MGSV and Children. Spoilers ahead.

BarryMcCociner

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The Metal Gear franchise has always explored the darker aspects of war. There is no real debate as to whether or not this is the case. The threat of PTSD, the question of governmental ulterior motive, the shaky state of deterrence, the unethical treatment of prisoners of war. The games carry a strong anti-war message that is usually enhanced by the games treatment of said message.

However, I believe MGSV completely and utterly dropped the ball in its depiction of child soldiers.

Let me draw a comparison. The FROGS, an all female combat unit featured in MGS4. I believe the frogs, with their superior mobility to the player and the extreme rate of fire of their weapons, force the player into an uncomfortable decision. Should you continue to use nonlethal means, as you've more than likely been attempting to in your playthrough and face an extremely difficult fight or should you ease the burden the game has placed on you and switch to faster, stronger, lethal weapons? The players decision was likely influenced more heavily by the fact that the FROGS were female, I believe that if the FROGS were male, the decision to switch to lethal means would have been much less difficult. But I am simply speaking from personal experience.

From a game design perspective, the FROGS were placed to see how much a players moral compass would erode under pressure. From a narrative perspective it serves another purpose, showing that the constant warfare that has engulfed the world at the time of MGS4 has gotten so bad that army's are becoming desperate and have begun deploying women in combat roles.

Metal Gear Solid 4 had a good mechanical and narrative purpose for the FROG's, what I'm saying is that it understood what it was doing with them and used them to further explore the darker aspects of war as the series has always done, though this aspect was more of a hypothetical one than the series had previously explored, it was still executed in a way that benefited the art. Intentional or not, Kojima made a statement in the depiction of the frogs.

Now, the problem with child soldiers. You can not kill them in this game.

Now, you might be asking "Why on earth would you want to kill the child soldiers?" The answer is quite frankly, I don't...

And that would be the point.

If you want to depict child soldiers from the perspective of an adult combatant like Big Boss properly, you would have to depict the cold, hard reality of facing a child soldier. The moral decision of opening lethal fire on a child would be a difficult one, not only in a real battlefield, but in exploring a fictional environment.

This has a dual benefit, it would make your fictional world more believable and it would add another fundamental moral choice embedded in the game's mechanics.

The problem would be that the game makes the decision for you. If you open fire on a child soldier, the game ends. You're booted out of the mission, chastised by Kaz and sent back to a checkpoint where you can make the decision the game wants you to make.

Compare with MGS4, the game doesn't demand you go easy on the FROGs, neither does it demand you step up your arsenal, it's an elective decision by the player, happening entirely in their mind. The art loses nothing and gains deeper meaning in its core gameplay.

While this game does depict child soldiers well in many other areas, for instance their difficulty keeping their weapons steady, showing that their weapons were not designed for them. This game fails to deliver a meaningful mechanical decision when they are encountered.

In all honesty, I feel that this cheapens the art.

And I understand why of course you wouldn't want the player killing children. Yes, children have a taboo protection in popular media. Yes, killing a child in a game would get the moral panic brigade in such a huff they'd puff and blow the whole world down. Yes, censors with no respect for art all across the world would become erect at the prospect of removing the death of children from the game.

But still, I believe that the depiction of child soldiers in this game is lacking, not lacking narratively, not lacking emotionally. It's lacking from the perspective of game mechanics.
 

Azure-Supernova

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I completely agree. This is all the more frustrating when the game has a "Heroism" system, where any lethal kills detract from your over all Heroism (roughly 10 per kill). They missed an opportunity to punish the player by having child soldiers carry a heavy penalty to Heroism, thus severely impacting the quality of extractions and volunteers. You build a reputation for your Diamond Dogs killing soldiers, recruitment becomes infinitely harder.

So then you're not only fighting a moral, ethical dilemma but one that has a gameplay function.
 

Casual Shinji

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I don't so much mind the inability to kill the child soldiers, but I did expect something more to be done with them at Motherbase other then them just hanging out there for a while and then just leaving. Kojima obviously put them in the game to adress something, but then proceeds to not touch upon anything. I mean, did he put them in the game to show us 'Look, child soldiers exist'. because we already knew that.

