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Pick any random game that features a female on the box and she’ll likely be suffering from two maladies: Big Boob Syndrome and Clothing Deficiency. The gaming industry is notoriously associated with misogyny 3 Ways Game Studios Still Reinforce Negative Body Images For Women [Opinion] 3 Ways Game Studios Still Reinforce Negative Body Images For Women [Opinion] It’s 2012. It’s been four decades since video games first began to emerge as a form of entertainment for consumption. In those decades, game complexity has improved, massive online worlds have been constructed, and 3D... Read More and, to be frank, it can be hard to find examples to the contrary. But is it all doom and gloom? I don’t think so.

The perception is that most gamers outside of casual markets are male, and it’s easier for males to identify with male leads. Because of this, female leads tend to take the back seat. But that doesn’t justify the oversexualization of females in video games. It’s sad that strong female characters are so rare in games that articles like this one are possible.

Want to know where you can find strong female leads in video games? Start with these remarkable examples.

Metroid

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First released back in 1986, Metroid was a game changer in many ways. Its gameplay was refined, responsive, and replayable. It helped to define an entire genre of exploration-based action platformers and many games today still find their inspiration in Metroid. Yet more importantly, Metroid put strong female leads on the map.

For the entirety of the original Metroid, the player controlled an armored human named Samus Aran who many assumed to be male. After all, charged energy bolts and homing rockets are typically associated with male fun, right? Well, after the player beat the game, Metroid flipped the tables and revealed Samus to be a woman.

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Some might argue that the Metroid series started to sexualize their main character with developments like Zero-Suit Samus, but she remains that strong figure who has been forcing gamers to rethink their assumptions about female protagonists for the last few decades. Dave even lists her as one of his three most badass female video game characters The 3 Most Badass Female Video Game Characters Ever [MUO Gaming] The 3 Most Badass Female Video Game Characters Ever [MUO Gaming] It is a sad fact that video games are an entertainment medium that caters mostly to men. As a result, most of the main characters in games tend to be male, and many females are... Read More .

Portal

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Some gamers made it through Portal without realizing that the protagonist was actually a female named Chell. Portal was primarily a puzzle game where the protagonist never spoke, so it ultimately didn’t matter whether Chell was male or female – yet, the fact that she was a female made all the difference.

Ever been to a gaming convention? Females like to dress up in Chell’s simple uniform: white tank top, open orange jumpsuit, impact-absorbing boots, and a portal gun. But why? She never speaks, she has no visible personality, and she isn’t exactly sexy. What makes her so compelling?

Chell is the female counterpart to Gordon Freeman of the Half-Life games. With both games, Valve has shown us two truths: 1) that struggling with conflict is common to all humans and 2) that perseverance and victory over conflict is admirable regardless of your sex.

Mass Effect

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Many gamers remember Mass Effect for its horribly disappointing ending 8 Disappointing Video Game Endings 8 Disappointing Video Game Endings Video games offer epic experiences with the power to excite, enthrall, and entertain. At least they do on occasion, when all of the various elements needed to turn a game from a mildly amusing distraction... Read More , but if we just brush that aside for a moment, it becomes evident that the game did have some redeeming qualities. Not only did it have a great story, it had a great female lead.

For those who haven’t played Mass Effect, you play a character named Commander Shepard who can be either male or female. Despite the fact that a male Commander Shepard was used for most of the Mass Effect advertising campaigns, many fans prefer the female version (colloquially known as FemShep).

Why? For some, it’s the superior voice acting. For others, the storylines and player choices are just more interesting as the game progresses. One thing remains true, however, and that’s the fact that FemShep is a multi-faceted character who feels more like a real human being than a throwaway who exists simply to satiate male hormones.

Final Fantasy

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The Final Fantasy series of RPGs is not necessarily known for its female characters, but it’s also a series that hasn’t overtly sexualized them except in a few sparse cases. Terra from Final Fantasy VI (Final Fantasy III in the United States) is one of the earliest characters to show three-dimensional development as a person.

