ling, Nikko assists Marie and RoboCop in receiving and streaming audio-visual data across great distances. She can also intuit the inner workings of just about any machine or computer, which Mei Ling cannot do—that honor is reserved for Sunny in Metal Gear Solid 4. Like Sunny, Nikko is an orphan who is a computer genius. Kojima seemed to like the Nikko character enough to give her her own proxy in Sunny.
Naomi Hunter may be the most all-encompassing example of the Strong Kojima Woman: beautiful, always beautiful first; then comes “intelligent” or “talented” or “capable”. But a Kojima woman’s next usual trait is one of Naomi’s main purposes in Metal Gear Solid—deceitfulness. Naomi is the plot twist, the all-explaining surprise in disguise that yanks the carpet out from under your feet. She betrays FOXHOUND, Snake, and the entire radio team in what amounts to most of the game’s named cast.
Naomi’s entire motivation is her desire to kill Snake because he nearly killed her stepbrother, Gray Fox. Fox is also known as Frank Hunter, who Natasha Markova fell in love with and was killed by in Metal Gear 2. Naomi admits she studied genetic therapy because she never knew her parents. This is because she also doesn’t know her surrogate brother, Fox, killed them.
Throughout the Metal Gear series, Fox kills indiscriminately at times and only shows remorse when there is an opportunity to ratchet up his superbly complex and manly guilt.
Fox’s last request is that Snake tell Naomi the truth: that he killed Naomi’s parents. This will crush Naomi. When Snake learns of what Fox did to Naomi’s parents, Snake lies to Naomi to spare her feelings. Snake’s deception brings peace and is selfless, unlike Naomi’s.
All Naomi can do is react to what men have done. They shape her life. Even Naomi’s love for her stepbrother is built on a lie: Fox killed her parents and couldn’t bear to tell her the truth, nor be in her presence. It is Fox’s last wish to have Naomi know he killed her parents, but Snake lies to Naomi to bring her peace. Everyone on the radio team is able to hear Snake when he speaks to people, so everyone must know the truth about Fox murdering Naomi’s parents—everyone but Naomi.
Everything Naomi does is because of the impetuses and catalysts provided by male characters. To start, Naomi studies genetics because she lost her parents because Fox killed them, therefore Naomi’s curiosity—one thing that surely sets one person apart from another as a free-thinking individual—is piqued only because a man saved her from a situation he helped create. Fox couldn’t summon the will to kill Naomi like he did her parents, and in his guilt he took her with him to the United States and enrolled her into school. During her studies, Naomi becomes interested in genes solely because she does not remember what her parents look like, because Fox killed them when she was too young to remember.
Unable to deal with his life in the United States, Fox leaves Naomi to go back to war, and is supposedly killed by Snake in Metal Gear 2. Because Snake kills Fox, Naomi then dedicates her life to seeking revenge by killing Snake, so she joins FOXHOUND knowing it’s her best chance to meet him. Her entire career choices are based around men just like Meryl’s are.
And just as Sniper Wolf and Meryl were always waiting for a man like Snake, so too did Naomi wait for Snake.
“I waited for two years,” she admits.
“To kill me?” Snake says incredulously, “Is that all you cared about?”
Naomi confirms that it was. “You were all I thought about for two long years,” Naomi repeats, adding, “like some kind of twisted obsession.” In the book by Nastasha Romanenko recounting these events, Naomi is portrayed as saying, “Two years, waiting for you and no one else. Yearning for revenge. It’s almost like being in love.”
Snake asks Naomi if she still hates him as well. “Not exactly,” she replies. “I was partly wrong about you.” In the Romanenko book, Naomi is reported as saying, “I wouldn’t say that [I hate you]. There are some things about you I misunderstood.”
Right before Naomi is wrestled away from the Codec call, she manages to tell Snake, “The real thing I wanted to tell you was…Snake, I…” before she’s cut off. If this is a female character half-expressing her love for Snake, it wouldn’t be the first time. In the original Metal Gear, Diane manages to get out the words “I love…” before she stops herself. Also interesting is how Naomi leaves her post and Campbell explains that she’s “taking a short nap.” This mirrors another exchange in Metal Gear, wherein Snake calls Diane and she’s not at her radio post; instead, a man named Steve answers the call for Diane, telling Snake that she’s sleeping. Diane is characterized as aloof and unreliable, and this behavior mirrors that of Naomi’s, who is already an untrustworthy character on her own.
Instead of Naomi being the prominent person on her radio frequency and having Campbell answer in her stead sometimes akin to Diane’s relationship with Steve in Metal Gear, the power structure of the radio roles is switched and Campbell is the primary person on call while Naomi shares radio duties with him. Naomi also has knowledge of FOXHOUND as their chief of medical staff and relates information about them during their battles with Snake. Just like Diane informs Snake about bosses in Metal Gear.
Naomi can’t even attempt to kill Snake in a way that isn’t deceptive. She puts on the guise of a friendly scientist, injecting Snake with a virus that targets and kills specific people. Due to her unending obsession, Naomi calls the virus “FoxDie”. However, it wasn’t Naomi’s decision to use the virus; it was a prerequisite of the operation that Snake be injected with it. Naomi still manages to betray her superiors, altering the virus’ programming before she injects it into Snake. This could lead to a more charitable interpretation of Naomi’s rebellion against male forces as a sort of exhibition of agency, but this is at the tradeoff of making Naomi the most deceptive character in Metal Gear Solid. It made me think of Snatcher, wherein a character called Metal Gear says all women will deceive if given the chance.
Even Decoy Octopus, who is supposed to be better at deception than any character in any Kojima game ever, only has one or two tricks up his sleeve that pretty much fail in their execution because Naomi’s trick—a heart virus she programmed—trumps Decoy Octopus’s tricks and kills him. And Naomi got Snake to do it. A woman out-deceived Decoy Octopus, the master of deception, and she did not even train her whole life for it like he did. A woman’s deception apparently trumps a man’s.
Something else that’s always bothered me is how Decoy Octopus, a White man, does blackface by impersonating Donald Anderson, a Black man. Not only that, but it seems as if Decoy Octopus impersonating a Black man is supposed to show how good he is at disguises, as if Black bodies are just disposable masks for a narrative centered around (ostensibly) White people.
The power of Naomi’s deception forces Liquid Snake to disguise himself to match Naomi’s strength. Liquid obviously functions as a symbol of duality within the narrative since he is Solid Snake’s doppelgänger, but he plays as Naomi’s twin, too. “You’re just like Naomi,” Solid Snake says to him at one point, and Liquid angrily shoots back with “Well, I’m not like you!” This is also one giveaway to one of the messages at the heart of Metal Gear Solid: almost all of its villains (and many of its heroes) wallow in the hatred and circumstances of their past, and let it rule their future.
Liquid’s deception occurs because of Naomi’s deception. Liquid may have disguised himself as Master Miller so he could more easily manipulate Snake, but it was also because he wanted to know the details of Naomi’s heart virus vaccine, since Liquid knew his life was at stake due to Naomi’s deception. Regardless, Liquid is killed by Naomi’s heart virus just like Decoy Octopus and Naomi ruins Liquid’s chance to finally kill Solid Snake during the game’s climax. Naomi is such a master manipulator that she uses her indirect methods to kill two male masters of manipulation—Liquid Snake and Decoy Octopus. Under a woman’s powers of perfidy, even the puppetmasters become puppets themselves.
Naomi’s deception is so powerful and far-reaching and ever-lasting that she kills the CEO of a weapons manufacturing corporation and, later, Big Boss in Metal Gear Solid 4. Due to her treachery and deceit, Naomi holds the lives of everyone on Shadow Moses island in the palm of her hand, since she has all of their genetic information. Even after Naomi’s treachery is exposed and she’s captured, she manages to send out a Codec message to Snake for a while without anyone knowing. The FOXDIE Naomi implanted in Solid Snake’s body later mutates and threatens to poison everyone in the world.
Through Naomi, we are shown the difference between a female scientist and a male scientist. Otacon may be a scientist whose inventions are more directly powerful than Naomi’s, but they aren’t intended by him to be used for treachery or violence; he naïvely creates thinking no one will use his inventions to hurt anyone. When Otacon is running around with the technology he made that renders him invisible, he refuses to hurt any guards and instead supports Snake and brings him food and lifts security locks on checkpoints. Naomi uses the technology she made to knowingly and unapologetically kill people, becoming the foil to Otacon’s oblivious, pure-hearted pacifism. Twelve years later with the release of Peace Walker, Dr. Strangelove would serve as the foil to Otacon’s father in similar ways. Strangelove would also serve as a proxy for Otacon’s love of Sniper Wolf. And let’s not forget Emma in Metal Gear Solid 2, whose entire reason for being alive and being a scientist is to get revenge on Otacon.
Emma: I’m gonna make him regret the day he left me… I’m going to make him realize he was wrong!
Snake: Of all the idiotic…
Emma: Idiotic?! It’s my goal! My reason for being alive!
Naomi isn’t granted amnesty from Snake’s flirtations. When she is first introduced to the player and Snake, Campbell says of Naomi: “She was in charge of FOXHOUND’s gene therapy. She knows more about those men than anyone else.”
