Monday, October 11, 2010

Girl on Girl Games: Metroid: Other M

...Or, Samus Aran is a whiny crybaby with daddy issues. Yes, that's right. Samus, the unapologetic female protagonist of the Metroid games has been downgraded from a bad-ass bounty hunter to a touchy-feely pacifist that lets a MAN tell her what to do. I'm not sure which side of the feminist argument this article puts me on, but politics aside, let's take a nice long look at why Samus' character was ruined the minute she opened her mouth.

The Metroid series has been historically low on story. You're a bounty hunter, exploring strange alien compounds/planets/spaceships. You fight aliens and unstoppable monsters, you get missiles and you turn into a ball that can drop bombs. At the end of the first game, you are revealed to be a woman. After twenty-three years of Metroid games, the people at Nintendo discovered that women have feelings.

Let me see. What kind of feelings do women have? Well, they like small, baby animals--hey, remember that baby Metroid that imprinted on Samus in Super Metroid and then saved her life? Why don't we have Samus, a hardened bounty hunter who kills things for a living, become absolutely obsessed with it?

If you think that's a terrible idea, you might want to hum through the cut scenes as you play Other M.

Ok, so maybe she doesn't become absolutely obsessed, but she does talk about it a great deal, in her new-found soft and feminine voice. The effect is somewhat creepy, leaving me to wonder if Samus' attachment to "the baby" (as she calls it) is really her trying to work out the classic career-versus-family puzzle that confounds so many a modern woman.

What other kinds of emotional baggage do women have? Another ten seconds of stereotyping later reveals that many have issues with their fathers. Since this iteration of Samus is an orphan, she struggles with daddy-issues that focus on her former commanding officer, Adam Malkovich. As the only woman in a male-centric military outfit, Samus recalls Adam singling her out by her gender at every staff meeting. Samus is shown in flashback as a willfully defiant malcontent who disagreed with Adam at every turn, eventually rebelling so far as to leave the military altogether. In retrospect, Samus says she appreciated that Adam referred to her as a "lady". What?

And finally, what would a woman be without...more women.

Women understand other women, correct? It's one of those things like where all us women go to the toilet together and like to shop, and say things like "oh my god, I have to have those shoes" or "Jim just doesn't understand why the toilet paper holder should match the faucet!" When one of us becomes hurt, especially by some man, we get together and watch romantic comedies in our PJ's while eating ice cream. Or something. The point is, women are supposed to have a lot of empathy going, especially for each other. Because we alone know how hard it is to be a woman. Samus, an independent bounty hunter without a mother, who joined the all-male military at a young age, is not immune to this. In fact, she completely understands the motives of the female NPCs without fail, empathizing with their plights.

I'm just going to lay it all on the line. I have no idea why this particular woman is a bounty hunter and not, say, a high school guidance counselor. I'm not at all saying there's something wrong with a character who is complicated and emotional. I'm certainly not saying it's wrong for a woman to have feelings like Samus'. But what I am saying is: why would a hardened, grizzled orphan, who was an excellent soldier but not a good follower, who travels alone as a one-woman robotic killing machine, ever, ever care this much about whether or not she fits in with the military group she initially abandoned?

More emoting after the break!

Previous incarnations of Samus have been obviously female--gasps after being hit with weapons and ladylike eyes that reflect in the player's visor remind us of this. The infamous "Justin Bailey" code allows the player to play through the original Metroid using leotard-clad Samus. As tiresome as that is, these subtle touches do not allow us to glimpse into her character. We only know what we see. And what we see is a bad-ass who is also a woman.

For me, at least, that was a very nice feeling. Most protagonists in video games are not female. And if they are, they're like Princess Peach or something, all frilly with parasols and what not. Samus, in my mind, was a mysterious and powerful character, unafraid of the lonely corners of the galaxy, relying upon superb mastery of her armor and weaponry to bring her through countless battles unscathed. She's not without her powerful moments. The sacrifice of the baby Metroid was indeed a touching display, and maybe we can imagine it changed Samus a little. Even if it did, though, a hardened bounty hunter has to know when to move on, and clearly, that is what Samus did--until now.

If being saved by the Metroid changed Samus to the degree it appears to have, I have to imagine that she hung up her armor shortly after and refused to kill anything ever again. This Samus second guesses, laments, cries inside, and allows words like "outsider" to "pierce" her heart. She refuses to understand the cold realities of situations that cannot be helped but are for the good of all--at least until much later. In one scene she appears so visibly distraught after the death of a character that I have a hard time believing she pulled herself together in time not to die herself.

Samus' respect for the character of Adam is another fly in the ointment. She may respect him, but she's definitely her own person, operating outside the bounds of his military organization. Why then, would she ever agree to deactivate her weapons until he gives the word? Especially given the number of situations she encounters where she needs to use the deactivated equipment to live. I have to believe that Samus would simply defy Adam's request and use the Varia suit, already.

I'm not going to go in much more detail, since this is a story-based game that just came out, and I'd hate to spoil the thing for you. It is a great game, lots of fun--but the character is a little tiresome and stereotypical. In my mind, this character is not Samus Aran. Samus may have depths and likely has a lot of emotions, but I can't believe that she's shedding tears of empathy or saddened that she's not immediately accepted by her former commanding officer. I think Samus would applaud loyalty and friendship, but I just don't believe these are things she cultivates. She was a rogue, and they should have left her that way.

There are precious few other females in video games that have ever moved me. Princess Peach is rather mindless, but sweet, and through the years, although she continues to don her signature pink gown, she's managed to both be a decent golfer and operate a supercomputer. Aeris/Aerith, from Final Fantasy 7 is another female of note: a simple flower girl sucked into things beyond her control, who pays the ultimate price for her involvement. If either of these sensitive characters had emoted to Samus' level, I wouldn't have batted an eye. It would be appropriate, not because they are more feminine, but because of precedents set in their character development. For Samus, it's simply strange, and extremely uncharacteristic. A little creepy, too.

All in all, I won't say that Other M is a bad game. It's not. I won't say there's anything wrong with emotions. I won't say there's anything wrong with emotions like Samus' has in buckets. But I am saying if you play the little extra quest at the end, be prepared to throw a shoe through the TV when you find out what she's looking for. And who throws a shoe, honestly?

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