Thursday, September 10, 2015

The TMS Chronicles: A Master-Class in Kafka-Trapping.

In 1986, the first game of the Metroid series was released, in which a sci-fi bounty hunter explored a desolate alien planet and its subterranean tunnels in order to stop a highly dangerous life-form from being used as a weapon. For completing the game quickly, players were rewarded with a reveal that was still in its infancy at the time: Samus Aran, the protagonist, was a woman. Since then, Samus has been long been held up as iconic; one of the early pioneers of capable and badass women to be followed by many others from the famous Chun Li and Lara Croft to the niche Aveline de Granprie and Nilin Cartier-Wells. 

I wonder if anyone's told
Gwendolyne Christie
she can't possibly have
been born a woman?
Now, I've long held that The Mary Sue is a respectable, objective source of news and information (picture me unable to say that with a straight face), but this time they really outdid themselves. Now, we're not specifically going to be looking at the article -- plenty of other people have done that already and dissected it much more closely than I'd care to. As far as its content goes, all I can say is “Sure. So you think Samus is Trans based off of some non-canon works, the word of someone that didn't design the character or write the story, and the fact that no woman anywhere could possibly be six foot three inches tall. Even if you don't want (or don't have the talent) to go about creating new characters you can draw inspiration from, there's already a precedent for trans characters in games. Please don't discard Birdo, Poison, Flea, Guillo, Reni Wassulmaier, the character creator options in the Saints Row games, Kainé, Kaoru, Sya, or Cremisius Aclassi just because you've got a bigger, juicier steak you can claim. Besides which, I find it questionable to co-opt an icon of one group for another."

What we'll be looking at today is why this article was published, the tone of it, the backlash, and the reaction to the backlash. Penned by Ellen McGrody (who I've never heard of) and Brianna Wu (who I've been warned against writing about before – fuck it, I'm naming names going forward), it starts with a very confrontational titles. “Metroid's Samus Aran is aTransgender Woman: Deal With It.” Inflammatory, and backed up with little to no proof. In fact, the entire thing seems to just be a cleaned up Tumblr post. No, really. Here's the original.

So naturally, people -- men, women, and non-traditionally-defined alike -- objected. Samus is pretty much universally beloved. Even I am fond of the character (I have the World of Nintendo figure of her), and I haven't played a Metroid game since Super Metroid back on the SNES.

Sure, like any time anyone says anything (I got death threats once for claiming $25 was a fair price for a quesadilla maker), there were some responses as inflammatory or more so than the original article's title itself, but plenty that were reasonable. And days later, Brianna herself* responded once again on TMS, with a predictable article outlining how the gaming community is transphobic for disagreeing. The other co-author's response was... less tactful.

The tl;dr of this entire episode is that The Mary Sue gives a platform to someone with a well-documented history of baiting trolls and holding up their responses as proof not only what terrible people they are, but also whatever community they can be seen standing closest to, while also overlooking the mere fact that the person making the claim must provide the proof. If there were story-canon sources that Samus wasn't born a woman; if she didn't already hold such a coveted spot as a forerunner of female protagonists; if the argument had been framed as a theory and not as an adolescent attempt at an activist mic-drop, the response wouldn't have been nearly as heated. And she knows it. TMS knows it. Ms McGrody, judging by her responses, may not know it, but that's her personal issue. Brianna wasn't pulling her punches, either, even turning to her own allies as examples of transphobic responses:
A moment of self-awareness happens.

This was a clear case of outrageous symbiosis. Brianna needed a fresh excuse to label people as awful human beings, and The Mary Sue needed a new outrage manufactured. They both clearly stepped into this looking for a heated response, got it, and held it up as proof how they're so much better than people they disagree with. Detestable. 

As it stands, given the events of the manga series and her exposure to Chozo DNA, the otherkin have a stronger claim on Samus anyway.

*yes, herself. It's been posited that Brianna is trans, but I've never witnessed her saying it, so until then she clearly identifies as a woman and I'll respect that.  

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