Metro: Last Light Has a Problem with Women

Metro Scared Woman***Includes plot details***

There are women living in the ramshackle settlements of Metro: Last Light‘s post-apocalyptic subway system. There may not be quite as many of them as there are men, but they are there. Unfortunately, they are characterized in a drastically different manner than the male population of the Moscow ruins. Aside from the stray soldier, developer 4A Games portrays the women and girls of their world as either mothers or whores — or some combination of both.

Last Light, like its predecessor Metro 2033, is broken up into segments that are characterized by either combat or exploration. In the combat sections the player character, Artyom, must gun down monsters or dispatch enemy soldiers. In between these levels the player is instead placed in impressively rendered environments — typically roughshod subterranean villages constructed by the survivors of a nuclear disaster — and given the freedom to walk around, eavesdropping on conversations or interacting with mini-events. In the combat sections of the game the player takes on the role of a man who kills men. In the exploration segments the player continues in the role of a man who is able to non-violently interact with both men and women.

That all of the soldiers encountered during combat sections are male+ is problematic enough. The trouble with omitting female characters from the game’s armiesMetro Prostitute pales in comparison to the actively concerting issue of how Last Light chooses to portray what women it does bother to include in its exploration levels, though. When the player is given a break from combat they are able to soak in Metro‘s fiction by walking around and observing how ordinary people live their lives after the end of the world. The men are mostly soldiers, but they are also arms vendors, panhandlers, fishermen and more. Women, on the other hand, occupy far fewer roles. From my time with the game I encountered only mothers, showgirls, strippers and a single member of a military faction (described below). Simply enough, 4A Games, in spite of the considerable imagination they display in adapting Dmitry Glukhovsky’s novel to an interactive medium, can’t figure out how to make a female character that falls outside the binary of mother or prostitute.

This problem is exasperated through Anna, the only character who appears to exist outside of these categories. Anna is introduced as a tough sniper sent to accompany Artyom on his mission to kill the last remaining Dark One. The pair only spend a short time together before they are split up while trying to fulfill their objective. When they’re reunited later in the game, quarantined together after potentially contracting a deadly virus, Anna inexplicably throws herself at Artyom because, well, she’s the game’s only named woman and . . . there’s nothing hotter than two people just sitting around, waiting out the verdict on whether or not they’re terminally ill.

Metro AnnaThe manner in which Anna is written shows just how poorly (and, whether inadvertent or not, offensively) Last Light‘s creators choose to portray female characters. Her initial set-up as the game’s only woman on equal footing with the game’s men (Anna is a skilled sniper and the military is Metro’s elite) is undermined by the way she is ultimately treated. Worse than her abrupt transition from seemingly important cast member to sex object — Anna’s baffling “love scene” with Artyom is directed with game camera fixated leeringly on virtual breasts++ possessing the same physics as the inside of a lava lamp — is how the game’s “bad ending” reveals that the only reason Anna was likely sketched as fully as she was was in order to facilitate a plot-device pregnancy after the protagonist’s heroic death. In the end, once Last Light has shown all of its cards, the player sees that Anna, the only slightly plausible female character in the game, was only written with any level of care because the narrative needed a lady for the main character to knock up. Baby ex machina.

Not since Hitman: Absolution has a game’s rendering of its entire female cast been so problematic and it seems important, in light of Last Light‘s many successes, to address these failings. There are many aspects of the game that are admirable — the “underdog triumph” of creating such a well realized game world is especially noteworthy in light of the 4A Games’ arduous development process — and worth discussing. The incredibly offensive manner in which women are written in the game is not one of them.

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+ Though the enemy soldiers typically wear balaclavas or gas masks it’s easy to see their faces if the player chooses to get up close to knock them out. They also frequently talk to one another in masculine voices.