Snake, who is wearing no clothes in this instance, turns to Naomi and asks, “You mean you’ve seen them naked?”
Snake is perhaps hinting of something sexual in Naomi’s actions.
“Make no mistake,” Naomi says, “I’m not a nurse. I’m a scientist.”
Naomi mentions nurses and places them beneath her on some imaginary totem. Naomi is practically saying, “I had no sexual gratification in seeing the men naked because I’m not a nurse” to let Snake know sexual jokes are unwelcome.
If anyone ever wondered whether physicality was put before Naomi’s professionalism and dignity as a female character, they would just have to look at her utterance to Snake after he complains of being strip-searched by her.
“Well,” Naomi says, “if you make it back in one piece, maybe I’ll let you do a strip search on me.”
Make no mistake. She’s a scientist.
In a later scene, Naomi cannot help being romantically interested in Snake, and asks him if there is a woman in his life. Meryl does as well, asking Snake if there is anyone he likes romantically. This is echoed by EVA in Metal Gear Solid 3 when she asks the protagonist: “Is there anyone you like? Someone special?” Male characters never ask other male characters about their significant others; they volunteer to speak of them in every instance.
Naomi does not take credit for her final monologue in Metal Gear Solid. Naomi attributes the epiphanies she shares in the game’s ending scenes to Snake.
The sole female member of FOXHOUND. During the game’s intro, she’s presented along with her five male peers as “the beautiful and deadly sharpshooter.” FOXHOUND is an elite military unit, and all of its members are deadly by default. It’s questionable, then, to specifically call the female character “deadly”—as if her occupation as FOXHOUND’s absolute-best sharpshooter doesn’t make the distinction a pleonasm. It reads like an assumption of inferiority based on Sniper Wolf’s gender, as though the author needs to let us know Wolf’s just as dangerous as her male counterparts. It’s also a component of the “femme fatale”, an archetype usually employed in sexist fiction where a woman’s beauty can lead a man to ruin.
Kojima women are usually placid, waiting for the male protagonist, almost always available, and definitely beautiful. In Metal Gear Solid, there are plenty of men and women on the Codec ready to answer Snake’s calls, so there’s no real disparity there; it’s just the nature of the game.
Some male characters in the game say they’re waiting for Solid Snake, but they’ve only been waiting less than an hour for a big fight, not years before the game started or their whole lives like Meryl, Naomi, and Sniper Wolf have. The Boss from Metal Gear Solid 3 holds the record for waiting for a man the longest, since she is the ultimate Kojima woman.
“I’ve been waiting, Snake,” The Boss says, “for a long time. Waiting for your birth, your growth… and the finality of today…”
The only exception to this women-wait-a-long-time rule is Gray Fox, but all his waiting was with Naomi and before that Fox was canonically dead. Fox came back to life; note that Natasha Markova, the woman he killed that he supposedly loved in Metal Gear 2, is never mentioned again. Women in Hideo Kojima games don’t come back to life unless, like The Boss, they’re so devoid of personality they can be mimicked by machines.
Many videogames have characters wait around for the player to interact with them, so what’s the problem? Well, what’s sketchy are Sniper Wolf’s abilities in comparison to the male members of her military unit. As Naomi Hunter says of Wolf:
“FOXHOUND’s best shooter. She can wait for hours, days, or weeks. It doesn’t matter to her. She’s just watching and waiting for you to expose yourself.”
One of Wolf’s outstanding attributes is that she’s better than every man in her elite military unit at waiting. To compound this, Master Miller tells Snake (emphasis is mine), “According to the SWAT manual, the longest a shooter can stay adequately focused on his target is fifteen minutes. After fifteen minutes, the observer and shooter change places. Sniping is usually a two-man job.”
Wolf is a woman who can wait longer than any normal man. She uses her feminine ability to interminably wait for men as a killing technique. The agony she feels as time passes “doesn’t matter to her”; all that matters is that the man shows up.
Naomi Hunter forever crystallizes Wolf’s association to the women-waiting theme with, “Everyone knows that women have more patience than men, but Sniper Wolf can go a whole week with no sleep, no food…her sights never straying from her target.” This heavily implies Wolf’s superhuman ability to sit still is a fine-tuning of the already exemplary powers of placidity inherent of womanhood.
Sniper Wolf’s “real targets”, as she puts it, are always specifically men. This is reinforced by her saying, apropos of nothing, “You men are so weak” and “Women naturally make better soldiers”, along with her dying declarations of “the brutality” and “the stupidity of mankind”. Wolf shooting Meryl to get to Snake is the most direct conversation two female characters have in Metal Gear Solid.
Wolf is always waiting for Snake, the man who gives her purpose. She lacerates Snake’s cheek with her fingernails, marking her territory, telling him, “I’ve left my mark on you. I won’t forget it. Until I kill you, you’re all I’ll think about.”
Indeed, her next man is pretty much all Wolf thinks about. Hm, and who else confesses that Snake is the only person on her mind until she kills him?
Wolf is obsessed with Snake like Meryl and Naomi are obsessed with him, and Wolf’s demeanor around Snake until he lung-shoots her is almost always sultry and seductive.
Female characters have a habit of letting their attractions to men govern their character, even against psychotherapy meant to suppress it, and Sniper Wolf is no different. During a later scene wherein Snake is shirtless and strapped to a torture machine, Sniper Wolf touches his bare chest, her fingers sliding down and stopping just above his crotch. “Your woman is still in this world,” Sniper Wolf says.
What woman belongs to Snake? He takes a guess: “Meryl?”
“Catch you later,” Wolf says, running her hand down his bare stomach. She adds, “…handsome.”
Revolver Ocelot is present as Wolf touches Snake, and Ocelot whistles as the camera cuts to a lingering shot of Sniper Wolf’s butt as she walks away. “Once she picks a target, she doesn’t think about anything else,” Ocelot declares of Wolf, “Sometimes she even falls in love with them before she kills them.” Apparently it is important to emphasize that female characters only think about one thing, which is usually a man.
As Sniper Wolf waits for the automatic door to open so she can leave, the camera again centers on her butt. As she steps through the doorway, there’s an overhead tracking shot that follows her breast cleavage as she moves under the camera.
Wolf’s own teammate and leader, Liquid Snake, says of Meryl as she lies unconscious: “Stupid woman! Falling in love with a man who doesn’t even have a name.” Going by this logic, Liquid Snake indirectly states that the best shooter and sole female member of his squad is stupid, as the game drops hints that Wolf, like Meryl, is in love with Snake, a man who supposedly has no name. Snake has a name, but that’s beside the point.
Snake doesn’t challenge Liquid on his declaration about Meryl’s mental faculties. What’s important to Snake is that his brother knows he has a name. Defending a female companion’s dignity is unnecessary.
During Snake’s first encounter with Wolf, he shoots her down in a sniper battle, and then he runs back to where he supposedly shot her, only to be ambushed. Wolf approaches Snake with a rifle aimed at him, and says, “You were a fool to come back here. Stupid man!” This is certainly an insult to Snake’s judgment, but it doesn’t seem related to any hatred toward men until Wolf’s later remarks. Snake’s response to Wolf, however, is certainly sexist, especially in light of what Snake has said of women before: “A lady sniper, huh?” Snake has previously been briefed on Wolf, yet Snake would rather respond to Wolf’s insult by bringing attention to the fact she’s a female sniper when he encounters her. Wolf is written as not seeing Snake’s remarks as flattering either, because she replies, “Didn’t you know that two-thirds of the world’s greatest assassins are women?”
Cannot help but wonder if this was written to imply women are best at using deceitful and indirect methods of murder.
The whole exchange becomes a gender battle, and it is already obvious that Snake will win.
Wolf shoots Snake down amidst a blizzard. She calls him on the Codec, and even Snake has to admit her skill. “You’re pretty good if you can hit me in this storm,” Snake says.
“You see?” Wolf says, “Women naturally make better soldiers.”
Wolf the misandrist. Of all the FOXHOUND men who kill men not one of them specifically hates men—Psycho Mantis, for example, is misanthropic.
Almost all women who fight men head-on without tricks or decidedly indirect methods in the MGS series either die or fail due to ineptitude.
As Snake nears the dying Wolf, she begins an assisted monologue that is central to her character. This is principally a reference to one of the final scenes in Stanley Kubrick’s Full Metal Jacket, wherein a female child sniper lies dying from mortal wounds incurred during a shootout with U.S. Marines. Whereas the child sniper in Full Metal Jacket writhes and simply whispers “shoot me” over and over before she is killed by the protagonist, in Metal Gear Solid, Wolf is lavished with a backstory that ties into the Al-Anfal genocide of Iraqi Kurds in the late 1980s.
In Full Metal Jacket we learn nothing about the child sniper beyond conjecture; Metal Gear Solid plays with the idea of a child sniper living to adulthood and allows her the opportunity to explain herself to the characters and audience. At first glance, Kojima may offer a more sympathetic portrayal than Kubrick, but it’s also arguable that Kubrick treated the child sniper with more respect because, for some things, there are no words beyond insensitive utterances.
The Sniper Wolf death scene begins as Solid Snake approaches her as she is lying supine in the snow.
