[Content warning: Major spoilers for Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain, mentions of emotional, physical, and sexual abuse]
The Metal Gear series features a huge cast of intimidating antagonists, including the aptly named Skull Face in Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain and Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater’s General Volgin. But the world of Metal Gear is one of stealth and sabotage, and the most unsuspecting characters often turn out to be the real problem.
Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain includes the penultimate example of this phenomenon-the character Huey Emmerich, father of Hal “Otakon” Emmerich. While his multiple betrayals to Venom Snake’s faction immediately come to mind, it’s the ongoing abuse of his son present in audio logs and subtext that permeates the rest of the series and Hal’s character development.
Huey Emmerich first debuted in the PSP title Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker as a kind, intelligent scientist invested in nuclear deterrence. His personality and appearance were a clear callback to his son, Hal, lulling the player into a sense of complacency that he was simply an expy (a character from one series who is unambiguously and deliberately based on a character in another, older series)-the Otakon to Big Boss’s Solid Snake.
But in the next entry in the Metal Gear timeline, Metal Gear Solid V, the player slowly begins to realize that Huey has a cleverly hidden manipulative side. Not only does he betray Big Boss/Venom Snake, but he finds ways to make him (and as an extension, the player) feel the blame for Huey’s actions. For instance, during one of the earliest times you encounter him in The Phantom Pain, Huey blames the attack on the main base in Metal Gear Solid V prequel Ground Zeroes on Big Boss’s brief departure to Cuba. (It was, in fact, Huey himself who arranged it so Big Boss would be gone during the attack.)
These controlling tendencies seep into his personal life and have dire consequences for Hal and his family. Cassette tapes obtained in Metal Gear Solid V reveal that Huey used Hal as a test subject for his mech experiments, making his own child pilot incredibly dangerous weapons of war for his personal gain. They also expose Huey’s murder of his lover Dr. Strangelove in which he traps her in her own invention, the AI Pod, and lets her suffocate to death.
While these events alone indicate that Huey abuses his family, it’s between the lines that the player can really see a long lasting pattern of emotional abuse that greatly changes how Hal and Dr. Strangelove view themselves and the world.
In a cassette tape that recorded Dr. Strangelove’s dying words, one of her first statements is, “If only I tried to get out sooner…Perhaps I’d have made it. Why didn’t I stop the hatch from closing? Even if it meant losing an arm?” Rather than focusing the blame on Huey, who was the one who physically trapped her inside the AI Pod, she regrets not leaving the relationship and preventing her murder, indicating a prior pattern of emotional abuse.
Throughout the entire Metal Gear Solid series, Hal has to deal with multiple self-esteem issues stemming from Huey’s emotional abuse, complicated by the sexual abuse he received from his stepmother during his teen years. Hal considers both his father’s death and his stepmother’s abuse his responsibility, as many abuse victims do.
Putting all the pieces together, it’s apparent that Huey uses gaslighting, both on a small and large scale, to manipulate others to get the results he desires. Over at Everyday Feminism, Shea Emma Fett defines gaslighting as “the attempt of one person to overwrite another person’s reality.” It’s a common abuse tactic that doesn’t necessarily have to be deliberate.
While Metal Gear Solid V focuses on the idea that Huey lies to cover his tracks, it’s also true that he uses these lies to control how others see the situations that he causes. In fact, the people he gaslights to the point of full-blown emotional abuse-his family-see themselves at fault for the harm that he causes them.
The Metal Gear series emphasizes psychological and information warfare over their physical counterpart, and Huey exemplifies these ideals. At the same time that the world’s nations and political factions wage war on their enemies’ minds, Huey launches psychological offenses on those around him that change their perception of reality.
But while the effects of emotional abuse and gaslighting are long-lasting and detrimental to one’s well-being, the victim can eventually learn to cope. Hal Emmerich goes on to become a force of change in the Metal Gear series, founding the anti-Metal Gear group Philanthropy and rewriting the fate of the world. He also raises his adopted daughter, Sunny, to have the same strong morals as him while developing her own interests.
In that way, Metal Gear Solid V is a story of hope, as well as destruction.