In Defense of Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes’ Ending

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Spoilers, spoilers, spoilers for all of you who haven’t seen the end of MGSV: Ground Zeroes.

“There’s a bomb in my…”, Paz trails off, as she jumps from the helicopter in order to save her rescuers from the impending explosion building within her. It’s a powerful moment, as the player realizes that Paz, who was a traitor in Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker, is sacrificing herself in order to save the very person she betrayed. It’s also powerful, or at least jarring, to realize the implications of where the bomb is inside her, exactly. Players had just been subjected to the sight of Snake and a medic removing a bomb from her stomach, sans painkillers. Blood, guts, and screaming filled the scene, which was brutal to watch. Thinking she was safe, it was more than surprising when she declared they’d missed another explosive hidden away. It’s this moment, however, that is stirring up controversy across the internet, because the implication is pretty explicit that the bomb is either between her legs or in her anus.

There’s really no other place for it to be, though I will grant that it doesn’t necessarily mean there wasn’t another bomb in her stomach that they simple missed. However, if it were that straightforward, I’d think that Ground Zeroes‘ director Hideo Kojima would have made it so. It is then reasonable to assume it was, for all intents and purposes, an intentionally vague descriptor. The resulting speculation has lead many to decree Kojima incapable of the mature storytelling he claimed to be striving for with this twist, that it was just more violence and abuse against women in media. Which is unfounded, for a number of reasons.

First of all, Paz had a history that exists beyond the confines of Ground Zeroes. Again, her story is detailed in Peace Walker exhaustively, and to a lesser, though no less illuminating, extent in the recordings scattered about the game. People have complained that Paz was simply female fodder, but the truth is that her actions had come full-circle that night and culminated in her death. She also goes out somewhat redeemed, too, because rather than kill everyone else on the chopper, she hurls herself into the sea, instead. Ignoring the sexual implications of her murder, the ending itself for this character was tragic, but part of a greater narrative.

To segue just a bit to the narrative of MGS, there’s also no escaping that Ground Zeroes is one of many games in the series. Just because it might be the first exposure for some players, that doesn’t excuse an ignorant dismissal of the overarching story at play. To say Paz is just randomly inserted and used as a piece of meat is ludicrous. It’s like stepping into an episode of a TV show and claiming that a story element is inappropriate or out of place without doing the slightest bit of research to see where it fits within the greater context of the series. The tapes that catch players up on the story are enough of a resource, but the player bears some responsibility to educate themselves beforehand knowing they’re arriving in the middle of a story.

Still, going back to the real crux of the issue, it’s the notion that Paz suffered some form of rape or sexual abuse prior to her death that’s primarily stoking so many people’s ire. The popular sentiment being that it’s more of the pro-male, anti-female dogma so common in today’s video games. While I strongly support the initiative by those who would prefer to see stronger female leads and characters in the industry, I don’t see what happened to Paz as a blow against that. To repeat, her story isn’t limited to Ground Zeroes. Paz is, to a degree, paying for her own past transgressions. Paying, I fully acknowledge, in one of the worst ways possible, but to address another criticism of the game, audiences have no entitlement to see a narrative end as they please. Like a movie, TV show, or book, sometimes the ending doesn’t feel justified, but that doesn’t mean the creators did something wrong.

There’s this odd opinion that because Ground Zeroes‘ gameplay was fun and compelling, that to kill Paz so horribly at the end didn’t feel earned. That by virtue of playing the game and going through all that trouble to save her, she should have lived. I myself noted much the same thing in my own review of the game. There’s a difference, though, between being letdown and something being inappropriate. From a pure enjoyment perspective, the ending of Ground Zeroes is a letdown. It’s a killjoy. That doesn’t mean it’s wrong, though. It’s like the ending of Inception, wanting to see that top stop spinning, and it never does. It’s frustrating, but it’s not out of bounds. Sometimes, things don’t work out the way we want them to, and that includes narratives. It happens all the time in entertainment, so I see no reason to subject Ground Zeroes to a different set of rules.

It’s awful if Paz was sexually abused before dying, but as Kojima himself noted, video games have to be able to broach topics like this in order to proceed further as a viable outlet for narratives. In execution, Paz’s potential rape and/or molestation might be a bit grating compared to previous MGS games, but really, the series has always been edgy and pushed narrative boundaries. Ground Zeroes clearly is a step in a new, grittier direction for the series, and while there were plenty of winks at longtime fans, the overall experience upheld that vision all the way to that final scene. I don’t want to think that Paz was attacked in that way, but there a lot of things I don’t want to have happened in stories I’ve experienced and read over the years, but they did.

I think it’s a healthy response for people to debate the ending of Ground Zeroes, but ultimately I think that it was handled well. I’d like to also point out that Hideo Kojima is no slouch as a director. MGS’s story is very dense and layered, to put it mildly, but the wide array of characters, both male and female, that Kojima has depicted over the years is staggering. Kojima’s run the gamut of character personality types and portrayals in his years with the series, and I’ve never once felt like he treats women any differently than men in his games. Ground Zeroes is a compelling game, and it’s ending is only as offensive as someone wants it to be. I think it deals with Paz’s situation as gracefully as it can and look forward to the rest of the adventure in The Phantom Pain.

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