But it wasn’t until Final Fantasy XIII that the series showcased a strong, independent woman as its main character. Lightning, as she’s called, is a deeply troubled ex-military sergeant with a turbulent past who grows over the course of the game.

What’s interesting is what the character designer, Motomu Toriyama, had to say regarding Lightning’s personality:

With Yuna from Final Fantasy X, we started with the backstory of a summoner that fights against Sin, but for Lightning in FFXIII, our initial concept was just for a “strong woman” – it was personality-based instead of plot-driven.

Beyond Good and Evil

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Beyond Good and Evil is an older game that was re-mastered in 2011. It was one of those releases that was a commercial failure but critically acclaimed and, despite its age, it is still to this day brought up in conversations that center on strong female protagonists.

The protagonist is Jade, a photojournalist whose mission is to rescue orphans and expose government corruption. Many critics have applauded Jade for her strong personality and character development from innocent girl to hardened warrior.

Jade’s creator, Michel Ancel, is rumored to have based the character’s design on his wife. Ancel’s primary goal was to avoid the “sexy female lead” stereotype that pervades gaming culture in favor of a character who was more relatable and realistic. And you know what? It shows.

Who are your favorite strong female video game protagonists? I know there aren’t too many of them out there, but it’s always nice to acknowledge them when they appear. Hopefully future video games will lean even more towards three-dimensional females rather than cardboard cutouts.

Image Credits: Samus Aran, Chell, FemShep, Lightning

  1. Jahanpanah
    July 24, 2014 at 3:35 pm

    How do you associate misogyny with good looking, beautiful, smart sexy and hot female characters of the games who are independent, feisty and in complete control of themselves, often they do not need a man to save the day. Their crime is that they are made to look sexy because it is more appealing to people (yes that includes women as well). Apparently what I perceive from this unnecessary bitching is that a female who is strong and revered shouldn't be sexy also the complain that often comes is that real women aren't like that but then who cares, because we cannot have real beauties who are an epitome of perfection, I want to see them in my games. After all it is an escapist medium. The average dudes that we see in the games are big hulking men with all the brawns but we don't see people complaining about it. Traditianlly games are also part of the geek culture prevalent from a long time, they have some common interest, including reading comic books. Games aren't completely separate from those roots. We are used to watching the pictures of men and women in perfect body shape and in skimpy outfits in our comic books, why no complains there?
    About the lack of female characters in video games I would only say that games are still far ahead than any other medium (apart from print) where there are so many female leads. Just look at the genres these games are dealing with, that are often sci-fi, fantasy, action, crime, mystery etc. Look at the different media and tell me how many female leads you find inside these genres? In fact popular blockbuster movies with female leads can be counted on fingers and in that too there are Tomb Raider and Resident Evil movies that are themselves based on video games. So why all the cry and anger is only directed towards video games? You associate games with misogyny, do you do the same with the certain genre of the films from Japan and Hong Kong etc. that have been much more notorious? In games all the women are pixelated and made up of polygons, I fail to understand what harm they cause to the people. Often I also read one argument that people often provide is to go and get a real girl. I want to ask why? Who are they to decide what one should like? I would spend my time as I like. I may my have my needs and desires but if it finds its outlet through some fictional polygonal woman of some video games what harm is it causing? Why should I go and objectify or sexualize a real woman made up of real flesh and bones.
    I'm a man and I like playing with female characters all the time, in fact I stay away from games with male leads even if the game is good because it doesn't motivate me. I have short time in my hands and whatever time I get to play games I try to utilize it by playing the games I like and one of the important factors in my preference is the presence of female playable character. Even better if she is hot and sexy.
    End of Rant :P

  2. AriesWarlock
    March 7, 2014 at 5:48 am

    There's Nariko from Heavenly Sword. Jen from Primal.