Wolf: I… I’ve… waited for this moment… I am a sniper. Waiting is my job…
Wolf, perhaps, does not want Snake’s pity because she’s used to waiting. She reminds us that waiting is her job as a sniper. Maybe we’re supposed to believe Wolf’s waiting and killing was strictly professional. But then Wolf overindulges in some of the details of waiting to kill:
Wolf: Never moving a muscle… concentrating…
And then Wolf coughs up blood. The gravity of her situation interrupts her.
Wolf : I am lung-shot. Y… you cannot save me. Please… just finish me quick.
Out of nowhere, as if in a bid to establish a narrative theme that ham-fistedly interrupts the flow of dialogue, Wolf says:
Wolf: I am a Kurd. I have always dreamed of a peaceful place like
Snake: A Kurd? So that’s why you’re called Wolf…
Snake is intuiting that Wolf’s codename is Wolf because the Turkish word for “Kurd”—Kürt—is similar to the Turkish word for “wolf”—kurt. Maybe Turkish is one of the six languages Snake purportedly knows. This part of the exchange relies entirely on wordplay—the Turkish word for “Kurd” is an umlaut away from the word for “wolf” in the same language. As soon as Snake makes the Turkish Kurd-wolf pun, Wolf inexplicably breaks into a monologue about the traumatic events of her childhood.
Wolf: I was born on a battlefield. Raised on a battlefield. Gunfire,
sirens and screams… they were my lullabies… Hunted like dogs
day after day… driven from our ragged shelters… That… was my
life. Each morning, I’d wake up… and find a few more of my
family or friends dead beside me. I’d stare at the morning sun…
and pray to make it through the day. The governments of the world
turned a blind eye to our misery.
Without this impromptu monologue, Wolf would be an even flatter character whose motivations would seem limited to eroticized bloodlust rather than a traumatic childhood rife with horrific circumstances. Atrocities are frequently cherrypicked to elevate two-dimensional characters. Wars and genocides and atrocities in general are treated as flavor text and dots to connect in Metal Gear’s vast web of references.
The dialogue between Wolf and Snake doesn’t flow naturally because one may get the feeling that the characters are speaking for the benefit of someone other than themselves. It’s as if many characters in these kinds of games are led by almost unfathomable impetuses behind the scenes, taking cues from ghosts telling them it’s time to turn the script in an easy direction.
Are we meant to be informed of the genocide of the Kurdish people at the hands of Iraqi troops under the command of Ali Hassan al-Majid and the Ba’athist regime? The reference is so vague that players will have to further research the subject themselves if they’re to learn anything substantial about it.
Wolf: But then… he appeared. My hero… Saladin… he took me away from all that…
Apparently a dying Kurdish woman would conflate anyone with historical Kurdish figures just to characterize herself as very Kurdish before her death.
Saladin, Egypt and Syria’s first Sultan, was immensely influential and led a number of successful military conquests in neighboring countries. Saladin was also reputed for his kindness and generosity, even among his enemies. Just like Big Boss, Kojima must have thought (well, in Japanese).
Snake: Saladin? …You mean Big Boss?
Wolf: I became a sniper… hidden, watching everything through a
rifle’s scope. Now I could see war, not from the inside, but from
the outside, …as an observer…
Wolf was hidden and watching. Not an active participant in war, but an observer.
Wolf: I watched the brutality… the stupidity of mankind through the scope of my rifle. I joined this group of revolutionaries… to take my revenge on the world. But… I have shamed myself and my people. I am no longer the wolf I was born to be… In the name of vengeance, I sold my body and my soul. Now…I am nothing more than a dog.
Similar to Chris Goldwin from Policenauts, Wolf confesses that she completely sold herself, body and all, in the hopes of achieving ulterior motives. Both female characters are on the brink of death as they confess of having no esteem for themselves.
Wolf: I finally understand. I wasn’t waiting to kill people… I was
waiting for someone to kill me. A man like you… You’re a hero.
Please… set me free.
Wolf was always waiting for a man to end her waiting for a man, just like The Boss in Metal Gear Solid 3.
But Snake’s killing shot is halted by Otacon’s cries of despair. “I loved you,” Otacon says. Rather than notice Otacon, though, Wolf sees with fading vision something more important to her—her sniper rifle. “My gun,” Wolf croaks as she extends her arm. “She’s a part of me.”
Certainly more than Otacon is.
Wolf is never seen acknowledging or reciprocating the love Otacon expresses for her, but she doesn’t deny it either. Gotta keep it ambiguous so you won’t ruin any fan fantasies. As it’s depicted, Otacon is possibly suffering from Stockholm syndrome, though it’s notable he doesn’t develop this affinity for any other FOXHOUND members. For building Otacon’s character, Wolf serves a different purpose, much like the purpose Natasha Markova first served in Metal Gear 2: Solid Snake. Female characters die to further characterize and develop the male characters.
This also repeats a lingering, troubling theme throughout the Metal Gear Solid games: only death can free those who suffer because they have been altered by war. Gray Fox spells it out to Snake at one point that he is a prisoner of Death, and only Snake can free him. These themes carry over into Metal Gear Solid 4 with the Beauty & Beast unit. Mental trauma is cured by killing the patient.
After Otacon hands Sniper Wolf her rifle, he and Snake and several wolves loom over her. This scene resembles the penultimate scene in Full Metal Jacket, wherein the protagonist, Joker, shoots the already dying female child sniper. The shape of Otacon’s glasses are even meant to resemble Joker’s glasses specifically for this reference. It’s important that we know Kojima likes movies a lot.
Otacon says his last goodbye as he turns and hides from the horror. And then Snake shoots Wolf in the face. Like Gillian shoots Lisa in Snatcher. Like Solidus shoots Olga in Metal Gear Solid 2.
Sniper Wolf falls in love with her assigned targets before she kills them and conflates love with violence and death. Her most vivid memories of her loved ones, after all, are her waking up to their corpses. Wolf also says this evocative line to Snake: “I’m going to send you a love letter, my dear. Do you know what that is? It’s a bullet, straight from my gun, to your heart.”
This is a line taken in part from David Lynch’s 1986 film Blue Velvet. The original line is spoken by actor Dennis Hopper playing a character who, like Sniper Wolf, has a drug addiction and can only achieve peak sexual arousal through unorthodox and violent means.
Sniper Wolf’s death and subsequent monologue would be poignant to me if it had the effect of making videogame players care about child soldiers and the genocide of the Kurdish people. Instead, the incident is given two or three sentences of treatment at most. I find it flagrantly manipulative, as the end result of Sniper Wolf’s death and mention of real-life atrocities is fans mythologizing and elevating Metal Gear Solid. The game doesn’t inspire any activism other than worship of itself, military heroism and pseudo-intellectualism. Too many videogames entomb player’s minds in the foundations of a videogame’s evangelism instead of lifting them higher. In this field of compulsive worship, I’m happy to be an iconoclast.
The sexist objectification of Metal Gear Solid’s female cast is perhaps most readily apparent in its 1999 Japanese re-release, titled Metal Gear Solid: Integral. This release added many new features, the most prominent being a third disc containing around three hundred virtual reality missions. This third disc was released separately in the U.S. and Europe with the respective subtitles VR Missions and Special Missions.
One of the many VR missions involves a “photoshoot” mission, wherein the player is given a camera and has three different scenario choices on how to take pictures of relatively high-detail models of Mei Ling and Naomi. These scenario choices are: Mei Ling standing, Naomi sitting at a computer, or Naomi standing. If the player fulfills certain criteria, they are rewarded with the ability to move closer to Mei Ling or Naomi until either of them are within arm’s reach. There is always a final barrier preventing the player from ever “touching” the Naomi and Mei Ling models with their Solid Snake avatar.
This photo session provides further evidence that Metal Gear Solid’s camera lingering on female characters’ bodies and the opportunities to view Meryl in her panties were not thoughtless accidents. The developers conceived of and specifically implemented an opportunity for players to partake of a photo session and become the camera itself. The objectification is depicted as entertaining and in accordance with typical videogame standards: Mei Ling and Naomi are presented as ineffectual dolls for the player, as voyeur, to behold. This is part of the underlying mindset regarding representation of women in more than a few videogames, which is that they are objects meant to sexually gratify players. The developers don’t want their audience to sit down with Naomi and Mei Ling and talk to them or interact with them at all; they are to be ogled. Voyeurism is almost always the theme whenever players are given space for expression around Mei Ling and Naomi, as if it is where players’ interests in them are meant to begin and end.
Such objectification is evident in Meryl wearing a form-hugging tank top with her nipples outlined. Sniper Wolf’s cleavage is also prominently exposed until the latter half of the game. I have no problem with them wearing these clothes, but bearing in mind the context of the setting, it makes no sense, because they’re both in freezing Alaskan weather. Eventually Wolf and Meryl can wear more sensible clothing, but it’s at the oddest time, and always close to their final appearances in the game.
