The pervasive feeling around video games is that they’re ‘for boys’, and that the gaming community is a supremely masculine place. This feeling is in part due to how female characters in games are represented; impossibly proportioned and sexualised female bodies, female characters who barely exist beyond the tropes of ‘seductress’ or ‘damsel in distress’, or in some games they just don’t exist at all. But there are female characters done right, women who are well-written, capable, and interesting. Women who aren’t just women, they’re well-rounded people. We’ve put together a (not exhaustive) list of some of the best women to feature in video games across the years.
10) Ellie – The Last of Us
“You tell them, Ellie… Ellie is the little girl who broke your fucking finger!”
Ellie is a strong young girl with the mouth of a sailor and a wry sense of humour, who is undeniably one of the best examples of a well-rounded female character in video games. Being born after the destruction of the world by a parasitic virus and growing up in the safe zones, Ellie loses out on her childhood and has to be extremely tough in order to survive. One of the great things about Ellie is that we see her develop as a person throughout the game; we go on an emotional journey with her. Ellie displays her courage and her incredible firearm and survival skills like any action hero, but we also witness her learn to trust Joel, see her feel the weight of his trust in her, and learn about the difficulty of caring about someone else in a dangerous world. Ellie is a character who grabs the player and forges an emotional connection, forcing you to feel how difficult it is to be young, vulnerable, and female, but also shows how this won’t stop you from kicking ass.
9) Cassandra Pentaghast – Dragon Age
“Romance is not the sole province of dithering ladies in frilly dresses. It is passion. It is being swept away by the pursuit of an ideal. What is not to like about that?”
Cassandra Pentaghast is a recurring character in the Dragon Age series. She is a Seeker of Truth for the Chantry, a skilled warrior, and is at the centre of Inquisition. In fact, she pretty much runs the Inquisition at first. Cassandra is a powerful warrior, independent, and physically strong. But she is also strong in her beliefs, never losing her faith as everything she knows falls to pieces around her, and unfalteringly loyal. Not only this, she has a softness to her character, enjoying romance stories and their idealism, traditionally feminine pastimes that don’t make her any less strong. This is what makes her such an enjoyable character to interact with; she is able to stand up for what she believes in, pull on her scabbard and march into conflict, but she has the capacity to be soft and show weakness, making her strength all the more admirable. Cassandra Pentaghast is a prime example of the kind of dynamic female character we need more of in gaming.
8) Elena Fisher – Uncharted
“Oh me? Me walk away. That’s funny.”
Elena Fisher is both sidekick and love interest to the protagonist Nathan Drake in the Uncharted series. Fortunately, this is not all she is. Funny, strong, and tenacious, Elena is more than a plot device female character, she has depth and is an essential ally to Drake. Often described as the ‘female Drake,’ Elena is more than this, for although she’s just as intelligent and charming as Drake, she’s more compassionate than him, and throughout the games Elena appears to bring out the better and more morally positive side of his character.
7) Faith Connors – Mirror’s Edge
“If you shove a gun in my face again, I’ll kill you.”
Faith Connors is the protagonist of Mirror’s Edge. A runner, and one of the best, Faith transports items for revolutionary groups that are trying to keep out of the gaze of the totalitarian government. Drawn into a web of conspiracy when her sister is framed for murder, Faith must use her smarts, grace, and speed to escape the government she detests and find the truth. She doesn’t speak all that much in the game, but words aren’t needed to show her strength, courage, and humanity as she performs vertigo-inducing free-running moves and displays her excellent combat skills throughout her mission to do what’s right, even if it puts her own life at risk.
6) Samus Aran – Metroid
“I first battled the Metroids on planet Zebes. It was there that I foiled the plans of the Space Pirate leader, Mother Brain, to use the creatures to attack galactic civilisation… I next fought the Metroids on their homeworld, SR388. I completely eradicated them…”
One of the first playable, and also one of the most enduring, female heroes in video games, Samus Aran is the hero of the Metroid series of action-adventure games. Back in the 80’s when women were woefully under-represented as protagonists, Samus Aran donned her gender-ambiguous power suit and kicked an endless amount of ass, before pulling her helmet off at the end of the game and shattering player preconceptions about what a woman in video games was capable of. Not distinctly female in her power suit, Samus is a different kind of strong female character. The fact that there could be anyone in her suit is precisely the point of it; women can be and do anything, including wear and use an armoured suit armed with lasers and guns better than anyone else.
