Now, there is this blogger on the internet named Viscor who writes blogs providing counterarguments to Anita Sarkeesian and her videos and I really liked seeing her counter Anita’s videos. And when I read her blog containing counterarguments to Anita’s first video, the Damsel in Distress video, I really enjoyed reading it… until she started talking about Metroid Other M and referred to it as “an interesting character study of a woman completely broken by the trauma of her previous missions with competent gameplay beneath it all.” I thought, “What? Are you kidding me?” And lately she made this blog explaining her stance on Metroid Other M. And so, I decided to take all of her defence arguments and provide counterarguments to them. Hopefully, even if they don’t change her mind, they would provide her some insight into where the haters are coming from.
I got Metroid: Other M on release date (September 3, 2010) on a Friday, put it in my Wii and played (with breaks to sleep and eat, of course) until I had finished it the next day. My initial thoughts were that it certainly wasn't as good as Zero Mission or Super Metroid, but I still had more fun with it than the Metroid Prime games (I think the Prime games are better, but they just never really grabbed me as much as the 2D games ever did). A few months later when the backlash against the game flared up (again), I put the game back in my Wii to have another go, with the backlash in mind, and lost another weekend because I still had just as much fun with it.
That's not to say it's flawless. Far from it. I just have an appreciation for what it tried to do, even if at certain points it became a bit of a mess because of it.
What it tried to do is irrelevant. What it ended up doing is all that matters.
Basically the reasons why I like the game are also the reasons why other people hate it. I appreciate the story as a depressing character study of a completely broken woman in a sci-fi setting where the people act closer to real fallible people who do stupid things rather than characters conforming to our conditioned story expectations and preconceptions. Yes, Samus is acting out-of-character. The events of Super Metroid were clearly the last straw that broke her mental health and by this point she should ideally be in therapy, but instead she continues doing the only thing she knows how to do and by this point she's so much of a legend that nobody even questions whether she's actually still fit to do it. Sure she's badass enough that kicking the crap out of everything that comes her way is intuitive and comes naturally to her, but everything that requires actual cognitive reasoning is way more than she can deal with at this point in time.
It bothers me to see that she’s forgiving Samus for being out-of-character in this game, but here’s a better way for Super Metroid’s events to be the last straw that broke her mental health: instead of being a whiny, weak, submissive yes-lady following every little tiny command Adam gives her, (we’ll get to that very, very soon) have Samus act cold, bitter, and hostile towards everyone around her. She frequently does heavy drinking, starts a lot of bar fights, and becomes much more aggressive in collecting future bounties. There have been a lot of stories, even in Japan that do this. For example, the upcoming Tales of Berseria, which has a female lead, has had a happy life until she was affected by some horrible tragedy that will be explained when the game comes out. And in the anime and manga franchise Fairy Tail, Erza Scarlet, my favorite character in the whole series experienced horrible tragedies in her life, has lost loved ones as well, and while she does blame herself for being unable to protect Rob and Simon, she always stands up and does the right thing and believes that succeeding in protecting the loved ones she has now would make up for failing to protect Rob and Simon. So she does feel guilt for failing to protect them but never lets that get in the way of standing up for what she believes in and that’s why so many anime fans (myself included) love and respect her as a character. Also, before the Tower of Heaven arc and after Erza escaped from her childhood in slavery, Erza became distant towards her fellow guildmates, tried not to let people get close to her just so she would never feel heartache again. And she became strict to the point where she valued following and enforcing the rules to matter more than simply doing the right thing, and was more than happy to sacrifice her own life just to save her guild. Until near the end of the Tower of Heaven arc where she got a vision of how her guild reacted to death: every member’s hearts were broken and everyone was crying at her funeral, Natsu refusing to accept that Erza died. When she awakened and saw that Natsu saved her life, she learned one important lesson: “don’t die for your friends. Live for them.” Then, she starts to warm up to her guildmates become friendlier towards them and start focusing more on doing the right thing for her guild. She’s still strict, but she’s much more supportive because of what she learned at the tower of heaven and while she still puts her life on the line (she’s a warrior after all) she values her life more and actively tries to survive her battles. This kind of character arc would have worked well for Samus, but Other M didn’t do that. Instead we got what we actually got and that’s why Metroid fans were in an outrage.
And even if the characters really are meant to “act closer to real fallible people who do stupid things rather than characters conforming to our conditioned story expectations and preconceptions,” I personally believe that Fawful’s Minion put it best: “To hell with ‘realism’! This is a world where bees give you thoughtful advice and a bird can be used as a damn bayonet rifle! That, want. Swarms of police that kill your fun time Well-established characters going completely against their past characterizations and acting like absolute morons in the process, no want!”
In light of that, yeah, I can appreciate what Other M was attempting to portray. Samus' voice acting is detached because that's where her mental state is. The abusive relationship between Samus and Adam Malkovich becomes the result of Malkovich no longer trusting his former apprentice, and Samus being suicidal enough to try to prove her loyalty even when logically it makes no sense. Her not activating the the Varia Suit until already midway into a lava section can thus be read as both of them testing the other to see who breaks first (which ends up being Malkovich).
