Gaming gets representative: the rise of the female protagonists at E3

With this year's E3 featuring more kickass leading ladies than ever, it's an exciting time to be gaming

My summer Christmas is coming to a close: E3. E3 can bring that same kind of excitement, developers throwing footage at us like suit-jacket and jean-clad Santas. Unfortunately, also like Christmas, E3 has bad bits you tend to repress in the anticipatory stages; the proverbial brussels sprouts. Often, it’s the sidelining of female gamers that leaves a bad taste in my mouth. The gaming industry hasn’t exactly had the best reputation when it comes to representing female interests in gaming in the past few years. Last year Ubisoft in particular made themselves lightning rods of internet hate after issuing a statement saying that Assassin’s Creed: Unity could not feature a female protagonist because of the time and resources it would take. Cue #womenaretoohardtoanimate, the result of the twittersphere’s bullshit senses tingling.

Other developers were quick to call out Ubisoft too. Naughty Dog animator and former Assassin’s Creed III animation director Jonathan Cooper expressed his doubt about how hard it really is to model female characters on top of male ones with a cutting tweet: ‘In my educated opinion, I would estimate this to be about a day or two’s work.’ Insomniac Games made Ubisoft look even lazier as they showcased the incredible character customisation in Sunset Overdrive, a system not hindered by gender diversity.

Fortunately developers did not treat the gaming community like an annoying but ignorable glitching NPC, hanging out of a rock and twitching in their periphery. Rather, a year later things are looking much improved, the brussels sprouts have been wrapped in delicious gender-equal bacon. However much I am always happy to see Lara Croft, and as welcome as The Rise of the Tomb Raider is to take a place on my shelf, it was uplifting that rather than just presenting us with a Lara Croft of distinctly less eye-popping proportions and asking ‘satisfied?’, developers have this year offered us even more female protagonists who appear to have depth, diversity, and dare I say it, personality. I’ve put together a sampling of just some of the female protagonists you should be on the lookout for over the next couple of years:

Image: Ubisoft

Evie Frye, Assassin’s Creed Syndicate (October 2015) – the Assassin’s Creed franchise revolves around the work of the assassin order across various historical settings, from the crusades to the French Revolution. It’s surprising, therefore, that with so many incredible women throughout history to serve as inspiration for what women can do, the franchise is only now introducing a female protagonist. After the mantastic Assassin’s Creed: Unity, Ubisoft finally bring us Evie in Assassin’s Creed: Syndicate. Evie will feature alongside her twin brother Jacob in a dual narrative. Although we’ve had female assassins before in the form of Eveline and Shao Jun, Evie is the first female not relegated to spin-off territory, an acknowledgment that women did not just exist on the fringes of history and nor should they exist on the fringes of gaming. In May we got a look at Jacob’s reckless style, but E3 showed us the more meticulous Evie, equally as dangerous as her brother but in her own way. It’s wonderful to see an effort to distinguish their characters, making it feel more like Evie will bring something individual to the style of play rather than stand as a figure of appeasement for sins of games past.

Image: PlayStation EU

Aloy, Horizon: Zero Dawn (2016) – Guerilla Games’ new title and PS4 exclusive Horizon: Zero Dawn is set in a visually stunning world 1000 years after the apocalypse, where mankind has been replaced at the top of the food chain by machines. You play as Aloy, an outcast from her tribe and an adept hunter of these machines. Not the typical post-apocalyptic ripped clothed babe-bot, Aloy is an experienced hunter, resourceful in her surroundings, well armoured, and intelligent. With a fantastic female protagonist on top of beautiful visuals and enthralling action Horizon Zero Dawn is one of the most exciting games to feature at E3. It looks like Guerilla Games are starting a franchise with Horizon: Zero Dawn, and a female-led franchise is just the kind of shakeup needed.

Image: Bethesda

Emily Kaldwin, Dishonored 2 (2016) – Dishonored, set in a dark and grimy Dunwall, was a stealth action game starring Corvo Attano with a great narrative and exciting gameplay. Dishonored 2 features Emily Kaldwin, the young girl Corvo protected in the first instalment of the franchise, now a pixel-kicking woman. Footage shown at Bethesda’s conference depicts Emily as a supernatural crossbow-toting assassin, looking just as deadly and determined as Corvo did before her, but with the addition of having powers unique to her to keep things fresh.

Image: Electronic Arts

Faith, Mirror’s Edge Catalyst (February 2016) – it’s been a while since the original Mirror’s Edge 2008 release, a game which revolved around a woman, Faith, trying to save her sister in their dystopian home. The highly anticipated sequel sees the return of free running bad bitch Faith in an origin story, with what appears to be the usual standard of excellent gameplay mechanics, fast-paced action, and an intriguing, powerful female protagonist who I can’t wait to get to know better.

Image: XBox

Joule, ReCore (2016) – From the minds behind Metroid Prime and one of gaming’s best known and well-loved female leads, Samus Aran, comes ReCore, an XBox One exclusive. ReCore is the post-apocalyptic story of one of the last surviving humans, Joule, and her robotic companions finding their way across a barren desert landscape. It’s not being touted as an overly action-laden game, but rather theme heavy, thoughtfully layered, and visually arresting. Hopefully Joule lives up to expectations and joins Samus Aran as one of the greats.


Image: EA Sports

More upcoming games which allow you to play as a male or female character include Battlecry, Fallout 4, Fable Legends, Star Wars Battlefront, Fifa 2016, and Call of Duty Black Ops 3. A lot of these games, most notably Fifa and Call of Duty, were formerly male-dominated bastions of dudeness, despite focussing on professions which women regularly enter. It’s encouraging to see that even so far into their franchises developers are willing to take steps to balance the scales of representation, and let gamers play as Marta, not just Messi.

With such an increase in games featuring strong female protagonists, I’m truly hoping we are seeing a change in mindset at E3, a change that will not pander to the worn, increasingly feeble protests of meninists who guard their forums, like a misogynist Cerberus. Progress like this is a reminder that gaming is a community open to everyone willing to get involved and play.

Main image: Ubisoft