Samus Aran: The Woman Behind the Visor

A Critcal Theory Essay on the First Woman of Gaming

by Infinity's End


It's not such a stretch to say that the video game industry consisted mostly of males during the 1980's, and thusly the games themselves were completely saturated with male-driven characters. Metroid was one of the first games to squash that truth. Though the game's instruction manual refers to Samus as a "he," we would later find out that after the game was accomplished under a specific time, the suit disappeared and a beautiful woman was revealed underneath, changing our lives forever. This article will go into an in-depth look at Samus Aran: The Woman Behind the Visor.

Behind the Visor

The Name

Samus Aran, officially pronounced "SAM-us AIR-un," is a very unusual but unique name. The etymology of Samus refers to a female variant of the name Seamus, the Celtic version of James, which means "he who supplants." Keeping with the Northern European naming convention, the origin of the name Aran could possibly refer to the Aran Islands, which can be found on the west coast of Ireland. Combining these together, one could say Samus Aran means "man (or woman, in this case) who supplants an island." Taking this definition, we can see how the name is appropriate and correlates directly to her first mission, since Samus's goal in the first Metroid is to work her way through the underground Space Pirate base established on Zebes, and destroy the Mother Brain. From here we can draw two conclusions: 1.) Hiroji Kiyotake, the man who designed Samus, just thought it sounded good and Nintendo went with it, or 2.) he purposefully meant to use it in the way of "Person who overthrows an isolated area by force." Unfortunately, there is no known explanation of exactly where the name came from, so unless we somehow glean the truth from an original development team member, it will continue to remain a mystery.

The Female Form

Justin Bailey To this day, those unfamiliar with the Metroid series might not think of Samus as a woman at first glance. Since all of Samus's external features are hidden, it is easy to assume that there is a man wearing the armor. Moreover, throughout popular culture, female warriors are usually depicted as scantily clad, or they wear clothing that is made to flaunt their feminine features(see below). Fan-artist's renderings aside, Samus's armor is very far from these notions. As can be seen in the early concept art, it was definitely drawn to fit a male frame: wide shoulders, muscular arms and legs, a linear torso, and even a male waistline. Taken from a Freudian perspective, both Samus's helmet and arm cannon can easily be seen as examples of phallic symbolism. The abundance of masculinity in the overall design aggressively implies it is not being worn by a female body. So why isn't Samus male? As the story goes, a Nintendo employee acted on a thought to switch genders mid-development, and the rest is history.

As a result, Metroid housed a "secret." You would play through the game, completely unaware that your little "guy" was really a "gal" and then many game hours later, BOOM, it would hit you like a ton of bricks. But times have changed, and gaming has changed. Nintendo no longer considers the revealing of Samus's sex as a surprise, but that they're proud to flaunt one of gaming's strongest and most popular female characters. As recently seen in the new Super Smash Bros. Brawl for Wii, Samus sheds her armor after performing a Final Smash, revealing the beautiful and lithe Zero Suit body underneath. Samus has also become an icon for many female gamers, and that women in games can be much more than just ditzy, helpless, kidnapped princesses. (It should also be noted that taking a look at this list of female game characters that Samus is the "eldest" and that females in games started becoming much more prominent after her advent.)

Warrior Women
Fanart by D-MATSUYAMA. Used with permission.