I recently saw a video review of Metroid Other M from a youtube user named Darklordjadow1 and at one point of the review he addressed the point that Vicsor herself made about Adam no longer trusting Samus due to that mission she messed up on as “earth-shakingly stupid since Samus has saved the universe, what, like seven times by this game’s time and is now the Federation’s most elite and trusted asset!” So, by this game’s time, you’d expect Adam to trust Samus unconditionally and treat her with respect, so even if I were to buy the notion that this is Samus broken by her past missions and them taking a horrendous toll on her, that would definitely not excuse Adam’s abusive behavior towards her. In fact, he’d be giving her the kindness that Samus needs at this point. Darklordjadow1 also said something that I think should be of interest to anyone on either side of the Other M story controversy. He said, “Just spitballing here, wouldn’t this whole story between Samus and Adam work much better if the roles were reversed? If Samus was the one who was cold and distant after all these years, Adam sees this and is concerned for her psychological well-being and tries to get her to open up for her own good? Think about it. Samus has spent years watching planets blow up and anybody even remotely close to her die, (the baby metroid just being the latest example) she becomes so cold-hearted as a defence mechanism that she’s not mentally well anymore, but then reconnects with Adam, is still icy, and Adam realizes that if she doesn’t learn how to handle her emotions soon, she’s going to snap. It would be a story that’s not at odds with literally everything we know about Samus and it would allow her to grow as a character as opposed to the actual game which devolves her into a mewling schoolgirl with daddy issues. Plus, it would be a clever deconstruction of a fairly dark and grim series. Sorry, I’m trying to make bricks without clay here.” You see? That would be an interesting character study of a woman completely broken by the trauma of her previous missions with competent gameplay beneath it all. You see, the story could start with Samus so upset with losing loved one after loved one that the game could open up with her resorting to heavy drinking and getting into gratuitously frequent bar fights. Then Adam meets up with her and notices that she’s becoming meaner and more hostile than she was in the past and tries to heal any psychological wounds she might have and act as a therapist towards her. That would be a fantastic way to convey the notion of Adam being a father figure to Samus and portray paternal instinct in a believable way.
Maybe Vicsor should read Jay Kristoff’s Lotus War trilogy. Throughout the first book, the main heroine, Yukiko, receives flashbacks to when her pet dog, Buruu (whom she named the griffin she befriended after) was killed by a wolf, her twin brother was killed by a snake, and learned that the villain of the first book, the shogun Yoritomo organized the death of Yukiko’s mother and had her executed. Then, in the last third of the book, she witnessed Yoritomo chop off Buruu’s (the griffin) wings, was nearly killed by Yoritomo, was betrayed by a samurai she had a crush on and even slept with, and her father died saving her, like the baby metroid died saving Samus. Throughout the second book, Yukiko’s special ability to telepathically communicate with animals, known as “the Kenning” is growing out of control. Not only is she hearing the thoughts of animals around her when she doesn’t want to like she has schizophrenia, but when she does hear them, it sounds to her like they are actually shouting, like she’s hearing them from a radio cranked up to maximum volume. Throughout this book and the previous one, she has a friend; a young boy named Kin. Does Kin in the second book become harsh and abusive towards Yukiko while she acts all emotional for him? Of course not! Yukiko was the one acting harsh and Kin was acting emotional towards her. The relationship Kristoff wrote for Yukiko and Kin fits perfectly with the point Darklordjadow1 made that what should have been the relationship for Samus and Adam.
Which leads me to this: Samus’s character isn’t the only one ruined in this game: Other M ruined Adam’s character too. I’m not sure if Viscor knows this, but before Zero Mission came out, a two-volume Metroid manga came out and you can read it online on the Metroid Database website if you want to and in it, Adam is portrayed nothing like the way he was in Other M. In that manga, Adam truly considers Samus talented, rather reckless, but still skilled. But here!? Here, he downright belittles Samus calling her an “outsider” at the very start of the game, saying things like “You don’t move unless I say so and you don’t fire until I say so,” and of course, shooting Samus in the back doesn’t imply respect for Samus at all! Manga Adam on the other hand is more than happy to take Samus’s side of the story into consideration, actually respect her decisions, and support her no matter how far her choices stray from Federation regulations. He and other Federation officials planned on blowing up Planet Zebes, but Samus rebelled and ran off to save her Chozo family. When Adam tried to confront her about this, Samus pointed her arm cannon at him and told him how much she disapproved of his decision to blow up Zebes. Adam then decides to give Samus time to save her family, so rather than giving her ramifications for her rebellious behavior, Adam sympathizes with her reasoning behind it. Plus, as someone on the TVtropes blog titled Mother, May I See Other M? put it: “Samus was a police officer engaged in inter service rivalry with the military and one of the few people who was not glad-handing Adam every time he showed up, unafraid to tell him off.” And another person said this, “Honestly. the characterization of Adam feels a bit off to be honest. He is supposed to be this brilliant and inspiring commander who has EARNED the respect of Samus through his actions and personality. They should more or less be on equal terms of respect, hell even in that metroid manga Adam put Samus on a much higher pedestal and closer to his own position than the way he was portrayed here. It is sort of like Adam somehow both became much less of the brilliant commander he was while at the same time losing most previous respect he held for Samus for some reason.” Finally, remember when I commented earlier on Adam calling Samus an “outsider” for leaving the Federation? In the manga, Adam supported Samus’s decision to leave the Federation, and there, it had nothing to do with abusive relationships. It was purely because Samus knew that there was far too much evil in the universe for her to let Federation regulations hold her back from fighting it. Because of that, Manga Adam supported that choice, yet Other M Adam brutally punishes her for it. So not only is Samus’s character ruined in this game, Adam gets morphed from a sympathetic, believable, and supportive role model to a dominant and abusive jerkwad. Even if “Her not activating the the Varia Suit until already midway into a lava section can thus be read as both of them testing the other to see who breaks first (which ends up being Malkovich)” merely reading it as such doesn’t guarantee that it’s the surefire explanation. And even if it were, it’s still inexcusable. And I don’t find it realistic at all; people in real life make the smart decision more frequently than Vicsor claims they do, and Vicsor’s talking about how “realistically portrayed” the characters are in this game is pretentious and even if they do make these kinds of choices, it’s not like one single person would have absolute knowledge of human behavior. And if the characters really do “act closer to real fallible people who do stupid things rather than characters conforming to our conditioned story expectations and preconceptions,” then I’m sorry, Vicsor, that’s exactly why Other M’s story is a pile of shit! Because it had absolutely zero balance between those two ideals on how to portray a character. A character in a video game/movie/comic book/television series can make a bunch of stupid decisions but can do it in ways that make sense for the character and the story, and Other M didn’t do that. Extra Credits put it best when he said, “The specific weaknesses she’s given here and their place in the story don’t synch up with the rest of her character.” Yes, people do make the occasional stupid decision, but they learn from their mistakes, and the idea of Samus making mistakes isn’t enough to make Samus a more human character in this game. She has to learn from those mistakes, and yet she never did. If portraying a character more “realistically” were to come at the cost of abandoning past characterizations of said character, which it did, it’s just going to alienate and draw outrage from longtime fans. Which it did.
