Bonjour mes chéries! The name’s Helena and my monthly column is ‘Geek Girl Spotlight’, extolling the inspirational women of geekdom, whether that be a secretly geeky celebrity lady or a no-nonsense superheroine. My geekery is widespread, so expect spotlights on anime, TV shows, films, comics, video games… you name it. Above all, it doesn’t matter whether they’re real or fictitious, these gals should inspire us to be proud of our geek-girliness.
This week’s Spotlight is a video game one, as that is my biggest geek passion, and I know many of you share that passion.
Now, to kick us off I’m going to start at the very beginning (a very good place to start!) with THE original video game femme fatale. Before Lara Croft, Sarah Kerrigan, or Jill Valentine, there was the pioneer for female protagonists everywhere. This gal is to sci-fi video games as Ellen Ripley is to sci-fi films.
For those who don’t know, Samus Aran is the protagonist and main character of Nintendo’s Metroid game series, which started in 1986 with Metroid for the NES, and was most recently updated with Metroid: Other M in 2010. Throughout numerous Metroid games, Samus (a bounty hunter) battles with the Space Pirates that killed her parents, destroyed her home planet, and generally keep causing havoc throughout the galaxies. I’d advise you to listen to this this whilst reading this post, to set the scene.
Even if you haven’t played Metroid, or you know nothing about Samus, I’m going to tell you why Samus is top gal.
Firstly, Samus didn’t have the best of starts in life. As a child, her planet was raided and subsequently destroyed by Space Pirates, in an attack that killed both her parents. She was then saved by an alien race called the Chozo, who are basically mecha birds. I don’t know about you, but if I was raised by birds, I don’t think I would have turned out as a fearless warrior. I’d probably flail about haplessly and wonder why I couldn’t be raised by wolves like all the other fictional orphans. Instead of becoming bitter about losing everything, Samus instead spends her whole life avenging the death of her parents and planet, Samus hunts the Space Pirates (led by Ripley, a great big dragon thing) and protects the galaxies. Huzzah!
Many of us will know what it’s like not to be handed everything on a plate, to have to fight for what you want, and sometimes lose. It doesn’t matter where you came from; the most important thing is not to dwell on the despair of the past but to fight for a better future… hopefully a future without Space Pirates.
Fast-forward a while and Samus is a fully-fledged bounty hunter, contracted by the Galactic Federation to complete missions and vanquish the Space Pirates. Let’s talk about how brill Samus is at her job. Agile and athletic, yet incredibly intelligent, resourceful and just, Samus is a model heroine. In the Power Suit given to her by the Chozo, she can survive underwater, shoot lasers and beams and missiles and A CANNON, transform into a tiny ball, and do numerous other badass things. What is interesting, however, is that she has to use above-average mental power to use the suit properly. So not only is she enshrined in heavy metal, but she has to will it to stay on! Imagine if every time you weren’t concentrating, your clothes fell off. Nightmarish. Simultaneously grappling, firin’ her lazors, rolling around in a tiny ball, and battling all manner of alien baddies, Samus holds her own. She became a freelance bounty hunter after leaving the Galactic Federation Police, where she was repeatedly patronised by her Commander (“No Objections, right Lady?”).
A maverick in her field, Samus paves the way for femme fatales in male-dominated career paths. If a sleazy guy smacked Samus on the butt as she walked by she’d blast them in the face with a laser cannon. If that isn’t inspirational, I don’t know what is. Samus is great at her job, regardless of her position as a woman. If only more people in real life realised that gender doesn’t matter, eh?!
Samus’ legacy is a ma-hoosive one. I’m talking Guinness World Records-level recognition. She has been officially hailed as ‘the first playable human female character in a mainstream videogame’, topping numerous ‘game females’ lists, as well as being consistently regarded as a slammin’ hottie. But appearances can be deceptive, and there is more to Samus than a gymnast’s body and a blonde ponytail. At the time of Samus’ first appearance in Metroid in 1986, society was a very different place to today, especially for women. Since 1986, women have been allowed to retire at the same age as men, be taxed separately from men, adopt children if in a lesbian relationship, and countless other battles won. How does this relate to Samus, and video games, you ask? It’s not as tenuous a link as you might expect. Throughout the original Metroid game, Samus’ gender isn’t revealed. You have to complete the game in a certain time to get the ending that shows Samus’ true form, albeit in a bikini. Samus’ masculine Power Suit hid her gender, but who knows how the game would have been received if her gender had been clear from the beginning? The ending of Metroid is often considered the biggest plot twist in video game history, and sent shockwaves through the community at the time.
In short, Samus is a geek girl role model because she is revolutionary, and should be used as a prototype for any game designer wanting to create a female protagonist that isn’t relentlessly over-sexualised and objectified (I’m looking at you, Dead or Alive. Volleyball Schmolleyball). Princess Peach had to be saved, but Samus does the saving.
Striking a blow for proto-videogame-feminists everywhere, Samus Aran is this month’s Geek Girl Spotlight. I hope you worship her like I do.
NB: On a personal level, Metroid’s original Japanese release was August 6th, my birthday, and Samus is 6’3” (I’m 5’11”), Tall girl pride!
This post was originally written by Helena Schofield.