‘Aliens’ is Ripley’s story, not Hicks’ story

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In the early part of next year, there will be a game released that is a direct continuation of the storyline of Aliens. This pleases me to no end.

But I have lots of reservations, and the most recent was one based on the fact that Gearbox, the developer behind the game (titled Aliens: Colonial Marines), recently announced that it would be adding playable female characters to the game for its cooperative and multiplayer modes. What worries me about the situation is that it took a lot of griping and even an online petition signed by about 4,000 people to get Gearbox to decide to make playable female characters available in the game.

The entire Alien franchise is a story about women. Every film sees a fundamental reversal of gender roles. The primary characters are almost always women, and when they’re not, they’re supporting characters. Even the very nature of the alien, with its roots in actions of rape and violence, is geared toward a woman’s perspective. Alien is about women.

So the fact that it took some complaining to get playable women characters into Aliens: Colonial Marines isn’t just irritating, it implies a fundamental misreading of the source material. I’m supposed to be excited that Gearbox is working with 20th Century Foxt to do a direct sequel to James Cameron’s action-heavy follow-up to the Ridley Scott horror movie, and I want to be — but Aliens was never a story about Hicks; it was about Ripley.

And even among the marines, the emphasis was on women characters and on reversed gender roles. The dropship pilot, Ferro, is a woman. Most of the memorable dialog among the marines consists of chides between Vasquez, the ass-kicking no-nonsense smartgunner, and Hudson, the wise-cracking clown. Vasquez wins in those moments; she bests Hudson whenever she can. She bests her partner, Drake, as well, in a brief moment when the pair have an interaction that includes tightly clasped hands — it’s as much friendly as it is threatening.

Much of the underlying currents of the movie are about Vasquez in particular. She’s one of two point-runners for the entire squad. She handles one of only two smartguns, which are so big and unwieldy they require a steadycam rig in order to use them. She’s the one who brings replacement firing chips for the guns down to the reactor, breaking orders and refusing to be defenseless as the marines head into the alien hive. Her hot-headed willingness to “deal” with Lt. Gorman comes into play later in the film. Hudson may be squad’s voice throughout most of Aliens, but Vasquez is the marines’ spirit.

Meanwhile, obviously, the entire franchise is about Ripley. She takes on natural leadership roles in every film she’s in. Hicks may be a capable bad-ass, but he takes orders — Ripley’s orders.

Even the very nature of the xenomorph speaks to an ingrained culture and fear that has a uniquely female perspective. The aliens, at their core, are rapists. They use their prey as breeding stock. They may be largely gnashing teeth, but the explosive inner jaws — the deadly bit of ¬†aliens’ mouth — are decidedly phallic. And without going into this deeper than I mean to or reading in too far, it’s easy to see that the aliens represent a threat that has a number of connotations that are very much specific fears for women. That there are strong, three-dimensional women characters throughout the film franchise as the chief protagonists against these very stark antagonists is not an accident; nor is it a dispensible piece of the Alien puzzle.

So while I’m all for a game that focuses on the Colonial Marines, it should have been a no-brainer for the game’s creators that the game shouldn’t just feature women on the squad, but that it should be about women characters as much as men. Otherwise, what makes it an Aliens story other than the fact that it maintains the “cool” elements of the franchise? If the game’s creators wanted to make a real Aliens story, even as a video game, they’d need to understand the subtext as much as the text. And I worry that the fact that we’re only just now getting an acknowledgment that there will be playable female characters in the game at all is an indication of what kind of story we’ll be getting. And even then, it sounds like those playable characters are relegated to supporting roles.

I hope the Gearbox creative team behind Aliens: Colonial Marines realizes that we’ve heard Hicks’ story. We’ve been hearing it for years, in every game and movie and book that’s like this one. Aliens is not about Hicks’ story.

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Phil

He's like, you know, the guy.

4 thoughts on “‘Aliens’ is Ripley’s story, not Hicks’ story”

  1. Awesome piece, and poking at a topic I’m deeply interested in!

    I both highly agree and slightly disagree with ya’, Phil. Aliens is a story about women, reversal of gender roles, rape, sex, birth – you are making a very valid point (H.R.Giger’s highly fallic design of the alien, which actually turned the head of the creature into a synthetic penis). This is actually the kind of sharp and focused view that made me enjoy your pieces for quite some time now.

    However, I don’t think that Colonial Marines has to necessary be the same story as the one shown in Alien or Aliens. It can touch a few completely different themes, be a narrative of its own (it is, after all, a completely separate story, not the third part of a trilogy ;)), and yet remain a production belonging to the Aliens universe, to the Aliens franchise, which – over the years – became something more (less?) than just the Ripley chronicles. If someone wants to make this into an 80’s tribute with manly muscles brushing all over each other in sweat – I say bring it on, I can take a look. Not sure if I’ll enjoy, though.

    Alas, that was my mind floating around due to the late hour. Here’s me saying what I felt when I read your piece: if someone would actually make an Aliens game focused and completely AWARE of the themes of gender, cultural and biological roles in a society, domination of one sex over the other… Mind blown. I’d Chobot-lick that box through foil and wear that DVD (Bluray?) over my head for at least a month.

  2. Yeah, Koobs, you’re not wrong. I don’t think being a trilogy is the only requirement for a sequel to respect the themes of its predecessor, though. Even “Prometheus” recognizes and re-examines the ideas of the “Alien” franchise.

    That’s not to say that Colonial Marines can’t just be about Colonial Marines, or other aspects of the “Alien” universe. But I do think it would be a strong project if it took into account the things that make “Alien” “Alien,” even as it moves into new territory. If it’s just meatheadedness, well…we’ve played that game before.

    That said — this is all a little knee-jerk on my part. What I’ve seen of the game so far has me excited, even as I might be somewhat hesitant. We’ll see in February.

  3. Yes, I yield at the “recognizing and re-examining the original themes and ideas” thing, that is a very valid point. One of the reasons I really enjoyed “Prometheus” was that it was made to feel Alieney, even if it was a different story in general. Plus, Fassbender. He kicked ass with his performance. Between X-Men, Inglourious Basterds and Prometheus (and Fable III I guess :D) I might finally have someone to cheer for in this “actor generation” (not to be confused with an actual generation)… But I digress.

    And, yeah, generally looking forward towards the game as well. I need some more Alien in my life. Just not in my chest, thankyouverymuch.

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