On an additional note, I want to point out yet another statement that Vicsor said: “Samus' voice acting is detached because that's where her mental state is.” Well, there’s a game called Twisted Metal: Black. In that game, every single character in the game is in a very poor mental state, in fact, all of their campaigns start in an asylum, and they inner-monologue in their cutscenes. Do they talk in dull, droning monotones? No! They have plenty of emotion in their words and that portrays their mental failings better than anything in Other M does.
In her weakened state, the resurrection of her nemesis Ridley momentarily proves to be too much for her to deal with. Yes, he reappeared before but those were during times when Samus was healthy enough to handle it. Revenge on this thing is Samus' entire driving goal, but it just never sticks, and this time that realization hit Samus harder than ever before. Super Metroid left him as dead as he could possibly be, yet even the planet he was on blowing up wasn't enough to permanently end him. So yes, I understand why Samus would momentarily lose it when her personal tormentor shows up again while she's already experiencing a massive mental breakdown (People also tend to forget that the mere seconds of Samus locking up are followed with her trouncing the Ridley clone so badly that it flees in absolute terror).
I wish I could make the argument that Samus has already killed Ridley 7 times by this game’s point, but Viscor already has provided a half-assed counterargument to that and I’ll explain how half-assed it is when I get there. In fact, she already addressed that argument on Samus’s previous victories on Ridley, but even if Samus wasn’t “healthy enough to handle it” as Vicsor put it, Samus’s freaking out in front of Ridley was completely and utterly inexcusable and what Sakamoto should have done instead was have Samus go on a violent berserker frenzy. That would have conveyed what the Ridley freakout was supposed to have done but it would have done so in a way that wasn’t at odds with what has been established about Samus in the past. Also, no, people don’t forget that the mere seconds of Samus locking up are followed with her trouncing the Ridley clone so badly that it flees in absolute terror. They just know for a fact that none of that makes up for those mere seconds of Samus locking up. At all. It’s like what President Barak Obama said in the 2008 election: If you put lipstick on a pig, it’s still a pig. Samus’ trouncing the Ridley clone so badly that it flees in absolute terror is the lipstick and the mere seconds of her locking up are the pig.
Even some of the plot threads being inadequately resolved and Samus having little impact on them anyway is rather clever in this regard. She has trouble figuring out the identity of the Deleter because her mental faculties aren't as sharp as they usually are. It highlights how much Samus just shouldn't be there in the first place. The entire Bottle Ship mission is Samus going through the motions, suicidally trying to cling to a sense of normalcy, even though any reasonable neutral observer would quickly determine she should be in therapy following the events of Super Metroid.
Another good reason for Samus to be in therapy: so that this game’s dung-heap of a plot would never happen. And Samus having barely any impact on any of the plot threads only demeans Samus more. And hearing Vicsor say that those were clever decisions makes it seem as if she’s praising the game for ruining Samus’s character. Vicsor, why are you praising this game for being a huge insult to her character? What’s wrong with you?
The PTSD Argument
The problem I've seen with many people poking holes in the game's story is that most of them try to analyse the events from a narrative perspective where everything has to make perfect logical sense in relation to the story, as they've been conditioned to do through a lifetime of consuming media (Tvtropes calls this "Reality Is Unrealistic"), whereas Other M takes the uncharacteristic approach of showing failing mental health in a more realistic (and thus unpredictable) fashion with plot-consistency as subservient to that. In reality, PTSD triggers aren't constant and predictable. People do act irrationally under stress (stress sometimes not even required). Subplots like The Deleter in reality would probably play out anticlimactically and confusing as it did in the game. As such you aren't going to convince someone making the PTSD-argument by repeating arguments like "but she fought Ridley several times before" because both parties view those events through a different lens. It's a pointless back-and-forth.
Indeed. The people saying, “but she fought Ridley several times before” are looking at these events through a lens that is clean and polished, while the ones making the PTSD arguments view them through a muddy, grimy lens. Also, she mentioned TVtropes.org which contained the aforementioned blog talking about the whole PTSD thing explaining just how half-assed it is as a defence argument and one of the people commenting on the blog said this:
“Thing is, despite having the disorder called out by name in the Manga, there is just as little or even less actual proof that Samus had post traumatic stress disorder, even then. Yes, Mother Brain says she seems to be displaying symptoms of it but Platinum Chest, the Chozo, says that Samus had repressed her memories and was now recalling them in full detail for the first time.
IE: it might not have been post traumatic stress at all, that was just one character's guess and it was really out of surprise rather than through analysis. It could have just as easily been PTA, posttraumatic amnesia, which indeed can produce similar symptoms to posttraumatic stress but is also something you are more likely to "get over". Given that Platinum Voice speaks in a manner of expecting it rather than surprise like Mother Brain, it is specifically about things not recalled and Samus gets over spectacularly I am going to say it was not PTSD in the manga either from now on.”
Here’s another quote from that exact same blog I found that sums this whole thing up:
“What always annoyed me about the PTSD defense was that people with PTSD find ways to cope, because they have to do little things—like function. Samus is both a bounty hunter and the Implacable Woman with respect to Ridley (hell, the entirety of Prime 1 wouldn't have happened had Samus not found Ridley and decide to hunt his ass down)—so clearly she's doing something to keep herself functioning.
It bothers me because there's a lot of interesting places you can go with exploring Samus and coping with mental illness! I would play/watch/read the shit out of a piece of media that deals with Samus coping with PTSD or something like it. Hell, you can have a compelling story that deals with Samus being a victim of abuse. This game doesn't touch that.
Instead we got shitty writers telling a shitty story.
Also: I find the PTSD defense is also deeply insulting to people living with it, since the whole point of this scene is "SAMUS IS WEAK!". Trying to append "because PTSD!" ends well for no one.”
