Through the events of the last several years within the gaming industry, one of my biggest concerns has to do with the element of storytelling within video games. Mind you, not the actual storytelling itself, but how that storytelling is represented by the media that covers it.
I’ve played hundreds and hundreds of games over the last 20 years of my life, from tales of time-traveling frogs to a friendly clown that just wants to hug everyone. And in that time I’ve read and interpreted stories that have taught or reinforced life lessons that were important to me … despite the fact that they may have not been the original intention of the story. That’s the beauty of the writing medium: even if it wasn’t the original intent of the writer, some alternate themes can blossom from a well put together narrative. Readers can add details or interpretations to a story to help bring their vision of the story to life. And while at times this leads to some really bad fan fiction, it’s fascinating to see people’s takes on timeless classics. It puts those pieces of art into a whole new perspective that I may not have considered before.
Which is why some of the latest pieces coming from reporting organizations are a little concerning. Of course there’s social messages that can be taken from video games, but sometimes it feels like people go too far in assuming not only the original message of a story’s purpose, but indicating that any other interpretation of that story is incorrect. Sure, there are always going to be facts and information about the story that will specifically negate some theories, but sometimes that data can be looked at through a variety of lenses. This can lead to a focus on a particular element of it and lead to a different interpretation all together. I want to take the time to take a look at one such case, in particular with the recent controversy regarding Quiet from Metal Gear Solid 5. Please note, there are spoilers for Metal Gear Solid V within this piece, so if you don’t want to be spoiled, please turn away now.
While some publications have indicated that the character is only there for the character’s looks and attire, I want to show what my first reaction and where the connections that I made to the character were. Now note: I have not played Metal Gear Solid V. Put the pitchforks down, I’ve got way too many games to cover over on my YouTube channel as well as at TechRaptor, and I made sure to get multiple people who have completed the game to look at my conclusions about my interpretation of the plot of the game, because I saw influences in the characters that reminded me specifically of tales I had heard of the past—in particular with Japanese folklore. I’m here to tell you a story about the Japanese folklore of the Yuki-onna, and how Quiet may be a reinterpretation of that character in the Metal Gear universe. Because some of the best new characters that the medium has shown over the life of video games can be found with influences by other work.
Let’s start with the basics of the tale to get an understanding of what I’m talking about. The Yuki-onna is a popular figure in Japanese literature, who’s a spirit of a tall and beautiful woman with inhumanly pale/transparent skin that makes her blend into a snowy backdrop. Some legends depict her as nude, with only her face and hair standing out against the snow, but one particular feature that’s common in the interpretations are her eyes. Despite being a beautiful and captivating lady, her eyes are known to strike terror into the hearts of mortals, and she leaves no footprints as she makes her way across the snow. She can also transform into a cloud of mist or snow when threatened. And while there’s many interpretations of the character, several of them have the character taking on a succubus-like manner, preying on weak-willed men and robbing them of their life.
OK, so you probably read the last paragraph and went: “What in the heck does that have to do with a photosynthetic sniper from the Metal Gear series?” Well, that’s the funny part. Remember, inspiration can come in many forms, and a lot of today’s modern day heroes are equivalents and reinterpretations of the heroes of the past. And when you look closely at the story of Yuki-onna and compare it to Quiet’s character, you start to see some connections that you may have not considered if you just looked at the surface.
One thing to focus on is the representation of eyes within the story. As mentioned before, the eyes are something particularly pointed out about the tales of the Yuki-onna. Quiet within the story of Metal Gear Solid V famously undergoes the parasite treatment. What she gains from that of course is a set of kick-ass abilities, with markings appeared on her skin. And the markings seemed to be focused on one feature in particular: the eyes. Of course, for a sniper, the eyes are one of the most important features to pick out their target, and the emphasis on that body part makes sense given the context of the folklore in question. Notably, the eyes become a major factor when Quiet is threatened, which is also the case with the Yuki-onna. Her pale like nature matches the description of Yuki-onna in the all white Kimono, for example, and her lack of clothing fits in with the themes of the story as well (as the demon was portrayed in either a white kemono, or nude).
Now Yuki-onna is a snow demon, and snow of course is a form of frozen water. Quiet obviously has a fondness for water, and in particular with the way she absorbs it. She’s able to absorb water through her skin, and there’s almost aplayed out in terms of how she handles it. When visiting her outside the mission, you can find her in her shower, drinking through a seizure like motion. It is a form of her life blood to keep going. Even when she’s done, she’ll sit there, tracing the water through her fingers in a calm manner. What’s specifically to note here: the Yuki-onna’s environment has to be an environment that’s covered in snow, or she’d cease to exist (hence the name snow demon). Water is critical to both the characters in question, one in a frozen form.
There’s one particular scene that’s worth noting regarding this respect: when Snake goes days without showering. Ocelot will throw a bucket of water on him when this happens … unless Quiet is there. Quiet will stop Ocelet from doing that and invite Snake to the shower. In that scene, Quiet is clothed, and she shares the water with someone she respects and connects with, putting him into her world.
