Ground Zeroes is Kojima’s Transition Period
Normally, anything that Hideo Kojima works on is accompanied by huge amounts of hype and attention. And for the most part, the attention is positive. Kojima has, after allm earned his place as one of the industry’s icons. Metal Gear Solid: Ground Zeroes, the most recent release in the series, has been one of Kojima’s more controversial works, and it’s not just down to the length.
One of the key worries–and criticisms, as recent reviews have proved–is the game’s short length. While the game isn’t full price, the reports, and videos, of people completing the main mission in under ten hours have raised a few eyebrows, even with all the praise heaped onto the actual gameplay. The real issue with the game is the content, or to be more precise, the mature story-based content. Ground Zeroes has suffered from being labelled a £30 demo.
Ground Zeroes also has a number of cassette tapes scattered through the game. Collectibles are hardly a new concept in video games, but it’s the content of these tapes that has people voicing complaint. The tapes describe the actions of Ground Zeroes‘ villain against two characters from the franchise–one a female and the other a male, both of a young age. The aforementioned issue is that the female character is unfortunately subjected to gang rape and other forms of torture, as well as having a bomb forced into her vagina. Extremely harrowing stuff, as you can no doubt surmise.
Now this is where things become more than a little shady. It’s understandable that the villain of the piece must generate a reaction from the player in order for the villain to have some kind of impact against the protagonist. It’s a common practice in all forms of media (and storytelling in general), but the use of gang rape feels out of place, even more so given the information is only found as a reward for exploring outside of the game’s set parameters.
Gang rape–and rape in general–is a hugely sensitive subject given it’s one of the vilest acts that can be committed by one person against another. When the act is used in any form of media, it must be approached with respect and delicacy. The backlash to the inclusion of the plot point has been rather sharp–probably the sharpest any criticism has ever been when it comes to Kojima. In this regard, was Kojima’s approach to the topic well handled? Was it even necessary? Both questions are debatable, but the answers will never truly be agreed upon.
While some may be able to look past the rape as what it’s suspected to be, an extremely heavy-handed approach to expressing the villainy of the antagonist, the concept of a bomb being forced into a young female’s vagina is very gratuitous. It’s not that putting bombs into bodies is new in media; the 2004 film Man on Fire sees the protagonist force a bomb into a man’s anus, but it gave more context to the act and thus felt less offensive (an overly strong term, perhaps), even more so given it had a slightly dark comedic edge to it. Ground Zeroes, on the other hand, is trying to be shocking sans comedy or context, and this is one reason why this particular plot development is totally unnecessary.
Kojima has long held the respect of the video game audience, but this is the first time, at least in my memory, that his work has been called into question in such a way. His approach to female characters has often drawn a few skeptical critics, but never has it reached the level it has with the ‘Rape Tapes’, as they have have since been dubbed. Kojima always tries to go out of his way to challenge players, be it subtly or in a more obvious way, and perhaps this has led to his more recent edgier tone.
Is this the start of Kojima’s decline in the eyes of the video game playing public? Or is it merely a messy patch in which new directions are explored and an artist plays with his vision? The short length of Ground Zeroes has resulted in a number of journalists questioning the legitimacy of the game, as they see it as something of a cash grab. Ground Zeroes represents a curious era for both Metal Gear Solid and Kojima. The future of both will ultimately lie with Phantom Pain.