We've all seen the lists of hottest video game babes, and the articles about the negative portrayal of women in gaming. But some games have done it right, with lady characters that are a lot more than just their lingerie.
The other week, I wrote about the harassment of Anita Sarkeesian, who is doing a series of videos about female stereotypes in gaming.
It's something that gets discussed a fair bit, with gaming regularly falling under fire for its hyper-sexualised depictions of women.
It's easy to focus on the negative. There are so many overflowing décolletages and underpants out there to choose from, after all. But take a look at some of the best-reviewed games of all time — very few of them have hyper-sexualised women in them at all, which indicates that gamers gravitate towards something else: good characters, a good story, good art and great gameplay.
And there are some great women in the mix, too — if you know where to look. So I thought it was time I made a list of my favourite female protagonists.
It doesn't get much more de-sexualised than Chell: she's mostly always off-camera and never says a word. But boy, is she capable. She makes her way through the tests set up for her by malicious robot-gone-very-wrong GLaDOS, with cunning and single-mindedness, without falling for GLaDOS' tricks.
It's not often you see a non-white protagonist in any video-game, either, let alone a lady. Chell shows tenacity, strength and awesomeness, wrapped up in a very different package — without ever showcasing her cleavage.
Fable 2: Lady Hero
Not everyone agrees with me on this point, but I was enthralled by my avatar in Fable 2. My focus was Strength, because I'm a sucker for a good hand-to-hand melee and, as the game progressed, she got muscled. I took to referring to her as Barda and gloried in her massive shoulders — it was a giddying feeling of power. "Oh!" I realised some time later. "This is how men must feel when they play physically strong characters!" Except, maybe not, because bulky male characters are hardly a novelty.
Beyond Good & Evil: Jade
Armed with her trusty camera, photojournalist Jade cares for truth, justice and her strange alien friends. She has a massive heart, taking care of orphans left behind by aliens called the DomZ, who have been attacking her home planet of Hillys for many years. But don't let that fool you: she's tough as nails and, when she finds out about a human trafficking ring, will stop at nothing to bring it down.
You can't see it in the photo, but she is wearing pants. And sensible shoes. Sensible shoes, everyone. Until you've spent at least four hours in stilettos, you just can't understand.
Mirror's Edge: Faith Connors
(Credit: Electronic Arts)
Faith Connors is a Runner — that is, an illegal courier working for an underground rebel operation against a totalitarian government. That takes guts, that does. She's good at it, too, parkour-ing her way around the city to avoid the authorities — but when she does run into them, she's no slouch at getting out of a sticky situation, either. She manages to single-handedly rescue her sister, taking down the City's surveillance systems in the process, before escaping to Whereabouts Unknown.
Plus, she's rocking the pants-sensible-shoes-non-white thing, too.
Superbrothers: Sword & Sworcery EP: The Scythian
(Credit: Capybara Games)
Known only as The Scythian, the heroine of Superbrothers: Sword & Sworcery EP isn't even immediately recognisable as a woman — upon realising that she was, I had a little frisson of delight. She's the toughest person around, on a mission to destroy the terrifying Gogolithic Mass — and she remains firm in her purpose, slaying monsters and protecting the innocent along the way, even though achieving it will result in the ultimate personal sacrifice.
Very few games are as beautiful as Okami. It is styled on Japanese ink-painting and combines action RPG and puzzle gameplay elements. The protagonist is Ameratsu, the goddess of the Sun, who takes the form of a gorgeous white wolf with magical painting powers that can be used to solve puzzles or defeat enemies. Her job is to heal the devastation left behind by a marauding demon — and eventually defeat the demon itself.
Interestingly, Amaterasu was definitively female in the Japanese and European (and Australian) versions of the game; but the North American version stripped the game of any reference to gender — which is strange. Maybe they thought sales would be hurt if players knew the all-powerful badass wolf-god was a lady.
Silent Hill 3: Heather Mason
What I like about Heather Mason is that she's so ordinary. She wears a hoodie, loves her (adopted) dad and looks like someone you might actually know. When thrust into extraordinary circumstances, though, Heather does more than survive — she prevails. When staggering zombie-monsters try to kill her, she lays them out with a pipe. When forced to question everything she thought she knew about herself, she girds her loins and refuses to give in. But, because she's an ordinary girl, it's hard work for her. She is frightened and alone, and her struggle is very real. She may not have the toughness of some of the other protagonists here, but Heather Mason is absolutely human and eminently relatable.
Tomb Raider: Lara Croft
(Credit: Eidos Interactive)
She's been through some pretty silly iterations, and many eyebrows have been raised at the upcoming 2013 game. Even in the Game Boy Color title, her tiny 16-bit bosom bounced with every step. I'm not entirely OK with the way some games have treated her, but Lara Croft is still an iconic tough-girl, jiggle-physics notwithstanding. Let's do an experiment: Google image search for "Lara Croft" and you'll notice that, in pretty much every image, Lara is either doing something awesome or striking a pose like she's just about to do something awesome. No passivity here: she's an action hero, with everything that implies — she shoots dinosaurs and performs feats of agility, strength and endurance that put Indiana Jones to shame.
Perfect Dark: Joanna Dark
Wanna know why Joanna Dark was code-named "Perfect"? Because she aced every training test the Carrington Institute threw at her. That's right, she out-performed every single other operative ever. And there aren't a lot of ladies out there starring in first-person shooter games. She's reserved, sure, but killingly competent. She's been billed a lady James Bond (sans philandering), due to her inventiveness and efficiency. Back when the game was first released in 2000, a character of this type was virtually unheard of. Her design was conservative, wearing body armour and short hair, in keeping with her role as a combat operative.
Metroid: Samus Aran
Remember that moment at the end of 1986's original Metroid, when Samus climbs out of her suit? Gamers around the world were stunned. Here was this hero, wearing amazing armour, killing aliens and generally being about as hard-core as it was possible to get ... and she was a lady?! Although she has since gone on to be mostly lauded as one of the "hottest game babes", I'll never forget the feeling that a girl could be one of the toughest heroes around, too.
I'm probably going to get a bit of flak for this one, but I love Bayonetta. She's tall, sexy and wears awesome glasses. Her shoes are guns and she doesn't take nonsense from anyone. She has sass. She does what she wants, looks how she wants and wears what she wants, and woe betide anyone who takes issue with that. She is very sexualised, it's true — but she owns it. She's aware of it, and she doesn't care. She'll whup you eight ways from Sunday and rock that catsuit, without giving one damn for how anyone else feels about it.
Kya: Dark Lineage
I think I'm the only person I know who played this game, and boy did I enjoy it. It was tremendous fun. I loved that a waifish, dreadlocked girl (I had dreadlocks at the time it came out) was the hero of the story, rescuing a boy in distress — her brother. Obviously caring, slightly sarcastic and able to kick monster butt into next Wednesday, I thought Kya was the kind of girl I'd be happy to have as my new best friend.
And I've only just noticed that (with the exception of Fable 2), not a single protagonist on this list has a romance sub-plot.
I don't speak for everyone, of course, but one thing will reel me in every time — make your lady the toughest, strongest, fastest, smartest kid on the block and I'll be in.