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Guest Post: Samus Aran – Friend or Foe to Feminism?

A guest post by Edward Strickson:

Back in 1984, the game Metroid was brewed in the steaming cappuccino of Nintendo, and with it came one of the first female protagonists in gaming. Samus Aran, alas, was not revealed to be a woman until the end of the game, and the player spent the majority of her adventure roaming alien corridors in an armoured suit, shooting lasers and trying not to get fried by Nintendo’s favourite recurring obstacle – lava pits. In this time however, the player fell prey to the culturally enforced assumption that this character was male; with a vague name and armour Nintendo provided one of the first gaming heroines, but how much does the bounty hunter resemble the bold-faced middle finger to our male-orientated assumptions 16 years on? Is she the hero women deserve, or have recent events resembled the bastardisation of DC comics’ Starfire?

Well, for someone raised by terrifying, humanoid space-birds Samus rather aptly demonstrated that you didn’t need to have a pixelated penis to be badass. With her varia suit in tow, Samus’ sprite from day one resembled a style many people now associate with Gears of War’s barrel-bodied Marcus Fenix. However, Samus didn’t need shoulders the size of a small village to purge the Metroid threat. In fact, given how badly Marcus’ planet got flattened in GOW they could probably have used her around.

However, in a nightmare for Metroid fans, after an awkward one night stand in 2010, Metroid: Other M was the lovechild Nintendo bore with Team Ninja. Now, if you haven’t heard of Team Ninja, their stance on women in gaming is portrayed rather nicely by their flagship title Ninja Gaiden II, in which the main female character, who gets captured by huge, beefy ninjas, is somehow able to support breasts the size of a horse and yet retains the modesty of Ivy from Soul Calibur.

Here’s where Samus’ character fell victim. The heroine was summoned by various bad metaphors for motherhood, requires constant attention from several testosterone junkies, and when the time comes for her fight with recurring villain Ridley, an enemy she has fought without breaking a sweat in pretty much every game in the series, she breaks into a fit while the big, strong men, who dominate over our protagonist for the majority of the campaign might I add, take charge despite the fact that they’ve never seen this twenty foot space dragon before, which makes the fact that they are apparently unfazed by the fact that it could very well shoot fireballs from its mouth and kill them even more confusing.

This unsurprisingly led to some harsh criticism, with one Abbie Heppe noting that according to Other M, Samus “[could not] possibly wield the amount of power she possesses unless directed to by a man”. This, my friends, is not a good way to treat a treasured heroine, but is exactly how Team Ninja would, as “an unsure, insecure woman who desperately wants the approval of her former [male] commanding officer".

It’s a shame really, that in the face of two-dimensional male game characters and their over-estrogenised counterparts, Team Ninja felt like there was no room for a woman who could stand up for herself, despite the many flavours of laser at her disposal. Despite this, I believe there is hope for Samus yet. She’s a popular character that once did a lot to blow the winds of change in our favour.  But for her to regain her throne, Team Ninja need to step back and refrain to their specialty… ninjas.

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Eddy is an amateur writer, an even more amateurish musician and the Internet's 3600th favourite redcoat. He writes a mostly skeptical daily blog at jengajam.wordpress.com to quell the voices in his head, writes album reviews for www.alterthepress.com to put voices in his head and writes novels that he hopes to put voices in other people's heads. He is currently studying Biological Sciences at Nottingham Trent University, planning to specialise in Ecology.

Featured image credit: PseudoGil

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2 Comments

  1. March 19, 2012 at 2:37 pm —

    That was egregious, but sadly there's always been an objectification streak in the series.  I remember finally beating the game, and the moment when she takes off her helmet.  It made me so happy for reasons I didn't fully understand at the time.
    I was dismayed a while later when one of my friends informed me that the faster you beat the game, the more of her armor she takes off.
    Yeah.

    • March 20, 2012 at 1:50 pm —

      It is a little disturbing I agree, I wrote a paragraph on that subject in the initial draft but had to cut it out for space. 

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