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As the events of Red Dead Redemption II unfold and we see Arthur’s story come to it’s natural conclusion the extensive epilogue gives the player a glimpse of what life looks like for the remaining members of the Van Der Linde gang.

In this short section you play as John Marston and with the help of Charles and Uncle set about building a home for John, Abigail and Jack.

This my favourite moment in the game. It is the perfect palete cleanser for what has gone and what is yet to come. A brief moment of joy, adopted familial togetherness and a renewed sense of perspective. This scene creates a subtle transition in preparing the player to culminate their respective narrative journeys and lay the foundations (no pun intended) for the events to follow in Red Dead Redemption.

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rdr2_01Photograph 01_Follow The Leader (@davidrushe – 2019)

rdr2_02Photograph 02_Early Morning Glow (@davidrushe – 2019)

rdr2_03Photograph 03_Moon Kiss (@davidrushe – 2019)

rdr2_04Photograph 04_Camp Lamp (@davidrushe – 2019)

rdr2_06Photograph 05_Evening Hue (@davidrushe – 2019)

rdr2_05Photograph 06_Dusty (@davidrushe – 2019)

rdr2_07Photograph 07_A New Path (@davidrushe – 2019)

rdr2_09Photograph 08_Uphill Struggle (@davidrushe – 2019)

rdr2_10Photograph 09_Horizon (@davidrushe – 2019)

rdr2_08Photograph 10_Glow (@davidrushe – 2019)

Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about Metal Gear Solid V (MGSV), more than I usually do, it’s occupying much of my free thinking time. With 162 hours on the in-game clock and 75% completion I do the most logical thing, I start playing Watch Dogs 2. The original Chicago set hackathon from Ubisoft was a very enjoyable experience. Despite the controversy surrounding its apparent visual downgrade, the game provided me tens of hours of both offline and online fun and a shiny platinum trophy to boot.

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In Watch Dogs 2 the action moves to a new city with a new protagonist. The games colour palette sees a major overhaul, with the somewhat drab and dreary tones of Chicago replaced with the technicolor triumph that is San Francisco. It is the gaming equivalent of Dorothy entering the door in to the Land of Oz. Our new hero Marcus is a cheeky hacker chappy with some nifty parkour skills and an endless stream of pop culture utterances to boot. Who in 2019 doesn’t remember the Los Locos song from Short Circuit 2? Just me? Oh dear, I’m showing my age.

The game features a narrative that progresses naturally despite the open world setting. In short; big bad corporations doing big bad things on one side, with Marcus and his trusty hacker crew on the other looking to save the day. It’s hardly original but it’s simple structure doesn’t get lost with the distractions of the open world setting. Typically games of this ilk often suffer from poor pacing, but not Watch Dogs 2. In the case of MGSV the principle theme of revenge following the exploits of Skullface in Ground Zeroes is hampered with the numerous subplots that Kojima throws at the player. The appearance of The Man on Fire (Volgin from Metal Gear Solid 3) and Eli (young Liquid Snake) create two such that on the one hand have no tangible context (The Man on Fire) unless you have played Metal Gear Solid 3 and are introduced (Eli) without resolution. As a longtime fan of the series with a history of both characters I was left feeling cold when they no longer were part of the games plot development. In Watch Dogs 2 core story missions and optional side missions all feed into the broader narrative of the world. Where Ubisoft shine in open world narrative story telling, Kojima Productions sadly fail quite badly.

MGSV is unique as it is the first time in the Metal Gear Solid series that the game ditches linearity and carefully curated design principles of past titles in favour of an open world approach. It was a bold move for a team who built their reputation on considered curation and it the leap in to the unknown exposed a weakness in their design. The two ‘open worlds’ are set in Afghanistan and along the Angola-Zaire border region. They can’t really be considered open worlds so much as they are large levels. Both areas feature  settlements and buildings with detailed interior environments. The landscapes are desolate with little to interact with and little to do. Now before you say anything, I don’t expect to see Snake entering various races or fishing, but could typical open world tropes have improved things in the case of MGSV? What if Snake had liberated a village or settlement from enemy control? His actions and interactions with inhabitants of the environment could have allowed Snake to gather information to aid his overall quest and create a tangible link between the world and the player. His actions within the world could have led to a more emergent narrative allowing players to have a unique story experience like Telltale Games or Netflix’s Bandersnatch. Another benefit from this component would be in relation to the games hidden karma system aka the ‘Demon System’. Your in-game actions; killing enemies, harming animals or developing nuclear weapons manifest with the increase (or decrease) of the shrapnel ‘horn’ sticking out of Snake’s head. This key game feature is never explained another example of the game’s inability to do the basics correctly.
I don’t believe that the empty and featureless landscapes of Afghanistan and Angola-Zaire tie into the subject of emptiness that is often attributed to the ‘phantom’ element of the games title. To me they are evidence that the Kojima Productions team were not sufficiently experienced in non-linear approach, failing to strike a balance between the key ingredients required in successful open world design; of exploration and opportunity.

