Top 10 Women in Gaming
This may come as totally new information to you but women tend to be given a poor representation in video games. Mind’s blown, right? When you start taking a close look at it you’ll find that the vast majority of female game characters fit into one of two categories. There’s the damsel in distress…
…who sometimes pretends to be an strong, independent character UNTIL they get kidnapped and become a damsel in distress…
…or, more commonly in the current market, the vaguely fetishised hero/villain with the personality of a stagnant puddle.
Somehow melting cheese is a fetish. This representation comes about from a number of places…replicating genres and character types from other forms of pop culture, marketing towards a young male audience and responding to the public perception of women in gaming. Website results speak for themselves:
Image searches for this feature also revealed that every single strong woman in gaming has been depicted in degrading bondage fan-art. Some of you people should look into that.
Today we’re going to celebrate the female characters who are actually characters. Good characters. It wasn’t easy finding ten of them.
#10 – Samus Aran
When it comes to creating female characters game developers often gets caught in a trap of making them token female stereotypes or overplaying the ‘strong independent women’ angle to point of making them unlikeable. Samus subverted expectations in her first game by not displaying any specific male or female characteristics leaving many players to assume that the space marine that they were guiding through the vast sci-fi environments to battle the Metroids was a man. Samus was revealed at the end of the game to be a woman (in a bikini for some strange reason, possibly to make things clear with the basic graphics of the day).
Samus was orphaned after her home planet, a mining colony, was raided by space pirates. She was found and taken in by a bird-like race of aliens called the Chozo who taught her to protect herself in a hostile environment and trained her as a warrior. Whilst still young she joined the Galactic Federation Police hoping to make the most of her abilities but couldn’t find common ground with her colleagues. She instead took up work as a bounty hunter taking most of her missions from the Galactic Federation.
For most of the past twenty years Samus Aran has been a stoic character but the most recent appearance in Metroid Other M sought to flesh her out a bit more. Sadly this was not well received with many gamers complaining that the once strongly depicted character has become a sexist stereotype. This is partly due to her not using the weapons and power-armour she is famous for until given permission by her male commander, stripping her of her usual independence. Some have noted that the realistic depiction of PTSD has given the character some new depths, but most hope that Samus, like Lara, will be restored with the next game.
#9 – Lara Croft
When the concept of this feature was announced one facebook user responded with “please don’t include Lara Croft, what a joke she was”. This is a reflection of how Lara Croft has come to be depicted in the current era of gaming but it certainly wasn’t that way she started out. Even in her original incarnation many a gamer didn’t take notice of how well rounded a character she was in the face of her…roundness. When she arrived on the gamer scene she was instantly pegged as a sex symbol in spite of the graphical limitations of the systems making her look like origami.
Lara Croft was born into an immensely wealthy British family as the daughter of Lord Richard Croft and grew up with all the trappings of old school British wealth. Considered an aristocrat she attending a boarding school in Scotland and a Swiss finishing school and was betrothed to the Earl of Farrington. Lara spent her early years knowing nothing but luxury and riches until a plane crash left her as the only survivor stranded in the Himalayas. Even though this was the first time Lara had to do anything for herself, let alone survive in the harshest of environments, she kept herself alive for two weeks and managed to find her way back to civilisation.
Lara was welcomed back into the world of the aristocracy but she had been given a new outlook on the world. Using her family money Lara funded expeditions around the world, learning her craft from a famed German archeologist. Ashamed of her new life and unwilling to fund dangerous activities her family disowned her in an attempt to bring her under control. Not wanting to kowtow to her parents Lara started working as a treasure hunter and mercenary and built her own personal fortune by publishing books of her adventures.
Unfortunately recent depictions of Lara Croft in gaming have reduced her to little more than a skimpy outfit trashing ancient tombs but the original character was a much stronger figure. In the past decade the men she’s met have been either evil villainous types who have been threatened by her femaleness or sleazy characters obsessed with her femaleness. Prior to that male characters in the games would wind up playing side-kick to Lara on her adventures and respect her skills. Here’s hoping the upcoming reboot can bring things back to that.