Also, I would like to share a few more quotes with you guys:
“I read the manga just last night. The Manga is often brought up as a defense for the Ridley scene, but in reality, the Manga does more to contradict Other M than support it, EVEN the Ridley scene, now I think that scene is horribly overdone, but the fact still remains, in the manga Samus makes it exceedingly clear that she's gotten over it, she faces Ridley again and her exact words when Ridley taunts her about being a crybaby are "I'm not who I was before" and she annihilates him. The Manga doesn't support Other M”
“Let's not forget that when Samus worked under direct Federation supervision in Prime 3, she wasn't afraid to bend or break the guidelines to do what she had to do. Also, comparing Other M to the manga is insulting the the manga, which actually gave a Samus a believable backstory, expanded her relationship with the Chozo, and made Adam a sympathetic, believable character who actually supports Samus's decision to leave the Federation police to bounty hunt because she can do more good on her own.
Except the Manga did one thing that Other M didn't. It expanded on and gone through the reasons and nuances of Samus' emotional vulnerability. As well they were a lot more subtle than they were in Other M. As well the Manga is not only a prequel but it is a story about how she gets over her issues.”
In addition, I have major problems with her saying, “The problem I've seen with many people poking holes in the game's story is that most of them try to analyse the events from a narrative perspective where everything has to make perfect logical sense in relation to the story, as they've been conditioned to do through a lifetime of consuming media.” Oh, I’m sorry, but I’m afraid that’s a cardinal rule of storytelling. And if you are having issues with a cardinal rule of storytelling, then you have no respect for how storytelling works. And the fact that you’re referring to our narrative perspective as a “problem” is a problem.
I also take issue with Vicsor saying that “Other M takes the uncharacteristic approach of showing failing mental health in a more realistic (and thus unpredictable) fashion with plot-consistency as subservient to that.” Again, that’s exactly why Other M’s story is crap. Well that and the abundance of plot-holes and unresolved subplots, but that’s not the point. The point is that the Ridley scene, just like the rest of Samus’s characterization in this entire game completely lacks that balance I mentioned earlier for the sake of so-called realism. Remember when I suggested the idea of Samus going into the psychotic berserk killing frenzy I mentioned? That’s actually a good example of said balance. Had the story writers decided to go with that decision, Samus would be fighting Ridley as usual, but she would be completely unfocused this time around and whereas in previous fights with him she strategized on how to exploit his weaknesses, here, she’d act in a more shoot-first-ask-questions-later kind of fashion and her recklessness would leave her much more vulnerable this time around. If she had done that, the damage done to Samus’ psyche would have been presented in a way that doesn’t depict her as a helpless weakling. She’d still get on to fighting Ridley as usual, but acting less like a focused commando and more like a mad animal would portray a decline in her mental health in a much more convincing way. Because while her reaction to Ridley’s return would be consistent with her character, her approach to it would not and that’s why I consider it to be a good example of that balance I mentioned. Oh, I’m sorry, Vicsor, is that not “realistic” enough for you? Well, in that case, I’m gonna repeat that Fawful’s Minion quote: “To hell with ‘realism’! This is a world where bees give you thoughtful advice and a bird can be used as a damn bayonet rifle! That, want. Swarms of police that kill your fun time An iconic heroine chickening out in front of her longtime nemesis due to PTSD bullshit, no want!”
And in response to her saying that actual PTSD triggers aren’t consistent or predictable, I would like to address Darklordjadow1’s review again when he got to the whole PTSD thing himself: he started his counterargument to the PTSD defence argument by saying, “I’m not a doctor and I’m not even going to pretend to understand how PTSD works, but I don’t buy this explanation and I’ll tell you why.” So, this means he admits to having little to no knowledge on how PTSD works and therefore is not going to put himself on a pedestal of “I know about PTSD and you don’t so shut up and accept that what I’m saying is the truth.” Which, from where I stand, is exactly what Vicsor did in her defence blog. By acting like she knows how PTSD works, she gives off a vibe of pretension and considering that she shows us no credentials to show if she did any research at all on PTSD, her explanations seemed like she just pulled them out of thin air just to give herself an excuse to say, “I’m right, you’re wrong, so shut up and deal with what I’m saying.” Even if what she were saying is true, it still doesn’t change the fact that the game did nothing to convey that Samus has PTSD and therefore, it still seems more than likely that defenders of the game just pulled it out of thin air just to dismiss any argument against Samus’s freakout in front of Ridley. Let’s go back to the TVtropes blog again, as Korval, the writer of that blog had this to say about the scene:
“Now, take such a larger-than-life character and put them in the Ridley scene. Take Tim Burton's Batman, the scene where Bruce Wayne meets the Joker. The part where the Joker says his trademark line and Bruce realizes that he murdered his parents. Now, imagine if Bruce got a bout of PTSD right there, if he regressed to a crying 8-year-old boy when confronted by the Joker, and Viki Vale was killed because of it.
Such a thing is plausible in terms of character. It's a legitimate, defensible thing that could happen, using the understanding that this happens in reality. But there's no way a writer would ever write that. You just don't do it; you don't have the main hero go through something like that. At least not in the way that Other M did it. It destroys their larger-than-life status; it makes them seem too weak and frail. Even if Batman overcomes it by the end of the work, the audience will always remember that time Bruce turned into a crying boy in front of his nemesis.
That's not to say that superheroes don't break down. But they don't do it that way. Again, looking at Tim Burton's Batman, the character is affected by this. But he did not freak out; it was a more subdued thing that he expressed when he was alone and able to process it.
Superheroes most certainly do not turn into crying children on-screen and lose their superpowers because of moments like this. Doing this makes them, not just too human, but too fragile to have that larger-than-life sensibility. However plausible it might be in the real world, it just doesn't work in this kind of fiction. It sends the wrong message. These are supposed to be larger-than-life characters; they're a cut above the common people. Doing this destroys this aspect of their character.
But there's another problem with this scene; it has to do with the specific way in which Samus is a superhero.
Every superhero generally has two elements to them: a superpower (or suite thereof), and a single, defining personality characteristic. The superpower is simply that which makes it possible for them to be a superhero. Bruce Wayne would just be a guy working a 9-to-5 job if he weren't arbitrarily wealthy. Without the leisure time and resources needed to actually be Batman, he'd just be a guy with a tragic backstory. The defining characteristic is the part of their personality that makes them want to be a superhero. It's what makes them superheroic.
