Should Parents be Arrested if the Kids Play Violent Games?

gta_kidIt seems like a group of 16 schools in Cheshire, England, are proposing reporting parents to the authorities if they let their children play games rated PEGI 18 or higher. For reference, many of these games are rated M by the ESRB. The arguments for doing this are as one would expect coming from such initiatives. The phrases “we are trying to help parents to keep their children as safe as possible in this digital era” and “it is so easy for children to end up in the wrong place and parents find it helpful to have some very clear guidelines” are cited as the main factor in this initiative which, according to the BBC, Prime Minister David Cameron endorses.

According to the letter as reported by The Daily Mail, “Call of Duty, Grand Theft Auto, Dogs of War and other similar games, are all inappropriate for children and they should not have access to them.” The initiative also argues that kids should be prevented from having access to social media sites.

I admit that my reaction to this is a split one.

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Gender and Sensuality in Metal Gear Solid 4


In the last two years, a conversation regarding sexism and sexist depictions of women in video games has been spurred in thanks largely to Feminist Frequency’s series of videos Tropes vs Women in Videogames. Arguments range from those that suggest that the use of certain narrative tropes can be harmful to gender relations to those who argue that certain depictions regardless of narrative or ludic context can be considered as sexist to those who suggest that representations don’t matter because video games are fiction. I have read and reflected on each argument extensively and have come to agree strongly with some and less so with others, but I always try to keep an open mind and while I may not agree with every argument made, I understand why opposing interpretations exist and am able to recognize their merit.

Despite being familiar with the topic, I have been reluctant to comment on the issue largely because people with more insight than myself in regards to gender have made brilliant arguments on either side of the discussion and I feel that there is little that I can add. What humble contributions I might make to the discussion is that rather than focusing on the medium of video games as a whole, commentators would do well to focus on a specific subset of games, such as AAA games or action games, or maybe even on individual games. I feel that an in-depth look at individual works would serve as stronger evidence for whatever arguments being made regarding gender in games than briefly mentioning that one game has one sexist scene or another game has a female lead. But there is something that I find incredibly puzzling regarding the debate regarding gender and sexism in games, and it is the curious omission of a certain game from the discussion: Metal Gear Solid 4. As reluctant as I am to make value judgments on objects, if one is discussing sexism in games, it seems to me that Metal Gear Solid 4 should be at the forefront of the discussion because of the way it treats its female characters.

Beautyandthebeastunit0Metal Gear Solid 4 is a story about Solid Snake, a legendary soldier, in his quest to stop his brother Liquid Snake from taking over the world using the Patriots AI system. Liquid Snake has in his army four major female generals called the Beauty and the Beast Unit, or BB Corps, where each woman is depicted as a deeply traumatized victim of war who has been placed inside a mechanical beast and tricked into believing that if they kill Snake, all their fear, pain, and sorrow will vanish. These “beauties”, the Laughing Octopus, the Raging Raving, the Crying Wolf, and the Screaming Mantis (the unit commander) are all depicted as incredibly beautiful and voluptuous women with unblemished skin (despite their back stories suggesting that they went through a number of tragedies) whose combat prowess lie in their command of their robotic beasts.

stars_bbcorpsNow, I would suggest that if this was all there was to it – women who are “beautiful” (whatever that means) and who drive giant beast robots – an argument could be made as to whether their depictions were sexist or not. If this were the case, I could see one side arguing that it represents exploitation and their figures set unreal expectations of beauty for both men and women, while I could also see the other side arguing that it’s a game and a fiction, that characters are designed to be visually appealing, and that within the context of the story it all somehow makes sense. And, I think, if this was the only thing in MGS 4, both sides would have a strong claim. However, MGS 4 goes well beyond that, and in doing so it places some moments of play as perhaps the most demeaning towards female characters in any game. It is also the existence of these moments that make me wonder why the game has avoided scrutiny regarding gender representation. The situation that problematizes the issue of gender in MGS 4 is as follows:

As the player, Snake, travels the world trying to stop Liquid, Snake will come face to face with the four BB Corps commanders. Snake will have to use a number of strategies and weapons in order to defeat them. This in itself is not, I think, problematic. Two generals and a “legendary soldier” face off in battle, and gender is irrelevant. They both attack each other with all they have, and ultimately one character (the player) ends up as the victor. What IS a problem, however, is what happens next.

