“Interpreting Super Metroid through the Lens of Motherhood”

I never dreamed that motherhood would be as simultaneously beautiful and terrifying as it is. To set the record straight, I am not a mother. Last time I checked, I’m a man. I could check again, if you like.

However, my wife and I recently became a mama and a papa (respectively) and the experience of having our first child has been the most amazing and the most horrifying thing I’ve ever known. It’s not like people didn’t warn us. People were more than willing to share their “opinions” under the guise of “warning” us. But the combination of exhaustion, sleep-deprivation, post-partum depression, a sense of awesome and unavoidable responsibility, my son’s own inability to eat properly shortly after birth, and a blend of new and potent emotions weren’t things necessarily which caught us off guard so much as they proved to be more than we could physically and mentally handle. I mean, thank God we waited so long to have children.

Of course, there are those out there who may be reading this and think in their heart of hearts “What a couple of sissies! I raised X amount of children in X amount of time with X amount of income under X amount of circumstances!” My purpose in writing this isn’t to invite criticism, even if it’s constructive (we’ve had quite enough of that, thank you), but simply to be honest and candid about the whole wonderful experience of having our first child.

There are startlingly few resources and support out there which I feel adequately address the reality of becoming new parents. Often, it’s over-glamorized fluff-n-stuff, rather than the gritty realism of being too tired or depressed to get out of bed.

I know from the stories that we’ve heard from other new mothers that they’ve struggled with similar situations, emotions and feelings, and it seems like the older generation has largely forgotten that. For many, it’s turned into a matter of bragging rights, as if the fog of memory has fallen over what actually happened in their lives. Or maybe it really was just easier for them. Who knows? But the point regardless is that their children are not my children and my child is not theirs. He was given to us, with his unique traits and needs.

But why in the name of gosh am I writing about motherhood on a blog about video games? Because a recent video game I happened to review struck me suddenly, for the first time, with its underlying themes of motherhood and the experience of becoming a new mother, so far as I understand it vicariously through my better half of one flesh. It was the first time I played through Super Metroid after becoming a first-time father and the themes were so much clearer to me where before I had made it through the game blissfully unaware of them. Did the developers intend this kind of narrative to exist in Super Metroid? I don’t know, but this was a new and fascinating lens of interpreting the game for me.

This blog post is almost a kind of catharsis and it may not appeal to anyone reading this any more than by a niche-interpretation of Super Metroid. But maybe a few new moms will read it. Heck, more probably a few new dads will read it and be able to better understand what’s happening to their superheroine wives if they’ve just brought home their new hatchling.

So here are five ways that Super Metroid addresses the themes of motherhood, in many ways more encompassing than some support groups. Oh and by the way, since we’re going to be talking about the storyline of Super Metroid, there be spoilers, if it matters to you.
Baby_Metroid_hatching
#1. Characters
To better understand what we’re talking about with Super Metroid, we’ve got to make clear that there are three characters specifically who represent the themes we’re about to discuss. The first is the game’s heroine, Samus Aran. She is a battle-hardened and emotionless bounty hunter, a strong, independent woman who don’t need no man. She’s beautiful, powerful, skilled, and proficient at her career. In the previous two games, she was presented as a cold and efficient hunter of aliens, an exterminator without remorse or second thought. She’s married to her job, her position, and it is precisely that which grants her the baby. In the opening scenes of Super Metroid, we get a brief glimpse at her human and motherly instincts, suddenly and jarringly, as the killer doesn’t kill the very target she was sent to eradicate, preserving the last Metroid from extinction with its race when it hatches in front of her and appears to identify her as its “mother”.

Secondly then, there’s this baby Metroid itself. It’s unwelcome. Samus didn’t ask for a pet, certainly not some kind of alien parasite identifying her as its “mother”. The Metroids are a race of energy leeches, vampires of sorts, which resemble translucent jellyfish that are somehow vaguely cute. Am I comparing newborn children to parasitic space-jellies? Um…

alienmetroid

I lurve yer, Mermee

Thirdly, there’s the game’s final antagonist: Mother Brain. Is the feminine classification a coincidence? Opposed to one another are this new human mother, Samus, and this monstrous, inhuman alien intelligence, biomechanical organism called Mother Brain, the leader of the Space Pirates. Samus, the human mother, preserves the baby Metroid without rationale and without precedent. Mother Brain, this monstrous entity, kills the Metroid, now matured to adolescence, in the final fight of the game, with complete rationale and precedent, considering the Metroid race was dangerous and the creature was getting in Mother Brain’s way.

It’s really a presentation of two kinds of mothers and their treatment of the same infant organism. It’s representative of the wrestling match and the doubt between being a “good” mother and being a “bad” one that can become a side-lining obsession.