It is the combination of these two elements, ability and drive, that makes for a good, memorable superhero. Superman has his superpowers and his sense of justice. Batman has his money and resources, and he is driven by the tragedy of his youth and his unwillingness to see it happen to anyone else. And so forth.
Depth in such characters is created by giving these characters additional traits, typically those that add friction to the ones they already have. In Batman Begins, Bruce's drive initially leads him to revenge; he only narrowly avoids this path thanks to luck and the hand of a friend (literally). It takes him time to get his principles on straight: he has this drive, the will to prevent these tragedies, but he needs to maintain his morality while doing so. The Dark Knight takes this even further. It uses other elements, his relationships, and plays with them, pushing him to break his rules, rescind his morality in his quest to stop the bad guy.
But notice how carefully this is all done; at no time does the story remove Bruce's drive. It adds elements to the character that create nuances and complexities. But it never tampers with his basic character trait: that desire to prevent criminals from hurting people. Instead, it creates circumstances where that trait is a liability or otherwise interferes with other traits, like what Batman won't do to achieve that.
Similar, Superman stories can revolve around elements external to his need for justice. For all the problems with Superman Returns, it introduced a major complexity: his son. A son he cannot raise or even acknowledge as his own. He can't very well tell Lois that he's the father; there's no Hallmark card for "We had sex, totally consensual I might add, but then I wiped your mind and ran off for 5 years. Sorry." It didn't change his quest for justice, his drive to save people. But it did add a snag for him as a person.
Indeed, even many bad superhero stories retain the basic elements of the character. Batman and Robin never changed who Batman was. It was Godawful for many, many other reasons.
So what of Samus and Other M? To judge this, we must first identify what her defining character trait is. Let's take a look at some of the things that happen in Metroid games.
Zero Mission: Samus Aran is shot down, loses her superpowers, is left with a catsuit and a pistol that can only stun something and even then just once every 2 seconds. Between her and where she needs to go is a large Space Pirate ship, crawling with people who would like nothing better than to tear her limb from limb. She looks carefully at this situation and says, "Fuck it; I'm gonna Solid Snake this shit!" And then does it.
Fusion: Samus Aran is being hunted by a sentient parasite that's using her own power armor against her. She can't last more than a few seconds in a fight against this creature. At one point, she hears the ominous footsteps of the monster. She's heard it before, only this time it's waiting for her. It's directly in her way. She's got no chance in this fight. But she jumps down there anyway. She can't kill SA-X, but if she does it right, she can get past it.
Prime 3: Samus Aran is confronted by a planet made of a living, corruptive force that has already consumed an entire species, as well as three of the best hunters in the galaxy. This same force has infested her body and is starting to consume her. She takes one look at this planet and decides to go down there, find a vulnerable spot, and blow it straight to hell.
For my money, Samus Aran is defined by her boundless courage. There is no task so big that Samus won't take on. Stop alien threats to the galaxy? End a decade's long war while she's in the neighborhood? Halt invasions from beyond the galaxy? And so on.
The Ridley scene is nothing less than a direct assault on her courage. It takes the thing that defines her and annihilates it. You can talk about PTSD till you're blue in the face, but it doesn't matter. What matters is that this character's most defining trait, the thing that drives her to be a superhero, is crushed by this scene. It is thrown on the floor and viciously savaged.
So this scene doesn't add complexity to her character; it removes something. She goes from being a larger-than-life embodiment of courage to being a victim. She's transformed from a superhero into a human with fancy power armor. There's nothing super about her anymore except for what she can do.
Even if I were to accept the statement, "the scene gives Samus added depth as a character," this depth is created at the expense of that which made her special and larger-than-life. It doesn't make her a more interesting character; it makes her a weaker character. It takes the elements that were strong and good about her and erodes them. People make the argument that you have to do this to give the character greater complexity, but that's bullshit. As previously stated, superhero stories avoid this all the time; you can add complexity and depth without taking away what makes a superhero special. There is a difference between giving a character weaknesses and making the character weak.
For example, what if she got people killed because of her courage? What if Adam was killed because Samus's boundless courage led her to arrogance and overconfidence, getting herself into a tight situation? Maybe that's what led her to leave the GF and become a solitary bounty hunter. Maybe she thinks human beings are easily frightened, perpetually terrified creatures, that she thinks of herself as better than they are. She was raised by aliens after all. I can keep going with this, but my point is clear: you can maintain what works about the character while adding depth.
This scene, and the game as a whole, does not.
So no, not buying it. I'll take flat and superhero over "depth" and weak any day.”
Okay, that quoting was a long one but it sums up that even if Vicsor really does have an understanding on how PTSD works, there is still absolutely no excuse for Samus freaking out in front of Ridley. A response comment to that blog also said this:
“I dislike the PTSD explanation for another reason: PTSD is a cop-out explanation. It is the equivalent of saying that Samus got sad due to magic fairy dust, because neither has any evidence supporting it outside of that scene. There is no source that says Samus has PTSD, there is nothing in the other Metroid games to suggest it, and the only supporting evidence is from the manga, which only has the stress occurring the very next time she meets Ridley (Making it rather suspect whether it was actually PTSD or just a regular old panic attack). The only reason why people suggest that Samus had post-traumatic stress disorder is that the disease is conveniently unpredictable in how it pops up, so they can say “Oh, she didn’t show any signs of it before because PTSD doesn’t need to do that.”
I don't like magic fairy dust being the explanation for Character Derailment.”
