Posted at 8:00 AM Jul 22, 2009
So let's go back to 1989 or so for just a minute, to a basement somewhere in the U.S. It's late, the lights are off, a non-flat TV screen glowing from the middle of a faux wood entertainment center, the solid gray box of a Nintendo parked on blue shag carpeting.
There's a 12-year-old kid on a couch across the room, controller in hand, giant bag of Cheetohs at her side. She's been down here for hours, her parents already in bed, so she's got the volume on low. Not off, though. She needs the MIDI music for concentration. Normally she'd have been kicked off by now, but her older brother (by one lousy year) is at a friend's house. She's playing Metroid, and she's five levels in, and the manual says she's close.
The manual says a lot, actually. It says the character on the screen is named Samus Aran, a bounty hunter fighting for the Galactic Federation Police and collecting energy tanks and bombs just to survive. It offers names for the game's various monsters, clearly Japanese in origin (skrees and memus, to name a few), but the kid just knows them as spiky things or flying things. At least the game doesn't have a princess, she thinks, popping a Cheetoh. Mario, Zelda, every freakin' fantasy game's got a princess in a castle in distress. Not here, though. Nope. Just Samus jumping platforms and blasting away at space pirates on Planet Zebes.
So, anyway, here's the kid on the final level, and there's Mother Brain, the final boss, Samus firing missiles to take out the glass around the big red blob. Gotta be quick. A time bomb's set to blow once the giant brain's dead. But the kid makes it. She jumps a final platform, and Samus rides an elevator to the surface. She pops another celebratory Cheetoh as victory music plays, Samus standing at attention on screen. Then, suddenly, the character flashes, the body armor disappears, and ... it's a woman? The manual specifically said "he," but Samus, the ass-kickin', weaponized fighter with a literal hand cannon, is a woman.
It's brief, she's only there for a couple seconds in a skin-tight suit (it's gotta be hot inside that body armor). She gives everyone a wave, then she's gone. The kid smiles, though, taking a bit of satisfaction. Maybe she can piss her brother off telling him about it.