She's somebody's hero
Much has been said about women in games over the last few years, usually loudly and with awe-inspiring amounts of vitriol. As the diversity of the gaming market continues to expand and more people take interest in the medium, the call for more women who are more than glassy-eyed dolls or extensions of the main male character (you know, like actual women) has become more intense.
Some developers struggle to pull it off, some insist curves and personality are too difficult to do at once, and some are too busy tweaking their jiggle physics engines to notice. But others have made serious strides toward creating believable women who are every bit as heroic and inspirational as their male counterparts, and just as we give kudos to Master Chief and Gordon Freeman for inspiring us to be awesome, these ladies deserve to be celebrated too. Here you have the 20 most inspirational female characters in gaming, who push us to be better by being so great themselves. You go, ladies!
Yuna (Final Fantasy X)
JRPGs love the gentle healer archetype. A quiet and helpful character who lives to support the team, she (and it's almost always 'she') doesn't fare very well on her own, and unfortunately ends up looking weak and useless as a result. Yuna's been slapped with that label before, dubbed a dispassionate damsel with little to offer. Apparently the folks making that claim forget this girl puts the smackdown on anyone who gets in her way, whether it's bands of kidnappers, a diabolical suitor, or a god she's worshiped her entire life. Screw iron, Yuna has a will of diamond, and a desire to achieve her goals no matter what it takes.
Part of her conviction certainly comes from her time as a summoner, when she went through grueling training to make powerful magic beasts appear out of thin air using nothing but her mind. But even when the doctrine she grew up with turns out to be a lie and everyone she's trying to protect turns against her, she chooses to carve her own path and refuses to give up on what she knows is right. As they say, speak softly and carry a big staff, and Yuna does that with flourish. Yes. That's how that saying goes.
Lara Croft (Tomb Raider)
Obvious, right? Well, theres a reason for that. Although Lara started life as a rather generously proportioned Indiana Jones substitute, after her gender was changed part way through development of the original Tomb Raider, she quickly established herself as the go-to female gaming icon. Why? Because of a lack of competition--back in the 90s, women protagonists were rarer than rocking-horse dung.
Since then, Lara has gone through several transformations. Some Tomb Raiders miss the point completely, overly sexualising Lara and making her sassy, but the most recent reboot showcases the strongest, most modern Lara Croft. Its this iteration that earns the spot in this feature. Laras mental toughness and drive stands out most, although her ability to drive an arrow through her enemys retinas is pretty (straightens tie) eye-catching too.
Cassandra (Dragon Age: Inquisition)
The devout Cassandra takes a serious blow to her faith when she least expects it, and the hits just keep on coming. The death of her dear friend Divine Justinia would've been enough belief-battering for a lifetime, but that catastrophe only sweeps the dust off previously unknown horrors which threaten her very identity as a Templar and Seeker. While the reasonable reaction to that much tragedy would be to abandon one's faith and take up a new career as a bitter mountain hermit, Cassandra doesn't have time for reasonable. She has a Chantry to rebuild, because she's seen the good inside and knows it's worth fighting for.
While Cassandra can often come off as stubborn and unmovable, one of her main strengths is knowing when to hold fast and when to be willing to bend. She's shaken by the rapid decline of the Chantry, but never tries to deny its failings or abandon it, instead seeking to repair what she believes is broken. She's also the first to root out injustice where it lives, and almost single-handedly calls for the Inquisition while everyone else is too dizzy to think. Cassandra's an unstoppable storm, but one with a calm and quiet eye, too.
Ellie (The Last of Us)
Like Lara, Ellie is a survivor; a product of her environment. While she could easily have been designed as a damsel in distress, used to reinforce the surrogate father / daughter relationship in The Last of Us, Naughty Dog was smart enough to dodge such simple stereotyping. Its not Ellies capacity to kill that marks her out as a strong female character, but her ability to accept the world thats falling apart around her.
