Samus Aran: The Woman Behind the Visor

A Critcal Theory Essay on the First Woman of Gaming

by Infinity's End


The Legacy

We've all heard it before. "I like Samus, he's cool because he can shoot lasers and missiles from his arm cannon and he can even morph into a ball! I bet there's nothing he can't do!" Which at that point you must bite your tongue and reply nicely and calmly, "She's a woman, y'know."The following section will focus on the legacy of Samus and how our connection with her has grown over the years with fans, both new and old.

The strongest, most defining characteristic the Metroid series is isolation. While we're playing, the game conveys a constant feeling of isolation, given that she has no contact with anyone else, and we're seemingly trapped on an unknown planet with absolutely no idea what's going to happen when you go through that next bubble hatch.

Unfortunately when additional side characters are added into the mix, or that Samus begins to have conversations with them (as seen in Fusion and more recently in Corruption) a lot of that isolation feeling is ultimately lost and in this writer's opinion it greatly detracts from Samus as a character and the series as a whole.

The series has never been about chatting with NPCs, or following orders. Samus is her own woman, and can make her own decisions. She's the quintessential equivalent of a free spirit -- she can control every aspect of her life with the powers she possesses. When Adam, the talking GFed computer in Fusion, began barking orders to you at every turn, it turned off a lot of the series' fans. Why should I have to listen to you? We asked. Why can't I just play the game on my own and figure things out for myself? We pleaded. Why isn't this game more open-ended like the others?

Fortunately, in Zero Mission, the game went back to its roots, keeping the in-game dialogue to a minimum with a few inner monologue sequences from Samus before the action starts. To keep these feelings of isolation solid, Samus should never have others to talk to, and the story should never be something we are told; in Metroid, you should be playing the story. You should be making the story. Use your imagination to fill in those precious details. Has modern game design tainted these original notions of giving the player control over their own story? I personally think that is one of most unique and superior aspects that video games have to offer over other forms of entertainment, let alone the Metroid series being one of the pioneers of that very aspect. It's amazing that more and more developers these days seem to be forgetting that.

It is pure imagination and the absence of explaination that has become a key player behind the technology of Samus's suit and Samus herself. Since there isso much mystery surrounding the way it works (there is really no plausible real-world explaination for it) it has been up to fans to fill in the details. The concept that has the most theories has to be none other than the way Samus gets in and out of her suit. Canonically speaking, (and portrayed for the first time in the Japanese Super Metroid commercial) Samus's suit appears on her body like a standard tokusatsu superhero. In Japan, tokusatsu (their word for "special effects") is a very popular story mechanic in which a masked superhero will don its costume out of thin air, with no prior explaination to how it got there other than it being a part of their "soul."

This effect has been used in Japanese cinema and television for 50 years, and is completely acceptable to fans of Japanese science fiction shows. Tokusatsu shows enjoyed a brief fad during the 90's over here in the US with Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers and shows like it, but have since faded into obscurity. Since the technology is only truly explained in one panel in the Metroid Manga (which wasn't released until 2004), some fan artists since then have been explaining the suit technology like a mecha that Samus steps in and out of. Even in Metroid Prime 3, you can clearly see watch the Power suit merging on and off her body by seemingly magical means. So to say that Samus can open up her suit and step out is wholly inaccurate, butnevertheless has produced some incredibly imaginative results.

How does one explain what happens in Fusion, then? If her suit was "surgically removed" then how could it have possibly been integrated with her "soul"?Well, in this case, the physical portion of the suit must have been removed, with the "soul" portion still in-tact, and was then transferred and transformed into what we know as the Fusion suit. This actually gives the Fusion suit a little more credibility due to the fact that she can suck in X-parasites and gain energy and missilesfrom them just by physical contact. If we do ever get a Metroid 5, the Fusion suit and the X-parasite will more than likely return as well.

Due to Samus being the first human-looking woman to ever appear in a video game, and her apparent "coming out" celebration, it has attracted many female gamers to her and given her a much greater fan base than some other female heroes. Lara Croft, the other outstanding female heroine, has become a bit of a digital pin-up girl throughout the years, and has possibly stolen Samus's spotlight with her larger-than-life, uh, "features." It doesn't matter, though. Samus will always be the first woman of adventure gaming, and I think a lot of newer gamers need to come to terms with that.

Fanart by Torokun. Used with permission.