The Samus Mystique

I am a feminist. I do not breathe fire. I do not consume the corpses of men. I do not propose mandatory abortions, or the abolition of pornography, or compulsory lesbianism. Instead, consider me that type of feminist who hopes that one day, men and women will no longer hold preconceived notions about the other gender's abilities, intelligence, or behavioral habits. I want to live in a world where it is acceptable for both men and women to teach kindergarten, build a house, or play video games.

But it's not easy being both a gamer and a feminist. Often I'm dismayed, frustrated, and even belligerent. You know why.

It's because female characters in video games generally suck. This is no secret. Women like Jade from Beyond Good and Evil and Cate Archer from No One Lives Forever are a rare breed, and instead, you get the usual support staff: healers, witches, mages, and clerics. There are the gawping floozies, who are obsessed with winning the affections of the male protagonist. There are the firebrands, all sex and heat, whose only personality characteristic is their generic feistiness. In between are the whiny little sisters, nagging mothers, and cranky grandmothers. Indeed, in video games, my entire gender appears to be neatly organized into maidens, mothers, and crones--or worse, virgins and whores.

Look, developers--stop this. All of those "characters" are unnecessary. You've already made a perfect female character. Now, please, just make more of her.

Who? Samus Aran, of course.

Samus Aran, heroine of the Metroid series, feminist icon of the video gaming era. She's what most women aspire to be, and hope to teach their daughters to become. Even Elizabeth Cady Stanton would like her.

Confident, intelligent, and competent, Samus Aran exudes self-assurance as if it were perfume. She has good reason, too: she's a technical genius. Sure, the suit does all the work for her, but she still knows how to operate the machinery (it's not exactly a coffee maker). Not only that, but she can single-handedly pilot a spaceship, upgrade weapon electronics, and manage demolitions like an expert. Her talents are significant.

Yet, more importantly, she knows that she's capable. Never does she whine in her Space Journal, complain to Mission Control, or angst about Ridley over tea. She trusts herself to get the job done; she believes in herself. In this world, we could use a few more women--and men--who felt the same way.

Her independent streak is legendary: Samus always works alone. She explores caves, shoots enemies, and investigates secret passages, all on her own initiative. Her story does not revolve around her being kidnapped or needing rescue. Instead, she is a proactive force in a dynamic world; she does not react to her circumstances but instead interacts with them. She demonstrates a lesson not often taught to young girls, which is that working by yourself can be powerful, gratifying, even joyous.

Partially because of her independence, Samus, unlike nearly every other woman I've ever encountered in video games, is a consummate professional. She does not mix business and pleasure. At no point in the series does she fall in love, have sex, or pine for that handsome Space Pirate next door. Of course it would have been easy for the developers to add in a love interest--perhaps a doomed shipmate, or a mysterious Chozo stranger--but they never did.

I think this speaks of the level of respect with which the developers regard Samus Aran. They see her role as to do her job as a bounty hunter, not to fall in love. This isn't to say a woman falling in love in a video game is inherently bad, but these days, it seems like all we women do in video games is fall in love (and occasionally heal someone). I find great satisfaction that what matters in a Metroid game is not that the heroine nets her love interest, but rather that she completes her mission successfully. Samus judged not by her interpersonal skills but by her abilities and her talents. Samus is a woman, but her sexuality is irrelevant.

This isn't to say that Samus neglects her femininity; indeed, she is more stereotypically female than she might first appear. She displays motherly, nurturing instincts to the abandoned Metroid larva in Metroid II and Super Metroid. She apparently buys cute undergarments to wear underneath her Varia Suit and flirts with the player (only after the credits roll and her job is complete, of course). She even has impeccable fashion sense: that pink leotard she wore in the original Metroid may seem dated today, but when the game came out in 1986, it was the height of fashion.

It's more that Samus is a woman like any other, but in the Metroid universe, the fact that she is female neither adds nor detracts from her ability to do her job. In our world, where women are still discouraged from entering hard sciences, mathematics, police force, construction, or the military, this is a very potent idea.

An entire generation of children, mostly young boys, grew up with a Nintendo, playing through Samus's various adventures. Sure, the first time they saw Samus take off her suit, it was a big novelty. Once the surprise subsided, however, the kids kept on playing. These kids grew up being subtly taught that it's okay to have a competent female heroine, one who does not need saving, but instead saves the day herself. Boys were being taught to look up to a girl. In the end, they learned it's just no big deal that she is a she, that women are heroes, too.

That sort of attitude spreads. And as a non-man eating, non-fire breathing feminist, I find that to be a very comforting thought indeed.

Comments

Gorilla.800.lbs wrote:
Botswana wrote:

How about because I think a lot of couples would enjoy gaming together? Sheesh.

