Our Special Topics In Gameology series on emptiness in games continued this week with an illustrated essay about Metroid Prime from Nick Wanserski. Nick focused on the game’s isolation as an extension of the loss suffered by its hero, orphaned bounty hunter Samus Aran. Although Samus had a personal reason to feel a little down while wandering the ruins of Talon IV—its former inhabitants, the Chozo, adopted Samus after the death of her family and later disappeared—some of our readers, like DL, expressed feeling a similar sense of loss while visiting real world ruins:
It’s only recently that I’ve started feeling a sense of loss when visiting a historical site. Previously, I’d felt curiosity. I have always imagined them as places where people lived, not places where they died. I put myself back into their active times, alive with progress, intellect, and order.
Things started to change for me a couple of years ago when my wife and I visited France. The imagery of dismantled castles, the perpetual modification and repurposing of original architecture for contemporary use, and the conversion of something that was intended as a home or fortress into a museum created this sense of disdain and lament for what I was being guided through. I imagined what the original dwellers would have thought if they were to see the world today, their way of life lost and subsequently rebuilt (by those with no connection) for the vain effort to sustain something that the future ultimately will never fully know or appreciate—something that is “decidedly alien.” Sometimes I felt compelled to reimagine a lively, bustling, and working history, but more often I was saddened by how history was almost intentionally destroyed.
stepped_pyramids had a more pragmatic take:
I think about that sometimes, but I also sometimes think that the 17th-century residents of those castles would look at them today and say, “Finally, people don’t have to live in that drafty, damp, shit-smelling hole anymore.” Every building we tear down today, even ugly mid-century Brutalist nightmares, is a lost historical site for the future.
There’s an ongoing tension between the desire to preserve the past and the desire to improve our lives, and the unavoidable result of continuing to live in the present means that some artifacts of our past will be lost. We are, at least, lucky enough to live in an era where those artifacts can be documented in immense detail, and those documents can be stored indefinitely with no loss of fidelity.
Elsewhere in the comments, conversation turned toward Metroid: Other M, the series’ much-maligned Nintendo Wii installment. After phrases like “character assassination” were brought up, dygitalninja asked if Samus ever had enough of a character to be assassinated. MerlintheTuna responded by breaking down the positive ways other Metroid games have built Samus’ persona and pointed to specific problematic scenes in Other M:
Metroid Prime has little elements, like how at Ridley’s first appearance Samus gives a quick eyebrow raise as if to say, “Oh, this again. Sure, why not.” Metroid Prime 2 ends with her saving the universe and acknowledging it only with a casual wave as she walks away. Metroid 2 and Super Metroid have moments like when she initially points her weapon at the hatching Metroid and hesitantly lowers her guard as it becomes clear it’s not going to attack her. Then she willingly gives the thing over to the Galactic Federation to study because she doesn’t care about it. In Metroid Fusion, she faces down and blitzes past the SA-X multiple times despite knowing she can’t even damage it. In Zero Mission, she loses her suit and still does her best Solid Snake impression by busting into a Space Pirate base. In Prime 3, she outclasses both the Federation and the other most talented bounty hunters in the universe. There’s a consistent through line of putting the character against impossible odds, then seeing her saddle up and calmly rock out to save the day.
Other M takes every opportunity to take the piss out of her, and it doesn’t bother to actually deepen her character in doing so. She doesn’t break down in front of Ridley and redeem herself later by overcoming her fear. She just cries, fails, and finds Ridley dead later. There’s no arc; she sucks at the beginning of the game, follows orders for a while, and sucks at the end. She doesn’t get to play the final level because Adam, the game’s real protagonist, walks away with it. She doesn’t even get the killshot on the final boss because another character has to do it in a cutscene. Does Samus accomplish a single heroic thing in the plot of Other M? I think the answer may actually be “No.”
And worst of all, Other M drags down the plots of the other games with it. Why would I be happy to find Adam in Fusion knowing that he’s an abusive jerk? Why did we retcon the ending of Super Metroid, turning a fully grown metroid into THEBABYTHEBABYTHEBABY and indicating that Samus cared about the critter at all? It’s a mess from top to bottom.
In his review of Wolfenstein: The New Order, Anthony John Agnello commended the game’s depiction of romance and sex between its two lead characters, something games usually fail at miserably. In the comments, Mr. Martini asked what everyone thought the best depiction of sexuality in games was. snazzlenuts mentioned romancing Garrus in Mass Effect. Fluka agreed and broke it down:
The Garrus romance, particularly in Mass Effect 2, is one of the more touching and realistic romances that BioWare has ever done (which is kind of ironic, given that one of the partners has mandibles and a carapace). The others tend to be “Hi! We just met, but I think I love you, let’s have sex.” Whereas the Garrus romance is more about two old friends and partners realizing that they might have feelings for each other, and exploring—hilariously but respectfully—how they can work sexually. After Shepard’s death and Garrus’ betrayal, they’re both finding something good in an often bleak and broken galaxy. Plus, dat voice.
On the subject of BioWare, the Fenris romance in Dragon Age 2 is surprisingly mature as well. After they finally have sex (usually the final moment of a video game romance), Fenris essentially breaks up with you, since he realizes he is not emotionally ready due to years of emotional and physical abuse as a slave. It takes three more years to repair the relationship.
Further down in the comments, NakedSnake relayed some memories with Wolfenstein 3D, including a pretty amusing introduction to level design:
I have a soft spot for Wolfenstein 3D. When I was a kid, as far as I was concerned, Wolfenstein 3D was the first 3D game ever. The original Wolfenstein had its charms, but even as a boy of 10, I could tell it was somewhat repetitive and limited. What really made the game mind-blowing to me was how easy it was to make your own levels with the free and user-friendly modding tools that were available.
After playing the hell out of the main game, I came to the conclusion that the scariest thing in the game was the dogs. They were quick, erratic, and relentless. Whereas the stupid Nazi guards would just stand there shooting and waiting to be shot, the dogs came right at you and never let go. Using the chocolate-bacon logic that there’s no such thing as too much of a good thing, my first act as a level designer was to create a level that was all dogs. There was a small starting room with a narrow tunnel leading to a giant antechamber where I inserted 99 dogs, the maximum the game would allow. From the instant you opened the door, they would be all over you. Even the non-stop churning of a chaingun on full auto was not enough to stop them for long. Inevitably, you would make one little mistake and they would start flooding in, until eventually you couldn’t even move and you had to just watch as BJ Blazkowicz succumbed to an endless succession of dogbites.
To which snazzlenuts replied:
Are you sure you didn’t design Dark Souls?
Indeed. And with that, we’ve reached the end of another Gameological week. Thanks for reading and commenting, everyone. We’ll see you next week!