5) Nico Collard – Broken Sword
“You don’t know the half of it. This bag’s full of C-4!”
Co-star to George Stobbart in the acclaimed ‘Broken Sword’ series, Nicole ‘Nico’ Collard is a sarcastic, intelligent, and ambitious photojournalist living in Paris, hoping to uncover a great story and get her big break. Nico is sexy without being sexualised and doesn’t need to be rescued; she’s George’s ally, without whom he would never get to the bottom of any of the mysteries he stumbles his way into. From The Smoking Mirror, the player is given the opportunity to play as Nico in her own separate parts of she and George’s adventures, where she proves herself to be integral to the story and more than able to go it alone.
4) Governor Elaine Marley – Monkey Island
“Let’s face it, LeChuck. You are an evil, foul-smelling, vile, codependent villain and that’s just not what I’m looking for in a romantic relationship right now.”
The main female character in the ‘Monkey Island’ series of adventure games, Elaine Marley is the well-respected governor of the Tri-Island area of the Caribbean during the golden age of piracy. Although she acts as the love interest to protagonist Guybrush Threepwood, Elaine is much more than a trope, being strong-willed and instigating most of the progression of hers and Guybrush’s relationship. Even though she’s often kidnapped by the evil pirate LeChuck, and Guybrush takes it upon himself to rescue her, Governor Marley is more than capable of getting herself out of trouble. In fact, she often has the situation in hand before Guybrush can even get there, cutting the ideal of the passive damsel in distress to ribbons.
3) Lara Croft – Tomb Raider
“In our darkest moments, when life flashes before us, we find something; Something that keeps us going. Something that pushes us.”
This list would be remiss without one of the most well-known female video game characters of all time. It sometimes surprises me that from her original form, Lara Croft was pegged as a sex symbol and little more, despite the fact that she has a backstory that makes her a very interesting character. For some reason it seems to be assumed that large breasts must consume a woman’s personality as a means of achieving their size. Born into luxury and riches, Lara knows little but comfort until a plane crash leaves her stranded in the Himalayas. Surviving the harshest environments, Lara finds her way back to civilisation, changed but stronger.
Having returned to her life of wealth with a new perspective, Lara uses her family money to fund archaeological expeditions around the world and when her family disown her in an attempt to stop her dangerous actions, she starts working as a treasure hunter and mercenary instead, amassing her own fortune. I mean, come on, that’s awesome. In the recent reboot of the franchise we are returned to Lara’s youth where, stranded on an island, she must survive the dangerous environments and save her friends. Whether you examine the original Lara or the younger reboot, you will find a strong, intelligent, and interesting character, regardless of her bodily proportions.
2) Alice Liddell – American McGee’s Alice
“You’ve used me and you’ve abused me, but you will NOT destroy me!”
Alice Liddell is the protagonist of American McGee’s Alice and Alice: Madness Returns. Shirking off the idea of Alice as a wide-eyed and innocent girl from Lewis Carroll’s novels, the Alice of these games is a character who proves herself strong and independent, more than capable of taking care of herself, and she isn’t sexualised. Yay!
Alice is both of and ahead of her time, in that she looks and sounds like a prim Victorian lady, but at the same time she is utterly capable of getting shit done and has a capacity for violence that belies her small frame. The stories of both of her games also give her great emotional depth, following her time in her own imaginary wonderland, where she battles with her trauma and mental illness, eventually revealing the truth behind the untimely deaths of her family. The fact that the games are so introspective, set in a place that is inextricably linked to Alice and her state of mind, provides her with a refreshing amount of agency as only she can save her from herself.
“Insert the most awesome thing you’ve ever said here.”
There are many well-written female characters across the many genres of video games, but really none of them could quite live up to what you’re capable of in your own head. With games such as Mass Effect, The Elder Scrolls, and Dragon Age offering you the opportunity to create your own character that looks like you, with the freedom to make decisions that you would like to make, there is little to stop you being the best female video game character there has ever been. Whether you choose to be violent, passive, cunning, ultra-feminine, masculine, or anything in between, it doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter because these games allow you to be exactly who you want to be as a female protagonist without anyone else’s extraneous definitions of why your character is good or not, the only measure is your own satisfaction.
Main Image: Flickr © Becca Ashbourne