Hmmm. Didn't think about that one. But what it then in fact means that you want more games for couples. Don't know about your missus, but mine wouldn't be interested to play an FPS no matter who you serve up the protagonist -- as Samus, as Gordon, or as Mario. She simply won't play an FPS or a platformer to begin with.

The more diverse and broader the base of people who can appreciate the art form, the more ensured it's survival and the healthier the medium is. See comic books for an example of a medium that niched itself to death. There's a limit, you can be so lowest common denominator that the art loses any hint of anything compelling or interesting, but that usually works itself out financially.

Poppinfresh wrote:

Thought it was time to lighten the mood some (hopefully it'll be taken that way...)

I, for one, thought it was hilarious.

Staats wrote:
Poppinfresh wrote:

Thought it was time to lighten the mood some (hopefully it'll be taken that way...)

I, for one, thought it was hilarious.

Instead of Iron My Shirt, shoulda said Where's My Dinner?

Gorilla.800.lbs wrote:

We do want more women to get hooked on videogames? Really? Why do we want that? Because we want more people on crack, to grow the market, and just males alone isn't enough anymore? Or because there's an awesome shining goodness of videogames, largely untapped by females, and we need to educate them in an altruistic, missionary way so that they see how much they're amissing?

Before I get to my response to the main article, I just wanted to say that your comment makes so much sense.
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Viva la difference! That's about the best I can put it. Hooray for the masculine and the feminine...whether it in the stereotypical male and female person, reversed, or demonstrated in one "complete" individual. Now, if we could just progress to a point where we don't value one approach over the other. Both are equally valid *in every situation* you'll ever encounter. As a society we're used to choosing a more masculine answer to most of life's bigger problems (and often we consider it the only *right* answer)...but maybe...just maybe it'd be neat to explore what's considered feminine. Gaming would be an excellent way to do it. We could recognize what's *really* feminine and what's a stereotype that actually doesn't hold true as often as we thought. Gaming would be a great way to have fun with these concepts.

FWIW...as a female gamer...even I get tired of the Japanese games that nearly always having the female as the healer/back row character. Though ...way back when I played D&D, I was a cleric. I *do* tend to choose more support characters when left to my own devices...but games can give you options to do it differently than "real life".

I find the most erotic part of the female body is the breasts...

I'm a skimmer so I don't know if anyone's said this, and I don't care. HA! I'm awesome because I don't care.

Anyway, I disagree that Samus Aran is the perfect female character, because there is really no reason that she is female. She might as well be a male. I mean, most people thought she was until they got to the end of the first game, remember?

If I may, I'd like to draw an anime into the mix here. There's a fanservice anime called Grenadier. It's mostly about big bouncing boobies, so it doesn't seem you'd find anything revolutionary about female characterization here, but in fact it does some interesting things. The main character, Rusyuna Tendou, is like a cross between the Vash-style character and the traditional fanservice female. That is, she's incredibly skilled, fairly goofy, and ridiculously well-endowed. However, there's an intrinsic femininity in her character that ties into Japanese traditional gender roles without putting her into subservience. Without spoiling, Rusyuna uses a gun with deadly accuracy but her ultimate technique is using her smile and charm to get her opponent to stop fighting. And beneath all the bouncy goodness there's a struggle as Rusyuna tries to adhere to these teachings when she's sorely tempted to give up and start capping asses left and right. This theme is demonstrated most clearly near the end of the anime, where she fights a double with the same training and skill as she but without the same experiences and beliefs.

It's hard to say that the anime's perfect and it's clearly fan service, but I think it does raise an interesting point. It is possible for a female character to be strong and independent without acting like a man or using sex as a weapon.

What I love about Samus, and what I think most men don't understand about her as a character, is that she is actually a very emotional character to play as. It's very superficial, and very male I think, to understand Samus as a lone bounty hunter, being professional and getting the job done. Personally the thing that really chimes with me about her is that she is utterly alone. Her back story is as an orphan raised by a now extinct race. Her situation in every game is exploring a vast, hostile world alone. That's quite a profound emotional stance for a game to take. It's also an emotional stance that the Prime games have managed to capture utterly perfectly in terms of both graphics and sound (not to mention gameplay).

What's great from a feminist point of view is that this isolation is simply taken as fact. The same with the gunplay. Everything is just a consequence of the way of the world. She's not a badass and she's not lonely. She just is. That's very refreshing, since Samus could conceivably go all Bridget Jones, moan about her loneliness and be paralysed by existential angst.

On another level the isolation in Metroid, and the choice of Samus as a woman, also attacks the typical portrail of the 'singleton' woman by showing what real isolation is, and showing a woman that inhabits this isolation constantly and without question. Note the important difference there, she doesn't put up with isolation to get the job done or because she has to. She doesn't even contemplate anything other than isolation because anything else is meaningless.

So, Samus is a great feminist character because she simultaneously embodies stereotyped female traits whilst simultaneously undermining them and rendering them irrelevant.

