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Feature: Samus Aran, Gaming's Leading Lady

Posted by Zach Kaplan

We take a look at that famous female and her effect on the virtual playing field

Historically, just about every form of media has seen itself dominated by men, and gaming is as guilty as the rest. You could chalk it up to the playing population remaining largely scant of females for reasons too complex and debatable to delve into here, but that's only half the story. The landscape has certainly changed to include more women who aren't so easily reducible to their body parts; today we count Lara Croft, Jill Valentine and even Princess Peach among them. Granted, heroines still feel like the exception, but their path was paved in 1986 by Metroid's Samus Aran.

Just as important as her gender, however, is the way that we found out about it. As gamers originally adventured through the depths of Zebes, they knew little about the protagonist; the informed knew that Samus was purportedly the greatest bounty hunter in existence, while onlookers may have guessed that the main character was some sort of powerful cyborg. Either way, gaming is about immersion, and as with any title worth its salt, Metroid players saw themselves as one with Samus. It's not hard to imagine the likely demographic – people for whom it just wouldn't have made sense if Princess Toadstool had rescued Mario, people who felt more confidence in the accepted portrayal of strong and unemotional men to save the day rather than stereotypically flighty, weak, unpredictable women. Certainly we're not suggesting that all gamers fit that mould, but given early virtual narratives, it's not hard to imagine. By and large, women just weren't the stars.

Imagine with us, then, the look on a player's faces after they've destroyed the Mother Brain and feel completely one with the hero they've controlled up until the end: the strong, mysterious and threatening Samus. What a cool dude, right? Well, guess what, gentlemen. That dude's a chick. A chick, in women's clothing, waving hello.

Friedrich Nietzsche once wrote, "If you gaze into the abyss, the abyss gazes into you." And at that moment, a lot of gamers felt gazed into. This was a big twist – but why? Why was it a surprise that Samus was a women? Why was it such a big reveal? One answer is that, as stated before, games simply did not feature women in their lead roles. Another is that culturally, we do not think first of women as heroes. And for both these reasons, it is important that behind the suit was a woman, and that it was unbeknownst to players until the end.

This fact has also coloured and inspired debate and discussion regarding choices made with the series, especially Metroid: Other M. Would it have mattered so much that the developers showed her weak spots with greater visibility than ever before, or graphically displayed her in a much more curvaceous way, if she had not been a woman? Not likely.

We have a long way to go before Super Princess Peach feels less like a gender bender than a Mario universe side-character landing a starring role, before players won't simply assume that a Lara Croft nudity cheat code exists and before strong female protagonists are as accepted as the norm as the fighting breasts-n-butts of Dead or Alive: Dimensions. The Metroid series has pulled this off, as have the Resident Evil titles and more, so anyone who cares about gender equality could tell you that, at least in these areas, we're moving in the right direction.

Still, as recently as Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, we've seen a game's revelation of a character's female gender presented as an unexpected surprise (though that, of course, carried the weight of a much bigger twist as well). And because of her all-cloaking armour, you can play the majority of a Metroid game without acknowledging Samus's sex.

Do you think that gaming has gone far enough toward gender equality? If not, what do you think needs to happen? To our female and feminist fans, do you feel that Samus's gender is well-portrayed enough, or is that steely exterior a gender-concealing cop-out? To our non-female fans, do you feel like any less of a man when playing as Samus, or is she just simply another video game character whose person you can seamlessly inhabit? Voice your thoughts in the comments below!

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User Comments (44)

Bacon_Gal_Blaze

#2

Bacon_Gal_Blaze said:

To be honest, since I've known Samus was female, it wouldn't feel right if she was male beneath that suit. I think Samus was just suited to being a woman in the first place.

SuperLink

#3

SuperLink said:

I don't feel like any less of a man when I play as Samus. I mean, when I am pulling some awesome moves in Other M, I don't pretend it's a guy under there, just to make myself feel like a manly-man. Samus is a badass babe, and that's all there is to it.

DrKarl

#4

DrKarl said:

I never understood why males would feel uncomfortable with playing games featuring women protagonists. Especially when you view the character all of the time (as opposed to a first person perspective).

Why would I want to stare at some musclebound dude all of the time?

Ryno

#7

Ryno said:

Do you think that gaming has gone far enough toward gender equality?
What is this question even asking; "gender equality" in video games? Are you a Marxist? I don't care what my characters look like really though most video game characters look pretty ridiculous.