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Watch Dogs 2 on the other hand is a game that truly understands its open world setting. Coming from Ubisoft, the connoisseurs of the open world, the city of San Francisco and its surrounding environs are fully exploitable to the player. Not only is environment hackable with Marcus’ phone taking control of traffic lights, bollards & even vehicles to cause havoc and distraction, but his hacking skills can interact with members of the public. The game expands on the mechanics of Watch Dogs with a new addition; the ability to create conflict between gangs and the police. Need to get into a heavily patrolled area? Simply use your phone and call it in. Marcus can plant false evidence or identify someone as a traitor to have a gang attack a rival gang or the police. This will lead to both groups going to battle with one another whether it is to take out the traitor or arrest a corrupt officer. Marcus to sit somewhere safe, use his tech remotely while the chaos unfolds before he swoops in an completes his task with minimal fuss.

The games upgrade system allows you to improve Marcus’ skillset to take full control of the open world. The upgrade tree allows you to create a snowball effect with the deep hacking mechanic, creating chaos throughout San Francisco or multiple hacking strands turning gangs and cops against each other in a seemingly never ending loop.  This mechanic is an excellent design decision allowing the player to change the way a mission can evolve and how the player can interact with the world. Despite the extensive range of available weapons to Marcus, I chose to play my campaign as someone who would shy away from the direct use of violence instead relying on the tech to do most of the heavy lifting. This incredible mechanic allowed me to peruse a more peaceful approach for Marcus creating my own internal karma system.

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Should you wish to pursue a more direct approach to missions, you can of course use weapons to do so. The weapons can be created at your various hacker safe houses with the use of 3d printer, with your new fully customisable weapon available seconds after you choose to create it. MGSV also allows you to create new weapons through your research and development team on Mother Base, but unlike the instant gratification of Watch Dogs 2 the game makes you wait in real time for your latest upgrade.

Aside from weapons Marcus has other tools at his disposal. His remote control car and drone can also give you a stealthy approach and reconnaissance advantage. Tools in MGSV like the Walker Gear allow rapid transition across the desolate landscape reducing the overall pain in the player’s proverbial ass. The infamous Battle Tank is so unworkable that Kojima and co leave it unfinished (like much of the game) in a Mother Base hanger never for direct use by the player.

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Upon reflection of Metal Gear Solid V in the wake of playing Watch Dogs 2 it is less than favourable. Whether it is design decisions that Kojima and co opted for from the open world approach, the poorly paced narrative, a number of unexplained gameplay features, the pointless episodic structure and the unfinished state of the game, it is a sad end to the Metal Gear Solid series. On the flip side, Watch Dogs 2 with its refined gameplay mechanics, upbeat characters, lively setting and an open world ripe for interacting with results in game so incredibly open-ended you can reply the same mission over with different strategies every time. You can opt to sneak into areas using non-lethal takedowns, or a full-on shoot-em-up approach with assistance from your jumper or drone buddies make me believe that Watch Dogs 2 is the game Metal Gear Solid V wishes it could have been. The leap in quality from the original Watch Dogs to the sequel is self evident, much like the leap between the first and second Asssassin’s Creed games. I do hope that Ubisoft have faith in this series and continue to build on the incredible foundations that Watch Dogs 2 has established.

I would encourage those of you who have yet to play Watch Dogs 2 to find a copy and play it, you might even find yourself quoting Metal Gear as you do; hey Watch Dogs 2 “you’re pretty good”.

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“First of all when it comes to female characters I myself am male, so in a way you can say the female characters I create are my ideal. It’s kind of my fantasy, these are the type of female characters that I like, so that’s what I make.”