And that’s exactly why I have a problem with Vicsor whining about audience members looking at a story from a narrative perspective because there’s a reason for us to do that. Even stories based on things that happen in real life are looked at from a narrative perspective because people need to know how and why certain events actually happened, no matter how simple or complicated the reasons may be. Like why the Persians tried to invade Greece. Why Jesus was crucified. Why Socrates refused to accept Athenian government’s offers that would have freed him and spared his life. Why Hitler rose to power and launched the Holocaust. Why the US Army dropped a nuke on Japan. Why President George W. Bush decided to invade Iraq. The list keeps on going and going. In fact, I’ll bring up another quote from Korval explaining why we look at stories like this from a narrative sense:
“First, let's look at communicating the idea of PTSD. If the PTSD defense is true, if PTSD is the author's intended explanation, then it is poorly communicated by the writers. Why? Because the complexities and exact nature of PTSD are not well understood by the populace at large. It's mostly well understood by scientists and so forth. But the general public doesn't know all of the details of the condition.
When most people think of PTSD, they generally think of something that is consistent: when presented with the object of the trigger, the trigger happens. The reality may be more complex, but most people don't know that. For most people, when they see the inconsistency between Samus's prior behavior and her behavior here, they see this as evidence against PTSD. Regardless of whether they are correct or not, that is what most people think.
Storytelling is communication. And effective communication requires two things: a common language and understanding how the other person/people will interpret what you say (the latter being a stronger version of the former). If you use words that they don't understand, then miscommunication will result. Being an effective communicator means finding out what your intended audience knows/understands and tailoring your message to fit them. If you use terms or ideas that they don't understand, it's your fault for not properly explaining it.
If this scene can only be justified if you have a detailed and in-depth knowledge of PTSD, then it is incumbent upon the game itself to provide this knowledge. It is not good writing to have a moment that can only be interpreted correctly by the viewer thanks to a 1000+ word dissertation on the details of a particular psychological condition. This is doubly true if that moment is at all controversial or the viewer might have other reasons to doubt and dislike it.
You can get away with this sort of thing if the scene is awesome or something, but not when it's brutally savaging a character. You have to remember: there are very good reasons to not accept this scene, whether PTSD justifies it or not. So if you're going to expect people to accept such a scene, you need to make sure that all necessary information for accepting it is properly presented. Looked at from outside of the story, if the necessary information is not present, then this is evidence of one of two things. Either the writers don't know how to talk to their audience, or the writers don't actually intend this to be a portrayal of PTSD.
There is another matter with communicating PTSD to the audience, and it's right there in the name: "Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder." It is a Disorder caused by Traumatic Stress that a person previously encountered (ie: Post).
So I ask a simple question: what Traumatic Stress did Samus Aran previously experience at the hands of Ridley? And I'm going to throw in one simple condition: you may not answer this question with anything outside of Metroid: Other M itself.
See the problem? The game never tells us why! It never explains what Ridley did to cause this PTSD. Indeed, the only thing we ever heard about Ridley before this scene was that he was Samus's "nemesis," and even that was a throwaway line from the intro cutscene. The player likely forgot about that, assuming that it was just so much backstory.
You need an extensive knowledge of the Metroid franchise to know where this supposed PTSD comes from. How extensive? In order to know what trauma Ridley actually caused, you must be such a Metroid fan that you've tracked down an obscure Metroid comic. A comic that was only ever published in Japanese, so you also need a fan translation of said comic (unless you can read Japanese). Because, outside of Ridley's statue in Super Smash Bros. Brawl (not exactly primary research for Metroid fans; how bored do you have to be to read statute descriptions?), that's the only place that explains what Ridley did to cause this. The instruction manuals to the games only say that the Space Pirates in general killed her family.
And again, it's not like this game didn't have a solid hour of cutscenes before this to explain it. They even came close to it back during the first flashback with Samus and Adam, when she talked about how Adam was like a father to her because she didn't have parents. Indeed, the game could easily have had the "Samus turns into a girl" part become a quick flashback of Samus watching her parents being killed by Ridley. It would then be self-explanatory, and it would fit better with experiences of PTSD.
Look at it from the perspective of someone new to the Metroid series. They walk into this room, do some stuff, then a giant dragon appears. They see Samus go catatonic, then scream "Ridley" and turn into a crying, 3-year-old girl. Even if their first thought in response to this is "she's having a bout of PTSD," there is never any discussion in the game about where it comes from. The cause of the PTSD is never stated or implied, so for such a player, it comes right out of nowhere. Even if the player thinks it might be PTSD, the lack of an explanation for the trauma itself works against that idea.
If a story can't stand up without out-of-story research, either of the nature of a condition or the storyline source of it, then it fails as a story. Therefore, we again have the dichotomy. The story does not explain where the trauma came from. Therefore, either the writers suck at communicating PTSD, or the writers aren't trying to communicate PTSD.
And the possibility that the writers are simply bad is irrelevant. It's purely speculative (though unquestionably true in general): you cannot know that they intended PTSD and were simply incompetent, because such a case looks exactly like writers who were not intending PTSD at all. You can't tell one from the other, so there is no reason to prefer one explanation over the other.
Remember the most important point: people aren't hating this scene because of what they tried to communicate; it's about what they did communicate. This scene is basically "Samus Aran is Weak!" written in 72pt font, bold-face, and all-caps. You can try to add justifications like PTSD, but the story as presented by the game simply doesn't provide enough evidence to support those justifications.
There are many explanations for why Samus behaves this way. PTSD may explain it, but it could just be that Samus is a weak individual who can be cowed by the reappearance of a 30 foot dragon she thought was dead. Without direct evidence for PTSD as a storyline idea, then it cannot be preferred over any other.
Consider the PTSD defense in light of Occam's Razor: the simplest explanation is most likely true. So which explanation for this scene is simpler:
That the writers are trying to tell a complex tale of a character with PTSD confronting the source of that ailment after thinking he's dead? This despite not mentioning the source of the PTSD (even when presented with several opportunities). And despite not explaining how PTSD can be justified given her prior encounters with Ridley not triggering it.
Or that the writers are using Ridley to show Samus to be weak? Note that the writers showed her to be weak in her engagement with Furizard. Note that the writers showed her to be weak in her relationship with Adam. And note that this scene is most certainly not the end of the writers showing Samus to be weak.
The former requires erudition about the complexities of a psychological disorder as well as outside story knowledge. The latter requires nothing more than recognizing the patterns already evident in the work. The latter is the simplest explanation and therefore more likely to be correct.
