Was Nintendo's Metroid Character 'Samus Aran' Transgender?
Under that armor was Samus Aran hiding an important secret?
Where both Mario and Link were tasked to save their respective princesses, Samus Aran can be seen as the princess herself. Arguably, a self-contained logic for her own volition, Samus is an intergalactic bounty hunter tasked with saving the world in Metroid (1986), easily the third most famous Nintendo game of that era.
Young boys, still high off endorphins after just killing Metroid's central antagonist, were shocked to discover a woman behind the suit at the closing credits. Many assumed all awhile that the hero was made in "our image" i.e. male. Metroid was indeed intergalactically bleak, but it was assumed that "damsels in distress" also existed in space.
Co-creator Yoshio Sakamoto recounts the character development stage when someone proposed that it should be a female who was ultimately revealed. Such a revelation was thought to become,"the greatest moment in Nintendo's history," according to GameDaily. As compelling as the Feminist implication of this might be, she was rather scantily clad. 'Best boobs,' and 'hottest video game girl of all time,' are just some of the awards Samus disappointingly and subsequently won in gamer press. Moreover, her character in sequels Zero Mission, Corruption, Trilogy, and Other M have pathologized her as being vaguely misandrist, suffering from some post-apocalyptic PTSD, and prone to psychotic breaks. It is indeed peculiar how a woman's power is inextricable to not just her sexuality, but mental instability, and how the latter somehow incites or augments the former. More than a heroine, we now had a perverse fantasy.
Yet, there is a twist. Samus's near-anagram of Kafka's Samsa (The Metamorphosis) might make us wonder about her exoskeleton-like suit, as if such metamorphosis might likewise be allegorical. Was this a simply some half-naked woman wearing a man's suit, or a sullen boy player masked under a woman's identity? Could the suit—essentially a costume, like some superheroes' e.g. Iron Man, Batman, etc.—be some existential armor that protects man from his self-loathing and body dysmorphia?
Players enjoyed the sprawling aimless pursuit of the planet Zebes; losing track of which vacuum-suctioned doors they went through, birthed in a cycle of amnesiac reincarnation, at times jumping off a high perch for the sake of free-falling, or collapsing into the "Morph ball" and rolling under hidden crevices into another vast area of vacant quietude. The game was far lonelier than the rest, in which reprieve is found as an extension of actual life. Sometimes the fantasy is not having to change.
Players didn't know about transgenderism at that age of course, or that one could be "queer" without being gay. That I was called gay, the way all coy and effeminate boys in high school were, had little to do with my obsession with Metroid. I liked its world better, perversely moving over Samus's pixelated curves with my porn-washed eyes, yet simultaneously wondering if I might be the princess of the game, waiting for my man.
If the gender politics here seem like a stretch, then why is it a man—one "Justin Bailey," whose name when entered as the password—who reveals a woman? Before the internet, we whispered tweets to each other in real life. Someone at school told me about this Justin Bailey password trick, from which a second planet Zebes arose. "Mind blowing" is not a term I use lightly, but I was sans cranium for much of 1986. With this 180° twist, could Samus Aran have been Justin Bailey this entire time, some fabulous drag queen in a tight bikini swimsuit with hair dyed green?
As Susan Sontag said, "the becoming of man is the history of the exhaustion of his possibilities," then the becoming of woman shall be the history of the illumination of her unspent possibilities—at a place where we can be her without wanting her, some far off point in a dark future, in a fictional world invented by men and made for boys."
History of Samus Aran
Samus Aran is the galactic bounty hunter that perhaps you never heard of, but you’ve played her if you’ve ever enjoyed the video games Metroid, Metroid Prime, Metroid 2 or Metroid Fusion. There are even appearances of Samus in video game offshoots ranging from pinball games to comics and graphic novellas. Her conception as the protagonist in the long line of Metroid game installments cements her as one of the most iconic video game characters ever developed.
Being the main character throughout the Metroid franchise, Samus has quite a storied past. Born on the mining planet K-2L, she and her parents lived until she reached the age of three. It was then that the planet was invaded by a band of space pirates led by the infamous Ridley, a dragonesque alien lifeform who is responsible for the death of Samus’ mother and father during the invasion. This senseless slaughter would forever make Ridley the sworn enemy of Samus Aran, and their encounters with each other would be numerous on account of the space pirates ability to revive Ridley even after Samus had defeated him.
Orphaned by war and left to fend for herself, Samus was rescued by a strange, wise race of beings known as the Chozo. The Chozo reacted to the distress beacon being transmitted by the Earth colony operating on K-2L when Ridley and the space pirates invaded; they located Samus and spared her certain death before handing her over to the Galactic Federation for training as a special operative. It was not long before Samus began to exhibit extraordinary combat skills and eventually the commanders in the Galactic Federation singled her out for special missions against Ridley and his minions on their home planet of Zebes.
It is here that the plotline of Metroid plays out. As it turns out, the space pirates that Samus is sworn to destroy have an interest in researching and weaponizing Metroids - jellyfish-like, life-sucking alien creatures that latch onto their prey and don’t let go. Samus must identify where these Metroids are and destroy them, while also eliminating the threats posed by the leaders of the space pirates who use Zebes as a headquarters for their insidious operations throughout the galaxy.
Samus enters the subterranean mazes that extend deep into the planet’s core. Here she is able to locate her three main enemies: Ridley, Kraid and Mother Brain. This isn’t easily done, however, as Samus has to also find the technology she needs to defeat her enemies. The most important aid she uses in her journey is the Power Suit, a powered exoskeleton that was an invention of the Chozo. This suit allows her to morph into a small ball to access the small nooks and crannies that make up the below-ground Zebeian caves and chambers.
Also in her arsenal is the Freeze Beam, the Wave Beam and numerous missile packs. Using these tools in creative ways allows Samus to navigate the labyrinthine cravasses and passages of Zebes and contend with the bizarre, dangerous lifeforms that inhabit the planet. In fact, there isn’t a single one of them that isn’t deadly to Samus. In order to maintain vitality enough to challenge the Ridley/Kraid/Mother Brain trio, Samus has to find and integrate Energy Tanks, which extend her life force and allow her to withstand the rigors of her battles.
Samus’ ultimate goal during her mission to Zebes is to destroy Mother Brain, the commanding general of the entire space pirate operation. In order to do this, she has to incapacitate and destroy numerous Metroids. Once this goal is achieved, however, Samus returns to the ship on which she arrived and is able to return to life as normal.
This wouldn’t be the end of the trials of Samus Aran. Even though Zebes was cleared of Ridley, Kraid and Mother Brain, the last surviving Metroid was able to hitchhike back to the Ceres colony with Samus by latching onto her and mistaking her for it’s mother. Upon finding the young Metroid, Samus turns it over to Galactic Federation scientists who are able to harness its power and further develop it, resulting the the creation of the devious Metroid Prime. Samus would face Metroid Prime and defeat it, only to witness the creature evolve into a doppleganger of Samus known as Dark Samus.
Because the planets of Zebes and K-2L are ‘neighbors’, the war between the space pirates and the Galactic Federation wages on with consistent intensity. The Galactic Federation is comprised of various alien races who all work together for peace, whereas the space pirates are just a band of outlaws who take whatever they want, whenever they want and leave indigenous lifeforms for dead. It is not clear how much longer the two will remain at war, but for now the only hope for triumph over evil lies with Samus Aran.