SOUTHAMERICARESEARCHLAB_7Once the player defeats each of the BB Corps commanders, the beauty will jump out of their mechanical suit of armor. She will shriek and let out a terrifying scream (framed with a low angle camera set behind the female character gazing upwards at her buttocks), after which she will walk slowly towards Snake, avoiding any gunfire, until she embraces Snake. This is the first problem in regards to how the game treats these four women. After Snake, whom the BB Corps commander believe is the source of their anguish, finally defeats each commander in combat, these women commanders will slowly and seductively walk towards Snake to hold him in an embrace.

Those familiar with the game will no doubt mention that this embrace drains Snake’s life and try to explain it away with the electric effects of the (excessively skintight) suit that interfaces the female user with their mechanic beast. However, even if we concede this, the most questionable moments happen after Snake and the four Beauties – that is their name once they are outside of their beast mechs – have been in battle for a couple of minutes. Snake and the Beauty are placed in a white room where only Snake and the Beauty exist. In some instances, the Beauties will crawl towards Snake while making seductive noises. If at this point the player has found the camera item, the player will be able to point at the Beauties. The Beauties, upon being pointed at with the camera, will pose seductively for the player / Snake. They will do this as many times as the player points the camera at them. Furthermore, if during these “white room” moments the player uses the in-game iPod item and plays the song titled “Oishii Two-han Seikatsu”, the Beauties will dance for the player / Snake.

Now, let’s recap.

Snake fights women whose core purpose in life is to kill Snake. These women fight in giant robot machines. When Snake defeats these women, they jump out of their machines and are shown to be wearing skintight suits. These women then try to smother Snake by hugging him tightly. If Snake doesn’t kill them, then they are both teleported into a white room (presumably the subconscious of the female characters) where Snake can take sexy photos of them and make them dance.

And, ultimately, after all this, the player has one of three choices: (1) knock the Beauty unconscious, (2) kill the Beauty, or (3) wait for time to run out in the white room so that the Beauty can burst into flames by herself.

These scenes are ripe for analysis, and the game, if analyzed thoroughly through mixed ludic, narrative, and aesthetic lenses, would likely help further conversations regarding gender representation and games one way or another.

So, again, my question – why hasn’t anyone mentioned MGS 4 in their analyses of gender and games?

*Note: This is not a review of MGS 4 (which I enjoyed immensely), nor is it a full-on work of criticism or a commentary on the aesthetics of the game. It is simply an acknowledgement that the battles against the BB Corps once they are outside of their mechanic suits show some things that can be interpreted as controversial (to say the least) and an invitation to those whose commentary on gender is more distinguished than my own to consider how these battles mix narrative, aesthetic design, and rules of play to create a scene as well as to unlock the meaning of said scenes via interpretation.

Ludology, Narrativity, and Ludonarrative Dissonance [video responses to Errant Signal]

Not too long ago, Errant Signal put out a video where he echoed Gonzalo Frasca’s comments regarding the ludology vs narrativity debate. Quoting Frasca, Errant Signal suggests that said debate, whose opening skirmishes are chronicled in Game Studies, “did not happen” because there was no “debate” as to whether games “should be narrative or ludic”. And that’s true. At no point was there a formal moderated debate where game devs argued whether games should be about stories or about play. But there was, and there still is, a very real conversation regarding whether video games are best understood as stories or as games. You can find my full rebuttal below:

In his same video, Errant Signal agreed with Jim Sterling and suggested that the term Ludonarrative Dissonance is useless and should be discarded because it predisposes the critic to make negative assessments about the game. Again, I disagree. Ludonarrative dissonance is a useful term, as long as it is considered as existing within a framework. My full argument below:

A Short Rant on The Cost of Games

When I was younger and I relied on the kindness of my family during holiday celebrations and my birthdays, I recognized the monetary value of video games. I knew that games were 30$ – 50$. During those days my collection was fairly small, and each game was like currency unto itself. My NES collection was composed of only twelve games: The Legend of Zelda, Zelda II: The Adventures of Link, Journey to Silius, Shatterhands, Revenge of the Ninja, Ninja Crusaders, Bubble Bobble, Castlevania II: What a Horrible Night to Have a Curse, Ninja Gaiden, Ninja Gaiden III, Snake’s Revenge, and – of course – Super Mario Bros. 3. My friends had other titles in collections equally as small, and we would trade games all the time. Of course, some games had more value than others. I remember that I really wanted Megaman 2 and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II, both of which my best friend at the time had, but in exchange he wanted the two Zelda games These were the golden cartridge Zeldas, and it made them special. The Zelda games were the crown of any kid’s collection, and were completely off the table as far as trading was concerned. In the end, I saved up my lunch money for a month – two dollars per day – and bought the games from the corner video store at two for 50$; a bargain at the time.

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