Life is One Giant Game of Metroid

Be like Samus Aran.

A crash course, in case you were deprived of the glory of the Nintendo Entertainment System:

In Metroid, you are a badass bounty hunter named Samus Aran. Space Pirates are trying to replicate a bunch of life-sucking aliens called Metroids, and the Galactic Federation sends you to Zebes to clean up the whole mess. One woman versus hundreds of hostile aliens. They have a whole planet filled with twisty, dangerous caverns; you have a beam gun.

METROID MAP: Welcome to Zebes, where the women are singular, the monsters are violent, and the gravity is below average.

One of the revelatory things about Metroid is that you don’t just go left to right, like in Super Mario Brothers, or bottom to top, like Ice Climber. In Metroid, you go any direction you want, blasting Zoomers, Novas, Zebs, and Geegas into outer space (well, other parts of outer space) as you go.

I’m getting to the part where this relates to real life.

See, Mario can go right to his pixelated heart’s content, and he can jump and throw fireballs. He does not once run into a challenge that can’t be defeated with either a jump or a fireball. In Super Mario Brothers, you have everything you need from the get-go, and you can jump and fireball your way straight to this elusive princess in whatever castle she ends up in.

Zoomers to the left of me, narrow tunnels to the right — stuck in the middle (of Zebes) with you.

Very early on in Metroid, you run into an obstacle that you can’t get through with your beam gun or your jumpy space boots: a wall with a narrow tunnel at the base of it.

In the future, when our ability to duck has been genetically removed, this is a huge problem. You can use every weapon and every move you start the game with, but none of them will get you through the tunnel.

So how do you stop the Space Pirates, destroy the Mother Brain, and get back to that Bounty Huntin’ Lifestyle?

You power-up, baby.

Metroid is all about picking up new skills, learning to use them, and then moving forward. You can’t just move forward blindly, because you’ll run into a wall. You have to take a step back, make yourself better, and then face the challenges that were stopping you in your tracks before.

Instead of going right, you go left again, and you see something you didn’t see before: the Morph Ball.


Oh Morph Ball, holiest of spherical power-ups, orange symbol of wisdom and progress. Hallowed be thy Morph-ness.

Once you get the Morph Ball, you can roll through any narrow tunnel you come to. With your new skill you can get to more places, face new challenges and blast more aliens.

This happens again and again: you get to a new area, you find an obstacle you can’t get past, and you come back to it when you’ve powered up. Missiles, beams, high-jump boots; by going back, you can go forward. By bettering yourself, you can go farther.

This is what I’m getting at: we all want to be Mario. We all want to move right, unfettered, and jump and fireball our way through life. We don’t want to reflect on the things we missed, or even acknowledge them — hell, we don’t event want to be capable of going left. We want to believe we have everything we need to move forward, kicking ass and taking ridiculous names.


We don’t.

Sure, everybody has hard-earned skills and abilities, and we’re all — hopefully — in a constant state of, “This is the best I’ve ever been. I’m smarter than I was yesterday, I’m more me than I was yesterday.” But we’re never finished. We never have everything we need, and going forward, without ever looking back, eventually means you’re going to run into a wall without the ability to morph. You know, meta(morpha?)phorically speaking.

I don’t mean we should live in the past, constantly wondering if we missed a power-up or made a wrong turn somewhere. That’s not what Samus does. It’s more of a constant searching, a constant learning. Refining the skills you have, trying to find what’s important and not getting caught up on the rest. Recognizing and blasting a few more Geegas while you’re at it.

Say you want to run a marathon — and I say “you” because I definitely don’t. But say those magical 26.2 miles are calling to you, and you’ve never run a race in your life. The lovely, wonderful, easy thing to do would be to sign up for this weekend’s marathon, run it straight through, raise your arms at the end and cross another item off your bucket list.

When you fly too close to the sun on wings of polyester running shorts.

Of course, if you try to do that, the more likely result is that you’ll collapse not too far from the starting line, and the only bucket on your mind will be the closest one you can find to puke your guts into.

The marathon is a great goal, but you need to power-up first. Back away from the narrow tunnel of the marathon. Find a training regimen. Look for shorter races. Learn how to use the skills you’re developing. You can’t fight the Mother Brain before you have the missiles, know what I mean?

This is what running long distances looks like to me.

By the time you get to the Mother Brain, you’re a super-powered, Zebes-trotting, morph-balling, high-jumping, unstoppable killing machine. Pick up the skills first, and by the time you get to the marathon, you’re a super-powered, distance-running, marathoning machine. Maybe you’ve gained the Morph Ball ability, too. I have no idea what a marathon training regimen looks like.

Don’t stop because there’s a wall in your way. Don’t assume that you’re stuck, just because the jumps and fireballs you have now don’t work. Find something new. Look to the left, or to the top of the screen — look in a direction you’ve never gone before.

There isn’t a direction you can’t go, or a place on the map you can’t figure out how to get to. You aren’t Mario. You’re Samus Aran.

Power the fuck up.

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