In the gaming industry, I only have to flick through magazines or view trailers to see over-sexualised, grossly exaggerated representations of women that make me roll my eyes and tut in a way that makes me believe momentarily I am an eighty-year-old woman with a lilac rinse. But, as someone who plays games, I know these trailers, these snippets of a game, are also not an accurate representation of the strong female characters that I know do exist in games. So, instead of focusing on the negative aspects of games, I’m instead using my weekly article as homage to some of my favorite female video game characters!
Please note: the below list is definitely not in any particular order or due to any type of favouritism. They are all my favourites. Also please bear in mind that I really, really try to avoid putting spoilers in articles, but in this case, demonstrating why they are amazing female characters may be difficult without allusions to spoilers.
Madison Paige (Heavy Rain)
One of four playable characters, Madison Paige is a twenty-something North American journalist. Completely ordinary. No magical powers or psychic abilities. She is just ordinary, mildly-androgynous (in my opinion, not typically or overtly feminine), and that is one of the reasons she stood out while compiling this list. She suffers from crippling night terrors, yet this is not ever a huge focal point within the main plot; she doesn’t need our sympathy because she is capable of helping herself. While playing as Madison, you can find out who the murderer is and apprehend him. Why do I think she is worthy of our attention? She is a survivor, she is resilient and she is smart. I loved playing as the motorbike riding, sexist-pig ignoring Madison because, in a game of mostly male characters, she stands out for all the right reasons; she doesn’t need those men helping her.
Lara Croft (Tomb Raider)
Okay, there was no way this list would ever be completed without featuring everyone’s favourite aristocratic adventuring female. I know that she has received a substantial amount of negative backlash due to being sexualised in marketing, but as someone who has played every Tomb Raider game, I know this actually has very little to do with her character. She is the epitome of an independent woman; she is strong, smart, confident and, despite her marketing, isn’t a particularly sexual being. She’s an adventurer, the 90’s Indiana Jones for the Girl Power generation. I have no doubts her body and certain dangerous sexual allure doesn’t exactly turn away gamers with a look of repulsion in their eyes, but really, when I’m fighting dinosaurs in Peru, I’m really not paying attention to her looks. I’m not-so-secretly thinking “Yeah she’s such a badass!” and wishing I could go on adventures like she does. Damn you, Lara.
Elena Fisher (Uncharted)
So, apparently I’ve got a bit of an obsession with female journalist characters video games. Elena Fisher is the sidekick (don’t tell her that) or, more accurately, the female lead of the Uncharted videogame franchise. Much like Madison, she is completely ordinary. If anything, she is a slightly abrasive personality and doesn’t really care if she is liked or not. This, strangely, really made me like her. I think what is cool about Elena and why gamers should take note of her is that even though she is often out of her element, she rarely backs down from a challenge or let her fears get the better of her. She is definitely no damsel in distress. Sure, she has the looks of your stereotypical female heroine (blonde and attractive), but has scars and a temper, making her a very cool and interesting female character.
The Warden/Hawke/FemShep (Bioware)
Breaking the trend slightly by including a Bioware trio (from three separate games) just because I can’t choose which of these leading characters is my favourite. These characters are completely unique. Through the ability to customise your character from the ground up (think The Sims but with more violence), your female character can be any type of woman. I’m completely sold on being able to live vicariously through fantasy or sci-fi versions of myself. I’m sold on being able to play as females who are more than just strong; you can pretty much be any kind of woman you want. I enjoy being able to call the shots in a game where interactivity is the key; as a woman, you can save the galaxy from imminent doom, be as ruthless or as kind as you want, avoid romances (because they’re complicated), take the final blow and sacrifice yourself, or just run off into the sunset leaving chaos behind you. I know I’m really not doing a good job of selling these characters Bioware have created (I fully intend on expanding this in its own article as Bioware writes bloody good females), so just take my word for it and create your own fantasy female hero.
Sniper Wolf (Metal Gear Solid)
All the characters I’ve mentioned thus far have been some form of hero, but for my final character shout-out, I’m going to play the villain/anti-hero card. Why, since the age of 13 or so, have I liked Sniper Wolf? She demonstrates some misandrist views throughout the game, taunting the male character who you control. She has made a positive impact on me, even though the game was possibly meant to make me dislike her. Also, she is a loner. I love seeing a female who actually sticks her fingers up at the socially constructed idea that women are meant to be fluttering social butterflies. She doesn’t need the company of anyone because she is the crazy wolf lady (a more badass version of the crazy cat lady – sorry you guys!) and as a crazy dog lady, I got behind her. More poignantly, you end up killing her, but also end up feeling a great deal of sympathy for her because she has had it really, really rough. She is an interesting character and, like the other females on the list, she is strong, smart and independent (just how I like to see women represented).
Although I hope my list proves that developers are more than capable of portraying strong women in videogames, thereby perhaps encouraging more women to play them, my one criticism would be the sheer absence of women of colour. I honestly struggled to find any examples within the games I have played (even though the Bioware games are customisable, the default models are Caucasian females). I find this disappointing, but I also hope that as more women make their voices heard on platforms such as Feminspire, this trend will shift.
Also, if you want to read a great example that men do occasionally acknowledge the bizarre gender imbalance within games, I’d recommend reading this article. (If you don’t want to read it, a dad hacked his Zelda game and changed it so Link was a female, because he wanted his daughter to have positive and strong female role models within the games she was playing… so cool).
I’d love to know if any of you have your own strong female list or if you pay attention to this kind of thing. Clearly I spend too many hours playing games, but that’s okay, because this year I’ve killed a few dragons and saved the galaxy as A FEMALE. Share your thoughts with me in the comments below!
Written by Becci Yare