This piece will talk about story spoilers and various other game spoilers for SOMA. I suggest playing the game yourself or watching an LP of the game before reading this piece. You can also look over the SOMA wikia to inform yourself of the story and key events. Without this game/story knowledge, this piece may be confusing.
—SOMA SPOILERS BELOW—
SOMA is an exploration of identity and humanity. Simon’s journey is fraught with figuring out who he is, in relation to his past and his present. He grapples with his humanity and his sense of self, increasing as he is transferred from his original robotic body to the next one, listening to the other him talk and ‘live’. SOMA is about the metaphysical sense of identity and how we, as humans, are not bound by our bodies to what makes us but we continue to cling to our physical sense of self.
SOMA explores the idea of what makes us who we are. It explores the impact of experiences on identity and if we are really the same person before these experiences as we are after them. The transferring of Simon each time is meant to express this idea, having Simon question and rage and express his turmoil over the situation. It’s an exploration of his loss of self, his physical self, while still being the same person he was before. It’s meant to separate the physical and the mental concepts of identity.
The robots in SOMA go mad once they realize they are no longer in a human body. This loss of self and identity is so impactful that these people lose their minds. Their humanity is tied to their physical form and upon losing this they lose themselves. This article does not focus on these monsters, I explored them and their connection to the WAU in this article here. This article is to explore SOMA’s exploration of identity and self, especially in regards to Simon and his gender.
Simon’s gender is not brought up. He is obviously a guy, referred to with he/him pronouns by Catherine. His gender is not even questioned despite the two robotic bodies he inhabits being made up of women, women Catherine knew from her work. This is a key choice that the creators made that is brought up briefly before is it swept away by Simon questioning his humanity and his identity. When Simon finds out he is a walking suit with a dead body and a cortex chip shoved into the head, he finds out he is also Imogen Reed, to a point. The corpse that the structural gel holds together is a woman. Simon is clearly a man, as he was before his body became that of a woman.
The next time Simon transfers to another suit with a corpse in it, the corpse is that of Ralleigh Herber; another woman. Once again Simon is put into the body of a woman. This was not done by accident. As SOMA is meant to question who we are and what makes us what we are, it is very subtlety bringing gender identity into this equation. Simon never questions his identity based on the bodies he inhabits, he is still very much Simon who is still very much a guy. This parallels the exploration of identity as separate from our physical sense of self.
However, at the core of the game, this brings into a new level of the questioning of sense of self and identity. Clearly, what makes us who we are is not our bodies as the game is ultimately about. Our experiences make us who we are. Simon’s memories of his life, his personality, and his own sense of inner self make up who Simon is. Yet, as people, we cling to our physical form. Simon questions who and what he is throughout the game. The monsters and robots you encounter throughout the game are driven mad by their lack of human body. Their sense of self and identity is partially, if not wholly, tied to their corporal bodies.
Catherine is also Catherine, despite not even having some corporeal form. She is a consciousness in a scanner, completely separate and different from the Catherine that you find dead in the TAU from trying to launch the ARK. Catherine would still be very much considered a woman as well, despite her lack of body. From the picture presented, name and voice, her identity as a woman is solid. It is not questioned, just as Simon’s is not. Her gender is not tied to her body, but to her non-corporal sense of self, the mental identity of who and what one is. This ties into the same thing with Simon, showing that gender as with the rest of identity, lies in the conscious of the person and separate from the body of a person.
Thus, whether intentional or not, SOMA is much a commentary about gender as much as it is about what makes us human and how our identities are not tied to our bodies. SOMA dictates that who we are is defined by us, our experiences, our personalities, and everything separate from our physical form. As Catherine states, the Catherine who died is not the same Catherine who is alive right now. Why? Her experiences are different. Their lives diverged and these differences change a person and who they are. Who we are yesterday is not always the same as who we are today. We are shaped by our experiences, our personal sense of self, not our physical forms.
Yet, SOMA also comments on our physical forms. It comments on our attachment to the physical. Our sense of self is tied to these bodies. The monsters and robots encountered in the game are a testament to this. People are so preoccupied with their sense of self as a human body, they tie their entire selves to it and upon losing it in SOMA, they lose themselves. This is something that Simon struggles with throughout the game, despite the opposite being shown to him the entire way. Simon continually questions who he is now that he lacks his body, he questions what he has become. Is he still Simon? Are the bodies he left behind still Simon?
SOMA is a story about transcending the physical concept of identity and humanity. The end of the game is about leaving all physical sense of identity and becoming our pure consciousness in a simulated reality. SOMA transcends the basic idea of humanity and turns it into something else, who we are without our bodies is who we actually are. We are not defined by our bodies, their limits, or what they are no longer.
In its quest to prove that humanity is more than human bodies and that who we are as people and individuals is more than simply who we are physically, SOMA also proves that gender is something personal. SOMA proves, through giving Simon women host bodies, that our gender is something we explore and explain ourselves. It is separate from our bodies, and inexplicably tied to who we are at their core. SOMA, in a very vague sense, explores the questions of gender without explicitly saying so. Just as the game is identity exploration in a personal sense, the meanings we attribute to this exploration are also personal.