Ellie is one of the most modern, realistic characters ever designed--regardless of gender. Obviously, theres no telling how humanity would react in the face of a fungal apocalypse, but as with any situation, those who grow up knowing nothing different will normalise the world around them no matter how alien it may seem to everyone else. Ellie does that with aplomb.
Aveline de Grandpre (Assassin's Creed Liberation)
The first lady to bear the title of Main Character in an Assassin's Creed game, Aveline more than lives up to the legacy of the Assassins that came before. A woman of mixed parentage living in New Orleans at a time when that family history could (and almost does) get her sold into slavery, Aveline isn't above putting herself in perilous situations to fight the oppression rotting her city.
One of the ways she accomplishes her goal is through a series of disguises that can get her access to anything she desires, from the holding cells of the downtrodden to the halls of high society. While some players have been quick to point out that this amounts to her playing dress-up, each outfit has strategic advantages and disadvantages, and she uses all three to great effect. While she can easily climb in a target's window and put a knife through their throat, she can also gather information from their household while posing as a slave, or ruin them socially and financially through the family business. She's a triple-threat, and that's before she starts to mix-and-match her skills between personas. You gotta love a lady who can kill someone with a parasol gun without even putting down her drink.
Clementine (The Walking Dead)
It says a lot when an eight-year-old girl is so much more capable than any of the adults in her general vicinity that they all turn to her for leadership. Fighting through every snarling, decomposing obstacle that gets in her way, Clementine never, ever, ever, ever gives up on the fight to survive, and the Ice Bucket Challenge would probably give you fewer chills than hearing her say, "Still. Not. Bitten."
Not that Clementine's some fearless automaton that exists outside the realm of human emotion and struggle. It's immediately clear in season one how defenseless she is, and while she does contribute to the group, she still relies heavily on Lee to defend her and makes some emotionally-charged decisions that threaten her survival. But that just makes her more inspirational, showing her growth into someone strong and capable over the course of season two. No matter the trials or the odds she faces, she fights through the pain and never lets her resolve waver. Man, I wanna be like her when I grow up.
Alyx Vance (Half-Life 2)
If Gordon Freeman is the strong silent type, then Alyx Vance is his perfect--more vocal--female counterpart. Shes an exceptionally well realised character that perfectly dodges the simpering support role, while still retaining emotional depth. Sure, shes seen and done some serious killing, but you never get the feeling that shes lost connection with her own humanity. There are some wonderfully tender scenes between both her and her father, and Gordon himself.
Not only that, but she behaves like a normal human being. Many female characters are just convenient narrative devices used to push the story forward, making their behaviour seem less than natural, but everything Alyx does and says has both context and meaning. More like her, please.
At first glance, youd be forgiven for lumping Bayonetta into the male fantasy group of female video game characters. She is impossibly-well proportioned, overly sexualised, and tends to get naked. A lot. Thing is, all the sexy stuff is played for laughs, and once you strip that away (haha etc) theres a well-rounded character lurking beneath it all.
Then theres the fact that Bayonetta is a begrudging, but caring 'mother' figure. Instead of coddling her offspring, though, she keeps her daughter (well, er, it's not actually her daughter, it's really a younger version of Bayonetta herself, which creates an interesting paradox and oh my I've lost the thread of where I was going with this...) safe without shielding her from the (admittedly bizarre) dangers within the game. Look, no-ones saying Bayonetta is a classic female role model, but she manages to be realistically inspirational in a very unreal game.
Jaina Proudmoore (World of Warcraft)
Jaina Proudmoore is a lot of things: highborne, headstrong, so skilled with magic she can wipe your entire neighborhood off the map if you give her sass. But one thing she's not is particularly lucky. Her childhood love turns out to be kind of a monster (even before he becomes a shell for an undead demon king), her father seems intent on ruining her attempts at diplomacy, and her dead enemies have a nasty habit of climbing out of their graves. But if only one word describes her, its 'determined'.
