Metal Rear Solid: The Role of Butts in Narrative Design

By Laura Kate Dale on at

[This article contains plot spoilers for the Metal Gear series]

Hideo Kojima, the eccentric creator of the Metal Gear series of video games, has always revelled in turning silly details into important plot points. While the games contain serious introspection about the nature of humanity and war, they also revel in psychics that can read your memory cards, running gags about diarrhoea, and endless trivia about everything from anime to hamburgers.

Kojima’s work always contains the serious alongside the bizarre, and in that same spirit I approach what is perhaps the most narratively important detail across the series. Yes, it is time to examine the many fine buttocks of Metal Gear.

First up, Solid Snake, a man whose backside would make a fine centrepiece in a video game butt exhibit. Snake’s backside appears to be the perfect backside, which makes sense because he was genetically engineered to be the perfect soldier. If the buttocks act as a centre point between the torso and legs, keeping both connected and powered, Snake’s cheeks are the squidgy pistons holding everything together.

Much like Tracer, whose rear we previously discussed, a big part of why Snake’s bottom looks so pronounced in-game is the existence of a series of straps, belts and harnesses. These not only lift and push the buttocks, but also frame them effectively. Snake also suffers from ‘clothing glued to the inside of his butt crack so that he has a permanent wedgie and his cheeks are more pronounced’ syndrome.

While Snake’s harnesses serve a functional purpose — they’re designed so his rig will move in time with the wearer and not make noise — I also think they tell us something about Snake’s personality as he ages. Snake may in fact have a very average bum, but we’ll never know, because he uses the straps as a way to keep it looking perky and boost his own self confidence.

Considering that Solid Snake is an imperfect clone of Big Boss, the ‘perfect’ soldier, he’s bound to have some insecurities and anxieties about living up to his predecessor. When Snake is out on a mission, he fastens the harness so tight it makes his buttocks go from average to perfect.

The fact Snake ages at an accelerated rate is a great example of this. His physical peak years pass him by in a flash. As he ages, he just pulls the straps tighter and tighter. You can see that while the rest of his body ages, his arse stays forever perky, bouncy, full, and vibrant. In reality, it’s just being squeezed tighter and tighter to create that impression.

Snake is insecure about his lost peak years, and his butt is where you see him try desperately to cling to that era of his life. The look of his butt is one thing he can control, and he’ll be damned if it’s not perfect. A perfect butt, for the perfect soldier.

Next up is Meryl, a character whose bum is vital to the plot of the first Metal Gear Solid.

In MGS1 Snake is sneaking through prison cells in Shadow Moses trying to talk to the Darpa chief who is currently trapped there. While exploring the base via the ventilation system, you are able to see Meryl exercising in her cell in her underwear, giving Snake his first potential glimpse of this mission-critical bottom.

Meryl eventually escapes the prison and, as she runs away, Snake and players are treated to a close-up slow motion view of her swaying bottom. In any other game this would be pure fanservice, but here it’s part of the story.

Soon Snake finds himself in a situation where he knows Meryl is disguised as a soldier, but he has no way to tell which is her. Well, almost no way.

Snake remember’s Meryl’s gorgeous buttocks perfectly, and as a result he and the player are able to track her down by sneaking around and looking at soldier’s asses. One question: does it sway? Meryl has such a memorable butt that ultimately Snake is able to find her, and as a result the world is saved.

Meryl’s buttocks may be the only cheeks to avert nuclear catastrophe in a video game. It’s an arse you could pick out of a police line up. Her bottom also tells us that, when it comes to a good butt, it’s not all about size and shape. Sometimes just the way it moves can save humanity.

Wait, I almost forgot! There’s actually a second person whose butt saves the world in the Metal Gear Solid series: Johnny Sasaki.

Johnny Sasaki is a character who appears multiple times throughout the Metal Gear Solid series. Initially present primarily as comic relief, whose irritable bowel syndrome is disappointingly used as a reason to mock him, his frequent toilet trips end up being a big part of him saving Snake and Meryl’s lives in MGS IV: Guns of the Patriots.