Indeed, there's even more evidence to support the "Samus Aran is Weak" angle than just the prior patterns in the work. There is the lack of explanation of what traumatized Samus itself. Yes, the same evidence that works against PTSD works for "Samus is Weak". See, if you show the context, if you actually show Ridley murdering Samus's parents, then the audience understands why Samus freaked out. It makes the freak out justified; the audience is allowed to sympathize with her plight.
If the goal of the scene is to make Samus sympathetic and human as a PTSD victim, then the explanation is mandatory. However, if the goal of the scene is to make Samus look weak, then making Samus sympathetic and human works against that. If you can sympathise with what she's feeling, then she comes off as less weak. Thus the lack of this explanation is another data-point in the pattern. This could simply be bad writing, but along with all of the other stuff in the game, it points to a clear and consistent pattern of weakening the character of Samus Aran.
Even more, look at how the Ridley plotline is resolved. In this scene, Samus fails to the point of getting her brother-figure killed. Yes, she fought off Ridley in the end, but Anthony died to save her. In even the most basic of hack stories, Samus would track Ridley down and confront him. She would get some form of redemption for her prior failure, overcoming her weaknesses and all that. This would be a minimally functional character arc about a person who has to deal with PTSD.
But that doesn't happen. The Ridley plot will be abandoned for more Deleter action and then going back to the "main" plot. After that, Ridley will be killed by something else, something so tangential to the plot that it's ridiculous. Samus never gets payback. Samus is denied closure; she never overcomes anything. There is no character growth or a character arc. This plot arc is not resolved; it just stops. Why?
Because it makes Samus look weak. If Samus actually got payback, if she confronted Ridley and faced her fears, then Samus wouldn't look as weak. She would have grown, become more confident and overcome her fears. If the goal of this plotline is about PTSD, then overcoming it must be the ultimate character resolution.
Why must it be about overcoming PTSD? Well, if it's not about that, then what is it about? The purpose of introducing a flaw in a character in a story is ultimately for them to find a way to work around the flaw. That would show character development. If that doesn't happen... then why introduce the flaw in the first place? Character elements must ultimately drive the character to do something; otherwise, they are superfluous. And when you have a scene like this, which spent all this time for the Ridley reveal and Samus's breakdown, then it's clearly supposed to be an important character element. And remember: this is the exact same character arc as the aforementioned manga, where she gets over it in the end.
If the goal is just to weaken Samus as a character, then having no resolution helps achieve that goal. By denying Samus character growth, she becomes a weaker person in the eyes of the audience. She is weakened, but never has the opportunity to grow from that experience.
So even if we accepted the statement, "the scene gives Samus added depth as a character," the simple fact is this: nothing is ever done with the "depth" created. There is no character development. Samus never overcomes her personal failures. Her character is actively damaged without any subsequent growth. The Ridley plot isn't even the main plotline of this story; it just comes out of nowhere and disappears just as quickly. This would be the equivalent of Bruce Wayne freaking out in front of the Joker, Vicky Vale being killed because of it, and then... the Joker is killed by his henchman Bob.
So no; I'm not buying the PTSD defense. If they were writing that story, then they failed to tell that story effectively; there is simply no through development of that idea within the work. But if they were writing a story where they systematically show Samus Aran to be weak and ineffectual, then I'm making a note here: huge success!
Could this be the result of really badly communicated PTSD? I accept that this is possible. But without any evidence to back this viewpoint up, it simply cannot stand against the simpler explanation: that the writers wanted to show Samus to be weak.”
Of course, if PTSD really does work as unpredictably as Vicsor said it does, then reality might actually be unrealistic after all.
In short, the way I see it, the series goes from Metroid (Zero Mission) to Super Metroid (Fusion taking place when she pulled herself back together). Metroid: Other M takes place after the series proper, deconstructs the formula and shows the damage of what their events inflicted on Samus' psyche and the result is not pretty.
It was still inexcusable. Not only does Samus not have PTSD, but even if she did, I already explained how a berserk killing frenzy would have been a better way of portraying it. And like I said before, what the story actually conveyed is a hundred times more important than what the story tried to convey. Also on TVtropes.org, the website Viscor mentioned earlier, there existed a Mother, May I See Other M? blog (which I hope Viscor actually reads) and the ninth chapter was devoted specifically to the PTSD argument. Which starts by pointing out the real reason as to why telling a person making the PTSD argument about Samus’ previous fights with Ridley is pointless: “Because it carefully sidesteps important issues like ‘story’ and ‘appropriateness for the character.’ The discussion becomes derailed into talking about the arcana of a real-world psychological condition. And while that may be interesting, it ultimately misses the point.” The writer of that blog, Korval, also discusses how the game did nothing to explain in any way shape or form that Samus has PTSD. His explanation can be summed up like this: “See, the question isn't whether PTSD can be used to explain and justify what happens here. The fact that such an explanation exists which fits the facts of the scene is not enough to say that this explanation is correct. Many such explanations exist. To say that it is indeed what the writers were saying requires corroborating evidence and/or other argument from within the story itself. Otherwise, it is simply a theory that happens to fit the facts.” In fact, everything Korval said in that paragraph I quoted just now can also be applied to Samus’s failing mental health which Vicsor keeps mentioning over and over again: Even if this game really were a story about Samus Aran’s struggle with a damaged psyche, the game does nothing to convey this and her mental failings should have been a major plot-point. But they weren’t. I really don’t believe that Viscor has in-depth knowledge of PTSD and how it works, and I don’t think that she thinks that she has in-depth knowledge of it either, but her explanation does not justify Samus freaking out in front of Ridley.
Also, Viscor doesn’t seem to believe that the Prime games belong in the Metroid timeline as she jumped from Zero Mission to Super Metroid in an instant, also skipping Metroid 2: Return of Samus. And in those games, Samus does show emotion, but Viscor completely ignores that.
Or if you want me to put it another way, I view Metroid: Other M as if they made a Fight Club featuring Samus Aran.
Then you’re looking at it wrong. Any true Metroid fan would view Metroid: Other M as if they made a Twilight featuring Samus Aran. Or a 50 Shades of Grey featuring Samus Aran.
