Ask any female gamer if she feels well-represented in video games…and she’ll probably laugh at you, shake her head, and say something like, “Hardly.”
Female representation is difficult enough to come by in such a relatively young industry, let alone a welcoming or positive experience for women and girls. Thankfully, since the industry is still young and therefore still growing, we’ve had great opportunities to help close that gap.
As a female gamer, I don’t want the pivotal female characters I encounter to fit one comfortable/familiar archetype—typically the saint or the sinner types—but instead want my ladies to run the gambit of good and evil, chaste and wanton, selfish and selfless, weak and strong, and every other choice in between. People, regardless of sex or gender, are multifaceted.
Presented below in no particular order is my list of 11 surprisingly female positive games.
#1 of 11 — Metroid
1986. Kick ass bounty hunter from space. Prevalent culture unquestioningly assumes our heavily armored protagonist is a guy.
Reach the end of Metroid, see the protagonist remove the helmet…
Not an Arnold Schwarzenegger-esque man but flaxen-haired Samus Aran.
If the Internet* existed the same way in 1986 as it does now, can you imagine the reaction? Forums would howl with shock—and some with outrage.
Even so, revealing Samus’s identity as a woman stunned players. While such a subtle move, this served as a great first reminder to the world of gamers that skill had nothing to do with sex or gender.
*For reference, the Internet was invented in 1983 with the more familiar World Wide Web deployed in 1990. The more you know!
#2 of 11 — Fallout 4
Like most Bethesda games, it doesn’t matter if the player character is male or female because the story unfolds roughly the same, dependent only on play style and chosen perks (Fallout New Vegas has a great example with its Black Widow perk); however the male character will always be the one to make the oft-quoted “war never changes” line.
The basic plot: In the year 2077, the player character and their family are rushed off to Vault 111 to avoid an incoming nuclear attack and the entire vault is forcibly put into cryostasis. During this time, the player awakens briefly to see their spouse murdered and their infant son kidnapped. This search serves as the player’s driving motivation.
So what makes Fallout 4 noteworthy?
A lot of this comes down to reaction, actually. Both male and female player characters will collect the wedding ring and swear to find the killers/kidnappers.
The male character’s reaction is more withdrawn, confused, and listless—an attitude he carries throughout the game.
By contrast, the female character displays a more visceral reaction, and airs her hurt and fury more loudly. She takes action and keeps her heartache in check as more of a chip on her shoulder than a visible pain.
Neither reaction is wrong, mind you. But considering culture still heavily shows women as emotional time bombs, it’s refreshing to see the reaction from the female player character be something other than uncontrollable crying and unsteady shooting.
#3 of 11 — Skullgirls
You have to make your presence known…
…ESPECIALLY if you’re an indie game.
Male characters are a minority in Skullgirls—and for a very good story reason.
The coveted Skull Heart, a sentient artifact of remarkable power, can only grant the wish of a woman.
This does not come without consequence either.
The Skull Heart will slowly turn the woman who made a wish upon it into a Skullgirl, a powerful, murderous necromancer with an ultimate goal to end the world. How quickly this corruption into a Skullgirl occurs is determined entirely by the Skull Heart and how selfish it deems the woman’s wish was.
The woman who made the wish can resist mental domination to an extent but will be made to bend to the Skull Heart’s will eventually. While the world hasn’t ended yet, no woman who has wished on the Skull Heart has ever avoided her inevitable fate of becoming a Skullgirl.
Talk about a dark storyline, huh?
Yet I classified this a female positive game. Why? Because every single woman in this stylistic beat-’em’-up comes with her own flaws and baggage. Not everyone is some sort of paragon. Rather, each of them is relatable and has understandable motives.
Being treated as an equal instead of being put on an impossible pedestal like a fragile trinket, whether for good or ill, means showing imperfections.
#4 of 11 — Dead or Alive
I won’t lie and tell you that Dead or Alive has some form of extremely deep story line or anything like that. There are facets of story line continuity across the various entries of the DOA universe. But…the story line is semi-cohesive, if not a bit silly.
Of course, the same could be said for the costumes (just look at Zack here!).
Strange, improbable, impossible, T & A heavy, skimpy, and/or just plain questionable costuming choices aside, the fact remains that there’s an impressive fighting roster populated mostly with capable, interesting female fighters from various backgrounds, with various body shapes, styles, interests, habits, and personalities.
How’s that for a roundhouse kick to the head?
#5 of 11 — Metal Gear Solid 3
Nothing that came to pass for the MSG universe could have happened without the Boss. No, I don’t mean Big Boss. I mean THE BOSS—
—AKA The Joy, the Mother of Special Forces, Mercury Lady, and Voyevoda (Russian for “Warlord”). And while Metal Gear Solid 3 follows Naked Snake (later known as Big Boss), MGS3 is really about The Boss and her choices.
Following the Metal Gear canon, her specialized unit, the Cobras, turned the tide against the Nazis in World War II; however, The Boss blamed herself for the atomic bomb dropped on Nagasaki and the rise of the Cold War.
Without getting into the specific details (and a whole lot of convoluted MGS history and spoiler territory), suffice to say that The Boss did whatever she felt was necessary for her country, even if that meant turning traitor.
In the Metal Gear universe, soldiers go to sleep wishing they were as cool as Big Boss; Big Boss goes to sleep wishing he was as cool as The Boss.
#6 of 11 — Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn/Heavensward/Stormblood/Shadowbringers
Despite the missteps of the original Final Fantasy XIV launch (AKA 1.0), the subsequent relaunch with the subtitled A Realm Reborn has been a wholly different and better experience, ever-improving with each update, each patch, and each expansion.
