Childhood Heroine #6: Samus Aran
How did kids know stuff before the Internet? Through some gestalt consciousness, we all knew the Konami Code (the only way to get past the first damn level in Contra), the locations of any and all warp zones (even Fred Savage’s brother in The Wizard used his magic autism powers to find the warp whistles in Super Mario 3), and that your guy in Metroid was actually a girl and if you beat the game you got to see her naked. Or so the legend went.
There was one friend of my brother’s who had beaten Metroid, an obnoxiously difficult game where just getting space warrior Samus Aran to walk across a room and do the rolling-into-a-ball trick took endless after-school practice, and he used to fire up the last level–that was another exciting thing, that you could save the game–so we could all watch the magic moment. This turned out to consist of Samus turning into what might, if you squinted hard and used all the power of a child’s imagination, be a stick figure in a bikini. Add some math, and it could’ve been a page from the Women of xkcd pinup calendar. But this was what kids did for video-game cheesecake in the 80s. Again, no Internet.
The strategy of using the promise of digitized female flesh to convince male gamers to spend untold hours learning to operate an annoyingly hard-to-control avatar would later be honed to perfection for Tomb Raider. But by then I was older and already missing Samus Aran, the James Tiptree of pixels, winning in a boys’ world inside her Christmas-colored masculine armor.