Trigger Warning: Opinions
In this two-part series, I’ll aim to explore the issue of diversity in gaming. What is it? Do we have it? How can we have it? And do we need it?
Recently, you may have seen the Metroid lead character Samus Aran trending on Twitter. And if you were curious enough to click the hashtag and and see why, you were probably greeted by a shitstorm of people getting themselves worked-up and shouting at each other in 140 characters or less over whether Samus was born a male or a female. “Huh?” you say, “That’s strange, Samus has always been a woman as far as I remember”.
So how did this argument start?
Samus is what now?
It’s rather silly isn’t it? I mean, of course Samus is and always has been a female. There is no argument here and never will be, but that will not be the point of this article.
Last week, developer and transgendered woman herself, Brianna Wu published a piece co-authored by ‘Metroid’s Samus Aran is a Transgender Woman. Deal With It’. The article argued that the character of Samus Aran had indeed been born a male but now identified as a female and that people should ‘deal with it’.and writer for The Mary Sue (a radical-feminist news site) titled
A quick background on Brianna Wu: a figure who you might not be familiar with but whose name you may hear often if you’re invested in the cultural war plaguing the gaming world right now. She founded the studio Giant Spacekat which developed the iOS game Revolution 60. Brianna has appointed herself as a spokesperson for all women in gaming, giving regular talks and writing columns on what she believes to be sexism in the gaming industry, she has also been the centre of many small controversies.
The piece itself was not very convincing. For one, it was poorly sourced and fact-checked, referencing a joke made by one of the original Metroid background designers, Hirofumi Matsuoka in 1994 as saying that Samus could be ‘transgendered’. Now, the exact word Matsuoka used in Japanese does not have a direct English translation, it can also mean ‘transvestite’, ‘transsexual’ and ‘new-half’. In this case however, the sentence itself was taken out of context and the definition of the word misrepresented in order to be used as evidence by the two writers.
It didn’t take long for the internet to do the required fact-checking that Brianna and Ellen had forgotten and shortly after a statement from the Metroid director himself, Sakamoto Yoshio surfaced and the debate was quickly put to rest, “It’s about as likely as Samus being a transvestite!“ Yoshio said in an interview from 2004 when asked if Metroid would ever come to the PlayStation 2, directly referencing the very joke made by Hirofumi Matsuoka.
Considering this was the strongest evidence that Wu and McGrody presented in the article, the rest of the piece fell flat and was rightfully labelled as flimsy, wishful thinking; a silly attempt to present an opinion as fact, cause drama and garner attention.
They also argued that Samus’s height (She’s 6’3″) and strong physique were more representative of a man, that these characteristics made more sense if she had been born a male that had later transitioned to a female.
Correct me if I’m wrong here, but are they seriously arguing that a strong female character could not possibly be a biological woman? That ‘strong’ and ‘tall’ aren’t characteristics of a woman? That’s a little regressive is it not? To demand more empowered and fleshed-out female characters in video games and then turn around and say that strong women cannot actually exist? Samus is a great- hell.. one of the best examples of a strong well-written female character in gaming, why try to erase this?
Generating discussion or inciting an argument?
Needless to say, Wu and McGrody accomplished at least one of their goals; kicking the internet into a frenzy and sparking heated debate between two sides – those who grew up playing the Metroid series and were familiar with its story and world, and the so-called ‘social justice warriors’ of the internet who insisted that Samus be a transgendered woman because one woman on the internet said so. This woman’s only source being a poorly translated, offhand and out-of-context comment taken from a background designer (not even the original designer of the character) in the 90’s.
Ultimately the article was heavily criticised by the gaming community, who were angry that the writers wished to erase and rewrite the history of a major much-loved and well-established character to suit their own agenda. That is; a stronger representation of transgendered characters in gaming.
Which is in itself – provided it was not simply troll-bait, a noble cause.
There are admittedly very few and far between transgendered characters in gaming. And while I’d personally love to see more; I have to strongly disagree with appropriating the character of someone else’s creation for your own personal ideals, stating it as fact followed by incendiary words like ‘deal with it’. Especially one as important and symbolic as Samus, a character that means so much to so many people. The words ‘deal with it’ only serve to antagonise the reader, you’ll have a hard time convincing anyone with a tone like that.
This is not the first time games have been attacked for not subscribing to the ideals of the radical-left and overly politically-correct crowd, nor will it be the last. In fact, I believe such is the trend in modern day gaming journalism right now, something I’ve been quite vocal about for a while now. You may recall a recent controversy that saw The Witcher 3 attacked by some groups for not including any black people despite the world of The Witcher series being based on the history and folklore of Poland.
It should be noted that immediately after publishing the piece, Brianna went to the Wikipedia article for Samus Aran and attempted to debase it to reflect her unfounded claim, humorously using her own article as the source. One author of the Wikipedia article told Brianna “Please refrain from editing pages while citing yourself as a source. It’s embarrassing that I have to point it out”.