++ If there weren’t already enough nails in Last Light’s coffin, it may be worth mentioning one especially painful sequence in which the player journeys through Venice, a swampy city notorious for serving as the Metro’s centre for sex, drugs and crime. The game takes a break from guiding the player in tailing an important man in order to funnel them into an inexplicable first-person lapdance scene.

***

Reid McCarter is a writer, editor and musician living and working in Toronto. He has written for sites and magazines including Kill Screen, The Escapist and C&G Magazine. He maintains literature and music blog, Sasquatch Radio, and, more importantly, founded, writes and is editor-in-extremis for videogame site Digital Love Child. His Tweet-fu is strong @reidmccarter.

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8 thoughts on “Metro: Last Light Has a Problem with Women”

  1. So, a woman showing her affection is somehow sexist? I’m sorry, I think you’re delusional.
    In the novel, there’s rarely a woman to be found. Maybe one time, I don’t remember.
    The way I see it, since the human population is nothing but a few thousand, women are seen as nurturers, not exactly as sex objects. That’s why they don’t fight with mutants i.e. go through the hardship of a soldier’s life.
    About the Venice part, it obviously had some kind of irony to it. The world has come to end and people live underground, but they still have strip clubs? That’s funny.
    On the other side, sexualizing women is a marketing tool in the real world. And all forms of media draw something from it. It’s wrong, I know. But what can you do?

  2. Metro: Last Light has a problem with game design.

    You don’t think women would be treated like shit in a lot of places in a crime infested, post-apocalyptic world where death and destruction is in every corner? It’s like saying these things aren’t apparent in our real world today and that everything will be sunshine and rainbows in a hellish landscape that is Metro. While I have to say they are extremely objectified in this game I believe it serves the purpose to explain what a bad place the Metro is, because in ‘good’ stations you will find women making the best with children or a husband etc etc, so in regards to this article all I can say is; feminists pls.

  3. Oooo another delusional feminist retard. How do you make love bud? Cut a hole in a sheet? …Hope my adblock stopped you from getting any ad revenue.

  4. I agree OP. It’s not a “feminist” (“women are better than men”) post at all, which reveals how endangered and uninformed all you commenting that way are. It’s a post revealing the lack of quality writing for the game and a shallow adaptation.
    god forbid anyone noticing how fucked up the world is and how pathetic it is to just play it up in a game, they must surely be feminist (! a movement destroyed because of a handful of crazy women which’s name has now become an insult, when in its core it is merely about getting both genders to equal footing, maybe if we did that the future wouldn’t look like that!).
    Even if the post apocalypse was women as sex slaves and enslaved breeding machines you’d think it was portrayed with more of their suffering because of it, more of them fighting against it. Instead you have tits that serve as hard ons for 14 year old boys and 30 year old men that never hit maturity. That with Anna is completely hollow, it makes no sense except to be baby ex machina.
    You don’t see the reality of those women at all, not to mention that if you want to be real they’d mostly be ruined by such a life, sickly in appearance and ravaged by STD’s. If it were a true world their misery would be apparent so that’s absolutely no argument against this post.
    to Tarik, there’s a lot one can do, not support it, be aware that it’s sick and disturbing and working on making it stop. It’s easy for men to shrug and say whatever because they have no idea what its like.

  5. Do you honestly believe that in a post apocalyptic scenario that the men would ever let the women anywhere near danger ? The earth’s population has been reduced from billions to perhaps hundreds of thousands …. Thats what is known as a potentially extinction level event … And the last thing you want to do when you are facing the very real possibility of your species’ annihilation, is allow the females, the only sex of the two capable of producing offspring, to be soldiers or or any other equally dangerous profession ….. And why would you ? When men, being bigger and stronger, are much more suited to those roles …. Sure it isnt fair ….. But this isnt about being fair, this about survival ….. As for the whole strip club thing, i have no defense for that ….. Though those establishments do exist in the real world (duh) ….. And the game actually classifies it as a bad karma choice to stay and get a lapdance from her ….. which negatively effects the outcome of the ending of course

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