To our non-female fans, do you feel like any less of a man when playing as Samus, or is she just simply another video game character whose person you can seamlessly inhabit?
No, I dont feel any less of man playing as a woman and I have never met or heard of any dude having this problem. I would be shocked to see if any do in these comments.

When I first realized Samus was a woman it was not really that big of a deal. Video game heroes come in all forms.

Kid_A

#10

Kid_A said:

Samus is my favorite protagonist in gaming, period. I think her struggles shown in Other M were really human and relatable. Samus' biggest regret in her past was making Adam's impossible decision (either try and save his brother, gravely endangering the life of himself and his entire fleet, or let him die) even harder. She's haunted by Ridley, the monstrous killer who murdered her parents, as every time she defeats him, he somehow emerges back in her life again. She's haunted by her past, unsure of herself, but also badass enough to shove her arm canon in an alien's mouth and blow him up from the inside out. There is no courage without fear, and Samus teaches us that time and time again.

Zach

#11

Zach said:

@Ryno Gender equality means that a segment of the population's unfair portrayal in the media says something about the larger culture that produces and consumes said media. There's also the argument about art imitating life and life imitating art - in other words, for example, if people grow up with only stereotypical views of females or only thinking that men can be heroes, they will think that women only come in non-hero stereotype form.

Noire

#13

Noire said:

Meh, why do we always need to scrutinize female characters about the fact that they're girls? I don't think I've ever seen an article about how well male characters portray their own gender. Is that not sexist too? Seems to me video games do a pretty terrible portrayal of both genders, so I don't think "gender equality" is really the problem here, as much as people seem to want to make it that.

DrKarl

#14

DrKarl said:

@daznsaz Some punctuation please.

"female gaming characters are usually feisty like a bloke anyway"

Say what? This is the kind of gender stereotype we need to get away from on this planet.

NX01Trekkie1992

#16

NX01Trekkie1992 said:

"To our non-female fans, do you feel like any less of a man when playing as Samus, or is she just simply another video game character whose person you can seamlessly inhabit?"

Honestly, it doesn't even register with me, she kicks butt, and that's what matters to me, not her gender.

MetroidMasher17

#17

MetroidMasher17 said:

I still have friends who are surprised to discover that Samus is a girl. And, honestly, I don´t get what the big deal is with women as heroes. When you´re in the Power Suit, most of your strength is mechanized, so all you really need to be is intelligent. Smart enough to know what to do, where to go, who is and isn´t an enemy. If the Power Suit had AI that classified any and all living creatures as enemies, everybody would die. Samus is the one who prevents that from happening. And, even though men and women have differences as far as their bodies go, aren´t we equal in the mind, where it matters?

D33G

#19

D33G said:

Who else plays more as Zero Suit Samus than normal Samus on SSBB?

citizenerased

#20

citizenerased said:

Samus, Zelda and Jade (BG&E) for life! I much prefer my girls to be awesome heroines with a smart edge than... * looks at article image with disgust * that

she_gamer

#21

she_gamer said:

To me, gender equality in gaming doesn't mean an equal amount of male and female protagonists, it means an equal amount of quality gaming experiences that appeal to both sexes. This includes males who aren't big into shoot-em-ups, and females who are... Samus being female has absolutely no effect on my desire to play Metroid, it's still not my type of game.

Meta-Rift

#23

Meta-Rift said:

What I think is great about Samus is that her personality shows you don't need to be melodramatic to have a soul. Her rebellious attitude and don't-look-back mentality are what make her human, and just because she's not emotional doesn't mean she's a heartless killer.

EarthboundBenjy

#24

EarthboundBenjy said:

I'm male, and I don't feel any more or less "like a man" when playing any game with any character. Metroid, Shantae, Order of Ecclesia... makes no difference to me.
I don't like the current gender inequality in games, but I've never really thought about it that much either. I just wanna play games.

scrubbyscum999

#26

scrubbyscum999 said:

I don't see why any guy would feel less of a "man" because they are playing a girl. I generally don't like how the concept of "masculinity" is portrayed a lot of the time. Also, I like girls but that second picture freaks me out. 0.o

Gamesake

#27

Gamesake said:

I don't see why any guy would feel like less of a man for playing as a girl so long as they're shooting for the girl on girl love scene in Dragon Age.