In fact, Some of the strong elements between Snake and Quiet happen within the context of water. The possible connection to Yuki-onna also gives a little bit of context for one of the most “controversial” scenes of the game regarding Quiet and the Big Boss playing in the rain. Of course, as mentioned before, the Yuki-onna is at home within the snow, but in particular can change into a cloud of mist and snow when threatened. Her home is within the realm of frozen water, and so when presented with the idea of a rainstorm, it would make sense that the character would feel at home.
Just like Quiet, who upon seeing the storm leaps out a helicopter, takes off her shoes, and plays around in an innocent-like manner, even vanishing into the rain at one point like those tales of old. Both Snake and Quiet share a moment within the rain, both enjoying themselves as they take advantage of a moment of peace and enjoy what the weather has brought them.
And of course, there’s the succubus like nature that is implied with Quiet at times, even if the context of a scene can be appalling to say the least. Feasting on the hearts of men who attempt to take advantage of the young maiden, to the point where one is left with a bit of a reminder of the frailty of his anatomy. As shown below, when Quiet is put into a compromising position, the tables are quickly turned on the assailants, as she punishes those men who dare attempt to attack her.
But let’s focus on the name for a second: Quiet. One of the elements of the folklore has to do with Yuki-onna’s softer side, and in particular, her connection with a young boy that she did not kill due to his beauty and age. He’s let go on one condition: that he promises never to speak of her. Later in the story, the boy falls in love with the maiden later on in his life, but unaware it’s the maiden from before. He ends up telling her about the story, and she chides him for breaking the promise that he once made. While he’s let go for the sake of their children, it ends up making a theme: a vow of silence regarding those that she gives mercy to. Silence. That sounds like a synonym for Quiet, wouldn’t you say? It also helps that the idea of being unseen and unheard, like the stories of leaving no footprints in the snow, helps Quiet’s characterization as a sniper. To be only heard when, well, the cold embrace of death hits them.
There’s also an interesting catch about Quiet’s condition regarding her ability to speak English. The parasite and mutant strain that has been implanted in her would make her condition become lethally contagious if she should ever talk in English. The idea being that the mission of killing the Big Boss would be carried out even if she has chosen not to. The idea of communication and being truly “open” to a character and what one could do has ties to the story about the yokai. The idea that if the man of that story were to ever indicate that he met the Yuki-onna when he was smaller, that it would mean the end of him. The connection there isn’t as strong due to who’s punished in that case; however, remember, reinterpretations of stories such as this usually twist elements that are based off the original facts. And Quiet ends up leaving Venom Snake at this point to avoid the fallout: very similar to the Yuki-onna leaving to avoid killing her husband.
Now those who are familiar with Japanese folklore may point out that the interpretation that I have chosen here regarding the vow of silence is only featured within one of the famous stories about the Yuki-onna. And that’s true, but the story I’ve chosen in this representation is one of the most famous stories regarding the yokai. It’s definitely possible that a particular focus was put on this story in particular as there’s a reason why it’s one of the more popular stories within the folklore. And it’s possible that Kojima was raised being told that specific story in particular, and that it stuck with him over time.
So is this the origin story of Quiet? Is this what Hideo Kojima was referring to regarding the character? It’s possible I suppose, but I’m going to guess that wasn’t his true intent. But you see, it’s not about whether or not it’s what the true intent and background of a character is right or wrong. It’s not about whether the connections that I made are 100% the main purpose or not. It’s about one thing in particular: that’s what I took from the story. That I felt the character had a folklore like element to it, and it caused me to go and read about Japanese folklore. It caused me to read something I never would have because of it and really appreciate what it had to offer.
And that’s the point. We’ve seen articles come from publications indicating that a certain character is a certain representation. That someone truly believes that Samus is transgender. And you know what? If you believe your interpretation of that character and the facts around the story makes them a certain way, that’s perfectly fine. I see no issue with seeing that Samus is transgender, even if the original creator believed that wasn’t the case. There could be lore that could be easily pointed to say otherwise, but if that reinforces the themes that you took out of the story, all power to you: that’s one of the strengths of the medium.
What’s not fine, however, is indicating that anyone who’s interpreted it differently and looked at the story from a different perspective is wrong. Specifically, that not only are they wrong, but they are horrible people for believing that. This is what drives me nuts when I see articles with such binary statements within it. You take away a strength of the medium. You take away the growth, the possibility for true discovery of great writing, and frankly, do the writing team and the storytellers a great disservice. You take away the interactivity, the show that is present to make more of a point about a social issue more then anything else. It’s not a story anymore: it’s a tool.
Educating people on your perspective is the best way to go about using games as a tool for social change or for education. Again, there’s not only a lot that we can learn from the stories that can be told here, but there’s a lot to learn about ourselves within the walls of this medium.