#8 – Jill Valentine
In the first Resident Evil game the player could choose from Chris Redfield or Jill Valentine, both members of an elite search and rescue operation who find themselves in a the middle of a zombie infestation. Chris is the physically stronger of the pair but Jill has a much wider range of skills and finesse that allow her to find her way through the mansion in ways Chris couldn’t. Chris is left fighting and running while Jill combines those physical attributes with lock-picking (yes, she is the master of unlocking) and even playing piano to solve puzzles.
When the zombie infestation spread to nearby Raccoon City Chris had already left to uncover the international conspiracy. Jill took up arms to defend herself and eventually fought her way out of the city. During this battle she was persued by the Nemesis, the most dangerous weapon developed by Umbrella. Using her strength, training and quick wit she managed to take down the supposedly unstoppable monster.
Although Jill was a strong leader in the escape from Raccoon City she was reduced in stature (this seems to be becoming a habit) in more recent games after she was brainwashed by the enemy. At this time she was slimmed down after having a more muscular physique in previous games, dyed blonde and dressed in a skin-tight catsuit. The personality has been removed from the character, hopefully in regaining her mind she’ll return to her former personality.
#7 – Tifa Lockhart
The female characters in Final Fantasy games fulfill one of three pre-prepared personalities. The softly-spoken-with-hidden-strengths love interest (Rinoa, Garnet, Yuna), the tough, stoic one (Quistis, Freya, Lulu) and the oh-so-wacky “quirky” one (Selphie, Eiko, Rikku). It’s pretty rare that characters in the series step outside of this dynamic, and it’s the more in-depth roles taken on by the Final Fantasy VII cast that makes it the most fondly remembered entry in the series. Of them one of the most under-stated is Tifa.
Whilst other characters such as Barrett, Red XIII and Vincent get individual portions of the game given over to their story Tifa Lockhart has her tale woven into the main character’s story. Although she never speaks her mind her feelings for Cloud and her friends are clear, and she often feels hurt by Cloud’s lack of attention, she always stands strong by his side on their quest to save the planet, putting the important ahead of the individual. Whenever another character hits their lowest point Tifa is always the one by their side.
Surrounded by such brash, outspoken personalities the quiet Tifa instead channels her strength through her fists. In a world where everyone is packing guns, magic, demons and swords – Cloud himself being so insecure that he carries a sword bigger than a car – Tifa fights barehanded. She’s a character of contrasts. Full of heart but unwilling to speak her mind for the benefit of the greater good, quietly spoken but a powerful fighter. In a series of games with iconic female characters Tifa Lockhart is the only one who stands out from the crowd.
#6 – Miranda Lawson
The Mass Effect series has often been given credit for its depiction of women, often putting the fairer sex on the same level as the scruffy menfolk. With so many candidates available from the main trilogy it’s pretty difficult to pick one to represent the series. If you don’t agree with this choice then take solace in the fact that this writer hasn’t played the games (seriously, it’s a story based game and they release the first one LAST on the PS3?! Basterds!) and took advice from X-Boxers and read up on the wikia to see who sounded interesting. And Miranda Lawson is an interesting character.
It’s difficult to ignore the fact that while the characters featured on this list are well developed works of fiction with a degree of depth to them they all have physical features that fly in the face of physics and general believability. Miranda Lawson shines the spotlight on this fact in an unusual way as Miranda was biologically engineered to complete perfection. This refers to her combat ability (brags about shooting a mechs head off at 100 feet), intelligence, biotic abilities and physical appearance. Her father’s motivation for ‘creating’ Miranda using his own genetic imprint was to use her to build a dynasty.
Although Miranda found that everything came to her easily she found it immensely difficult to earn her father’s approval as he expected the best from her in all areas. Prevented from having any friends or social life her father pushed her to succeed and focus on what she was made for. Over time she became sharply spoken and abrasive and escaped her father as early as she could. Since then she’s avoided his pursuit of her across the galaxy while building a network of contacts, later joining Cerberus. Miranda Lawson’s unusual background causes her to struggle to build relationships with people but deep down she wants to find her place in the universe.