Incredible-JMAN

#29

Incredible-JMAN said:

i was alittle shocked to find out samus (or 'metroid' i called her when i was little) was girl. But im still confused about how she has enough room for her hand gun thingy!

dizzy_boy

#30

dizzy_boy said:

it shouldn`t matter who the leading person is, or what they look like.
mario is chubby, luigi is slim, and samus is a girl, so what.
even in real life, there are people that can be cnsiderd as heroes, regardless of who they are or what they look like. this should be the same in gaming too.

TeeJay

#31

TeeJay said:

Bottom line: It shouldn't matter, and we shouldn't care. Just enjoy the game. :)

kurtasbestos

#32

kurtasbestos said:

DrKarl -> Well said. Especially the part about punctuation.

MechaPhoenix -> "Seems to me video games do a pretty terrible portrayal of both genders". Also well said.

I seriously doubt video games will ever really get to a point where the majority of characters, male or female, will be portrayed realistically. I personally would respect the industry a lot more if it didn't seem like every other male character is a big beefy angst-ridden gun-toting war hero, and every other female character is a disproportionately large-breasted side character with the personality of a loaf of bread. Then again, characters are probably designed that way to appeal to the main demographic of gamers... in which case I can't blame the people making the games for trying to appeal to a bunch of creepy guys.

LordTendoboy

#33

LordTendoboy said:

Feminism is the worst thing to happen to society. It's not equal rights. A bunch of "lesbians" bashing men and proclaiming "girl power" is not equal rights.

C-195

#34

C-195 said:

Honestly, I'd have a likable, strong female character over some useless bimbo any day.

DrKarl

#35

DrKarl said:

@tendoboy1984 You have a very warped view of what feminism is. At its very core, feminism is simply the belief in equality for both sexes. It is not about saying that women are superior to men.

I am a male, and I identify as a feminist.

eviLaTtenDant

#36

eviLaTtenDant said:

Quite interesting. Article, Zach. I never thought about it so much. :)
Sadly I can’t remember what it’s been like with me. I think I knew Samus' femaleness before I began playing Super Metroid in 1999. But what i do know for sure is that it didn’t feel strange to me at all and that I’ve always seen her as the videogame equivalent to Ellen Ripley of Alien fame. Which Samus' revealed NES character doesn't look too different from imho.
So I can only imagine what it must have been like in the end of Metroid II. Seeing that Samus is actually more of a mother figure than she's a motherf***er.
I guess if I wouldn’t have known before I would have had to replay SM just because of the new perspective it gives on the character. But if a persona looking like Mark Hamill wouldn’t have meant the same to me is the other question.
In the end it’s not like Samus is any less or more interesting to me than Snake or Abe. So as long as there are good characters I guess i don’t care about their gender at all.
But it really looks and feels good to have a good female character alongside Mario, Link, Fox, Kirby and all the others.


Kid_A wrote:

There is no courage without fear, and Samus teaches us that time and time again.

Well said brother, well said. :)


PS: It would be really interesting to hear from someone who first “met” Samus in Other M.

PPS: Would be funny to know who of the guys saying “Nah, I really don’t like that D:O:A chick” are extremely happy to see the Samus Bikini shots every time.

PPPS: Just found another article about that very subject. haven’t read it yet

DrDaisy

#37

DrDaisy said:

I'm pretty sure if Solid Snake, Marcus Fenix, or Master Chief were ever portrayed like Samus was in Metroid Other M, that would raise quite a few eyebrows.

StuffyStuff

#41

StuffyStuff said:

I don't really think about Samus' gender while I'm playing the games. I think Samus would be an awesome character if she was a he. I've seen games try to sexify the female role, like Heavenly Sword or even as early as Chun Li and Cammie with their disproportions and it just doesn't do it for me in the way (I think) they're trying to.

Kosmo

#42

Kosmo said:

Playing Super Princess Peach didn't make me feel like a wuss. It was quite enjoyable to see something different and have an "unusual" hero.
Women may be video game heroes now, but most of them are pretty badass. Princess Peach is not. And that was fun. But poeple may not yet be ready for "not badass" heroins. When Samus shpwed a weak spots, gamers weren't happy...
That's why the situation hasn't really changed...

BulbasaurusRex

#43

BulbasaurusRex said:

I don't mind playing as female characters. In fact, I usually choose to play as a girl when the game gives me the choice. I prefer for the character I see most often in the game to look attactive to me.

By the way, if you look as Samus's power suit and then the armored suit of a male Galactic Federation soldier, it's still not hard to tell who is male and who is female.

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