Hideo Kojima, BAFTA Annual Games Lecture 2012

Back in December of 2013 I raised the issue of the portrayal of some female characters in the Metal Gear Solid (MGS) franchise. My starting point for the article grew from Metal Gear Solid 5: The Phantom Pain’s trailer at 2013’s E3 event in L.A, and subsequent comments made by Hideo Kojima (creator of MGS) thereafter.

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Kojima later tweeted about how he wished for “more erotic” character design, for both cosplaying and commercial reasons. There appeared to be no artistic or narrative merit to his latest creation.

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In a video interview with IGN in December of 2013, Kojima did try to clarify that perhaps how he introduced Quiet to the world was not the best way to do so. A “mistake” in fact.

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He further tried to justify his actions by stating Quiet’s reveal was only done to appease curious cosplayers. These same cosplayers have not been slow in dressing up in Quiet’s minimal outfit (google search if curious I won’t be showing that here) post reveal. Again this appeasement of fans proved to have no artistic or narrative value. Those who question or criticise Quiet’s portrayal Kojima states “will feel ashamed of your words and deeds”. This conclusion we will arrive at once we get to know Quiet and understand her appearance.

Based on what we have seen thusfar and the omission by Kojima that this is his portrayal of the “ideal” female,  I look forward getting to know Quiet. I look forward to discovering why in the middle of the desert we have a relatively young, attractive, well endowed and curvaceous woman, parading around in her underwear, a pair of ripped tights with only a sniper riffle for protection. I look forward to discovering her raison d’être, for what I can only deduce is an odd fashion sense, the love of a powerful gun and an insatiable appetite for vitamin D.

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While Kojima has made attempts to backtrack on the reveal of Quiet and clarify her appearance, he doesn’t condemn his earlier comments or tweets; “The initial target is to make you want to do cosplay or it’s figurine to sell well”.

While a tweet is restricted to 140 characters and things can not always be fully fleshed out in a tweet, it is the 2012 BAFTA Lecture comments that are hard to escape. As much as I admire the MGS series, and Kojima, it is the disturbing reality of his perception of the “ideal” I struggle with. He has fired this bullet and it is not coming back, there is no opportunity to reload it now. So what other conclusion does one arrive at? Quiet’s portrayal is purely for “fantasy” reasons, commercial reasons and has no artistic merit whatsoever.

In the wake of Quiet’s reveal Kojima drew criticism from fellow industry creatives. 343 Industries designer David Ellis commented on twitter “Don’t care if this gets me in trouble. This character design is disgusting. Our industry should be better than this. Industry full of man babies. Ugh.” 

The consequences of Kojima’s actions have been far reaching. In the ensuing months a myriad of articles have appeared online discussing the portrayal of Quiet from various online outlets.

The portrayal of Kojima’s “ideal” women have resulted in critique from many journalists. Most recently in relation to the ending of Metal Gear Solid 5 Ground Zeroes (MGSVGZ) and Paz’s portrayal by IGN’s Lucy O’Brien:

http://uk.ign.com/articles/2014/03/25/whats-wrong-with-metal-gear-solid-5-ground-zeroes-ending

Budding games journalist Ria Jenkins chimes in too, focusing on the heavy handed and misplaced nature of the sexual violence that exists in the MGSVGZ experience. The unsettling content is presented to the audience in the form of tapes entitled “rewards” for fully completing side quests and exploration in MGSVGZ:

http://introskeptive.wordpress.com/2014/04/08/chicos-tape-4/

I have extended the critique to look at the worrying portrayal of not only Quiet, but of other female characters in the MGS universe over the years. A worrying pattern is at play here:

https://thoughtburp.wordpress.com/2013/12/03/quiet-is-no-lady-godiva-a-metal-gear-solid-5-update/comment-page-1/

In January and February of this year, Kojima shared images of the impending Quiet figurine via Twitter. The images made no attempt to further clarify what Kojima had referred to as a mistake previously. They didn’t alleviate fears or distance Kojima from the allegations of sexism lobbied at him. The images showed a figure based on the portrayal of Quiet from 2013’s E3 and reinforced the “more erotic” tone he was looking to capture. One might argue that erotic term he speaks of is a more palatable term for pornographic.

