Skip to main content

Quiet embodies Metal Gear's complex relationship with women

Warning: Spoilers regarding Quiet, her outfit, her narrative arc, and end-game missions

I remember when Quiet was first announced for Metal Gear Solid 5 (opens in new tab) back in 2013. She was introduced as 'A Sniper deprived of her Words', decked out in ripped fishnet stockings and what appeared to be a discarded handkerchief for a bra. I chuckled, but in that way you do when you're bitterly disappointed in what you're seeing, as this was the most bizarre and overtly sexualized character Metal Gear has ever presented - and remember, this is a series that lets you take cheesecake photos of psychologically and emotionally scarred supermodels in skin-tight latex on a stark white background (opens in new tab).

So imagine my surprise when I find out that Quiet isn't just a powerful ally; she's one of the most complex and conflicted characters in MGS5 - and she conveys so much emotion without even talking for most of the game. No, I'm not "ashamed of my words and deeds", and there's no excuse for Quiet's manner of dress, but damn if she's not one of the best characters in the series' long history.

I've remarked before that the Metal Gear series is essentially a string (opens in new tab) of paradoxes (opens in new tab) - serious themes juxtaposed against playful non-sequiturs - but nowhere is this more evident than how it treats its women. It's strange to see characters like Eva, Meryl, even The Boss, ostensibly one of the most interesting characters in video game history, leap back and forth between powerful agent of change to sexual object within the same scene. One minute, Eva's mowing down legions of Russian soldiers and using her Triumph motorcycle to backflip off of Ocelot's forehead (opens in new tab); the next, the game is letting you hold down the R1 button for a first-person-view into her conveniently unzipped shirt.

A lot of this assuredly stems from series director Hideo Kojima's love of the James Bond movies (opens in new tab), which have always waffled between sexual agency and objectification, but Kojima has a strange approach to sex that oftentimes feel like a 12-year-old snickering at a Playboy magazine (the fact that you can use actual Playboy magazines to distract guards in MGS4 is exhibit A). This paradoxical view of sex and Metal Gear's many fascinating women is just one of those things you accept when you buy into its world. It's not that Metal Gear is above criticism (it certainly isn't, and Metal Gear's casual sexism deserves to be taken to task constantly), but like the madcap plot's anime absurdity and over-abundance of hand-waving 'nanomachines', its juvenile approach to sexuality is just one of those quirks of Kojima's auteurship that you kind of have to let wash over you while you play, rolling your eyes at its dumb jokes while muttering "Goddamit, Kojima" under your breath.

But Quiet is another story. Say what you will about Eva's needlessly-revealing outfit, at least it's functional; Quiet's outfit sails right past cheesecake and directly into "What the hell were you thinking?" territory. The reasoning for her absurdly revealing outfit is thus: Quiet is an XOF operative, sent to kill Big Boss during the prologue. She would have succeeded, had bunkmate Ishmael not intervened, throwing ethyl alcohol on her and setting her on fire. She escapes, but her injuries are so bad that she receives an experimental injection of parasites which cover her skin just to keep her alive. These parasites require that she keeps her skin uncovered, so the parasites can 'breathe in' oxygen, sunlight, and water - not unlike that of a plant. She's also secretly infected with an English strain of vocal cord parasites, activating should Quiet ever utter a word of English.

Yeah. It's really dumb.

Let's assume for a second that this explanation isn't a total trainwreck and is a proper justification to put Quiet (a crackshot sniper who spends hours of her day wandering the hot sands of Afghanistan) in a thong and chamois cloth bikini. This explanation isn't even consistent with the game's own narrative. It's inferred through the game's cassette tapes that The End (opens in new tab), the expert sniper from MGS3, was infected with a similar strain of parasites which granted him similar abilities, but you don't see him stripping down to his skivvies and parading around Tselinoyarsk with his muzzle hanging out. You can also unlock several outfits for Quiet, ranging from assuredly pore-closing silver and gold body paint to full-body soldier garb, that totally fly in the face of the entire 'parasites need food badly' plot device. I know these outfits are considered 'Easter eggs' to a point, but if Kojima is willing to allow the player to dress Quiet in Sniper Wolf's costume on a whim, it just shows how ultimately thinly veiled his justification for Quiet's outfit really is.

