Anna Anthropy on rape imagery in video games

Anna Anthropy on rape imagery in video games

October 25, 2011

Anna Anthropy, author of the forthcoming book Rise of the Videogame Zinesters, writes an editorial about rape imagery in the video game Metroid: Other M.


You OK, Princess?: Rape Imagery in Metroid: Other M

Anna Anthropy is a white transwoman, game designer, critic and sadist, a classic dyke in the “Elizabeth Bathory” mode. Did you know her first book is coming out in March? Now you do, and you’re so excited for it!

A friend loaned me his copy of Metroid: Other M, which has been out for a year now, so that I could play it without having to buy it. I was, of course, expecting the game to be sexist and stupid. I’m unfortunately accustomed to most mainstream games being casually sexist and designed by men who have unhealthy, unrealistic ideas about how human relationships work. I played the game Sunday night while my partner / consensual slave and our friend watched, with a few more people spectating on the internet via webcam. I was totally prepared for the game to be sexist and misguided. I was not prepared for a scene in which the protagonist was held down and raped by a dinosaur.

If the discussion of rape imagery in games is triggering for you, you might not want to read further. I won’t be including any images or video of the scene in question, but I will provide links to videos of the scenes I discuss.

Even before the game begins, Metroid: Other M has placed a huge emphasis on its protagonist’s femininity. “Other M” is an anagram for “Mother,” the game’s title acronyms as “MOM,” the word “Mother” is said not a minute into the game. Samus Aran, the battle-hardened mercenary protagonist of the Metroid series, typically depicted in her genderless robot “power suit,” appears at the outset of Other M in a skin-tight catsuit with high heels. She then flies to a spaceship called the “Bottle Ship” on a mission dubbed “Operation: Crying Baby.” On the Bottle Ship, she meets some Men.

The Men are some sort of soldiers in Halo-style combat armor. One of them, Adam Malkovich, is revealed to be Samus’s former instructor and commanding officer. Samus Aran, battle-hardened independent mercenary, immediately begins attempting to prove herself to a domineering, callous Adam – whom she describes in a flashback as a “father figure” – taking his orders even at the expense of her own safety. For example, if you try to press the “bomb” button before Adam’s given Samus permission, the message “Adam has not yet authorized the use of bombs” appears on screen. There is a scene later in the game where Adam knowingly lets Samus suffer in the heat of a fiery lava hell for minutes before authorizing the use of her heat-resistant Varia suit.

Adam’s abusive manipulation of Samus reaches a climax late in the game when, apparently, he shoots her in the back, to keep her from entering a dangerous room and, seemingly, because he enjoys humiliating her. I didn’t get to see this scene for myself, as I didn’t play that far. This link provides a good summary of Samus and Adam’s unhealthy relationship and how it’s portrayed in the game. I didn’t get to that point because I quit shortly after the dinosaur rape scene.

Here’s a summary: Samus, looking out the window of some sort of control tower, sees her compatriots, the Halo bros, fighting a huge monster lizard. She rushes out to aid them. The lizard, spying a female, jumps on top of her, pinning her to the ground with its huge mass. The game then switches to a first-person perspective, in which the player is asked to shoot at the lizard’s tail as it penetrates her over and over. I actually “died” during this scene, and had to start over. Eventually one of her male teammates shoots the creature off of her. He then asks, with a smirk, “You OK, Princess?”

To Samus’ credit, she immediately punches him.

Of course, since the object that the creature uses to assault Samus is a prehensile tail which jabs at her face – there’s nothing a medical textbook would describe as “sexual” depicted her – people will ask why I identify this as “rape” imagery instead of simple violence. Rape, of course, isn’t about sex but about power. And there are a number of reasons why this scene, especially in the context of the larger game, screams “rape” at me.

There’s the way the creature, who is much larger and heavier, pins her down with its weight. There’s the helplessness. The player – seeing through Samus’ eyes from a first-person perspective – is unable to actually attack the creature itself, but can only try and fend off the appendage with which it tries repeatedly to penetrate her. She’s helpless to stop her assault until a man rescues her. Then there’s the creature’s leering face, a thick drooling tongue hanging from its grinning mouth, which dominates Samus’ view and hence the player’s television. And this scene is backgrounded against the overemphasis on Samus’ femininity that pervades the game, and the unhealthy relationship with her “father figure” who repeatedly infantilizes and humiliates her. And of course, in the aftermath of the assault, a dude calls her “princess.”

I played through the scene with my two friends, neither of whom is unfortunately a stranger to sexual assault. We all agreed on what we were seeing. “This is making me really uncomfortable,” my partner said. You can see the scene for yourself here.  One can argue that we’re reading the scene in a way the developers hadn’t intended, but nevertheless we all saw it as triggering, sexualized violence, and who is “one” to tell us that what we saw wasn’t there, or to tell us what should and should not be triggering?

There’s another, similar scene later in the game where Samus cowers in terror before another (or the same?) giant lizard monsters, who beats her and picks her up, her armor disintegrating until she’s in her skin-tight catsuit again. This scene has received much greater attention, to the effect that when I tweeted my anger over a “dinosaur rape scene” in Other M, people thought I was referring to it. (It’s worth mentioning here that Metroid: Other M received a “T for Teen” rating from the ESRB.) But I think the earlier scene, the one the player is forced to play instead of merely watch, is far more troubling, especially in light of just how little it’s been discussed.

People have assured me, in defense of the games press, that most media outlets gave very little praise to Other M. (Although IGN gave it an Editor’s Choice Award.) But neither do they seem to have devoted many words to the fact that it’s a very fucked up game, one that not only depicts a romanticized abusive relationship, but also a triggering sexual assault scene. It’s disturbing and hopefully alarming that games culture can have such a unilaterally male eye that neither game designers nor games journalists even blinked at what, to us, seemed so clearly an image of rape.

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