Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Samus and the Super Smash Bros: Feminist Masterpiece or Misogynist Male Fantasy?

Cross-applied is a weekly feature in the Beatissima Garbage that takes the most infamous elements of the college paper’s editorial page and doubles them through a point-otherpoint, high school debate-style format.  Two “sensitive” culture critics argue about something no one else is arguing about and try to ascertain whether it’s detrimental to or supportive of equality, diversity, justice, whatever.  If you want to contribute your ideas to a future issue of Cross-applied exclusively for The Author’s Files, please pitch your grievance or stance to theauthorsfiles@gmail.com and we’ll consider whether it’s worth duking out.

Gareth Paltrey: Zero Suit Fights Rapists With Girl Power


2015 is a great year to be a feminist.  For decades there’s been a stigma in our society against feminism, largely because the vast majority of society don’t understand what feminism means, but thanks to the outspokenness of A-list celebrities and actions of concerned corporations, the social attitude towards feminism is finally starting to sway.

In September of last year, the beautiful, talented Teen Choice Award-winning actress Emma Watson used her influence among remaining Harry Potter fans to make a powerful and deeply inspiring defense of gender equality.  Shortly thereafter, Taylor Swift met Lena Dunham and came out of the feminist closet, giving hundreds of 15-year-olds the courage to take a stand and identify themselves as feminist.  Then Hillary Clinton stepped forward despite unprecedented GOP resistance and declared her 2016 candidacy for the U.S. president, making her the first woman who counts to run for president since Hillary Clinton in 2008. Finally, we saw a wave of openly feminist, progressive movies receive widespread critical and financial success, including “Edge of Tomorrow”, the new “Mad Max,” the new “Pitch Perfect,” the new “Avengers,” and the new “Terminator” movie starring Khaleesi as Sarah Connor.

But possibly the greatest victory for women’s equality was in video gaming, an arena which has long been controlled by patriarchy and misogynistic developers.  Feminist bloggers like Anita Sarkeesian brought attention to the blatant sexist stereotyping of women in the industry’s best-selling games, and the hateful underbelly of Gamergate’s defenders rose to the forefront of the public’s discussion.  While some developers continued to churn out the same ugly, male-dominated entertainment they did before (see the horrible “The Witcher 3” for the epitome of disgusting sexist representations in video gaming), Nintendo heard the public’s call for change and answered it with flying colors, giving us one of the best and most diverse games in years.  I’m talking of course about “Super Smash Bros. for Wii U.”

Nintendo’s always been a leader when it comes to creating strong and independent female characters, starting with the original Metroid on the NES and culminating in the dorm room phenomenon known as Super Smash Bros.  They’ve had their stumbles here and there with characters like Princess Peach who exist solely to be rescued by male plumbers, but they’ve always been open to the desires of fans and quickly rectified situations deemed offensive.  When female Super Mario and Donkey Kong fans protested the weak and two-dimensional portrayals of hapless damsels in those games, Nintendo turned the tables on traditional gender roles with games like “Super Princess Peach” and “Ocarina of Time”, the latter of which is often considered the best video game for Nintendo console owners of all time.

Through three installments on the N64, Gamecube, and Wii, Super Smash Bros. added to the company’s roster of tough female characters and proved once and for all that women can kick just as much, if not more ass than men.  As everybody knows, the series’ toughest competitor is actually a woman, the agile and ridiculously OP Princess Zelda, but Zero Suit Samus is a close runner-up.  Zero Suit might look and sound like a cheap porno star to ignorants, but she’s actually the most important and feminist creation of Nintendo.

Zero Suit Samus’ redesign for “Super Smash Bros. for Wii U” reduces her to the skimpiest apparel we’ve ever seen her slip into, but she remains just as powerful and intimidating as she does in past games, impressively holding her own against Luigi, Marth, and Daaaaark Purple Pit.  In my dorm at Beatissima, the overwhelming scientific consensus is that she’s incredibly hot, but all the guys want to play as her because she’s strong on top of being fricking gorgeous.  Zero Suit embraces her sexuality but doesn’t enslave herself to it, using her stunning beauty for self-empowerment rather than exploitation.  In an ironic twist on conventional male leadership in sexual relationships, she even lashes out at opponents with a laser whip, showing who’s the real dominant partner.  Samus Aran is a rare ravishing blonde in video games who isn’t defined as a simple accessory to men and exceeds all three rules of the Bechdel Test.



