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Before I write anything more about this game, I decided to let actual sexual assault victims speak their minds about the glaring issues in this game. They both asked to be anonymous. Obviously, trigger warning for rape.
Using rape in a fictional context is always 100% unnecessary no matter the context. Even when being used to show how destructive and terrible it is, it is not worth the extremely likely possibility of triggering a survivor. Not to mention that no two experiences are the same, I cannot speak on someone’s experience just as no one else can speak on my own. While I do feel that MGSV is handling it better than countless other uses of rape in media, it still is not an excusable thing to include. I have an incredible amount of respect for Mr. Kojima, but his inclusion of the tape was a serious lapse in judgement on his part, and an effort should be made to inform him of this.
I can’t say I was surprised by the stuff in Ground Zeroes. Honestly it was kind of surprising how long it took Kojima to finally go this far over the the line, and just how incredibly terrible the stuff he wrote was. Metal Gear has always skirted the line because it’s couched it’s gonzo storytelling in the very real horrors of war, and it’s generally been fine because it’s hard to fuck up the message of “War is bad and our economic dependence on it is also bad”. But here it is, Kojima decided to go in on one of the worst horrors of war and he’s handled it just as ham fistedly as everything else he does.
I think rape is an experience that should be explored in fiction, and games in particular offer a medium that could provide a way to engender empathy for survivors, but this isn’t how it should be handled. This isn’t about the rape, it’s about the villain and just how evil he is, it devalues rape by turning it into nothing more than a prop.
And it sucks, because I had actually really enjoyed the game, and only found out about this side content, hidden away in an audiolog, as the credits rolled and I started talking about the game with some friends. It’s not only a disgusting use of rape as a prop, but one that is just so utterly and completely unnecessary that it almost comes across as spiteful.
Metal Gear Solid 5: Ground Zeroes is a difficult game to discuss from nearly every angle. Every thing I can say about it has a positive and a negative to it. It’s this deviciveness that makes the game so intriguing, but also nearly impossible to recommend with a good conscience. I want to be able to blindly tell you to buy this game, since it is Metal Gear Solid, one of my favorite series, but at the same time, there’s problematic content that will upset many who play it, and a continued debate over if charging thirty dollars for what basically amounts to a long demo is worth it. It is truly a tricky situation for all involved.
Before touching upon the controversy, there is very great stuff in this release. Ground Zeroes ups the ante incredibly for Metal Gear in general. The stealth feels much more dynamic and interesting. Patrols have longer fields of vision than ever before. It feels like actual people are guarding the facility, and you must act accordingly. Enemies work in shifts, so if you do not hide a body, minutes later another soldier will arrive to take the post and discover the corpse, starting an alert phase. There is a new mechanic called reflex mode that slows down time and allows you to incapacitate an enemy before they raise an alarm. This can be turned off if you’re a purist.
Ground Zeroes’ campaign can be beaten in around two hours, but there’s side ops to try after you beat the game. Every side op takes place on the same map as the campaign, but with new guard placements and objectives, it can be forgiven on that end. Every prisoner of war you rescue is added to Mother Base, allowing you to use them in The Phantom Pain. There is also an iOS app that lets you sync with Ground Zeroes so you can build Mother Base even more and allow you a second screen for map controls.
The game is also beautiful. Hearing the rain pitter-patter on tents as you sneak past your foes is an alluring experience. The graphics are beautiful on PS3 and even better on the current gen platforms. Snake and his comrades are acted well, save for the villain Skullface, who sounds like he’d fit into an 80’s anime dub. Advancements in AI, solid voice work, and the beauty of the FOX engine would normally make this game a must buy.
I just cannot recommend this game at all. The amount of problematic content in the story is far too much for me to safely say “yes, buy this game”. Rape is a heavy part of this game, and the way it is portrayed moves on from the “realism of war” conversation and begins to straddle fetishistic. I do not feel comfortable having to listen to characters being assaulted. There are healthy ways to discuss the evil of the world in games, but Ground Zeroes is not handling it correctly. Shifting a slightly wacky series to a deathly serious one, then having the previously mentioned 80’s anime dub villain grunt about “forbidden fruit” is laughably awful. Metal Gear Solid: Ground Zeroes may be a very fun game to play, but based on the writing, I can’t recommend it. Due to this divide, I have decided to not give this review a score. There’s no problem in enjoying things containing problematic content as long as you recognize them as such, but it’s far too difficult for me to separate the gameplay from the story. Without the rape content I’d have given Ground Zeroes a three. Take that how you will.
John Michonski is Video Game Choo Choo's Editor in Chief. He's a fun man who likes to do good.
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