When Snake is knocked unconscious and dragged through the compound and then thrown in a jail cell, he eventually catches a cold because he’s shirtless. It is unknown how much time has passed, but it could not have been more than a couple hours. Initially, Snake is better-dressed for the weather than Meryl and Sniper Wolf, wearing a poly-thermal suit that allows him to swim in sub-zero water. He is even injected with an “anti-freezing peptide” to protect him from the cold weather. Johnny Sasaki may be injected with an anti-freezing peptide since the rest of the Genome Soldiers were (though, maybe not, as in Metal Gear Solid 4 Johnny says he hates needles). Like Snake, Johnny is stripped of his clothing, and later catches a cold when he’s knocked unconscious. He blames Meryl for his catching cold and calls her a “witch”.
When Meryl is unconscious, she never catches a cold. Neither does such cold-catching befall Sniper Wolf as she walks through the compound, indoors or outdoors, wearing a thin, unbuttoned jumpsuit with long boots. It’s only in the final area wherein Snake encounters Wolf when she finally dresses for the weather, as if the more limited draw distance and the fact Snake’s rations can freeze changes anything significant about the climate in comparison to other outdoor areas of Shadow Moses.
Male characters like Psycho Mantis, Revolver Ocelot, and Liquid Snake are seen wearing trench coats. When Ocelot removes his trenchcoat, he’s still wearing long sleeves, gloves and a vest. When Mantis removes his trenchcoat indoors for his fight with Snake, it’s in a well-furnished, possibly heated military commander’s room. As Snake says in Metal Gear Solid 2: “A warm, dry office with hot coffee on tap.”
Liquid removes his trenchcoat for his final confrontation with Snake. He bares his torso, and it’s depicted as empowering. And, after all, wouldn’t it be hard to animate his legs through that long trenchcoat during the final action scenes?
Otacon wears a coat. Kenneth Baker wears a coat. Decoy Octopus and the DARPA chief wear long-sleeved shirts, and Octopus wears a trenchcoat in the official Shinkawa art. The only exception is Vulcan Raven, a racial stereotype obviously lifted from the pages of Neal Stephenson’s novel Snow Crash. Since he’s Native Alaskan, apparently it somehow makes sense for Raven to be conditioned to endure the cold without clothing. Is he an expert scouter, too?
Without these special powers, Meryl and Sniper Wolf remain underdressed for the weather for reasons unknown.
After Snake destroys Metal Gear REX and saves Meryl, she tells Snake, “It’s freezing outside. You need some clothes.”
The Problem of Meryl
Allegedly, Meryl was originally envisioned by character designer Yoji Shinkawa to be twelve years old. He came to this idea upon seeing Natalie Portman’s character Matilda in the film Léon: The Professional. Shinkawa is recorded as saying the reason Meryl was made older was because he read in the game script she would be handling a Desert Eagle pistol, which was considered too big for a twelve-year-old. That is, more concern was expressed over the believability of gun minutiae than the portrayal of a twelve-year-old girl.
Meryl is captured and locked in a cell at the game’s outset, but like Natasha Markova, she takes the initiative and escapes her cell. Meryl then disarms Johnny Sasaki, an inept guard who is almost constantly wracked with stomach pains and diarrhea. Johnny appears in the sequel, Metal Gear Solid 2, and says to Emma, Otacon’s sister: “Stay away from good-looking women while you’re fighting. Otherwise you’ll get hit with diarrhea.” Johnny says it’s one of the few things he learned from the incident at Shadow Moses island in the first Metal Gear Solid. He says this right before another bowel disturbance renders him incapable of his duties. This scene retroactively characterizes Meryl’s overpowering of the already-inept Johnny as partly due to her beauty, not just her ability.
In the Metal Gear Solid universe, it is repeatedly emphasized that a woman’s beauty can cause a man harm without her lifting a finger.
When Meryl escapes her cell, she flanks Snake and holds him at gunpoint like Holly White does. Snake taunts her to shoot him like Roy Campbell will later taunt Meryl at her wedding. Snake can tell Meryl will not shoot him, he says, by looking into her eyes, which apparently betray her lack of confidence and experience. Soon three soldiers pile into the room, ready to open fire. Snake shouts at Meryl to shoot them, but she balks at the thought of killing. She remains in shock until Snake kills the three soldiers. After they’re dead, Snake again shouts at Meryl to shoot, causing her to open fire on another group of soldiers who have just run into the room. Meryl screams in shock as she sprays bullets until her gun clicks dry, and then she reloads. Meryl dashes for the open elevator with Snake running to a stop behind her, yelling for her to wait. The camera zooms in on Meryl’s butt moving side-to-side as she runs, implying Snake may be more interested in the hypnotic sway of her butt than her right then.
Under the apparent psychic suggestion of Psycho Mantis, Meryl suddenly halts, pivoting and then firing her gun at Snake until the elevator door closes. “Good girl,” Mantis says as he appears, “just like that….” This is not the last time Meryl follows a man’s orders and the words “good girl” are then said.
When Snake calls Meryl, she apologizes for how she behaved toward Snake, saying, “I wasn’t sure you were one of the good guys.” Snake says he knew Meryl was, though, because of her eyes. “They’re rookie’s eyes, right?” Meryl asks. “No,” Snake says, “they’re beautiful, compassionate eyes.” “Just what I’d expect from the legendary Solid Snake,” Meryl says, smiling. “You trying to sweep me off my feet?” Snake says the reality is no match for the legend, and that Meryl wouldn’t like him in-person, even though Meryl’s met him already. Either way, Meryl says she doesn’t believe that Snake won’t sweep her off of her feet.
Meryl takes some time opening the cargo door for the tank hangar after Snake calls and asks her to. If the player calls her before she is done, she tells Snake to stop being so impatient. (Remember what Naomi said about women having more patience than men!) But once Meryl opens the hangar door, she tells Snake she is heading through the door ahead of him.
“Okay, so we’ll meet at the Nuclear Warhead Storage Building.”
“Wait! You said you’d stay put and be a good girl!” Snake growls.
Be passive and wait for men of action!
“Don’t get careless,” Snake says, “That’s when things always turn sour.”
(Meryl does get careless before she is finally shot, too; she walks an unnecessarily circuitous route through a minefield and then watches as a red dot from a rifle’s laser sight plays across her body.)
“These guys are professionals. You’re gonna get yourself killed!” Snake raises his voice in a final warning. And Snake’s right: without his strength and consent, Meryl will be killed.
So it turns out Meryl disobeys Snake and leaves the tank hangar because there is no choice, really; she needs to be near the women’s bathroom to fulfill Natasha Markova’s role from Metal Gear 2. Meryl changing her mind is something that needs to happen, but we need a plausible reason for her to do it. So Meryl says: “Sorry, but this is the only way I can figure out whether or not I’m cut out to be a soldier. I gotta get my hands dirty.”
Throughout Metal Gear Solid, Meryl repeatedly takes the lead and runs ahead of Snake, trying to impress him and “get her hands dirty”. (Probably because clean hands are not manly and thus not impressive to Snake.)
Be prepared to get dirty, woman.
Snake never tells Meryl she is a strong woman, never praises her until he’s holding her and she’s explaining the traumatic torture she went through. Indeed, for Meryl to be a true soldier, a true man, she has to toughen herself up by enduring physical, mental, emotional and possibly sexual abuse. She’s gotta get her hands dirty and prove her masculinity to be a strong woman. Anything feminine is weakness in this world.
When Snake hits on Meryl when he first calls her, Meryl reacts in a way similar to Mei Ling and Naomi. Instead of expressing disbelief, Meryl expects his come-ons, but in her case it’s because she’s heard stories of Snake’s apparently lecherous ways from Roy Campbell. Both Mei Ling and Meryl refer to Snake as “the legendary Solid Snake”, and while Meryl doesn’t get as giddy about Snake hitting on her as Mei Ling seems to, Meryl is still attracted to Snake and looks up to him as a soldier, and definitely not in a way that is strictly professional.
Kojima’s camera certainly isn’t strictly professional either. In a butt-focused flashback, Snake asks Otacon what Meryl looked like after he reaches the Nuclear Warhead Storage Building. The camera stays close to and level with Meryl’s waist as her butt sways and Otacon says: “She was wearing the same green uniform as the terrorists. She had such a cute way of walking. She kind of wiggles her behind.”
“You were really looking,” Snake says.
“Well,” Otacon confesses, “she’s got a very cute behind.”
The dialogue in the above scene was mostly edited out of the rerelease, titled The Twin Snakes. Embarrassing writing, you see.
The next segment of the game has the player, as Snake, looking at guards’ butts and listening for the swish-swish sound of Meryl wiggling her butt in an enemy disguise. Even if Meryl tries to fit in with men, her femininity bleeds through everything, and in sexual, butt-shaking ways. She’s just too much of a woman, Snake and the game tell us. No matter what clothes you put on, we are told, your carriage with surely reveal your true gender.
“There’s only one way we can be sure she’s by herself,” Otacon says of Meryl.
Snake, who met Natasha in a bathroom in a very similar situation in Metal Gear 2, doesn’t seem to understand what Otacon means.
“Don’t be so dense…,” Otacon says.
Otacon later elaborates to Snake: “Even dressed like that, she’s all woman. You see? Isn’t there somewhere only a woman can go?”
Otacon is referring to the fact that a female character cannot enter the men’s bathroom due to some unalterable faculty governing her female brain. Why was it deemed important that money is allocated into a multi-million-dollar game to express that. Why was it important that, in a game about stopping terrorists from launching nukes, you’re told to stare at a woman’s ass to progress?