#2. Responsibility
Even before we had kids, we understood that it would involve a lot of responsibility. After all, each of us were babies once before, at least once before. But the responsibility quickly became overwhelming.
metroidopen
For Samus, what did this new responsibility mean? Sure, she preserved the life of this baby parasite, but it doesn’t seem too hard for her to relinquish it to the study of scientists. However, once the baby is kidnapped by the Space Pirate leader, Ridley, she rushes back to the scene and pursues Ridley to rescue and recapture the baby Metroid. Of course its powers are too dangerous to fall into the hands of the Pirates, but was there some other emotional motivation, the same one that made her preserve the baby in the first place, and not an intellectual one that caused her to make pursuit to the planet Zebes? Perhaps. The entirety of the game involves Samus scouring that planet in search of the baby Metroid, taking her vengeance on the Pirates is just icing on the cake of her space-baby shower.

#3. Irresistibility
In realistic terms, does it sound at all feasible for a single woman to stand against an entire planet of enemies, Pirates, aliens, monsters and genetic mutants? It doesn’t. So then what really makes it “worth it” for Samus? Or is she just ludicrously over-confident? Why not gather some reinforcements first? Why not plan a better mode of attack than just swooping in to take them all out singlehandedly? The sheer scoop of such a venture seems an insurmountable task.
Super Metroid Samus and Ship
What makes all of the new responsibility and the exhaustion and the mixed emotions worth it is seeing that baby again. Am I talking about Samus now or ourselves? Is there a difference? There were many long nights of crying and screaming, and not just from the baby. We wrestled through temptations of adoption or suicide, some really dark corners of ourselves that we didn’t know even existed, just like the secret corridors of Zebes, but seeing our son smile at us and raise his arms for us to embrace him, seeing the tears on his face dry up, feeling the weight of his head on our chests, hearing his laugh for the first time, hearing him fumble over his first words, hearing him call out to us, hearing him say “dada” and “mama” for the first time, makes all of the agony worth it. It’s some kind of irresistible love that draws us to the scorched and cratered surface of Zebes, then deeper into the shadowy labyrinths, until the light of my son’s voice and smile and presence makes the horrifying journey worth it.

#4. Isolation
One of the more obvious themes of Super Metroid is the sensation of loneliness. Samus’ own parents were murdered when she was a child, leaving her an orphan, and she was raised by an alien race called the Chozo, a la being raised by wolves. She doesn’t seem to identify with fellow humans, scarce as they are in the game. The image of her handing over the baby Metroid to a human scientist while still leaving her helmet and visor on is intriguing in this regard. And in the vast universe, she truly seems alone. There is no love interest, no romance. Upon the world of Zebes, there is not a single other being with which she can communicate. Super Metroid is about being utterly alone.
1312111-supermetroid012This is one of the elements we weren’t prepared for. We couldn’t hang out with friends in the same way. It was much more difficult to get out of the house now, especially during the first weeks of recovery. We live in an environment with extreme weather and my son was born in August, so going outside into the 100 degree heat was not an option. The loneliness and isolation creeped in slowly. I’ve always been a night owl and my wife needed as much sleep as possible, so when my son went to bed around 7pm, she did too, and we took it in turns to take care of him should he wake up with myself staying up as late as possible and then herself tending to him once I went to bed in the wee hours. It was our only solution when he was waking up almost every hour throughout the entire night. This meant that separation grew even between ourselves and my wife and I began to feel isolated in our own marriage. Thank God for family and friends nearby. Whenever we reached out, they did the best they could to help us through this time.

#5. Depression
An inevitable by-product of new motherhood is depression. This is emphasized in Super Metroid with its dour and moody atmosphere and muted musical score. Though it’s an action game, it’s been compared to films like Alien for its presentation.

Battling post-partum depression, which affects women as long as many, many months after giving birth, was probably the hardest thing about having a baby. For myself, as the husband, this was the aspect of the experience that I had the hardest time dealing with and understanding. I greatly respect my wife’s strength and determination and grit, because to see her go through some of the deepest emotional turmoil and come out of it was nothing short of breathtaking. There were many nights of tears and comforting those tears. There were times when I thought she would no longer be there with me and the baby, either geographically or just physically. Thoughts of suicide aren’t uncommon with post-partum depression and that was something we had to work through together. Sorry if that’s too personal. Again, I would simply hope it helps to prepare anyone who may be expecting or anyone going through it right now. Save a life, love your wife.

#6. Sacrifice
I heard this before, that parenthood is about sacrifice, but I didn’t expect it to be as real as it is. In the closing scenes of Super Metroid, the baby Metroid, now matured a little, swoops in to save the day, incapacitating Mother Brain while Samus is battling her. The Metroid drains Mother Brain’s energy and then gives it to Samus, recovering her lost health. For the insult, Mother Brain brutally destroys the Metroid while Samus is forced to stand by and watch. It’s a surprisingly poignant moment in a game franchise that’s not known for being emotional. So ironically, rather than Samus the “parent” giving her life for her “baby”, it’s the other way around. But we can’t help but notice that Samus nearly did die trying to defeat Mother Brain, who had beaten the bounty hunter to within an inch of her life before the baby Metroid’s intervention. Therefore, the baby Metroid saved the “good” mother from succumbing to the “bad” mother, and that statement becomes more profound the longer I think about it, but that doesn’t mean that Samus wasn’t ready to throw her life away to save the alien-jelly-thing she had come to Zebes to save.
motherbrainmet
#7. Heroism
Super Metroid ends with Samus as a scarred hero, defeating the Space Pirates but unable to save the baby Metroid. It instead saved her. The conclusion isn’t all fireworks and fairy tales, however, as Samus Aran is still alone in the universe with nothing but her devotion to her career.