 

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A recent Kojima Station episode featured a sizeable content on Stefanie Joosten (the actor portraying Quiet) who is on a “mission” to infiltrate Kojima headquarters to gather intel on The Phantom Pain (TPP) project.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bH3WWp-VdGM

In addition to this a discussion thread on Reddit (via user called “winches”) suggests that Quiet might be a playable character in TPP. In an interview with Famitsu, Kojima stated that In the game, Quiet is the main heroine. Whether she is friend or foe has yet to be revealed so I had to be careful when casting her role.”

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The image highlights how in previous games a playable character is often tortured. Could Quiet be a playable character in TPP? The advent of the power of Kojima’s “Fox Engine”, an openworld setting, refined gameplay and a Hayter free Snake, are undoubtedly large changes for the MGS series. The possible presence of a female playable character would be a seismic change in the franchise.

Since the release of MGSVGZ in March little has been shown of TPP. In recent days Kojima has been tweeting that he is currently working on a new trailer for TPP. Could new trailer shed new information on the role that Quiet will play? WIll a new reveal of her be one that changes the publics opinion on her and Kojima’s portrayal of the “ideal” female? Only time will tell, for now Kojima remains quiet on Quiet. Never has silence been so deafening.

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“Lady Godiva entered the royal enclosure at Ascot claiming she had literally nothing to wear.”
Edmund Blackadder (Blackadder Goes Fourth)

According to legend Lady Godiva the infamous Anglo-Saxon noblewoman, rode naked through the streets of Coventry (England) in order to gain a remission of the oppressive taxation imposed by her husband on his tenants.

Quiet, the new female sniper in Metal Gear Solid is not an Anglo-Saxon noblewoman, but her revealing ‘reveal’ has caused concern. Coupled with this is Hideo Kojima’s initial reasoning behind her appearance, it is possible to conceive that eyebrows, were, ahem, not the only thing raised in the wake of her announcement.

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In the months following the reveal of Quiet, Hideo Kojima and his translation team on Twitter have not helped the situation. Accusations of sexualised female characters appearing in a male dominated media have always been an issue. Mr Kojima and his team have worked hard to build the Fox Engine and anticipation for MGS5 tackle “taboo” subjects in an open world environment. The appearance of Quiet and her scantily clad demeanour looks set to send the series back to a darker age of female sexualisation.

The recent exploits of the rebooted Lara Croft, Commander Shepard (Mass Effect) and all female leads (Tess, Marlene and Ellie) in The Last of Us, have done much to show the strength and maturity that female protagonists can bring to an ever evolving industry that transcends age and gender.

Kojima’s exploits on Twitter recently have enraged some fans (myself included) and industry members. Kojima having stated:

“I’ve been ordering to Yoji (Shinkawa) to make the character more erotic, and he did it well”

“Recently I’ve been making characters this way. I create the setting thoroughly, how he/she spent early life, name, style, favorite phrase, fashion, action, to stand the character out.”

“The initial target is to make (you) want to do cosplay or its figurine to sell well.”

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David Ellis, one of the designers of the Halo series (343 Studios) tweeted his thoughts in the wake of the not-so Quiet controversy. Ellis said “Don’t care if this gets me in trouble. This character design is disgusting. Our industry should be better than this.”

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In an interview with IGN released today Kojima has tried to clarify Quiet’s appearance. Check out Mr Kojima’s reasoning below:

In the interview with IGN Kojima said that “showing the female sniper in Metal Gear Solid V was probably a mistake”. Kojima also said “I try to make sure I’m doing something new, not repeating something that is already in the series”. While he makes a reasonable response to his critics, if one looks at previous female characters in the series, it is hard not to view Kojima’s response with a note of irony and scepticism.

Take a look at Sniper Wolf (MGS1), Fortune (MGS2), The Boss (MGS3), the Octopus Unit (MGS4) and Paz (MGS Peace Walker). Despite Kojima creating some very strong female characters, It is difficult not to notice that some are part of an aesthetic pattern….

Sniper Wolf:

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Fortune:

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The Boss: (Arguably the strongest female character Kojima has created. Beautifully written and realised within the game.)

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The Boss: (The Hot Toys version)

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A great character is undone…by her zipper no less!

The Beauty And The Beast Unit:

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Paz: (in more modest attire)

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Paz: (Date with Paz)

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