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With the release of Metroid: Samus Returns being considered a return to form for the series, and all of the hype for Metroid Prime 4, I thought I'd take a moment to discuss what Samus has meant to me as a character.
Samus Aran, the bounty hunting protagonist of the long running Metroid series of sci-fi adventure games, has long been celebrated for being a strong, empowering depiction of women. I would go one step further and even say she makes a good case for why women can be superior to men at times.
I’d like to take a moment to expand on the character of Samus, specifically a key difference between her personality and my own. While we both share the traits of being lone wolves who prefer to solve problems on our own, we differ in one key aspect—our independence. Specifically, how much we are willing to be guided or instructed.
I had a revelation while playing Metroid Prime. On the day I had this revelation, I was playing Metroid Fusion, also for the first time. Yes I know, I’m not the best at staying on one task and only moving on to the other after completing the first, that’s why Samus is the bounty hunter and not me! Anyway, while Fusion is a 2D handheld game and Prime is a 3D console game, they also differ in one key aspect: guidance.
Metroid Prime follows the traditional Metroid formula, where Samus is exploring a desolate planet while fighting aliens, solving puzzles, and obtaining upgrades that aid Samus on her mission. And you, as Samus, are largely left to guess as to where to go and how to get these upgrades in order to beat the game, with limited instruction or guidance, except for the hints you pick up through the environments and the design of levels.
Metroid Fusion, on the other hand, is quite another story. To make a long story short, Samus must navigate an abandoned research station in order to control a deadly parasite that has taken over the station. In the opening of the game, before you have even started playing, her gunship is destroyed in a collision when Samus loses control of it. She is able to eject herself and is given a new one. She later explains…
“My mission on the B.S.L station will be overseen by my new ship's computer. Following the commands of this blunt, computerized [Commanding Officer] is something I have to bear, as it was a condition of my taking the ship.”
The key phrases there are “Following the commands…” and “...something I have to bear.”
Throughout the game, and in a first for the Metroid franchise, Samus must routinely visit navigation rooms spread throughout the research station in order to be told which of the stations six sectors to visit, where to go in them, and what she has to do when she gets there. Even typing that acts as a source of comfort to me because I will know where to go and why I’m there, instead of feeling like I’m in a wild goose chase.
This is best exemplified by the fact that Samus communicates with this computerized CO via text. She names it “Adam” after her former commanding officer, Adam Malkovich. The communication via text is most likely a presentational choice, due to the Game Boy Advance’s more limited hardware, but the point still stands. This experience perfectly mimics my own of texting my mother while out in my own missions, which are more along the lines of going to class, work, or extra curricular activities. However, while Samus tolerates her orders, I revel in them. As stated before, I find the sense of guidance and direction comforting. There’s security and certainty in it—reassurance. Needless to say, Samus is much more self assured than I.
Throughout playing any given Metroid game, heck, throughout life, I’m grateful for any opportunity to receive guidance and instruction, as it is rather frustrating when you have no clear sense of direction.
I find it interesting that I, a male, found myself emulating the stereotype typically given to females by wishing someone, man or woman, would help me and guide me with what to do! Yet here is this woman who goes to the beat of her own drum, and even goes as far as to describe herself as “...someone who dislikes taking orders…”. Traits one might more naturally expect from a testosterone-fueled hero like Stallone, Schwarzenegger, or Van Damme.
While playing Metroid Prime, I wish I had commands to follow! That way I would’ve known where to go more easily, and not go to the same locations three times without getting anything done, only to realize that there was this one doorway among many in the area I hadn’t tried yet.
One thing that keeps resurfacing from the back of my mind, though, is that it is indeed more gratifying when you achieve something, in life or in game, that was done without any hand holding. But while Samus is perfectly willing to do things at her own pace, no matter how long it takes, I am not so patient. While I did say earlier I prefer to solve my own problems alone, like Samus, I’m not above asking for help or being told what to do when I feel troubled. I’ve yet to think of a non-linear game I have yet beat without any online help. I just know that, were I in Samus’s position (without the ability to save progress and quit at my leisure obviously), I would probably, at some point, contact the Galactic Federation, or whomever gave me the bounty, and tell them that they’ll probably have to send someone because I don’t know how to make a hatch open, or can’t find the power bomb upgrade to break through that wall.
On a more personal note, in both school and work, I have often found myself either being instructed by, or reporting to women. Women who, more often than not, helped me become better at whatever I was trying to be proficient at, whether it be reading, math, performing, or even being a decent human being. So, with both this and Samus in mind, it only makes sense to me that the Galactic Federation would entrust a woman to get the job done! While I am sure there are capable men out there who can get the job done, both in the Metroid universe and as players, I think Samus has proven that nobody can do it better!