While Jaina is certainly distraught when Arthas falls under the weight of his own corruption and her father can't see past his own pride, she refuses to let either define her life or hold her back. Instead, as a sorceress of immeasurable power, she directs her talents toward changing the world for the better, creating safe havens for the oppressed and working with Thrall to build trust between the Horde and the Alliance. She is also an incredible badass, and when the Horde turns on her and destroys what she holds dear? They couldn't run fast or far enough to escape to hell she brings down on their heads. No passive princess here.
Celes Chere (Final Fantasy VI)
It's clear that Celes would've been happy with a simple life in service to the Empire, and its hard to blame her. A skilled fighter and decorated general of the Imperial army by age 18, all she had to do was toe the party line, and she'd have nothing but a life of prosperity and esteem ahead of her. She'd have to take part in some incredible human atrocities as the Empire killed its way across the world, but that's a small price to pay for glory. Except she rejects that notion and gives up everything to fight back against the Empire's oppression and protect the people she loves.
Granted, she does retain a degree of loyalty to the Empire even after she's joined the Returners, and does betray her friends on one infamous occasion. But ultimately this just makes her feel more human, and makes her struggle to do what's right even more admirable. How easy would it have been to kill her friends when they're at their weakest and rule the world at the Emperor's right hand? The answer is very, so when Celes turns around and puts a knife in Kefka's chest instead, you know there are no ulterior motives. She just knows it's the right thing to do, and she does it no matter the personal cost.
Amanda Ripley (Alien Isolation)
Cowering in a corner isnt the typical behavior of an inspirational hero, and since Amanda Ripley spends a whole lot of time doing just that, you'd think that would get her disqualified from joining from the Badass Heroes club. Sorry, let me rephrase: you'd think that if you knew nothing about Ripley and her terrifying adventures in Sevastopol, where staying hidden for a second more can be the difference between making it to the exit and being eaten alive. When Ripley takes cover, it's not a sign of weakness, but a will to survive, and she's got plenty of it to make it through that hellhole.
Not that all Ripley has on her side is non-squeak soles and a compact frame. She also has the intelligence and skills of a master engineer, and knows how to use any scrap of material she can find to her advantage. MacGuyvering weapons and tools on the fly while being mercilessly hunted, she survives on the back of her own brilliance and ability to keep her cool, even when she's staring at a murderous android through the slits in a locker door. The next time you're taking a tough exam or preparing for an interview or defusing a bomb, just ask yourself What Would Ripley Do?
Commander Shepard (Mass Effect)
In a way, Shepard is the ultimate example of equality in games. Regardless of gender, Shep is offered the same options and takes the same route towards saving man-kind from the Reapers during the course of Mass Effects story. The choices arent made on Shepards behalf by gender stereotypes--theyre made by the player. Even character design presents a level playing field--each female Shepard is unique.
This equality would be nothing if Shep was a total weasel, but he / she constantly shows strength and endurance in the face of adversity. In fact adversity is too soft a term: 'catastrophe' is often closer to the truth. Shepard experiences loss, betrayal, bad press, and even death during Mass Effect, but fights through it to the bitter end. Regardless of gender, Shep is a proper gaming hero.
Titanfall pilots (Titanfall)
Most of the wondrous women are on this list because of how much they stand out. Titanfall's female pilots, on the other hand, are here for the opposite reason: they perfectly blend in. In a world where chainmail bras and armor-free midriffs are Still A Thing, a well-dressed and capable soldier who just happens to be female is a breath of fresh ozone, and they can bring the pain just like anyone else.
While that isn't to say that a lady can't be powerful and feminine - I refer you again to Aveline's assassination by parasol - it's all about the context in which she exists. Is she hunting down a mark in a dance club and has to look the part? Belly shirts and high heels all the way! But in a warzone where the bulkiness of your armor is directly proportional to how strong you are, metal go-go boots and form-fitting chest plates just say you're not meant to be taken seriously. Titanfall knows that and outfits its incredible ladies accordingly, proving that what's below your belt buckle has nothing to do with your military skill. It makes you wish you were nearly as cool as them, and isn't that kind of what inspirational means?