They're just there to be there, adding little to nothing to the gameplay or narrative.
 

BarryMcCociner

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Azure-Supernova said:
I completely agree. This is all the more frustrating when the game has a "Heroism" system, where any lethal kills detract from your over all Heroism (roughly 10 per kill). They missed an opportunity to punish the player by having child soldiers carry a heavy penalty to Heroism, thus severely impacting the quality of extractions and volunteers. You build a reputation for your Diamond Dogs killing soldiers, recruitment becomes infinitely harder.

So then you're not only fighting a moral, ethical dilemma but one that has a gameplay function.
Hell, even without the heroism system the emotional stress that would come over a player upon realizing that they'd messed up and would have to kill a child soldier would be enough of a punishment for poor stealth. Or if you used CQC on them without realizing they were too frail to handle it and accidentally killed one.

That alone would benefit the art in so many ways it's hard to see why they wouldn't have gone for it. People always gripe about how moral choices are separate from gameplay and I'm inclined to agree with them, however this could have been an *actual* moral choice built fundamentally into the gameplay.

Fuck the controversy that could have arisen, do it for benefit of the art!
 

BarryMcCociner

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Casual Shinji said:
Kojima obviously put them in the game to adress something, but then proceeds to not touch upon anything.
As a fan of the series and Kojima, I have no issue saying you're absolutely right here. I've noticed that more and more in MGSV, the game sets lines of dominoes up, but simply refuses to flick the first one.
 

EternallyBored

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Hah, I've played all the MGS games and just now remembered that the FROGs were all female, for some reason I keep thinking they were just co-ed, your interpretation of hesitating to kill them because they were female seems more like reaching for an excuse to me, nobody I knew had any issue killing them in droves, the only hesitation is in breaking a perfect non-lethal run out of frustration, and that hesitation is there no matter what enemy it is that frustrates you, I had the same dilemma in 2 when the naked Raiden sequence was frustrating the hell out of me, and those soldiers were almost definitely not women. If they were going for that I would think it would have been with the BB corps that gives you the opportunity to gun them down after destroying their armor, but no, in the end, I doubt the FROGs were all female to make the player hesitate, if it was they did a poor job of it, the FROGs aren't really any more difficult than any other miniboss type enemy to nonlethal, I was much more frustrated by Gekkos than the frog unit. I think you're reading too much in to the FROGs being women, they were there to reinforce the theme the BB corps was setting up: most likely beautiful women covered by ugly armor and scarred by war.


As for child soldiers in V, yeah, it was a wasted opportunity and they seemed to want to go somewhere with it but never did. Even keeping child soldiers unkillable, they could have used them effectively if the Eli story was fleshed out, or at least finished, but as it is, they are just bizarrely out of place and handled with kid gloves. They almost never interact in and around adult soldiers, so you don't even have to worry about watching your fire in a battle with children and adults coming at you at the same time, the missions that do feature child soldiers are pretty easy since they don't carry any of the advanced weapons and equipment of adults, and the stages they are featured in put them in areas that make it really easy to tranq snipe them or sneak past them entirely. It's not too high up on my list of things that bug me about the game, since a coherent and fleshed out chapter 2 could have fixed most of my problems without letting you kill the child soldiers, but still, the fact you can't kill them kind of eliminates any moral dilemma they present. Even when you capture them everyone treats them like kids that need to be rehabilitated and put back in society, so you basically treat them like any generic video game good guy would, rather than actually debating their use and function on a military base full of very morally questionable people.
 

BarryMcCociner

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I'm pretty sure the game would have been banned, or at least would have suffered considerably for being able to kill children (directly), also Heroism drop wouldn't really be a good incentive against killing them, finally they might had a point in chapter 3.
 

Neurotic Void Melody

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It has always been a game thing of not killing kids, i doubt the legal hassle is worth it for a company under pressure. Plus i'm pretty sure they have no other purpose in this game than to remind the player that yes, child soldiers DO exist and NO, we do not kill child soldiers 'cos, like...that's what all those heroic films keep telling us is bad and we are not supposed to be bad, right? ...Oh wait.
 

