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 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.
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.
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.
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.
Many gamers remember Mass Effect for its horribly disappointing ending, 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.
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:
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
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.