As usual you should read the introduction to this series to see what is up, then if you want scroll down to the bottom and check out some of the other heroes covered. With the great debate on girl gamers constantly raging around us it makes sense to tackle a female hero. It is always strange to me to consider female heroes in videogames since they are so clearly marketed towards and designed by men. Are they reshaping our stereotypes of heroes by being women in the first place or are they just conforming to a norm despite their sex? Do we learn about what a female hero should be or what we want them to be? More importantly what do girls who are playing these games learn about being a hero, for that matter what do guys learn from it? Lotís of questions and Iím not sure that Iíll even answer them with this but if there is a place to start talking about it itís with the original female video game hero: Samus.
Samus Aran Samus is a space bounty hunter, though she has only worked for the Galactic Federation in their battle against the Space Pirates in her games. She was orphaned at a young age when her parents were killed in a Space Pirate attack and was subsequently adopted by the Chozo, a wise alien race, who infused her with some of their power and built her power suit for her. She often loses and must regain the powers of her suit in order to progress through the dangerous worlds she finds herself on. Samus fights alone in increasingly isolating areas without much contact from the outside world during her adventures. At the center of Samusí story are the Metroid, an alien race of creatures who suck the life force from living things. Not inherently good or evil, the Metroid must be kept from Space Pirates and are a threat to almost any living creature in the wrong hands and even on their own. All of Samusí adventures involve Metroid in some way even to the point of one once saving her life.
Letís get the obvious out of the way. Samus is a woman and she clearly demonstrates that a woman can be a bad ass, ass kicking loner too. What truly emphasizes this fact is that everyone jumped to the conclusion that she was a man, not only because videogames heroes are normally male but also because she acts masculine: strong, silent and alone. The fact that you donít know that Samus is a woman throughout the first game is actually a strong statement to anyone playing the game. The revelation of what sex she is isnít just a fun joke pulled by Nintendo but also a statement (be it intentional or not) that it isnít just men who perform acts of bravery and heroism. Millions of guy gamers had to sit back and say ďOh, yea. A girl could do this too.Ē In one instant Samus teaches us all that we canít assume the strong and powerful are men.
The problem is that aside from the fact that Samus is a woman she doesnít really challenge any of the other stereotypical norms we apply to a hero. Samus is not only strong, silent and solitary but also young, attractive, violent and driven by action. On the surface her lessons about heroism donít branch that far out from the norm. If there is a space pirate to kill she kills it and many times dealing out death is the only way she can advance at all. Violence is a solution to her problems about 75% of the time and when stealth is involved it is usually in order to avoid the bad guys until she can kill them later. One wonders if the Galactic Federation even has jail cells since their number one bounty hunter hasnít taken a prisoner in her entire life. Despite her feminine exterior Samus reconfirms many of the preconceived notions we have of what a hero is.
Another of Samusí stereotypical male traits is her suppression of her feelings. To me Samus has always seemed cut off, not only from the rest of the world in her solitary games but emotionally too. Before Corruption came out remorse for all her killings didnít even show up and if she was surprised by anything she kept it hidden. Samus shows us that heroes donítí let their emotions out but instead press through them because emotions, especially sadness, mean weakness.
In the above boss battle with Gandrayda Samus actually clenches her fist in a brief moment of grief after being confronted with the faces of her fallen fellow hunters who she has been forced to kill. To me this is one of the most powerful moments in all of video games because I had spent years following a woman who had shown relatively no emotion at all until now. But, ever the ďhero,Ē Samus quickly moves on from her grief to confront her enemy head on and kill him. Heroism, Samus shows us, centers around actions not feelings and these actions, one hopes, will take care of those feelings.
However, Samus does not suppress her compassion and in the end it saves her life. For all her gruff silence and solitary action when Samus is confronted with taking a life that is not threatening hers, a life that has attached itself to her, she can not do it. It is compassion that saves her in the end, not killing, not anger, not a quest, but her care for another creature. Iím not sure that there is a more powerful statement of what is a hero in all of video games than this. It is only emphasized by the fact that Samus has been alone on her adventures, solitary and isolated and yet it is an outside force that makes her stronger and it is her care for that outside force, who she is supposed to kill, that truly makes her a hero. The one thing Samus doesnít shoot down is the one thing that saves her. We can only learn from this that a heroís compassionate acts far out weigh the power of their violent ones.
This is not all the Metroid saving Samus from Mother Brain teaches us though. Samus and her games are known for their feelings of isolation, claustrophobia and confinement. Itís Samus against an entire planet and no one is coming to help (this of course is ignoring Corruptions more complete universe which if you want to read my opinion of you can here). The logical conclusion would be that Samus teaches us that heroes are loners that donít depend on anyone else. But, as noted above, it is not her alone that finally defeats Mother Brain and it is this fact, in a series of games completely dominated by their solitary nature, that makes Samusí lesson about heroism not one of introverted actions but of support and caring. Unlike Sonic who shoves friendship down our throat Samus has one single solitary instance of being helped and it is about 500 times more powerful.
Early on in gaming history Samus taught us that heroes arenít all men, unfortunately the gaming industry and society in general didnít listen all that well. They didnít really listen to the compassion lesson either. Metroid is one of the few games where an enemy becomes a friend, where compassion is the savior not who has the biggest gun. Maybe then it is fitting that Samus turned out to be a woman, since compassion and caring are traits more often applied to women then men. Either way it is important to realize, at least in Samusí case, that gaming heroines arenít just mock ups of what men wish women would be like but are actually strong lessons in how we should all act.