Eventually, Snake locates Meryl, and for some inexplicable reason, Meryl runs away from him and directly into the women’s bathroom, as if that’s her only safe zone in a game of tag. Though it’s Snake’s mission to go into the women’s bathroom after Meryl, the female members of Snake’s Codec support team chastise him. Mei Ling in particular isn’t happy, saying, “Snake, that’s a ladies’ bathroom!”
“I know that,” Snake replies, “I saw Meryl come in here.”
“So you went in after her!? Are you some kind of pervert!? I won’t let you save your mission now!”
“Listen Mei Ling, this is the only place on this base that I can talk to Meryl alone!”
“Whatever, weirdo!” she says, “Don’t call me again!”
It’s indicative of the cliché, fan-serving contrivances one sees in juvenile media wherein a male character inadvertently crosses personal boundaries in ways such as glimpsing a female character’s underwear. It’s an attempt to sexually gratify an audience and give them their chuckles at the expense of the dignity of the female characters. The violated female character usually cries out something like, “Pervert!” and punishes the male character in some way. Sometimes the entire goal of such scenes is for a female character’s privacy to be violated. In this case, however, Mei Ling is overreacting on an issue wherein Snake and the player literally have no choice if they want to save the game world.
Why is Mei Ling upset about Snake being in the women’s bathroom when Meryl is unable to extricate herself elsewhere due to her being a woman? Why is Mei Ling jumping to conclusions and saying she’ll never help him again?
Mei Ling is a teenage student who was hired by the United States government to help Snake stop a terrorist nuclear threat. It’s doubtful the serious-minded professionals around her would let her stay onboard if she threw a tantrum and she refused to help Snake (though she will later wordlessly help anyway) because he walked into a women’s restroom.
And even Nastasha Romanenko can’t escape the gender shackles placed on her: “Snake,” she says if he calls her, “that is a women’s bathroom. You should not be in there!”
If Snake calls Campbell, Miller, or Otacon—all of them male characters—not one of them admonishes Snake for being in the bathroom.
There is a chance to catch Meryl in her underwear if the player is quick to chase Meryl into the women’s bathroom. Meryl, without adequate time to put her pants on, will sneak up behind Snake in her tank top and panties. This is one of the in-game opportunities to see Meryl in her panties which make the player complicit in an act of stalking and voyeurism. Each instance of catching Meryl in her underwear requires a different, troubling approach, and there is no admonishment.
The first opportunity to catch Meryl without pants is near the beginning of the game, when Snake is crawling through ventilation ducts. As though viewing her through the opening of an oubliette, the player can observe Meryl doing various exercises and then exit the ventilation duct back the way they came. The players can then return to spy on her. The significance of this is that exiting and reentering the vent seems to make time pass, and Meryl moves on to another exercise so the player’s ogling is entertained by Meryl’s varying exercise positions. As her workout gets more prolonged and intense, Meryl removes her pants. Eventually, Meryl’s regular character model will be switched for a model wearing only a tank top and panties. This aspect of the game is pure voyeurism placed in the game to sexually objectify Meryl at the player’s leisure. It seems to have been considered that some players would want to halt their progress through the game, lingering and coming back later to check on Meryl, waiting for a chance to see something sexually gratifying. And even though Campbell and a radio team full of women are supposedly watching Snake, no one says a word about the player’s actions.
Back in the bathroom, depending on how fast the player was in following Meryl, she may or may not be wearing pants as the camera slowly pans up over her body. “There’s no way you could pass for a man for long,” Snake says of Meryl. She seems oblivious to what Snake means. Snake means she’s so much of a woman that it is a preposterous idea that she can hide her femininity by dressing in the same uniform as her male colleagues.
I wonder what pearls of wisdom Snake would have to offer a trans man.
“I had no idea you were so feminine,” Snake says, meaning, just maybe, that Meryl’s femininity changes the way he thinks about her.
“This is no time to try and hit on me, Snake,” Meryl says. “Besides, it’s a waste of time. When I joined up, they gave me psychotherapy to destroy my interest in men.”
It makes me wonder if all women who do not readily welcome Snake’s advances have “smart mouths”, too.
Meryl says she has no interest in men due to psychotherapy in response to Snake’s flirtations imply that Snake’s attempts are futile not because of her own volition or mental integrity, but because she was brainwashed. Meryl’s attraction to men wasn’t a personal problem that needed taming or compartmentalization; it was an aspect of her that needed to be, in Meryl’s own words, destroyed.
Johnny Sasaki is part of the same unit that undergoes virtual-reality combat training as Meryl; the difference is she was imprisoned for refusing to join the uprising. It’s possible to see Johnny fully clothed and sitting on the toilet in the same ventilation duct where the player can also leer at Meryl in her panties. We know what Johnny is thinking about Meryl because he says it: “Boy-oh-boy, that woman is built all right.” Where is Johnny Sasaki’s psychotherapy?
In the GameCube remake, soldiers will stop to look at magazines that primarily feature eroticized women. Where is their psychotherapy? Why are images of women’s bodies weaponized and able to rob men of their faculties?
This says that sexual desire is an aberration, something in women and men specifically that needs quashing in order for humans to function reasonably at all. Yet, apparently no one can snuff their faculty-stealing sexuality despite the military’s brainwashing treatments to destroy any attraction people have for one another. Apparently, this only worked for Meryl until Mantis took over her mind.
Snake points out the handgun Meryl is carrying on her hip. “Where’d you get that Desert Eagle?” he asks.
“I found it in the armory,” Meryl says, holding it up like a prize. “It’s a fifty-caliber Action Express.”
Snake regards his own handgun with disappointment as he says, “So I got a leftover, huh.” And then, completely unprovoked, Snake says, “Isn’t that gun a little big for a girl?” Snake then holds out his pistol to her, saying, “C’mon, use my forty-five.”
The boy wants his toy and will make a woman feel as though her gender denies her rights to what he wants.
“I’ve used a gun like this since I was eight years old,” Meryl says, holding up her Desert Eagle. “I’m more comfortable with it than I am with a bra.” Meryl then pulls a fresh clip from her cleavage and needlessly reloads the Desert Eagle to show Snake how professional she is.
Meryl has military training, but in this game, she’s on her first real mission. Snake doesn’t reference Meryl’s lack of experience when questioning her ability to hand a large-caliber handgun; he references her gender specifically. This is blatantly sexist.
This is similar to an instance in the revised version of Metal Gear 2, wherein Holly White hands Snake a Beretta M92F, a low-recoil nine-millimeter pistol she stole from a soldier. Out of nowhere, when Snake takes the pistol from Holly, he says, “Yeah…I can see how it’d be hard for a woman to use. Thanks.” Snake is consistently saying: Women aren’t as capable as men.
Are we supposed to think that Snake’s line—“Isn’t that gun a little big for a girl?”—is a callback to Metal Gear 2? It is not. Most players outside of Japan have played the PlayStation 2 rerelease of Metal Gear 2, just as they were meant to do. And with enough time, namely sixteen years, people tend to forget. In the original version of Metal Gear 2, Snake just takes Holly’s pistol and thanks her.
In the rerelease of Metal Gear 2, sexism is added where there was none before. Yes, it seems someone requested that Snake’s sexist remarks to Meryl about women handling guns be added to Snake’s dialogue with Holly in the PlayStation 2 re-release of Metal Gear 2: Solid Snake. Why? Because the sexist remark is a formative element of Solid Snake’s character and sexism itself is integral to the Metal Gear series. Formal elements supersede everything in the game’s hierarchy, thus the game’s events can seem forced and unearned as they repeat the past. Some believe recalling formative elements for their own sake and continuing to reinforce them is a part of good storytelling, but what is most telling of Hideo Kojima’s writing in this regard is that he considers some of the more gauche elements of his writing to be emblematic of what makes a Kojima game a Kojima game.
Kojima and company are trying to disguise the sexism as a formal element in-keeping with the events of earlier games, but they also try to cover up the transparent sexism in Snake telling Meryl that guns were too big for girls in Metal Gear Solid.
Meryl responds to Snake’s sexism regarding women and guns with the revelation that she’s not like other women. Why? Because she doesn’t like bras as much as she likes guns!
“I’ve used a gun like this since I was eight years old,” Meryl says, “I’m more comfortable with it than I am with a bra.”
Meryl asserts herself as a strong female character by rejecting feminine traits, as if the fact women tend to wear girly things like bras could correlate to or interfere with their ability to handle manly things like firearms. Meryl also, for some reason, feels the need to mention she did not use bras when she was eight.
Meryl eschews bras and adopts the Desert Eagle handgun. Snake saying the Desert Eagle handgun is “big for a girl” makes it a masculine symbol within the game. Not to mention that the masculine is frequently symbolized with guns.
Snake asks Meryl why she removed her enemy uniform and why she is only in a tank top and panties. “I got tired of disguising myself,” Meryl replies. Could this be it? Could she be denouncing disguises? Nope.
“The truth is,” Meryl confesses, “the uniform smelled like blood.” Female characters are usually squeamish about and cannot tolerate things like blood.