And that's why I don't mind Metroid: Other M as much as most people do. It's not entirely executed well and it plays rather loose with continuity, but I understand what they were going for. I also simply don't think of Other M as Samus' definitive characterization. It's the tragedy of Samus Aran at her absolute lowest point continuing what she feels she's supposed to do even though it's borderline suicidal and endangering others. That doesn't ruin her character for me. In fact it improves her character because rather than the emotionless robot she's usually portrayed as in the Metroid games, I now appreciate how much pure willpower was really driving her and keeping her together all this time.
Except that in Other M said willpower has been leached out of her. And we don’t think of Other M as Samus’ definitive characterization either. It’s the way she would be characterized in some sloppily written second-grader’s fanfiction if said second-grader were taught to think the way sexist bigots do. And that’s why it does ruin her character for any true Metroid fan with actual respect for Samus as a character. Also, I know she appreciates Other M’s attempts to have Samus be an actual human character as opposed to the “emotionless robot” that she was in previous games, but the second and third Prime games did a much better job of giving Samus emotions. In those, Samus actually displays emotions without saying so much as a single word. Whereas in Metroid Other M, she keeps saying that she has emotions but never actually emotes. I understand that the Ridley scene was supposed to show that Samus can feel fear, but Metroid Prime 2 Echoes actually does it right. At the start of the game, Samus enters a portal into Dark Aether and sees Dark Samus absorbing some nearby phazon. Dark Samus then breaks the light crystal protecting Samus, then, the alien monsters on Dark Aether known as the Ing approach Samus and try to attack her. She shoots her arm cannon into the air as a distress signal but to no avail, and just as the Ing attack her, jumps back into the portal sending her back into Light Aether. In Metroid Prime 3 Corruption, after the boss fight with Gandrayda, a person with the ability to disguise herself as other people, Mystique style, Gandrayda impersonates Samus in her current state as she dies, screaming in agony, then Samus looks away and tightens her fist, showing that she’s afraid of what her new Phazon powers are doing to her. Pretty much the entirety of Metroid Prime 2 and 3 depicts Samus as somebody who can overcome her fears and still pull through in the end and the “pure willpower [that] was really driving her and keeping her together all this time” was present in those games along with Fusion, whereas Other M takes that part of her and completely removes it. Instead, it depicts her as someone who is overtaken by being so emotionally frail. And ironically, she never actually emotes in her monologues. She keeps talking in that same droning monotone voice completely devoid of any emotion at all. So, she’s actually more robotic in Other M than in the Prime games. Plus, while the game was intended for Japanese audiences, even gamers in Japan hated Other M for the exact same reasons!
Had Viscor actually bothered to watch this video, she would have realized just how wrong she was about Samus being an "emotionless robot" in the other games.
When Morgan Webb of X-play made her video review of Other M, she referred to Samus’ characterization in the game as “insulting to her fans and her female fans specifically.” Viscor is a female fan of Samus and yet she doesn’t feel even remotely insulted at all. What… the… Hell! I am one of Samus’ male fans and I feel super insulted and I feel even more insulted that Viscor is forgiving Other M for taking a five-million pound dump all over Samus as a character. The fact that Viscor said that Samus’s submissiveness and incompetence throughout this game “improves” her character clearly shows that she has absolutely no respect for Samus as a character and prefers her as a whiny, helpless, incompetent git rather than the badass bounty hunter we have grown up with for years. And she keeps on using the excuse of Samus’s supposed trauma as an excuse for the story to go against everything we have seen about her in previous games, especially when you start to consider that the game itself did nothing to convey or even hint that she really is becoming mentally unstable. Vicsor may not think of Other M as Samus’s definitive characterization, but Yoshio Sakamoto does. In an interview talking about the game, he said, “Depicting the story of Samus Aran in this game was one of the most important game design concepts from the very beginning because before Other M I did not think about what kind of person Samus Aran was and how she thinks and her personality….Plus because of the existence of the Metroid Prime series many people might have different ideas about what kind of person Samus Aran was….So with Other M I really wanted to determine and express what kind of human Samus Aran is so that we can really tell what kind of natural step she should be taking in the future.” So sorry, but no. I am not going to buy the excuse that Other M is the story of Samus dealing with the trauma of her past missions because that quote I used earlier clearly showed that it was not the story that Sakamoto intended. If it were, he would have said exactly that. But he didn’t. Sakamoto intended for Other M to be the definitive characterization of Samus Aran and not a story about her struggle with any kind of trauma whatsoever. Samus’s failing mental health in this game is nothing but a silly little assertion that Vicsor came up with.
Vicsor may be right about every other game she defends from accusations of sexism, but she's wrong about this one. Even the Elephant in the Room blog says this. It says, “Sexism is a loaded word, and one that is used inappropriately far too often.” And I agree with this. Other games often get accused of sexism by third-wave feminists or those with a similar mentality to them. Bayonetta. Dead or Alive. Pre-2013 Tomb Raider. Ninja Gaiden. Dragon’s Crown. All of them deserve to be defended against accusations of sexism. This game, however, does not. It glorifies and romanticizes an abusive relationship and does everything to make Samus look pathetic in the process. And the fact that Vicsor is praising the game for it is just revolting. Her’s Other M defence blog is just as much of an insult to the character of Samus as the game itself is. And the fact that she’s not listening to anyone providing an explanation on how sexist the game is revolts me. A lot of Antia Sarkeesian’s detractors think that Other M is sexist. I’m one of them. And I know plenty of others. And the fact that she’s not even trying to understand where these accusations are coming from baffles me. A story about Samus’s struggle with failing mental health does have a lot of potential, but it clearly wasn’t what Sakamoto intended with this game and that’s why I’m taking her justification of the game being “the tragedy of Samus Aran at her absolute lowest point continuing what she feels she's supposed to do even though it's borderline suicidal and endangering others” with a pinch of salt. A pinch of salt that has been tossed into (as my good friend Darklordjadow1 calls it) “the festering, puss-filled wound that is Metroid: Other M.”
Bottom line: the haters are in the right.