Yesterday was the 25th Anniversary of Metroid being released on the NES. So, with that in mind, I felt it was appropriate to repost this piece, a look at one of my favourite games of all time - Metroid Prime. Very few games affected me to the same level as Metroid Prime, so consider this love letter an early (and late) birthday present Samus!
Culture shock: A feeling of disorientation experienced by someone who is suddenly subjected to an unfamiliar culture, way of life, or set of attitudes.
When I arrived in Japan, I was 21 years old. I knew no-one. I had gone without planning, on a complete whim; not from any latent love of Japanese culture or a lifelong desire to travel - more like the end result of a series of coincidences I barely had control over. Luck, you might call it. I went for the hell of it. My only real connection was that I loved video games, and some of the games I loved came from Japan.
To begin with, I struggled. Majorly. I spent most of my early days lying face-first on my couch in a weird malaise, reading books I didn't care about; wandering around listlessly, trying to use chopsticks.
I soon got bored and with my first paycheck I bought a GameCube - and immediately sent an email to my brother, demanding that he post me some games. In English. I was too stubborn to admit it, but I wanted something that reminded me of home.
The first game to arrive was Metroid Prime.
Bewildering. Metroid Prime existed in and of itself - like it was developed in a vacuum, as if it had been buried in a time capsule in some strange alternate history and I had just dug it up from another dimension. Why didn't it have dual analogue controls like every other first person shooter? Why did it look so clean? Why did I have to lock on to shoot for God's sake? I felt completely lost.
And where was my direction - why wasn't I being told what to do or where to go? I wandered around listlessly in a weird malaise. The controller felt like a set of chopsticks in my hands. I wanted my knife and fork.
If I was at home, surrounded by my game collection and my copy of Halo, I might have tossed the disc and never looked back - but I wasn't, and I didn’t. Out of a bizarre need to disappear into something, I continued to play Metroid Prime - determined to fall in love with something foreign.
Then at some point, after this punishing initiation period, it almost felt as though the game decided to reveal itself to me, as if my fingers suddenly became literate. The game made perfect sense and, as I continued to explore, my crawl stumbled into a stroll, then confident strides. Before I knew it I was sprinting through a universe seamlessly crafted to my abilities. As they evolved so did the world I was interacting with, like I was moving in tandem with something without ever really knowing it.
Almost immediately I was brimming with confidence in my ability to adapt to something that initially seemed impenetrable.
Culture Shock is strange process, and it works in waves. Anyone who has ever lived alone in a foreign country understands the instinctive need to cling to something familiar. They understand the pang of homesickness and how easily you can succumb to things that distract you from that hollow feeling. I began playing Metroid Prime as a way to escape from the foreign but, bizarrely, it was an experience that helped me confront my fears.
Metroid Prime - a game that plays with the unfamiliar. A game that feels like it was developed on a different planet, in a language we can barely grasp. A game that feels like trying to order food in a Japanese restaurant for the first time or making friends with people you've never met before. It was so difficult at first, but endlessly rewarding in the end.
I'm not saying that Metroid Prime taught me to overcome Culture Shock and assimilate into a culture I didn't understand.
But it certainly gave me a push. Just a little push.