For an industry as big as the video game industry, one would think that it would be rife with great women characters. They are. But for the most part, women in video games have been the male protagonist’s love interest, side characters, party members, NPCs. It’s only during recent years that female characters were given the spotlight, starring in their own games, getting substantial character development, or just being treated with proper respect, in general.
Obviously, the video game scene is far from ideal for women—be it characters or women in real life—but I’ve played a couple of video games that make me feel hopeful about the future. Here are some of my favorite video game women, in no particular order. Spoiler warnings are in order.
1. A2 from NieR:Automata
One would probably go for 2B when it comes to this game but A2’s decision to fulfill 2B’s dying request really stuck to me. She didn’t owe 2B anything and yet she still chose to keep her promise and deliver 2B’s message to 9S. In ways, A2 is 2B’s foil: one freed from the ties of duty and the other bound by it, one the prototype for the other. Despite this, however, they share the same feeling of guilt over their comrades: A2 being the sole survivor of her squad, and 2B being given the mission to eliminate 9S over and over again. A2’s decision was pivotal because it was her decision. It was one of the few decisions she made for herself but it was also an atonement of sorts. A2’s character design leaves much to be desired but her arc and characterization make up for it.
2. Chloe Frazer from Uncharted: The Lost Legacy
Chloe was introduced as Nathan Drake’s adversary-slash-love interest in Uncharted 2: Among Thieves but was given her standalone spin-off game along with Uncharted 3 and 4’s Nadine Ross. Chloe is sassy, wily, and she knows how to use her assets to her advantage. She’s an extremely skilled treasure hunter—enough to give Nathan a hard time as an enemy, or a real advantage as an ally. Thank god for Lost Legacy for not only giving players more Chloe but giving Chloe the character development she deserved. From being rather selfish and self-serving, Chloe grew into a reliable partner to Nadine and was willing to literally give her life to stop a potential civil war. Truly, Chloe’s character grew in leaps and bounds and I would give an arm for another Lost Legacy game.
3. Aloy from Horizon Zero Dawn
Aloy holds a special place in my heart for being the first game I played on the PS4, and for being played by Ashly Burch who also voiced Chloe Price from Life is Strange. As a character, Aloy is important for a couple of reasons. One, she is one of the few female protagonists in a AAA game. Two, she is proof that having a female protagonist can and will work. It says a lot that Sony had to do extensive market testing to see if having Aloy as a protagonist—instead of some dude—was a risky move. But it worked. Horizon Zero Dawn was a huge success not only because of the stunning technicals but also because, third, Aloy was a different protagonist. She is gentle, curious, and driven. She is a strong female protagonist, in every sense of the word. She isn’t sexualized by design and she is a testament that women can do whatever men can.
4. Ellie Williams from The Last of Us
As the other half of the duo who leads one of the biggest games of the decade, it’s safe to say that Ellie is one of the most important female characters in gaming. TLOU showed her as a tough-as-nails fourteen-year old who can hold her own and was never a damsel in distress. She was an equal partner to Joel—even saving his life on numerous occasions. Ellie is also a lesbian, as revealed in the Left Behind DLC, which is a big deal given the dismaying shortage of major LGBTQ characters in video games. With TLOU II on the horizon, Ellie is more important than ever. She’s angry, she’s gritty, and she’s back to have her revenge. Ellie is the epitome of female anger and I love that she’s making gamer dudes uncomfortable.
5. Lunafreya Nox Fleuret from Final Fantasy XV
I could have easily chosen Lightning or Tifa for this series but I’m going with Lunafreya because everybody hates her for reasons I genuinely don’t understand. A quick Google search reveals that people hate on Lunafreya because “her name is stupid”, “she killed Stella”, and “her characterization wasn’t enough to get me attached”—all of which are reasons that Square Enix could’ve addressed had they not practically written Luna out of the game and cancelled her supposed DLC. Not only do people hate her for reasons that are outside the game’s lore but they also seem to forget that Noctis would not have the favor of the gods had Luna failed at her task as Oracle. Square Enix wrote her off so easily and conveniently for The Drama and “fans” hated on her so readily but they both seem to forget that Luna was integral to Noctis’ journey and ascension as the King of Lucis.
6. Senua from Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice
Ninja Theory’s Hellblade was ground-breakingly different in a lot of respects: it had a plot that was centered around a protagonist who suffers from psychosis, the developers worked closely with psychologists to accurately depict the illness, going so far as using new audio techniques to replicate the experience, and improved on some motion-capture rigging to achieve the effect they desired. Senua is the protagonist of this journey—a mentally-ill warrior who has taken it upon herself to journey through Helheim to rescue her husband’s soul. A lot can be said about the game’s overall design but it is not every day that you get a female protagonist who is canonically mentally-ill. Senua is never depicted as helpless—she battles as fiercely as any warrior and is able to best illusions thrown at her.
7. Jane Shepard from Mass Effect
Of course, how can we forget Commander Shepard. Technically, you can play Shepard as a man but I played female Shepard so she’s going into this list. The Mass Effect series in itself made a pretty huge impact as a video game through its decision aspect—the player’s decisions carry over into the next game of the 3-part series, thus giving each player a unique experience of the game. As a protagonist, female Shepard is important because she is able to play and carry a plot that is usually reserved for male protagonists: saving the world.
And there you have it—some of my favorite video game women. Other female characters I like who didn’t make it into this list are Kassandra from Assassin’s Creed Odyssey, Lara Croft of Tomb Raider fame, Lightning Farron from Final Fantasy XIII, and many others. Yes, I say “many others” but the truth is that the imbalance between male and female characters in video games is pretty large. But we’re improving. Hopefully, in the future, we’ll see more diversity and more women in these stories, both within and behind the video game.