With Samus also being under heavy copyright laws, Wu was lucky that Nintendo did not step in and slap her with a letter of cease and desist. It’s easy to see how making such a claim could be damaging to the Metroid IP. You’re allowed to interpret a piece of fiction different to someone else, but you can’t change it for everyone.
I understand and relate to the desire to play a character that represents yourself. I mean, you’d be lying if you told me right now you haven’t tried to recreate a version of yourself in The Sims or any other game that offers an in-depth character creator. But you must also understand that if you take a much loved and iconic character like Samus and try to remodel her to be more like yourself, people aren’t going to be on-board with that. It’s okay to pretend and have your own theories when it comes to details that aren’t canon, but objectively trying to make your own view of a character a reality? It’s not going to happen, no matter who you are, that’s solely up to the creator. To quote the author’s own article here, “No matter what fans say, the intent of the creator is the only opinion that really matters“.
Funnily enough, for somebody that regularly preaches about and attacks the apparent lack of diversity in gaming as well as the sexual objectification of women, the characters in Brianna’s own game, Revolution 60, all look like some kind of deformed hyper-sexualized Bratz dolls. They are all white, thin and have quite unrealistic proportions, dressed in skin-tight bodysuits and dresses. Even the controversial (but incredibly fun) Hunie Pop; a game that has received backlash from several communities for its sexual content and objectification of women offers more diversity than Revolution 60. How ’bout that?
I know, I know. Attack the argument, not the source. But I think to fully comprehend the levels of hypocrisy here, it’s important to paint a picture of the type of person we’re dealing with here.
I have to hand it to Brianna though. My personal feelings of Revolution 60 aside, she actually produced a video game with the help of the studio she founded, not a small feat considering the amount of video games that begin development but never see the light of day. But where are the transgendered characters in her game? If she cared so much about representation in the first place and was in the position of power to make it happen, wouldn’t Revolution 60 be her perfect chance to lead by example?
Predictably, the authors did not take well to the internet disagreeing with them. Brianna brushed aside all accusations of being factually incorrect and quickly tried to label gamers as a whole as ‘transphobic’ for pointing out the wealth of evidence that contradicted her statement, later even demanding an apology. Hiding behind accusations of hatred when confronted by differing views and opinions is a common tactic of those who wish to police art and pop culture such as Brianna Wu and our other friend, Anita Sarkeesian. A quick google search will find that Wu has a history of dishing it out but being unable to take it. But I digress, this article should not be about Brianna Wu either. Professional victims will always crave attention.
Ellen McGrody on the other hand went into somewhat of a meltdown on Twitter after the backlash, stating “Samus is trans, Poison is trans, Link is trans, Zelda is trans, Tails is trans. YOUR FAVS ARE TRANS. THAT’S IT” and revealing her true intentions through a series of tweets, “I don’t care about canon, I don’t care about authorial intent, I demand queer representation and I will subvert and take away your spaces.”
Facts versus feelings
Both authors evidently took the internet’s poor response to their piece as a personal attack on themselves and their identity, throwing around hefty accusations at gamers while simultaneously back-peddling on their original statements. But a quick look at a lot of the tweets directed at the two that day as well as many other responses to the original article show that the vast majority of gamers were simply pointing out the facts in a reasonable manner, they did not care if Samus truly was a woman or not. Forbes contributor Erik Kain put out a terrific article pointing out the lunacy of the situation and how these kind of identity politics in gaming aren’t very beneficial to anyone, I would highly suggest giving it a read also.
The idea of a transgendered Samus did not offend gamers. There were no ‘transphobic’ or homophobic remarks thrown around. Granted, there was some anger as well as a few bad apples and third party trolls floating around during the debate, but that is to be expected from anyone that is passionate about something and does not want to see it slandered by unfounded claims. Taking the actions of a small few and using them to paint a large group with broad strokes is and always has been a bad thing to do in any argument. And it certainly doesn’t bring anything to the table in this discussion.
Let’s take the character Poison for example, from the Street Fighter series, a notable fan favourite and one of the few transsexual characters in gaming. Street Fighter IV producer Yoshinori Ono has stated in an interview “Let’s set the record straight: in North America, Poison is officially a post-op transsexual. But in Japan, she simply tucks her business away to look female”.
Now, assuming that the gaming community is transphobic as Brianna claims, where is the hate? I see nothing but love for Poison. The internet is filled with fan art, fan-fiction and idolisation of the character. Fans love to speculate and comment on her true gender. That doesn’t seem like the behaviour of a misogynistic and transphobic community to me. To me Poison’s warm reception is a signal that gamers are happy to see more diverse representations of women in gaming, not the opposite.
Gamers are not opposed to the idea of diversity as some groups might have you think in case you haven’t noticed. Gamers are a diverse group themselves, the idea of a diverse group being opposed to diversity itself is well.. rather silly.
But I will save that for part 2; in which I will delve further into the issue of diversity and representation in gaming, which I promise will be a little more positive and less focused on silly Twitter drama. And why it’s important that we fight to preserve freedom of creativity and expression in art as a whole while not letting anybody feel unwelcome.
Thanks for reading! You can check out part two here!