DEAD34345

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You know, it didn't even occur to me that I was supposed to feel especially guilty about shooting the FROG unit. Are you sure that was the intent? I actually felt more justified gunning for them, since they seemed to be actively trying to oppose/kill me, whereas any PMC soldiers you kill really just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. Also I really doubt there was much to a FROG soldier's life, from what I gathered all of their emotions and such were suppressed by nanomachines and crap, so there wasn't much of a life there to lose.

As for the child soldiers, yeah, an opportunity was missed because nothing at all was done with them. Most likely it was just cut, along with the entire ending to their story arc (episode 51). Judging by things Kojima said before the game was released I'd have definitely thought there was supposed to be more to them than what we got.
 

Adam Locking

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On a related note, having child soldiers in an escort mission was possibly the worst design choice they could have made. I have yet to see an escort mission where the player doesn't end up completely resenting the intended companion...
 

Azure-Supernova

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inu-kun said:
I'm pretty sure the game would have been banned, or at least would have suffered considerably for being able to kill children (directly), also Heroism drop wouldn't really be a good incentive against killing them, finally they might had a point in chapter 3.
I doubt it would have been banned, it might have stirred up some controversy - which in retrospect Konami would never run with - but I severely doubt there would have been a call to ban it. Metal Gear has dealt with child soldiers since day one, with Big Boss training children in Zanzibar Land. In regards to Heroism deductions, I mentioned it because it's incredibly easy to gain it but there are so few ways to lose it. Sure you can build nukes for -50,000 but getting it back is so incredibly easy considering that most objectives in side ops and missions award large Heroism dumps.

On top of that, there's no moral weight to not killing them if there's never really a choice. If you want to you can put a bullet in Quiet at the end of "Cloaked in Silence" and be done with her, you can totally do that. Oh and you can shoot Tretij Rebenok in the Sahelanthropus anyway, so they had no qualms about letting you shoot at kids.
 

jurnag12

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It's even like the game shoves in your face that you can't harm them in any way. At one point Snake has to eliminate a bunch of soldiers that have inconvenienced an employer but finds out halfway through the mission that 5 of 'em are child soldiers and resolves to rescue them (Somewhat justified in that apparently the imprisoned kids had a stash of diamonds so Snake isn't so much as fucking over the mission as the employer being outbid). Except that what follows is a piss poor escort mission with kids that follow a scripted path through a ridiculously enemy rich environment (Including a fucking gunship) and barely listen to the one command (Wait, or follow) you can give them, will happily run ahead if you stop monitoring them for a microsecond to take out soldiers and run ahead, and weigh you down even more because one of them can't walk so you'll have to haul his ass to the extraction point.

Which is bad enough on its own, but even worse when I'd already cleaned out the entire fucking fort in front of the prison, so we could've easily walked out that way if they gave you the option, and the game is instantly ended if any of the six kids with awful AI and the sneaking skills of a warship are even mildly clipped by a bullet.

It's like the game WANTS to piss you the fuck off by randomly giving you a mission that will frustrate you due to the children barely half an hour after you first run into child soldiers.
 

nomotog_v1legacy

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That choice wouldn't be hard in MGSV. The game has a lot of very good nonlethal weapons. You lose very little weapon wise when you go no lethal, so the choice is also broken from that angel.

I was working through a book on blood diamonds well playing MGSV and was kind of annoyed that it seemed to be a very very clean version of warfare. The big one was how the child solders were commanded by children. It should be hard to guess that no that is now how it works in real life.

(Other details that struck me were lack of civilians, lack of women fighting, lack of mutations. The game basically left out all the horrors of war.)
 

Zetatrain

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Yeah I feel like the whole child soldiers thing was something Kojima was going to delve further into, then he either chickened out or didn't have time to expand upon it due to the drama with Konami.

Azure-Supernova said:
[ Oh and you can shoot Tretij Rebenok in the Sahelanthropus anyway, so they had no qualms about letting you shoot at kids.
Well its not like you actually kill him so that isn't really an indication of Konami's stance on shooting children.
nomotog said:
That choice wouldn't be hard in MGSV. The game has a lot of very good nonlethal weapons. You lose very little weapon wise when you go no lethal, so the choice is also broken from that angel.