A lot of conservative, middle-aged mothers have complained (not on the internet, of course; there are no girls on the internet) about her revealing skins, dubbing her combat bra and short shorts “space undies” or “stripper clothes.”  As it turns out, this incendiary backlash is exactly the reason why characters like Samus are a social necessity in modern gaming.  With the risk of making the same mistakes and ignorant generalizations they all make, I don’t want to lump all of Zero Suit’s detractors together.  Everyone’s entitled to their opinion, and we should be able to have a civil discussion without namecalling and personal attacks.

With that said, the resistance to Zero Suit’s depiction in Super Smash Bros. is rooted in the same archaic, patriarchal Puritanism that misogynists used to oppress women up until the Voting Rights Act, and I mean that in the most non-personal way.  The Supreme Court has declared free speech to be a civil right, so conservatives are free to say whatever they want about Samus, but that doesn’t mean there’s any excuse for slut-shaming.  It’s 2015.  Isn’t it about time we stop criticizing and humiliating women for the makeup they put on, the food they eat, the clothes they do or don’t wear, and just love each other as fellow fetuses?

Like Katniss Everdeen, Lara Croft, and Rita Virtoshi, Zero Suit Samus provides an inspiring role model for young girls and fills a void in a gaming culture that’s often hostile to female nerds.  With more feminist characters who are comfortable in their sexuality and able to compete with men, gender inequality and rape culture will be seen for what they are, a thing of the past that’s just as outdated as racism and bullying.


Jess Dewon: Hey Nintendo, Michael Bay Wants His Supermodel Stereotype Back


Almost thirty years ago, Nintendo shocked the world with an inspiring and empowering heroine, a female Bobafett of the video gaming world.  Samus Iran made her kick-ass debut in the Metroid franchise in 1986, blasting her way through parasitic aliens and ruthless space pirates.  Samus became instantly beloved by gamers everywhere and went on to empower women all over the globe.  Samus showed us all that a woman can hold her own, even in a dark and dangerous world like Metroid’s, and can be more than just a mere object.

However, Nintendo in several releases for the Wii and Wii U, let everyone down with the release of Samus’ racy “Zero Suit”, an embarrassing tight bodysuit that serves no other purpose than to pointlessly objectify the series’ protagonist.  Nintendo’s continued use of the zero suit is an unfortunate reflection of the current state of women in all current gaming.  Whether Trip needs a leg up in “Enslaved” or Cortana decides to let it all hang in “Halo 4, women are constantly portrayed as nothing more than either sex symbols or helpless damsels in distress respectively.  Playing Super Smash Bros. is an exercise in chauvinism just as much as any Michael Bay movie or HBO original show (except for Lena Dunham’s “Girls”, which is amazing and very progressive).

But Samus’ skin-tight get-up is hardly Nintendo’s only step back from feminism and sexual equality.  For decades, Mario has had to rescue Princess Peach from the evil Bowser, and Nintendo’s games have forever been flooded with heroic male protagonists, be it Donkey Kong, or the genius Professor Layton. Nintendo has also recently acquired the racy Bayonetta series.  These poor decisions just reinforce the sadly accurate mindset that the video game industry is nothing but a giant, exclusionary sausage fest.

Samus’ zero suit shows that Nintendo can’t see past a woman’s body to create a strong, female lead in a video game without overly sexualizing that character.  When Samus wore an armored exo-suit in the previous Metroid games, she could be seen as a serious protagonist and an intimidating warrior.  Just as Microsoft would never deign to show Master Chief in a skimpy pair of boxers, Nintendo should not deign to take away Samus’ armor.  Stripping Samus Iran of her armor is equivalent of stripping her of her power and gravitas.  Its undeniable that Nintendo’s apparent objectification of Samus is nothing but disappointing and is a huge let down to the whole gaming community.  Far too many games in today’s culture push back against feminism, and to lose one of the industry’s most empowering figures is an enormous step backwards.

Still worse, Zero Suit Samus has brought out the worst in the very gamers playing, leading to racy mods, “sexy freeze-frame” compilations, sexist internet memes, and disgusting fan art on social sharing websites like “Deviant Art”.  While every woman, especially a driven character like Samus, should have the right to embrace or reject their sexuality as they desire, the zero suit feels like nothing more than a ploy to weaken Samus’ image.

Nintendo’s zero suit doesn’t further Samus’ character in any way.  It doesn’t even go so far as to show her emotional vulnerability, an admittedly necessary trait in any hero, male or female, cis or trans.  Needless to say, I find Nintendo’s choices both disappointing and distressing, and I can only hope the gaming industry chooses to reform its current ways and show a little more open-mindedness.

1 comment:

  1. Rita VRATASKI. Gosh, feminists, can't spell if their lives depended on it.

    ReplyDelete

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