  3. +1
    March 5, 2014 at 2:54 am

    Cate Archer -> The Operative: No One Lives Forever

    • Joel L
      March 13, 2014 at 9:33 pm

      Oh wow, I loved NOLF back in the day and I played it for countless hours. Definitely a good call on Cate Archer!

  4. Howard B
    March 4, 2014 at 11:46 pm

    The default character from Dungeon Siege - and the character on the game's icon - is a red-haired female.

  5. Jorge Bascur
    March 4, 2014 at 3:09 am

    There's also Lara Croft in the Tomb Raider series. I personally love the latest game in the series, because it shows her in a state you have never seen before in other games: vulnerable, learning how to fight and survive. And as you play, you see the evolution of her persona, from a vulnerable teenager to a hardened woman. And the developers also did something good with her appeareance: they reduced those features that hyper-sexualized the character (namely, the big bosom), and yet they keep her feminine, aesthetically beautiful, and pleasant to look, and identify yourself with her.

    • Joel L
      March 13, 2014 at 9:31 pm

      I like that the team behind Lara Croft shifted their direction of the character. It would've been difficult to strike a good balance between hypersexualization and robbing her of all femininity, but they did a pretty good job!

  6. John
    March 3, 2014 at 8:58 pm

    What about Laura Croft from Tomb Raider

  7. Esteban
    March 3, 2014 at 8:34 pm

    The Longest Journey and Dreamfall! How could you miss those two?

  8. dragonmouth
    March 3, 2014 at 7:09 pm

    "Pick any random game that features a female on the box and she’ll likely be suffering from two maladies: Big Boob Syndrome and Clothing Deficiency."

    You can blame that on the sci-fi illustrators. Starting in at least the 1920s the femme fatale was always buxom and always scantily clad, and they were always mejnaced by some creepy BEM (bug-eyed monster).

    BTW - speaking of stereotyping, aren't all male characters just a differently dressed Arnold Schwarzenegger types or gnarled, evil professor types? Harry Potter look-alikes do not make believable action heros.

  9. Saturday S
    March 3, 2014 at 6:43 pm

    Mirrors Edge? How about any game where you can design your own character? Playing Saints Row as a female character always made it more interesting for me.

  10. lvl39nerd
    March 3, 2014 at 5:51 pm

    play it, it's brilliant, far better than Heavy Rain in my opinion. Ellen Page was a perfect cast, as was William Defoe.

    Some of the choices took me several minutes (never needed soo long to find the outfit for a date xD) to take even if I HAD to make them to proceed.

    And it's a soo personal game due to all those choices. Loved the game, never identified with a character that much - and that as a guy.

  11. lvl39nerd
    March 3, 2014 at 5:32 pm

    last year's Jodie Holmes from "Beyond: Two Souls" is seriously missing.

    The list IS great, though ;) Just as an addition to an otherwise perfect summary

    • Joel L
      March 3, 2014 at 5:43 pm

      I haven't had the opportunity to play Beyond: Two Souls but a quick bit of research shows that she's definitely not the usual overly-sexualized-and-flat female protagonist. Thanks for bringing her to my attention! Maybe I should check out the game while I'm at it. :D

  12. ET
    March 3, 2014 at 3:59 pm

    You forgot the Xenosaga series.

    • Joel L
      March 3, 2014 at 6:33 pm

      I've been meaning to play Xenosaga for years but never had the opportunity. I've heard many good things about it, though I wasn't aware that it had a female lead. If that's true, that's impressive, especially for a 2002 JRPG.

  13. Jorge B
    March 3, 2014 at 3:34 pm

    There are many games you haven't mentioned here that also have lead female characters. Examples follow: Remember Me, Bayonneta, Velvet Assassin. Also there's Assassin's Creed: Liberation.

    Just so you know.

    • Joel L
      March 3, 2014 at 6:31 pm

      Remember Me is a good one! I haven't played the other three so I can't comment on whether those female leads are strong characters, but Bayonetta's lead comes off as hyper-sexualized. Never heard of Velvet Assassin but it looks interesting, so thanks for bringing that to my attention!

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