There are a lot of battle-scars on mothers, but these are the scars of love. I’ve become convinced that my wife is a superhero. I don’t know how we made it this far, married for four years and our son now eight months old, but here we are. We fully realize that there are many more of life’s challenges awaiting us. The universe is a big place. But things are getting better, and now I know I’ve got a one-woman armada by my side and luckily for us, our baby wasn’t slain by an evil space queen Mother Brain.

Is any of this similar to some of your experiences? Let us know!
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7 thoughts on ““Interpreting Super Metroid through the Lens of Motherhood”

  1. Belated congratulations. Sorry to hear things were so rough, but I’m glad they’re getting better.

    One great thing about the Metroid franchise is how open it is, largely by virtue of having barebones narratives. You can pour a lot of your own themes into Samus’ experiences, since she generally doesn’t offer much analysis herself. In later games they turn more fully to the idea of the darkness inside Samus, first with the SA-X in Fusion and then with the Phazon clone Dark Samus in the Prime trilogy. There’s a lot to unpack there, but the fact that the most powerful opponents in the games are clones of Samus herself does speak to how formidable she is. That’s a scary thing in and of itself, in a way: the fact that she -is- able to storm Zebes (or wherever) entirely on her own.

    In Prime 3 (and possibly others, it’s been a while), the Chozo texts you discover are constantly referring to Samus herself as “the Hatchling,” which of course is a deliberate juxtaposition by the game designers with the Metroid hatchling. The Chozo believed Samus was their savior, come to use the last shreds of their highest technology to purge the universe of its greatest evil. Ironically that evil was the metroids which they themselves created. It’s all very circular and mythical, which makes it especially satisfying.

    But corruption is also a major theme throughout the series, and it sneaks in everywhere. The Chozo were a beneficent race and they saved Samus and raised her, but their places and their technology have all fallen to ruin. They themselves aren’t immune to corruption: the first miniboss in Super Metroid is a reanimated Chozo that tries to murder her. In the first Prime game she has to kill (re-kill?) a bunch of Chozo ghosts which, er, also try to murder her. I forget what the reasoning was, but I think it had to do with Phazon. There was a bit of creative retconning there, but it mostly worked out.

    I think the motherhood theme you identify is also tinged with this idea of corruption. Like so many things, it can be a powerful force for good, or the opposite, and the line isn’t clearly drawn.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you very much for your kind words. It was a hard situation but it was all the more worth it having gone through it. The greatest joy through the greatest terror.
      I’m not hugely familiar with the rest of the Metroid series beyond the first three games and the Prime trilogy. As I understand it the Other M threw a bucket of water on the whole thing. Even what I have experienced seems to be thematically complex, and the parallels among its elements are fascinating. This is one of the intriguing things about the series more so than many of Nintendo’s others.
      I’m curious as to whether you picked up on any motherhood themes, or if you have children, or if you think it’s bologna? Corruption would definitely be an interesting theme to take into consideration in tandem. How often do you hear about a new mother who drowned or stabbed their newborn child? I just read about that in an article yesterday. It happens because the experience can be profoundly dark, like corruption. I’m sure none of those women (or men who do the same) purposed to do those things early on, but it happened to them over time, exhaustion and depression. My main goal in this post was to help address that, to help anyone who might be in the same boat. Super Metroid definitely does present themes of motherhood with corruption. That’s even more frightening.
      Thank you very much for your extremely thoughtful comment! This is such a great game (and franchise) to encourage complex discussion.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I never picked up on any motherhood themes when I was a kid, but of course everything like that sailed over my head in the early ’90s. Looking back though, I’d say you’re probably right–there probably is some deliberate maternal imagery, most clearly in that final showdown with Mother Brain (her name says it all).

        I have some weird mental block, though, against seeing Samus in anything like a maternal role. I think of her as wholly independent, and motherhood flouts that independence. Then again, that may be exactly the point. I’ll have to think more on it. But now I’m wondering if maybe, this being a Japanese game and all, the idea of a tough independent alien-killer was too much for the designers to let slide. They had to temper it a little with a sprinkling of motherhood. I also remember–and I don’t have the specific reference, alas–someone involved in the game being quoted in Nintendo Power as mentioning Samus’ “child-bearing hips.” I’m living in Japan now, and I’ll just say that there’s a lot of weird gender stuff going on here. Smarter minds than mine will have to sort it out.

        At any rate, there’s definitely a lot to consider. Nice job on a thoughtful post.

        Liked by 1 person

        • Thanks very much. I think that the thrust of motherhood upon a woman who is so independent and powerful is really at the heart of this theme we’re discussing. Samus is not portrayed as this loving maternal figure. That would be the way mothers are stylized, but real mums so far as I know them don’t seem to all be that way.
          Hooray for living in Japan! I’d like to visit there myself some day.

          Liked by 1 person

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