“Anyway, how did you recognize me in disguise?” Meryl asks.
“I never forget a lady,” Snake says.
Snake is not saying he never forgets women because he cares about them as people. He is talking about women’s bodies.
“So, there’s something you like about me, huh?” Meryl bends down to lean her assault rifle against a nearby stall.
Snake’s gaze follows her as he says, “Yeah, you’ve got a great butt.”
Meryl retrieves two card keys from the seemingly bottomless depths of her breast cleavage and hands them to Snake.
Earlier Snake said to Meryl about the card keys: “Amazing you were able to keep ’em hidden from the guard.”
“Well,” Meryl explains with a smile, “women have more hiding places than men.”
Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes teaches us that Meryl is referring to her vagina.
Meryl is saying: “Women are better at deception than men, and we use our bodies to do it.” She’s also saying that women’s bodies are built for deception, just like Skullface from Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes. Why do two completely different characters from Hideo Kojima games developed over a decade apart share this sentiment? Meryl endorses the women’s-bodies-as-deceptive-places nonsense just as Skullface does.
Meryl begs Snake to take her with him and he refuses, reminding her of her lack of battle experience. Meryl promises she won’t slow Snake down, and if she does, he can shoot her. Snake lets her know his bullets would be wasted on her. Meryl then goes into a completely off-topic monologue as she peers into the bathroom mirror next to her. Snake watches her from behind.
“Y’know, 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.” Curious, misogynistic words, immediately followed up with, “I always dreamed of becoming a soldier.”
There is no reason for Meryl to turn her attention away from the world-saving mission discussion and look at the mirror and say she doesn’t preen like other, contemptible women. The poor transition here betrays the fact that the game’s sexism is showing itself as words are put in Meryl’s mouth.
Meryl as a child, looking into her own idealized mirror, her mind’s eye, fancying herself a soldier when she grows up. Mirrors have been used in numerous artworks as symbols of vanity, particularly women’s vanity, and have been used to blame women and demonize them by portraying them as seeking out beauty in an attempt to allure men. Meryl is standing between two things that define one aspect of women according to this game: a mirror and a man. Meryl despises women who look at themselves in the mirror and imagine how others would see them. Any woman who cares enough about her hygiene and personal appearance to look at herself and alter her appearance to fit in socially falls under the umbrella of Meryl’s contempt.
From Hideo Kojima’s Snatcher.
As a result of Meryl’s monologue, mirrors are a symbol of women’s beauty and vanity within Metal Gear Solid, and are intact when they are seen inside the women’s bathroom. If players should venture into the men’s bathroom, the mirrors are, unsurprisingly, shattered.
Meryl doesn’t want to be associated with the vain beauty of femininity; instead, Meryl dreams of becoming a soldier, something seen as more manly. Starting with her alter-ego in Policenauts, Meryl Silverburgh has consistently been written as struggling with gender expression and, to some extent, gender identity. She is portrayed as a woman obsessed with the masculine, though her femininity is apparently so undeniable that a male character usually feels obligated to tease her for it.
Meryl tries to cast aside her femininity, not doing the things “other women do”, as if to overcome how male characters discriminate her based on her appearance, though she never succeeds. Meryl’s femininity accentuates everything she does. Whether she’s in a guard’s uniform or not, she’s easily distinguishable from men due to her womanhood. According to Snake and Otacon, she wiggles her butt a bit too well to hang with the boys.
Between the events of meeting Meryl in the bathroom and fighting Psycho Mantis, when the player is given control of Snake, they can stare at Meryl for as long as they want. Metal Gear Solid’s development team made it so the skin texture on Meryl’s character model turns a deeper and deeper shade of red the more the player stares at her in first-person view. The deepening of the red hue of her skin is indicative of blushing. “Don’t stare at me like that,” Meryl says, reminding Snake of their mission, but never forcing Snake to stop. The blushing means Meryl likes Snake staring at her interminably despite her telling him to stop. No does not mean no. Meryl may despise women who look at themselves in mirrors and put on makeup so men can stare at them, but she secretly wants Snake to stare at her. I thought Mantis’ mind-dive had removed Meryl’s filter for her overflowing sexual desire for Snake.
Somehow Psycho Mantis gains control of Meryl’s mind, as if her mind is weaker than Snake’s by some intrinsic rule. (That rule is that Snake is controlled by the player, but it’s a sad excuse for what comes next.)
Mantis uses Meryl like she’s some sort of sex puppet. Controlling Meryl, he makes her hold her Desert Eagle like a phallic object, waving it between her legs and then raising it above her head like she’s pole-dancing as she asks Snake, “Do you like me? Hold me, Snake!” Snake backs away. Meryl points the pistol at him, shouting, “Hurry, hurry! Make love to me!”
“You don’t like girls?” Psycho Mantis shouts, flummoxed that using Meryl as a sexual weapon isn’t enough to entice Snake. Maybe Mantis can read Snake’s mind and can see that he’s more interested in Otacon. Hey, maybe.
Using his powers, Mantis forces Meryl to point the pistol at her head. Snake then subdues Meryl, rendering her unconscious. As Meryl lies motionless on the floor, Mantis looks upon Meryl with scorn, shouting, “Useless woman!” This mirrors a later scene wherein Meryl lies unconscious, and Liquid looks at her and says, “Stupid woman.”
Once Snake defeats Mantis, Mantis reveals Meryl is indeed hiding love for Snake. “I read her mind as well,” Mantis tells Snake, “I saw you there… You have a large place in her heart.” After Mantis says this, Meryl rests her hand on Snake’s shoulder.
It’s possible to physically injure and kill Meryl, even outside of the Psycho Mantis fight. Such actions are condemned by Snake’s radio team and if Meryl lives through the abuse she will slap Snake. This reduces Snake’s life meter and if the player has Meryl hit them enough times, Snake will die. On the game-over screen, Meryl will then mourn Snake’s death.
If the player hurts Meryl and then hides in a cardboard box when she is in the cave surrounded by wolf-dogs, Meryl will, inexplicably, whistle for a wolf-dog to urinate on Snake. Somehow she trained the dog to pee on people in an exceptionally short amount of time.
Punching Meryl and then hiding makes Snake safe from harm in this cave area if he hides in the same box again.
This may seem like a condemnation of Snake’s actions but, as Nastasha Romanenko the Smoking Info Dump says, cardboard is very absorbent .
Wearing the same urine-soaked cardboard box afterward keeps the wolf-dogs from attacking Snake, and they will even like him no matter what he’s done to them because he smells like their urine. So in this case, abusing Meryl leads to something that is mechanically beneficial—a secreted reward, in a sense. Hurting Meryl in this specific way makes a part of the game a safe zone where exaggerated cartoon hearts appear above wolf-dogs’ heads. With that added detail, the event seems intended to be humorous and quite helpful, not a shameful punishment for carelessly harming a female friend and hiding from the consequences.
Tiptoeing through a minefield, Meryl draws a circuitous route through the mines and turns to Snake for approval.
The locations of the mines were given to Meryl by Psycho Mantis via a telepathic link, so, really, she’s asking Snake if he’s impressed that she was able to follow the directions another man gave her. Meryl even pointlessly endangered her life to impress Snake, as the player can simply crawl over the mines to retrieve them or run a straight line north through the minefield in order to trigger the next cutscene. The player is given license to undermine Meryl’s dangerous attempt to carve a path through the minefield—not to mention that following Meryl’s directions is actually the most difficult option.
Meryl’s need for Snake’s approval is one of the main motives of her character, eventually becoming her raison d’être.
Meryl is then shot, but not killed, by Sniper Wolf. Wolf wants to use Meryl as bait to lure Snake out, the one whom Wolf really desires. Sniper Wolf even shoots the paint tattoo on Meryl’s arm, done in homage to the old FOXHOUND, which Meryl revered. Meryl’s illusions of the glory, or rather, the beauty of being a soldier are shattered by an actual female member of FOXHOUND. Meryl’s monologue as she lies helpless and bleeding from gunshot wounds is a continuation of what she said in front of the bathroom mirror and Snake. This monologue is also accompanied by the same music. “I was a fool,” Meryl says, sobbing. “I wanted to be a soldier. But war is ugly. There’s nothing glamorous about it.”
Meryl reviles the concept of women vying for beauty, but to be desirable, she looked for beauty elsewhere. Meryl could only think this way because to be a woman, apparently, is to see things in terms of beauty. The beauty of being a soldier, the beauty of being in a war.
Publicity made Solid Snake a legend, and with that came the glamor in which Meryl became so engrossed. She found her beauty. Meryl got in the way of Wolf’s obsession, namely Solid Snake, and she was shot by her for it.
Despite her seeing beauty in war through glorious personal exploits, enjoying war in any form is something Meryl criticizes Snake for: “Seeing other people die makes you feel alive, huh? You love war and you don’t want it to stop. Is it the same with all great soldiers throughout history?” Yet Meryl practically deifies outfits like FOXHOUND. The fantastical stories told to her by Campbell about his and Solid Snake’s wartime exploits certainly cause her to see war as glamorous—that is, until war’s mercilessly harsh realities befall her. Solid Snake’s status as a legend in warfare is something enviable, something Meryl strives to manipulate into a beauty crutch to prop up her ego. Meryl says to Snake in Metal Gear Solid 4: “Look, our ways of thinking might be different, but to me, you’re still a legend. A hero. I know about all the things you did when you were young. It was what kept me going.”
