More important than her methods and her initial motivations is the ultimate reason Ripley finds to struggle against the aliens: motherhood. When she and the marines explore the human colony that the aliens have themselves colonized, they discover an orphaned girl who survived the onslaught on her own. Ripley becomes her surrogate mother. Rescuing this child is the reason Ripley straps on those guns and enters the queen's egg chamber. Ripley exercises her strength, her competence and her will in the service of protecting her adopted daughter.
This makes all the difference in how we perceive her heroism. An editorial decision made in the post-production of Aliens emphasizes this point. Initially, the film explained that Ripley had had her own daughter years ago, but while Ripley was lost in space her little girl grew up and died without her. The girl she saves from the aliens replaces her blood daughter.
The cinematic release was right to cut this storyline. Ripley doesn't need to have lost her own child to feel motherly toward the one she finds. Without this personal loss, her motivations become more universal; human or even animal, rather than individual.
This is what we've been missing in videogames. The figure of the Fighting Mom embodied by Ripley dominates Aliens, but games have ripped off everything from this film except her, in favor of indulging the "boys' own adventure" embodied by the space marine. Indulgence can be fun, but it's not what games are best suited for. We don't play games to indulge ourselves; we play them because we enjoy how they frustrate us. You can't lose to a movie or a book; you can lose to a videogame. Games are a medium suited to frustrating expectations.
Playing as a space marine, an "ultimate badass" in the immortal words of Private William "Game Over" Hudson, indulges my inner 11-year-old quite well - and my outer 34-year-old man even better. That's precisely why I'd love to play as a fighting mom. I want to experience fighting with the motivation of a mother, rather than that of a soldier. I beat the crap out of Gears of War 2 in a day, and I did it not to save the game's fictional world but rather to enjoy the combat set-pieces. It really doesn't matter to me when all of humanity's at stake and I lose. But a child? When I'm the mother? If a game could convey the kind of desperation Ripley felt as she descended into the alien hive to save her little girl, then I'd never want to lose. That's a great reason to keep playing.
Ray Huling is a freelance journalist living in Boston. He would like to dedicate this essay to the memory of Sarah Palin.