Dear Metroid Dread: Samus can frown as much as she pleases.

We examine the sexist language still used to talk about female video characters, following an article published earlier this month which suggests a character should "crack a smile".

Harriet Metcalfe
1st November 2021
Credit: Kotaku / Nintendo via. Twitter
It seems that men have learnt that we really don't appreciate being told to smile more, and have decided to take their sexist opinions over to female video game characters. Yeah, I wish I was joking too.

An article published earlier this month by gaming and culture site Kotaku entitled "Samus Doesn't Need To Be An Emotionless Robot To Be Badass" caused quite a stir online. One Reddit user shared Kotaku's promotional tweet to the social network with the relatable "*slams head on desk*" caption and has 1.1k replies at time of writing. Meanwhile, the original tweet by Kotaku has over two thousand quote tweets, with many readers questioning the ethics of the journalist writing the piece.

To be frank, before I wrote this piece, Kotaku was a media outlet out of my Twittersphere. But suggesting that Samus, a female character in the game, should "crack a smile" during a cut-scene, has irritated me no end. Further suggestions from Kotaku's writer were that "examining her surroundings during the brief loading screens would have gone a long way toward making her feel more human" as well as finding that the character's "lack of warmth for someone [whom she meets in the cut scene of which the article makes reference to] who is essentially extended family [...] completely baffling."

The inference in the article that Samus is effectively 'not human enough' is a real issue, furthered by the writer's frustration that the character was not 'warm' enough within this reunion scene. That idea of "warmth" is an old stereotype about women that invokes connotations of mothering and care - something that this "badass" (as the author also describes her in a more positive light) would probably not be criticised for lacking if she were a man. I mean, have we ever stopped to look at male video game characters in this way at all?

The problem, unfortunately, doesn't end with Kotaku. Despite seventy people voicing their concerns and experiences of gender-based discrimination, harassment, abuse and sexual assault within the industry last year and the Activision Blizzard lawsuit over its treatment of female employees (just to name a few instances), sexism in the gaming industry is prevalent wherever you look - and that extends to the journalism written about it.

Metroid: Samus Returns
Credit: IGDb

As a female player, this disheartens me time and time again. Personally, I've had to change my name-tag from my nickname to an 'anonymous' identity as some "teammates" would give me shit for having a female-sounding username. I've also got my microphone turned off for every online game I play (as well as the sound so I can't hear if other people are talking). Despite loving my Nintendo and Play Station 2 as a kid, I stopped playing for years because it was never something I saw other girls doing. Even though I love gaming now and don't regret returning to it, I sometimes have to wonder why I bother putting up with some of the crap that comes with it.

I'm not saying we can't criticise female characters in videogames. But let's keep in mind the language we're using, as well as the context we're describing these characters in. It's been six years since Gamergate, but sometimes it's hard to see how much has actually changed. Female streamers on Twitch are overloaded with sexual harassment, abuse and trolling, 49% of women said they'd been harassed playing video games in 2021 - the evidence is clear that work needs to be done to make women in every sector of gaming safer; whether that's in development, for the players, for the writers or the characters themselves.

And one final note: we can all be emotionless badass robots if we want.

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AUTHOR: Harriet Metcalfe
English Literature BA student. Loves film, TV, books and coffee. Thinks "Thor: The Dark World" gets too much hate. Twitter: @hattiemetcalfe

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  1. Very nice article, thank you for sharing it!
    Given past presentations and revisions to Samus Aran, I'm still a bit anxious about how Samus has been presented in Dread. I like seeing her anger and defiance, particularly against the self-proclaimed father figure and warmongering patriarch that is Raven Beak. But were the developers even conscious of this, or did they just see the success of Doom 2016/Eternal and decide to ape on the "too angry to die" meme?
    Samus Aran is iconic, but she's also been changed and degraded numerous times, and used as sexualized eye-candy as a reward since the beginning. Her potential as a positive figure is immense, but constantly undermined. I suppose I'll have to wait and see how I feel about how they represented her in Dread . . . but for now? For the first time in decades, I have hope for Samus again. I have hope BECAUSE she got angry. It felt . . . vindicating, in a way.

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