Going back to the day of Custer's Revenge, when the rape of an indigenous woman by a gun-toting cowboy was used as a sort of shock appeal to draw in audiences, video games have continuously tried to entertain players by glorifying or contorting complex scenarios into flagship moments. When Cloud cross-dressed in Final Fantasy VII, when Grand Theft Auto let you burn a prostitute alive after throwing her out of your car.
These moments have ranged from funny to laugh at with your friends to a total and complete misrepresentation of important and marginalized issues and groups. In the case of Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain, franchise creator Hideo Kojima may be treading some dangerous water if theories about the identity of Quiet, a character that was met with stark criticism over her scantily-clad and objectified reveal in 2013, turn out to be true. Particularly the one that suggests that Quiet is not a cisgender woman, but is actually a post-operation Chico, a central character in the (Metal Gear timeline) preceding Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker.
The theory, while bizarre in nature, actually has a lot of evidence to support it. For starters, Quiet and Chico both have very similar appearances, sporting the same hair colour and general facial structure. Their ages also match up – at the end of The Phantom Pain's prequel-game, the 1974/75-set Metal Gear Solid: Ground Zeroes, Chico is 13, and Quiet looks to be in her early 20s by the time of Konami's forthcoming fifth title proper, set in 1984. In Peace Walker, set just before the events of Ground Zeroes, Chico mentioned he wanted to be a hunter and concept art shows him sporting a sniper rifle.
Most important to supporters of the theory is Chico's supposed guilt, over both being forced to rape his friend and partner Paz and due to admission of his comrade's whereabouts and logistics after enduring brutal torture by Phantom Pain and Ground Zeroes villain Skull Face. The million-dollar scene, which is revealed on a hidden tape in GZ, contains a conversation between Chico and his captor where he gives into the torture, only for the tape to end with Paz telling Chico to "Just be quiet." Quiet-is-Chico theorists purport that it's Chico's guilt from these events that pushes him to transition into a woman and cut his tongue out, all in order to avoid ever hurting anyone ever again.
Critics of the theory are quick to jump to the translation of an interview with Quiet's body actress Stefanie Joosten, in which she reiterates that Quiet is a female and that Chico is male. But this is hardly compelling evidence as she doesn't address the actual issue of transition at all, not to mention how often creators of entertainment use careful wordplay in order to avoid spoiling unreleased content (Jon Snow is dead, right guys?).
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You're probably thinking this sounds like a stretch, and that's because it is, but creator Hideo Kojima has made some of his own eyebrow-raising tweets in response to criticism about Quiet's appearance as a sexualised, voiceless hero, some of which suggest that theories about Quiet's identity being that of a transwoman, even if not formerly that of Chico, might be right.
"I know there's people concerning about 'Quiet' but don't worry. I created her character as an antithesis to the women characters," Kojima said on his English-translated Twitter account shortly after the reveal of Quiet. "But once you recognize the secret reason for her exposure, you will feel ashamed of your words and deeds."
Kojima's track record of exploring taboo concepts is consistent with the MO of the theory: child soldiers, nanomachines, cloning, mental health, drug use, androgyny. The list could go, but it's clear that Kojima's not afraid of crossing uncharted territory, therefore it's very well possible that he may be trying to be a champion for trans rights by introducing what would arguably be the first central-role trans character in a mainstream video game.
'Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain', "Quiet But Not Silent" trailer
However, according to Carolyn Petit, a transwoman and video game journalist who contributes to VICE Gaming, there are a number of concerns to be had with using a transgender narrative as a form of plot device.
For starters, she points to the infamous scene in Ace Ventura: Pet Detective, in which a transwoman is humiliated in front of multiple people when Ace Ventura tears her clothing off to reveal that she still has male genitals, as evidence of how trans issues are trivialised to scenes of comedy or shock value. This is more or less what would be happening if Quiet turns out to be a transitioned Chico, and that reveal is used as a pivotal moment in the game. Even if well intentioned, Petit says that this can seriously simplify the diversity of trans narratives.
"When I read the theories about Quiet, I see the same sort of thing," she tells me. "What Kojima is doing, provided the theories are true, is using transness as a kind of clever plot device that doesn't in anyway reflect the actual emotional and psychological reality of what it means to be trans."
If true, Quiet wouldn't be alone: a character like Poison from Capcom's Street Fighter and Final Fight franchises is a good example of how transgender people can be reduced to easter eggs or sex objects in video games, with further proof being in the way the community reacts to it. Typing "Is Poison" into Google will retrieve the first-most-searched item as "Is Poison a man", a question that leads to thousands of pages of speculation and analysis, all of which either miss the complexity of the situation or are riddled with blatant transphobia.
Petit says that while she's happy to have more trans narratives in video games, it would be a disservice to use a single character as the torchbearer for the trans community.
"There isn't one universal transgender experience, one person's journey is often vastly different than another," she says. "There are definitely ways to represent the trans experience that are completely inaccurate and, I think, sensationalistic and damaging."
The struggle to properly represent LGBT characters in gaming has been a battle long fought, like a never-ending tug of war. In 2007, when the first Mass Effect was released, it was revealed that despite the ability for female Commander Shepard to romance shipmate Liara T'Soni, the same could not be done with male Shepard and Kaidan Alenko, due to developers BioWare cutting the scene from the game. Yet when gay romances were finally introduced in Mass Effect 3 and Dragon Age II, many forum goers and commenters rose up in disgust.
Recently, with characters like Krem, a transman introduced as a mercenary in Dragon Age: Inquisition, reception in the community has been better due to popularization of trans issues in the last few years. However, Brianna Wu, co-founder of indie studio Giant Spacekat and a games media activist championing equality in the medium, says that the mainstream development community has still yet to nail down the formula for creating narratives true to the reality of marginalised groups.
"I can't think of anyone that's got it right," she tells me. Wu adds that many developers miss the ball by relying on visual representation without having a deep understanding of the character they're trying to create, often leaving the represented group disenfranchised. "What I'm constantly hearing from the transgender community is how frustrated they are that they're being misrepresented in games."
For Wu, situations like the one involving Quiet are much more serious than people realise, noting that misrepresentation can be not only be damaging to the public understanding of what trans people face but also how they view themselves.
"The truth is that the public has so little information about transitioning. Like, shockingly no information at all. I think when you're putting out a major game like Metal Gear and you're conflating childhood sexual abuse with gender dysphoria, that's such a tremendously harmful narrative."
Wu also stresses the importance of how severe these issues can actually be by pointing out the grim cycle trans people often get caught in due to societal pressure and harassment.
"It's really, really important to get this right," Wu says. "It's not often that you're faced with life or death through creative choices that you make, but let's just look at the facts here: transgender people have some the highest suicide rates of anyone. The reason those rates are so high is because we have a society that continually makes them the butt of the joke, abuses them, makes fun of them. It's like you're constantly told that you don't matter. So let's say this theory comes true and Kojima puts another harmful narrative about this out there – it could literally cost lives."
Exactly who Quiet is in the lore of Metal Gear remains to be seen, with nobody at Konami yet willing to confirm her identity (we did ask). It may well be that the only way any of us find out for sure is to play The Phantom Pain, when it's released in September. Until then, the only guarantee is that speculation will continue to spread across the internet, resonating the very real fear that Kojima could have bungled a central piece of what is potentially his Metal Gear series swansong.
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