#5 – The Boss
Video games are filled with ‘tough’ women characters who talk the talk and then get kidnapped so the hero has someone to rescue and make out with at the end. Then there’s codename ‘The Boss’ who quite literally schooled some of the toughest characters in video game history. Born into combat and the secret organisation known as ‘The Philosophers’ The Boss had been trained in combat from an early age and went on to develop a form of close-quarters combat that became standard training for all troops in the modern era.
During WWII she was part of an elite group of soldiers used by the US Government on secret missions (at this time her codename was ‘The Joy’ to fit with the rest of the squad). Their missions took them deep into enemy lines to perform assassinations and dangerous espionage. She took the name ‘The Boss’ when she started training new members of the group and unofficially became a leader her squad-mates. While on a mission to assassinate a member of the Manhattan Project she discovered that she was pregnant (by her team-mate The Sorrow) which lead her to blow her cover and take a bullet to head to avoid being hit in the gut. The Boss was left in a coma for three months, later learning that her failure had opened the way to Cold War.
After giving birth on the battlefield during the Normandy Landing (this would be unusual in anything other than the Metal Gear Solid series) her child was taken away by The Philosophers. From that point on she’d be used by the government to carry out increasingly unethical missions until she’d defect over to the USSR. When her son, codename Naked Snake, was dispatched to stop her the two met in combat, pitting her techniques against each other. Eventually it is revealed that The Boss intended for Snake to fight her, the results of the battle leading to him becoming Big Boss, the villain of the series.
Anyone who’s played through the MGS series will tell you that it features some of the best video game boss battles available, and battling The Boss is one of the most challenging fights you’ll have to complete in any game.
#4 – Jade
Jade managed to be ahead of the wave of indie culture when Beyond Good and Evil arrived on the PS2 and X-Box, where it became a cult favourite. Jade was a world away from the stereotypical tough girl in video games. She instead adopted the role of the reluctant hero who gets drawn into an intergalactic conspiracy.
Prior to this Jade leads a modest life by her world’s standards. The year is 2435 and the human race has populated a wide area of the universe where they co-exist alongside anthropomorphized animals. Jade and her friend Pey’j (a humanoid pig) live on Hillys, a mining planet, that is frequently under attack from aliens called the DomZ who have been abducting the population. Jade runs an orphanage for children whose parents have been taken by the DonZ and supporting the enterprise by working as a freelance photojournalist for the science centre.
Through her freelance work Jade eventually discovers that the DomZ invasions are more than random attacks but the first step in a human trafficking ring. Jade pursues the conspiracy through to the end by combining her journalistic skills with a solid fighting ability. She handles herself against foes, repairs her own vehicles, cares for the orphaned children and earns her keep with her photography skills. Rad.
#3 – Elaine Marley
Women in politics are always going to face different challenges than men in the same business. Many members of political parties and the media will find it extremely difficult to overlook the fact that a women is, in fact, a women and make it the focus of any attacks they feel are needed. Governor Elaine Marley doesn’t face this problem because she would easily go toe-to-toe with any rival seeking to discredit her. The fact that she does this centuries before the very notion of equality just makes her all the more daring.
Gov. Marley is the ruler of a number of Caribbean islands during the golden age of piracy where she is respected by her loyal subjects – even if they are a pack of amoral pirates. She’s a tough ruler whose family tree of captains and treasure hunters have prepared her for a competitive life where she can hold her own.
In the ‘Monkey Island’ series of adventure games she acts as the love interest to protagonist Guybrush Threepwood. Her tough attitude is often in stark comparison to his far from masculine personality – something that is most obvious when she reunites with him in the second adventure while he’s wearing a pink dress. Elaine is left making all the moves in the relationship, yet it’s always up to Guybrush to come and find her whenever the evil undead LeChuck snatches her away. She’s never in too much peril though, getting herself out of strife before her beloved can get there.
