Women, amirght fellas! I have a confession to make and it turns a confession you’ve probably heard multiple times before on it’s ear. It goes something along the lines of: “The first time I beat Metroid, I was blown away that Samus was a woman! My 7,8,9,10, whatever year old self couldn’t believe it”. Here is my confession: the first Metroid game I ever played was Metroid II, I knew right from the start, from the back of the box, Samus was a “g-g-g-girl”. I could believe it. Growing up, we lived about two blocks from a video store with a very lax policy on renting movies. By the time I was 10, I had seen Alien and Aliens. They were among my favorite movies and so too did the Metroid series become among my favorites. Samus joined the ranks of other childhood heroes, Batman, Ripley, The Man with no Name, Boba Fett, Pinhead (Hellraiser not Freaks) etc. and I never really gave gender a second thought.
Why do I bring this up? I read something this week that got me thinking about Samus and female characters in games in general. An interview over at Kotaku.com about the new Tomb Raider game with the line: “They’re more like ‘I want to protect her.’ There’s this sort of dynamic of ‘I’m going to this adventure with her and trying to protect her.'” I guess I don’t really understand. Are you not playing as Lara Croft? Executive Producer Ron Rosenberg, goes on to say that she won’t be sexualized but there will be attempted rape. Ummm?
I remember hearing about Metroid: Other M, it was the first time I pre-ordered a game. I remember being genuinely excited. I remember telling a friend this was the Metroid 64 I’d wanted for years. Then I played it. Samus, one of my heroes, was literally turned into a crying little girl. I know in 2012 this isn’t just beating a dead horse but beating a fine paste that was once a dead horse but it still gets under my skin. More importantly I can’t help but feel like this is some kind of new trend in gaming. Lara Croft may have been T&A&Guns but in the end and this is important, she IS the player. I worry that games are loosing that in an attempt to be more like films. As creepy and weird as it is to say, I am Samus Aran and I’m not afraid of Ridley. In fact he’s more of mild irritant than a threat. When the main character moves it’s because I want them to move, when they solve a puzzle it’s because of my mind, when they defeat an enemy it’s because I was quick, and this is what sets gaming apart from other media. I, the player, am a major part of the story.
Ultimately, I feel as though we are taking a step backward. Game audiences are primarily male, I get wanting to get the biggest piece of that pie. I think the problem lay in the realm of trying to cater to a male audience and being politically correct. In the end you’ve accomplished neither. By treating games like movies you forget a major part of storytelling, the player. It’s why a game like Lollipop Chainsaw will always be more honest than Metroid: Other M or whatever they have planned for Tomb Raider, because in the end the creators are just making something sexy and damning the consequences. Samus isn’t a symbol because she’s a vulnerable well thought out character but, actually because her gender is an afterthought. She is what she is and in the end she is us. That is more powerful, and more feminist, than any contrived, preplanned, focus grouped, notions of gender equality.
UPDATE: Crystal Dynamics have released a statement saying that there won’t be an attempted rape in the new Tomb Raider. You can read about it from Kotaku.com here. It’s pretty clear this is damage control, who knew rape was a touchy subject? Even if this hadn’t clearly been mentioned in the earlier interview, the trailer has some obvious implied sexual assault.