In order to empower herself to overcome her hardships, Meryl looked to a man’s idealized accomplishments from the past to fuel her imagination for her own future.
By the end of Metal Gear Solid, Meryl seems to have denounced soldiering. What a turnaround she makes in Metal Gear Solid 4, though, when she is seen glamorously making out with Johnny Sasaki while they kill woman after woman in a slow-motion shootout. The shootout is blatantly intended to be humorous. Never before in the Metal Gear series have soldiers’ deaths been canonically treated as detritus, as stepping stones toward an attempt at humor. Never before, that is, until these exclusively female characters in Metal Gear Solid 4 were being murdered by the dozen.
“I want a real wedding, with flowers and a cake,” Meryl says as she straddles Johnny and rolls around, having assisted in the murder of two dozen women in five minutes. “It’s been my dream since I was a little girl.”
They do marry, and Meryl, wearing makeup, is gazing into a mirror before the wedding ceremony. Mei Ling tells Meryl she looks amazing as she helps with the preening. Campbell, the specter and overseer of her life and the teller of all those beautiful war stories, manifests from behind Meryl in the mirror, as if on cue. Meryl is again juxtaposed between a mirror and a man. She points her Desert Eagle at Campbell (as he turns to leave, of course), but it’s a half-hearted action. Campbell accepts Meryl’s judgment when it is obvious she will not shoot, and grabs the barrel of the gun and points it under his chin so he can look like a manly man. Meryl gives Campbell the gun, and Campbell gives her a bouquet of flowers in a symbolic gesture, telling her she’s looks beautiful. The gun is a symbol of masculinity, and the flowers are a symbol of beauty and therefore femininity, apparently. Mei Ling cries over the sheer pulchritude of the moment as Meryl finally accepts her gender role.
Back to Metal Gear Solid: After Meryl is shot and taken prisoner, her father-masquerading-as-uncle, Roy Campbell, tells Snake of Meryl: “She’s a soldier. She knows that prisoners are a part of war. She joined up of her own free will. I’m sure she was prepared for this.” Snake immediately disagrees with Campbell, saying, “No, you’re wrong. Meryl thought she had to become a soldier, thought it was the only way. She said she thought it would bring her closer to her dead father.”
It is in this conversation between Snake and Campbell that it is confirmed beyond a doubt that Meryl has no agency of her own and that her life has been led by men.
“Are you a soldier yet?” Snake asks Meryl, referring to her dream of becoming one. It wasn’t really her dream, though, Meryl says, but an attempt to be closer to a dead man who she thinks is her father.
“The truth is I was just afraid of looking at myself,” she says while gazing into the bathroom mirror. “Afraid of having to make my own decisions in life. But I’m not going to lie to myself anymore. I want to know who I am, what I’m capable of… I want to know why I’ve lived the way I’ve lived until now.”
This is the way Meryl is written: The three most important men in her life—her father, uncle, and Snake—have influenced her life to the point where she can only be a soldier.
Roy Campbell helps Meryl get a job commanding a military unit in Metal Gear Solid 4, but it turns out she was being monitored and controlled even then.
Of course, as a fictional character, Meryl cannot possibly have free will. So to have Solid Snake outright saying Meryl didn’t even have any free will removes all autonomy from a supposedly strong female character. Meryl’s life has been nearly entirely governed by men.
Liquid lays out what is most of Meryl’s active purpose in the game.
Meryl didn’t even choose to come to Shadow Moses island. Roy Campbell says on two separate occasions of the Shadows Moses incident: “Several soldiers were reported missing the day of the revolt, and my niece was one of those called in as an emergency replacement.” And later, Campbell says, “The truth is FOXHOUND was already the subject of an undercover investigation. Meryl was transferred to this base just before the terrorist attack as a way of manipulating me.”
After Meryl gives Snake the plot-important items she’s carrying in her cleavage, she then only serves to hinder Snake as she volunteers to run ahead of him through a revolving door of abuse at the hands of FOXHOUND members Psycho Mantis, Sniper Wolf, Revolver Ocelot and Liquid Snake. Over the course of the encounter with Psycho Mantis, Snake even has to knock her unconscious by punching her, kicking her, throwing her, choking her, or throwing a stun grenade near her. Sniper Wolf shoots her and leaves her as bleeding bait to lure Snake into a trap. Revolver Ocelot tortures her and possibly is complicit in sexual assault against her. Liquid Snake ties her up, neglects to check on her for several hours after she’s been nearly shot and tortured to death, and then Liquid connects her to a nuclear bomb. Once Meryl becomes unimportant to the plot she becomes a battered damsel-in-distress that needs protection. And to think she began her time as a female videogame character so promisingly, managing to break out of captivity!
“Please believe us and write about it in videogame publications and spread word of this powerful female character (and don’t forget to mention how sexy or ugly you think she is). Please buy the Meryl action figure and cosplay as her.”
Unlike Meryl, who needs to be frequently rescued, Snake has to save Otacon a grand total of one time. Each time after that, Otacon returns to help Snake, giving him useful items while he’s incarcerated, accessing sensitive information vital to the mission’s completion, opening an exit for Snake when a room is filled with toxic gas, bypassing security on automatic doors throughout the compound, and, if Meryl dies, then Otacon pulls Snake out of his depression about Meryl’s death and drives him out of the compound in a jeep. Otacon does most of this while rendered invisible due to “stealth camouflage”, a technology he developed himself. Meryl has no attributes that assist Snake in this way. Yes, Meryl can drive Snake out of the compound, too, but her actions are mirrored by Otacon and are not unique to her character. As a male character used as a stand-in for Meryl later in the game, Otacon is far more integral to the plot. Meryl dying doesn’t render the mission hopeless, but if Otacon had been recaptured or killed, Snake wouldn’t have made it off the island.
We see Meryl lose herself in a monologue about her past, as happens with Natasha Markova, Nastasha Romanenko, Wolf, Emma, Rose, EVA, Fortune, and The Boss. It’s true that male characters do this in the Metal Gear universe, but it’s rarely during a moment of vulnerability with any crying going on (in fact, when Raiden confesses about his traumatic past in Metal Gear Solid 2, Rose cries, not him). Sure, the weepy Otacon is an easy counterexample, but he cries for so many dead women and functions as the sole outlet for male characters expressing tearful sorrow in at least three Metal Gear Solid games.
Meryl cries so Snake can patronize her.
The notion of a female character becoming strong through traumatic abuse has become a disturbing trend in popular media: only by going through traumatic events where physical, mental, and emotional pain is inflicted on a woman can she see any sort of character development. Meryl has her crying monologue where she questions herself in the mirror after she kills some enemy soldiers, and she only realizes how wrong she was about war and being a soldier when she’s sobbing after Sniper Wolf has shot her. Similarly, Meryl imparts another epiphany she received while being nearly tortured to death.
There are two total endings in the game that diverge most dramatically when Snake rushes to Meryl’s side after beating Liquid in a fistfight. One of the endings is where Meryl is found already dead, and the other has Meryl and Snake embrace one another when she awakens. The ending where Meryl dies leads to a scenario I like to describe as: “male character experiences internal conflict and development due to a female character’s death, and thus carries a big blue badge of sorrow pinned to his complex and troubled heart”.
If Meryl is alive near the end of the game, Snake will hold her in his arms and say how terrible it must have been for her to be shot several times, left to bleed for a while, and then taken hostage. Yet, as Meryl explains, she wasn’t given respite after that immense amount of suffering.
“I didn’t give in to the torture,” Meryl tells Snake.
“Torture?” Snake says, practicing his aizuchi.
“And things even worse than that. I was fighting, too. Just like you.”
What could they have done to Meryl that was even worse than torture? Given the circumstances of Meryl’s capture,—that is, being the only woman besides Sniper Wolf on an island filled with sadists and perverts—it’s not hard to imagine what could be worse than torture for a female character in a videogame.
Adding to the repugnance of the implications, after Snake is informed of what sort of hell Meryl’s been through, he lets slip his misogyny once again by telling Meryl: “You’re a strong woman.” Finally, Snake is impressed, and it’s by how much traumatic abuse Meryl endured.
Meryl is not bothered by the implications of what Snake said. Instead, she continues (emphasis is mine): “Fighting them…made me feel closer to you. I felt like you were there with me. It gave me the strength to go on. But I was scared.” Snake then apologizes, and he should, but he’s not apologizing for the right things. She found the strength to persevere horrific abuse by thinking of and feeling close to a man, just as she only became a soldier to feel closer to a dead man (and tried to live out her dreams of fighting with FOXHOUND like a man did).
Yes, go ahead and give Snake credit for absolutely everything.