This MMORPG entry of the Final Fantasy series demonstrates strong storytelling coupled with complex, flawed characters.
But before I go on about why this particular entry is surprisingly female positive, a forewarning: There may be spoilers here.
(OK, there will DEFINITELY be spoilers here.)
And because of the bevy of interesting women throughout the game world, I picked three major examples.
- The leaders of the Eorzean Alliance pre-expansion and the three starting zone city-states are all women: Sultana Nanamo Ul Namo of Ul’dah, Admiral Merlwyb Bloefhiswyn of Limsa Lominsa, and Seedseer Kan-E-Senna of Gridania. We don’t start seeing male heads of state until FFXIV’s first expansion (Heavensward).
- Alisaie Leveilleur not only delves into the Binding Coil of the primal Bahamut, she also swaps her arcanist’s tome for swashbuckling spellcasting abilities of a red mage and proves herself a fearsome force on the battlefield. Unlike her much more diplomatic twin brother Alphinaud, Alisaie is a headstrong young woman of action and wry wit—both of which belie her tender heart.
- Lyse Hext literally takes back her homeland of Ala Mhigo and becomes its de facto leader. This is one of two main driving plots in the second expansion (Stormblood). Not bad for a girl who masqueraded as her sister for literal years.
#7 of 11 — Horizon Zero Dawn
Aloy is incredible.
Sony considered green-lighting Aloy as the lead character of Horizon Zero Dawn a huge risk due to her gritty, unyielding, and sometimes confrontational personality. Her determination makes her quick to decide a course of action and follow through, such as accepting her foster father’s offer to train for the Proving, the Nora’s coming-of-age ritual, in order to learn more about herself despite any risk or further ostracizing.
Without divulging the heart of a rather complex yet well-constructed plot, Aloy goes against her status among the Nora as an outcast, proves she has the mettle and the will to work and train hard which wins her a place in the Proving.
Her journey is one that turns everything she knows and loves—every schema that she holds—upside down. But rather than back away in fear, Aloy presses on to see the truth for what is until the very end.
#8 of 11 — Prey (2017)
While I can’t speak to the original Prey, the reboot from 2017 is top-notch. It doesn’t impact the gameplay at all if Morgan Yu is male or female but the story impact between Morgan and older brother Alex seems more compelling and all the sadder when seen through the lens of brother-sister.
The original promotional gameplay footage showed Morgan as a male. However, the later promotional art, and even one of the main splash images on Bethesda’s website shows a distinctly female Morgan Yu.
For example, female Morgan has a different approach to finding out that everyone on the Talos I is dead. Male Morgan is stunned and morose in response while female Morgan is somber but vows to take action.
And take action she does.
#9 of 11 — The Last of Us
Sharp-tongued, sharp-witted, and soon to take the starring role in The Last of Us sequel, Ellie is no wilting flower or damsel in distress.
…she’s just a kid dealing with life as best as any 14-year-old orphan can given the circumstances.
One of the very best things about Ellie? She questions almost everything—particularly about the past. Players get to see Ellie’s bluntness after she and Joel find a poster of an incredibly thin model which prompts this conversation.
She’s tough enough to help protect Joel when he’s gravely injured; she even fends off brigands while out in the world hunting for food. Yet she’s also charmingly naive with regard to her trust in the Fireflies.
Ellie isn’t a metaphor for sacrifice or corrupted, misplaced innocence. Ellie is just…Ellie.
#10 of 11 — Assassin’s Creed: Origins
Sometimes origins are the most disappointing “mystery solved!” moments ever (looking at you, midichlorians). And sometimes they are so very satisfying.
Moving quietly between major players of the day such as Cleopatra and Julius Caesar, Aya paves the way for both herself and Bayek to protect and guide the world from the shadows.
Aya isn’t just there to look pretty and intimidating as Bayek’s lady love—she’s the true reason the order of assassins even exists. She sacrifices her life with Bayek to instead establish the Assassin Brotherhood in Rome while Bayek remains back in Egypt with his branch.
She even takes on a new name.
And on top of all that, Aya promises Cleopatra that if she is not a fair ruler, she will return and assassinate the Queen of the Nile. Considering Cleopatra’s legend says she died by way of poison somehow, it sounds like Aya was very good at keeping her promises.
Well-done, Assassin’s Creed.
#11 of 11 — Bloodborne
This entry may surprise people as From Software games aren’t known for their obvious storylines or deep character interactions. Like the Souls games before it, Bloodborne’s characterization and deeper plot are revealed through side quests and observations.
Also known as the Hunter of Hunters, Eileen the Crow seeks out fellow Hunters who have gone mad from the Hunt and grants them eternal rest—a duty she has been performing for a very long time. While players never see her face, Eileen’s voice carries a gentle determination. She also acts as something of a mentor to the player character and even assists during the fight with Old Hunter Henryk. Sober and bemoaning her age, Eileen never turns away from her responsibilities and faces them dutifully to the very end.
Lady Maria was a student of the First Hunter, Gehrman, and also one of the first Hunters to join the nightly hunt across Yharnam. Her skills are extraordinary and she has something of an interesting pedigree as she is a direct descendant of Queen Annalise of the Vilebloods. While not appearing until The Old Hunters DLC, Lady Maria is by far one of the hardest bosses in the game—and twice as deadly as she is beautiful.
Were there any entries that shocked you?
I definitely didn’t cover all the amazing games out there so tell me what you would add and why!
Let’s work to subvert the tropes of inconceivably pure and unreasonably malicious female characters only—and let’s do it together!