Look at this, almost everybody posted in tearms of "Male" and "Female". That by it's self is evidence that there is sterotyping on both sides. Just like there is sterotyping on both sides of the race thing. I've heard wemon be equily sterotypicle of men "The pigs", as men have of women "The broads". Samus Aran does not adress the problem, it mearly avoids it. There is a problem, and there will be untill we see the day when men regularly wear skirts, (Trust me guys, you look damn sexy in them if they've been made right), and we see women regularly use brute force. There is a difference, that is undebatable, testosterone chemicly, is a steroid. It improves muscle strength. That means that is is unlikely that a woman would be capable of, say, benching three times her weight. So it would probably be similerly true of men. Men are taller, have generaly stronger muscles from the same amount of work, and this tends to shape their thinking. Women are shorter, slightly weaker for the same ammount of exersize, and this also tends to shape their thinking. Also there is a social aspect. Boys are given different toys when they are young, cars and blocks. Women are given dolls and dress-up stuff. Girls and Boys HATE each other in elementry. "Yuck, a girl", "Ick a guy!". They hang out in their groups and learn the norm, and the 'games' that they play. "Does this outfit make me look fat?" "I'm sorry, baby, maby another time... I got this thing with the guys." There is a difference, and will always be a difference unless some radical social change takes place, and you know what I say? Vivre la difference! It makes life interesting. If there were no difference, then "scoring" would be too eaisy. If there were no difference, then there would be non of the social dynamics surrounding relationships. It is truly hard to get to know and understand someone of a different gender, and that makes trying fun.

Onwards to games, how should they portray the characters? You know what? Who cares! They should portray the characters as real epople with their idosyncronsies, and their predjudice-busting actions and personalitys. No human is truly sterotypcal, and game characters shouldn't be either.

Well I'm off G'night

DrunkenSleipnir, I always think of my poogle.gif image when I see your avatar - it's an image that I made when I was about 17 and probably reinforces a lot of the concerns Jack Thompson and others have about the negative influence of violent video games on our children. I found it when browsing through the cobwebbed caverns of my old 4.3 gig backup drive.

IMAGE(http://www.pucemoose.com/images/poogle.gif)

... back on topic, I think that when stereotypes are taken to the extreme they sometimes wrap back around to being cool - such as Veronica from Shadow Hearts 2 (Covenant). I find it hard to believe that any gaming girl with a sense of humor didn't view her over-the-top (and heavy on top) crazy dominatrix-ness as somewhat funny.

That said, having to suffer through Magna Carta's girlish guys (nice smooth-shaved thighs and peacock head-bow Calintz. Thanks for that.) and Magna Carta's super-girled girls (... the 8 inch wide waist and the canteloupe boobs are more terrifying than your fire attacks, Eonis.) or Haren, with his nipple-less, gigantic armed tiny-wasited brainless bronzed beach warrior stature makes me appreciate when we get any relatively *normal* looking characters in games - e.g., Syberia, The Longest Journey, etc. And it also makes me appreciate well-constructed sentences, unlike that crazy previous sentence.

I'm not sure if this thread jumped the shark, but I'm pretty sure it jumped the couch.

Why have you come here?
IMAGE(http://sales.starcitygames.com/cardscans/MAG10TH/doomed_necromancer.jpg)

I remember that moment I first found out Samus Aran was a girl. "She's a girl?!" I had seen "him" before in Super Metroid as my friend played it, and had picked "him" in Super Smash Bros. I couldn't believe that the cool metal-suited character I indentified with was a girl. At that moment, there was wonderment. Amazement. Something shifted ever so slightly but at a profound level.

There's something to be said for NOT emphasizing the fact the Samus is a girl. The kind of realization I experienced is always there, waiting for a guy in ignorant bliss. "Dude you didn't know she was a girl?" What a shocker! Who's who then?! That kind of moment is the true catalyst to the kind of questioning that begins to reveal what we are as human beings.

If Samus was wearing a dress or had long hair during gameplay, a boy playing could easily become disinterested (probably the commercial reason for the suit and helmet) or put his guard up to deal with a threatening category of otherness that he's already defined in his mind.

I recently had a friend who loves Adam Lambert's music but couldn't believe that he was gay because the artist was so talented. Obviously there's a great rift going on here, but that's not exactly the point. It's that if he had known Adam was homosexual from the beginning, he wouldn't have fallen in love with the art. He wouldn't have later turned 180 degrees (though probably temporarily) and said, "There's nothing wrong with being gay!"

We love our categories, whether sexual or otherwise, and want to hold on to them. An axe to the head is rarely the answer to opening the mind. I find a more subtle approach, one that allows a person to experience moments of realization on his/her own terms, is usually a more effective one, if not entirely satisfying.

Worth reading again.