Meryl again references the torture and the “things even worse than that”, saying: “During all the pain and shame there was one thing I was sure of…a single hope I held on to…and that hope kept me alive. Snake, I wanted to see you again.” Only by holding on to the image of the legendary man she wanted to impress could Meryl ever live through all the “pain and shame”. Finally, the woman seeking validation got it, and all she had to do was get shot up, tortured, and possibly sexually assaulted. Her survival wasn’t due to the strength of her inner will, character, or even the femininity she tries to quash within herself; it was due to her thinking about a man, and if that man values himself more than Meryl, she will die. Even Meryl’s survival of this disturbing abuse, her subsequent character development, and the acceptance she receives from Snake aren’t her own accomplishments. If Meryl did not have Snake to think of seeing again, she would not have survived. The very thought of seeing Snake fills Meryl with life, and without him, she can only die.
How did she survive without Snake in the sequels? Like everything else in the series, Kojima actually stops to answer this with: nanomachines, The Patriots and Johnny Sasaki.
I want to talk about two major themes in Metal Gear Solid: the obvious dangers of nuclear weapons and overcoming circumstances—genetic, traumatic, or otherwise—in order to reach a more fulfilling future. Several characters in Metal Gear Solid represent these two themes, and I will only mention a few female characters here.
Personifying the game’s anti-nuke message is Nastasha Romanenko, whose trauma from the loss of her parents in Chernobyl motivated her to study nuclear weapons in the hopes of one day using that knowledge to protect others. Her knowledge turns out to be completely ineffectual in Metal Gear Solid. Naomi Hunter, meanwhile, embodies one who is ruled by her traumatic and genetic past and studies genes as a result. Naomi creates a heart virus that kills people based on their genetic sequence, which is something they can never change—something they have had since conception and birth. Despite letting her past rule her and having created a weapon that leaves others at the mercy of their genes, Naomi says that we should not “allow ourselves to be chained to fate—to be ruled by our genes.”
Nastasha Romanenko is not given a healthy prognosis when it comes to surviving hubris. “Wherever she is, she’s probably still a heavy smoker,” Solid Snake says in what is the most enduring conjecture we are given on Nastasha’s fate. Not an optimistic future, especially since Hideo Kojima’s narratives are not habitually charitable to characters who have what are demonstrated as bad habits. What makes Nastasha dying of cancer more likely is that it dovetails with her family dying of cancer from radiation, and writers love that stuff.
Naomi represents genetic destiny, trauma, the lives we’re born into, and the drive to fight against those shackles. While all that sounds clever, in execution the quality of her writing leaves a lot to be desired: Naomi dialogue consists of meaningless tautologies such as: “choose life, and then…live!” She then adds, “Don’t worry. I’m going to choose life, too.” But Naomi doesn’t get to choose life—she dies from cancer in Metal Gear Solid 4.
Psycho Mantis is essential in establishing and exploring themes of having control over one’s fate by conflating the character of Solid Snake with the player. Psycho Mantis later reads Snake’s mind and comments on the player’s action, accepting the player as part of the narrative. The player controls Snake’s destiny and some parts of the narrative show Snake rebelling against the player’s wishes, like when Snake refuses to fire a missile at Gray Fox. Hideo Kojima’s fourth-wall-breaking is not pointless because in order to broaden the resonance of the game’s themes, the player had to be accepted as a component of the narrative, since they share headspace with Solid Snake.
Since simulated killing is a large component of the game, Liquid Snake contributes to the idea of the thrill-seeking player being a part of Solid Snake’s character by saying, “There’s a killer inside you. You don’t have to deny it. We were created to be that way.” This has the double meaning of Solid Snake being both a clone and a videogame character, created by Kojima and company. Liquid accusing Solid Snake and the player of enjoying killing emphasizes the parallels between Snake only being able to feel joy on the battlefield and players enjoying simulated sneaking and killing. In Metal Gear Solid 4, if the player kills enough soldiers, Snake will reflexively vomit as he remembers Liquid telling him that he enjoys killing. While keeping Snake true to character, this also demonstrates the differences between Snake and the player.
It is by separating the player from Solid Snake through the encounter with Psycho Mantis that two major narrative payoffs are achieved later in Metal Gear Solid. One is during the torture sequence with Ocelot, and the other during Gray Fox’s dying monologue while Snake aims his missile launcher at both Fox and Liquid Snake.
Midway through Solid Snake’s one-on-one fight with Liquid Snake as he controls Metal Gear, Gray Fox appears and destroys Metal Gear’s external sensors, forcing Liquid to open the pilot’s seat in order to see. In the process, however, Gray Fox becomes mortally wounded and lies prone on a jutting ledge with Liquid sitting just a few feet away in the pilot’s seat of the forty-foot bipedal robot. The player is not allowed to simultaneously kill Gray Fox and Liquid Snake with a well-placed missile in order to save themselves a lot of time and trouble. This could be Snake’s only chance to stop Metal Gear from launching a nuclear missile.
Gray Fox’s monologues are treated with utter seriousness and cannot be interrupted—even when the fate of the world hangs in the balance. Yet we find Snake has no problem patronizing Meryl during her monologues. When Snake later relates Meryl’s monologue to others, it serves to show how she cannot think for herself. When Snake relates Gray Fox’s monologue to Raiden in Metal Gear Solid 2, we’re supposed to take it as wisdom from a mass-murdering best friend who fought for his own beliefs, unlike Meryl, who seems to be treated as being incapable of wisdom.
Snake’s and the player’s interests are never more carefully aligned in Metal Gear Solid than they are in the torture scene with Revolver Ocelot. Ocelot takes away the player’s chance to continue playing after encountering a fail state; they have no choice but to exit the main game and start anew or load a save file. This raises the stakes in regards to how much of the player’s time is lost in relation to Snake’s on-screen death, so now the player should care even more about Snake surviving. Survival, after all, is the most important thing in Snake’s life. Meryl can be killed to make Snake’s mission easier; Gray Fox cannot, even as he is dying. Snake’s motivations and ability to act within the circumstances provided are more in alignment with the player’s at this point than they ever have been in the game before.
Control is utterly important for Solid Snake as a character, and not just because he is the player’s avatar—he has an onscreen reputation to uphold as the ultimate manly badass. While Snake is supposedly helpless during torture, Ocelot gives him a choice. Gives him control of Meryl’s life. If Snake can endure the pain of the torture, then Meryl lives. If Snake cannot handle the torture, then he can still control the situation and survive by agreeing to let Ocelot kill Meryl to save himself. If Snake survives Ocelot’s torture, Ocelot calls him a “strong man” not only for his ability to endure pain, but because Snake was a man that made his own future (and saved a woman).
Even when Snake is supposed to feel naked and as though things are beyond his control, we cannot let that happen. Men get control, not women. Usually the only way a woman can control a situation is indirectly or through deceit or disguise. Snake is given control of Meryl’s life on the torture machine to make up for this slight wresting of power from the player. Control is utterly important to Solid Snake’s character. Even when it seems like he is being controlled, the game begins and ends depending on Snake’s actions. Male protagonists are often the center of game worlds and the paragons of control.
Ocelot’s almost romantic admiration of Snake for enduring the torture mirrors Snake’s admiration of what he sees as Meryl’s masculinity for successfully enduring the torture. One reason for this is because if Snake and the player are not both simultaneously manly enough to endure pain for macho reasons, then they do not deserve to save a female character, to save Meryl. They deserve Otacon, apparently.
When given the opportunity to kill an already dying Gray Fox and a very alive Liquid Snake simultaneously to save the world, Snake’s emotions are written as overriding the player’s choice. “It’s no good; I can’t do it,” Snake says if the player should try to squeeze the trigger. Yet when Snake is generously presented the opportunity to forego hardship by indirectly killing Meryl, no one forces players to choose death over disgrace if they cannot hammer the correct button quickly enough. Yes, Snake needs to stay alive in order to Save The World, but when granted what could be his only opportunity to Save The World during Gray Fox’s monologue, Snake cannot bring himself to kill his dying friend, even at that friend’s ardent request. Meryl is used as a bargaining chip if you can’t press a button fast enough, but the bond between men is too sacred and strong to betray. Snake cannot kill his old friend he already thought he killed, the friend who obliviously murdered Natasha Markova and countless others and nearly caused a global crisis in Metal Gear 2.
The differences in the portrayal of men and women are perhaps their most thematically insidious here, in the differences between the torture sequence and Gray Fox’s dying monologue, where men are treated with more respect than women yet again.
Snake is the central dynamism of the universe and Meryl exists to merely orbit him as a reactionary. Meryl is subject to the player’s ability to repeatedly press a button quickly enough. Only masochistic displays befitting the macho-man vibe Snake emits can save Meryl. The naive teenage girl who adores Snake is vulnerable to the player’s judgment as an object to be obtained.
The Metal Gear series, like many fictional works, is a product of the times in which it was made, but I do not find this to be a suitable excuse. Many works made around and before the times these games were released were more forward-thinking and sensitive. Sexism always has and always will exist in the world we live in; looking back on the past armed with a couple decades of social progress does not invalidate my points anymore than looking back on a five-minute old comment would.
Metal Gear Solid in particular was largely influenced by Western culture, and was made to appeal to Western culture. The sexism in Metal Gear Solid is most clearly mirrored in Western fiction from which Hideo Kojima took inspiration. To be free of painful patterns inherited from the past and achieve a sense of individuality, as Metal Gear Solid preaches, one must identify and subvert the harmful habits of people, past and present, in the hopes of a healthier reformation.