The big one was how the child solders were commanded by children. It should be hard to guess that no that is now how it works in real life.
Well the children were originally commanded by adults. Then a certain disease killed them and children had no commander until Eli came along. It not like it was trying to portray child soldiers led by children as the norm.
 

Laughing Man

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If you create a game that includes player freewill in the choices you make and then decided to include child NPCs in the game then you should also have the courage to accept that certain players will happily want to kill these children, MGS5, Skyrim and Fallout I am looking at you here. It may seem strange to have a huge open world like the Elder Scrolls full of a raft of characters all of whom are adult with no children anywhere to be seen, but you know what's even stranger than that? The fact you can go to town on a city kill every living thing in it yet still have the children all wandering about unharmed.

As for the child escort mission, well I assume judging by the responses here that I was one of the few folk who had no issue completing this mission first time?
 

Chaos Isaac

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Oh man, choking them to death and stabbing the little bastards would be great.

Now, I realize that would destroy the plot because the mission to go see Eli would end with that dude so dead, Ocelot might even be surprised. But Nnrghhgh shoulda let me break his arms. Or legs. Or neck. Or anything of that character.

In all seriousness, yeah, it's a missed opportunity, but I think that's just in lieu of sometimes game makers just don't have the balls to do certain things. (Like killing a main character, or child violence or other such things.)
 

Ariseishirou

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Lunncal said:
You know, it didn't even occur to me that I was supposed to feel especially guilty about shooting the FROG unit. Are you sure that was the intent?
Yeah, same. I felt nothing.

It actually made me do an about-face on the "men are expendable trope" - before MGS4, I would have said "if you murdered women in droves like you do the male NPCs in shooters, people would absolutely protest!" But MGS4 proved me wrong. When apples are actually apples (i.e. their deaths are not ludicrously sexualized or played for titilation or intended to emphasize some sort of inherently feminine fragility) nobody actually gives a shit.
 

Tirrast

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I know the first and second metal gears on msx had mention of the former child soldiers and orphans of war in it. They had them in outer heaven and Zanzibar land. Actually, the second one had them in it. I always just assumed that the child soldiers in mgsv were them or just the start.
 

nomotog_v1legacy

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Zetatrain said:
Well its not like you actually kill him so that isn't really an indication of Konami's stance on shooting children.
nomotog said:
That choice wouldn't be hard in MGSV. The game has a lot of very good nonlethal weapons. You lose very little weapon wise when you go no lethal, so the choice is also broken from that angel.

The big one was how the child solders were commanded by children. It should be hard to guess that no that is now how it works in real life.
Well the children were originally commanded by adults. Then a certain disease killed them and children had no commander until Eli came along. It not like it was trying to portray child soldiers led by children as the norm.
They show up in other mission under their own command. Children lead by children are the only way they portray them so ya they are showing it as the norm. We know why they did it that way. It's way more cleaner that way. If you had a more realistic mixed target environment, then it would be a lot harder.
 

Zetatrain

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nomotog said:
Zetatrain said:
Well its not like you actually kill him so that isn't really an indication of Konami's stance on shooting children.
nomotog said:
That choice wouldn't be hard in MGSV. The game has a lot of very good nonlethal weapons. You lose very little weapon wise when you go no lethal, so the choice is also broken from that angel.

The big one was how the child solders were commanded by children. It should be hard to guess that no that is now how it works in real life.
Well the children were originally commanded by adults. Then a certain disease killed them and children had no commander until Eli came along. It not like it was trying to portray child soldiers led by children as the norm.
They show up in other mission under their own command. Children lead by children are the only way they portray them so ya they are showing it as the norm. We know why they did it that way. It's way more cleaner that way. If you had a more realistic mixed target environment, then it would be a lot harder.
You see child soldiers being trained and led by adults in the first Africa mission. While the game definitely skimps on showing the realistic portrayal of child soldiers the game doesn't try to imply child solders leading other child soldiers is the norm in reality.

Lunncal said:
You know, it didn't even occur to me that I was supposed to feel especially guilty about shooting the FROG unit. Are you sure that was the intent?
I certainly never did. I was a bit surprised when I first killed one, but I never felt guilty about it.