Yes, this is a butt that saved the world through function not form, but it’s a narratively important butt nonetheless.

You see, in the Metal Gear Solid universe, most soldiers at some point were injected with nanomachines which improved their combat abilities. Johnny, who has had a lifelong fear of needles, never did get the nanomachine injection. As a result he can’t drink the nanomachine filtration water that other soldiers drink, a big factor in that previously punchline series of IBS flare ups. His IBS has plot relevance: it clues us in on the fact his body was being irritated in ways other soldiers’ bodies were not.

This is important, because when Psycho Mantis is able to take control of all the soldiers whose bodies contain nanomachines, Sasaki remains immune to that control. This immunity means he’s able to save Meryl and Snake from their controlled state.

IBS may have started as a punchline, but it ended up being a signifier of a character’s role in saving the world.

The next narratively crucial butt in this parade belongs to Raiden; a character whose humanity is most clearly defined when his bottom is visible.

In Metal Gear Solid: Sons of Liberty, when Raiden is captured, he is stripped completely naked by his captors. This leads to an escape scene where the character, preserving his modesty with his hands, has to fight his way to freedom without any clothes on.

Due to the nature of the camera positioning, you spend most of this section of the game looking directly at Raiden’s bum, and there’s a lot about his personality and current emotional state we can gleam from this extended focus on his cheeks.

Firstly, his butt being constantly visible conveys vulnerability. A butt unsupported is a butt open to the harsh attacks and damage of the world. Such a typically private area of the body being exposed reinforces the idea that Raiden really is all alone right now. He has absolutely nothing and nobody to help him, literally stripped bare for the world to see.

Secondly, his buttocks are notably less taut and tightly defined here than when he is clothed. This is a point of connection for the player; Raiden’s arse is human, reasonable, and realistically attainable. But it also suggests that, like Snake himself, Raiden is self conscious about his beautiful torso cushions. He tightens them up to an excessive degree, even making use of a mechanical suit to perfect the shape and position of the cheeks, revealing yet another core series character with deep insecurities about the look of their rear.

Finally, I want to talk about the butt of Venom Snake in Metal Gear Solid V. I believe this butt is one of only two clues that allow super observant players to work out the game’s big plot twist during the opening scene. The second clue is the buttocks of Ishmael in his hospital gown.

By examining the butts in the hospital escape at the start of MGS V, I think you can accurately deduce that Venom Snake isn’t Big Boss, and Ishmael is the real world’s greatest soldier.

How? Let’s look at the facts. Big Boss and his clones all have one thing in common throughout the MGS games; their butts always feature a deep and pronounced crevice, and any clothing they wear sticks tightly to the contours of the butt, regardless of where physics say the fabric should fall.

Ishmael exhibits this because his hospital gown, rather than falling down towards the floor with gravity, somehow follows the contours of his buttocks to show the definition of his lower cheeks at all times.

Venom Snake, on the other hand, has very little butt definition under his clothing. The trousers are not glued into his crack, they don’t hug the undercheek, they do not magnetically highlight his butt. It is the backside of an imposter. Any Snake whose clothing doesn’t hug his butt is not a true Snake.

The evidence was in front of our eyes all along.

There you have it, no ifs but plenty of butts. Obviously this stuff is funny, but at bottom there’s a serious point. In thirdperson games, we players spend almost all of our time looking at the backs of our avatars. The butts of the various Snakes are in some ways more important than their faces, certainly in terms of screen time, and it’s impossible to miss how Kojima brings them into the wider story, and over successive entries the detail level increases.

There’s something about the connection in MGS4 between the analogue stick and Solid Snake’s bottom, the way you can make it slowly undulate and form peaks as he lies still on the ground. It speaks to a studio that put real time and thought into the digital posterior. And let’s face it: who doesn’t love the idea of butts saving the world?