#2 – Bonnie MacFarlane
At the outset Bonnie MacFarlane seems to be set up to fulfil the love interest role for John Marston in the old west epic Red Dead Redemption. This isn’t the case as it is soon revealed that John is a faithfully married cowboy who is facing his past as an outlaw to protect his family. Out to bring his former gang members to justice John soon finds himself crossing paths with a bullet and Bonnie rescuing him from the desert and bringing him back to health
What makes the dynamic between Bonnie and John so fascinating is that fact that they both seem to harbour feelings for each other but John wouldn’t conceive of betraying his wife and Bonnie has no interest in putting him in that position, instead putting her own responsibilities above her feelings. It’s her responsibilities to her family and ranch that have played a large role in shaping her character.
With her father unable to tend to the ranch and homestead and her brothers gone Bonnie has taken up the role of responsibility at a time and place when a woman doing the job was as common as a dinosaur in New York. She’s a strong, unyielding figure who doesn’t balk at putting herself at risk to protect what she cares about. Bonnie gives the hardened John a run for his money by challenging him to races and putting him to work herding cattle to earn his keep.
Bonnie is a woman out of time and not because she wants to make a statement but because she rose to a position that was forced on her when many weaker people would have turned tail. The polite and formal dialogue between her and John only seems to strengthen their bond, and her off-screen conversation with John’s wife at the end of the game is one of gaming’s best unseen moments.
#1 – Alyx Vance
Alyx Vance appears in Half-Life 2 and the add on episodes as an ally to main character Gordon Freeman, and has developed a strong fan base due to her well developed personality. Alyx was born into a desolate future where civilians are kept in poverty under the rule of the Combine. She was raised by members of the resistance and during her short life has developed a similar ideology to her family and picked up the skills required to help fight for the cause.
During the games we have seen Alyx operate as a skilled hacker and engineer. She finds it easy to bypass electronic security and reprogram enemy systems while building weapons and gadgets such as the giant DOG robot, her multipurpose tool and the gravity gun. Frequently involved with combat she is skilled with firearms, hand-to-hand combat and is highly athletic. During resistance missions Alyx usually acts as support for Gordon, backing him up in combat and helping him clear security.
Alyx has demonstrated that she has a strong education and has formed her own opinions about the resistance and the Combine. Although she has seen large amounts of combat and destruction she maintains an optimistic outlook on life and provides plenty of humour to keep everyone’s spirits up. Nonetheless she does feel the pressure get on top of her at times but can frequently push past her instinct to panic in order to keep control of the situation.
Vance is very clearly a well rounded character and the fact that she shows so much realistic emotion contributes to her popularity. Being such a positive person in such dire situations makes it all the more effective when she does loose her temper or show fear as the situations are believable even when not a prominent character trait. As many gamers have noted Alyx Vance is also an attractive character without delving into the realms of absurdity many other video game characters do. Given how well received the character has been it’s a wonder that designers don’t strive to achieve this level of characterization more often.
This is an excellent selection of female characters. I too get annoyed with the ones who seem like they’re going to kick some ass and then just end up kidnapped waiting to be saved in the end. I especially hate the ones that are completely useless throughout the entire game. Ashley in Resident Evil 4 made me rage…I just wanted to shoot her in the head and go home and tell the president the zombies ate her.
Superb blog! Do you have any hints for aspiring writers?
I’m hoping to start my own blog soon but I’m a little lost on everything.
Would you recommend starting with a free platform like WordPress or go for a paid option?
There are so many choices out there that I’m completely overwhelmed .. Any recommendations? Cheers!
I would have to disagree with your inclusion of Miranda Lawson in this list. While she may be a strong woman, that aspect is completely undermined and ruined (for me, at least) by the ways the animators and designers chose to depict her. I mean, you’d think she’d at least wear something functional rather than a catsuit, but she was obviously intended to be eye candy rather than the great, strong character she had the potential to be. Also, there is usually at least one shot of her rear in every scene she’s in. And sure, Jack may wear a belt bra, but the rest of her outfit is, I think, functional AND the whole thing fits with the character.
TLDR: I am unable to take her seriously in the clothes she’s in. Sure, Jack may wear a belt bra, but the rest of her outfit is, I think, functional AND the whole thing fits with the character.
Although Alyx Vance is very much an excellent choice for this list. Good on ya.
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