Then you actually meet her in one of the game's rare, harrowing boss fights, and you start to see how truly amazing her character actually is. As you wander into the Afghan ruins, a warning shot hits a pillar next to you, and you duck behind cover. Now, you're squaring off against one of the best snipers the Metal Gear franchise has ever seen, as she's able to disappear completely while she quickly moves from cover to cover - one false move, and it's lights out for Big Boss. You've probably heard guards talking about the deadly 'naked' sniper out on the field, but it's here that you get to see her handiwork up close.

But something is off. Quiet should be able to take you out with a single bullet, but it feels like she's holding back. Once you best her in battle, you can decide to bring her back to Mother Base - slap some cuffs on her, carry her onto your helicopter, and off you go. While you're hundreds of feet in the air, Quiet quickly escapes from her confines and disappears entirely (apparently the parasites also let her phase in and out of existence), only to return to score a headshot on the pilot of a MIG fighter jet following you back to Mother Base.

This one scene sets up an interesting dichotomy between herself and Big Boss, and it blossoms into one of the most fascinating relationships in the game. Quiet can easily break out of whatever shackles Big Boss chooses to put her in, and yet she sticks around, eventually joining you out in the field. You get the sense that Quiet can easily kill Big Boss whenever she feels like it, but she chooses not to, because of the respect she harbors for his prowess in battle. Big Boss knows this, and shows a mutual admiration for her own combat abilities - and all of this happens without the two saying a word to each other. While the camera may be leering at Quiet from all directions, Big Boss seems to not even notice Quiet's ridiculous get-up, instead opting to see her as the battle-hardened soldier she really is.

And all of that is made clear once you get her out on the field, because Quiet is overpowered as hell. She'll post up above enemy encampments, tagging soldiers for you and sniping them as soon as you give the word. At first, she can be a liability because her rifle will alert the enemy to her position, but as you continue to take her with you on missions, she'll gain a silencer and even a rifle that shoots tranquilizer darts. By that point, you can tell her to open fire and she'll level an entire base camp without you having to lift a finger. The dog is fantastic, sure, but he can be unreliable when you have an entire platoon breathing down your neck. But when I'm running with Quiet, she'll handle anyone who spots my clumsy attempts at stealth by sending them a bullet right between the eyes. She's awesome.

And near the game's climactic final mission, MGS5 takes her away from you, forever. You discover that she was sent to infiltrate Diamond Dogs by Skull Face as a vector for the English strain of the vocal cord parasites. Her mission was to infect your entire squad and spread the parasites, thus eradicating Big Boss and eventually killing off the English language through a widespread outbreak. Quiet instead decides not to utter a word in English in order to protect Big Boss, who she has come to admire and perhaps even love - in that way that love can bloom on the battlefield (opens in new tab), anyway. And after a rescue mission gone south, Quiet decides to sacrifice herself to save you for the greater good of the unit, speaking English for the very first time in the game to direct a rescue chopper to your location. The only thing she leaves behind is a cassette tape with a final message for you.

It's a surprisingly touching moment made more poignant because it's not the culmination of a handful of cutscenes, but rather the dozens of hours you both spent together, relying on each other in the field. She's always there to back you up and keep you safe despite her own rage toward you, until she isn't, and her disappearance from the game casts a long shadow over any post-narrative clean-up you may have intended to finish. The fact that it's not completely undercut by her stupid outfit, the creepy gaze of the camera, her distractingly suggestive poses while she hangs out in your helicopter between missions, or the ridiculous rain-splashing scene (opens in new tab) which is an actual thing that happens is even more impressive.

It's because MGS5 is more focused on letting you tell your own stories within the framework of the gameplay, rather than spoonfeeding you dialogue or cutscenes. So instead of remembering the time Big Boss and Quiet had an awkward five-minute-long discussion, you remember the times she saved your butt from a dude with a rocket launcher, or single-handedly took out an entire Skulls unit, or killed a guard while you were interrogating him. And in a game filled with characters so one-dimensionally focused on revenge at all costs, it's ironic then that the one who speaks the least its most interesting and important - a paradox in a series famous for paradoxes.

It's a real damn shame about that outfit, though.

David Roberts
David Roberts
David Roberts lives in Everett, WA with his wife and two kids. He once had to sell his full copy of EarthBound (complete with box and guide) to some dude in Austria for rent money. And no, he doesn't have an amiibo 'problem', thank you very much.