Major Greenland (Battlefield 4)
Hang on who the hell is Major Greenland? I hear you ask. Shes the commander of the US base in the Old Town (Tashgar) level, and she appears for all of 3 minutes in a couple of separate cut-scenes. In that time, though, she steals the show by demonstrating how completely in control of her own troops she is. Shes probably the toughest, most commanding character in a game full of ridiculously macho men.
Its not just cheap stereotyping either. Greenland isnt over-written or grotesquely butch--shes just an unfortunate officer who has been handed another shitty, under-resourced assignment. The fact that she does her duty with a foul-mouth and lashings of dry humour is the icing on the cake.
GlaDos (Portal 2)
While Chell is the female hero of the Portal series, its GlaDos who stands out as the stronger character. Look, Chell doesnt even speak. Yes, you can interpret her actions as strong given that she defies instruction in both games and acts on survival instinct, but that just makes her human. GlaDos, on the other hand, gives us more to admire.
GlaDos is smart enough to bide her time when shes turned into a potato-clock by Wheatley, and rebellious enough to go against her programming when its needed. Between both GlaDos and Chell, Portal sends the message that its only human to challenge norms and authority, and that makes the pair of them a very compelling female duo.
Faith (Mirror's Edge)
Faith is a character of few words, but plenty of actions usually involving death-defying free-running that would make most people feel a little queasy with vertigo. Theres little doubting her physical strength and toughness, and its telling that DICE chose to make her gender a non-issue by making the game first-person. While playing Mirrors Edge, you could equally be controlling a man.
Throw in Faiths healthy disrespect for a corrupt government, and her willingness to stick up for weaker characters while putting her own life at risk, and its safe to say shes a first-class female protagonist.
Samus Aran (Metroid)
One of the greatest tricks Nintendo ever pulled was convincing the world it doesn't exist. Hang on, wrong cultural reference. One of the greatest tricks it did pull was keeping Samus gender a total secret right until the end of Metroid. And not just the regular ending either--you need to finish the game under pretty harsh conditions to earn the knowledge. Or you can just look on YouTube, I guess.
Back in 1986, female protagonists were super-scarce, which perhaps explains why Nintendo kept Samus gender ambiguous. On the one hand, it could be a statement about how women shouldnt be treated differently to men in games. On the other, it could well have been a ploy to avoid alienating a group of players accustomed to seeing leading men in games. In reality, its probably a mixture of both.
Kate Archer (No One Lives Forever)
Theres no shortage of girly tropes in No One Lives Forever (lipstick explosive devices, anyone?), but protagonist Kate Archer proves that female leads dont need to ditch their femininity to be taken seriously. Shes a strangely comfortable half-way house between James Bond and Austin Powers, meaning she can quite happily mix the light hearted stuff with more serious terrorist-fragging.
By more modern gaming standards, No One Lives Forever is a little hammy. Itd be great to see the series revived with a more up-to-date reboot, much like the latest Tomb Raider game. Sadly, thats hugely unlikely to happen.
Haruka (Yakuza series)
Given the often goofy nature of the Yakuza series (and a general trend for Japanese games to feature weaker women), it seems an odd place to find a compelling female character. However, while Kazuma Kiryu--series lead, and total badass--is the star of each game, he owes his life and humanity to his adopted daughter figure, Haruka.
While Kaz is away knocking 7 shades of shit out of his enemies, Haruka essentially runs the Sunshine Orphanage in Okinawa. She cares for kids who are barely younger than her, and the resulting mature outlook on life she gets from this allows her to offer Kazuma valuable advice throughout the Yakuza series. Sure, she sometimes plays the damsel in distress, but these moments of fragility only arise from her relationship with Kaz and her youth, not the strength of her character.
Samantha (Gone Home)
Samantha is the only character on this list who doesnt actually appear in a game at all. Players discover her story while exploring the family house as her sister in Gone Home. However, you actually learn more about Sam than your own character during the game, which probably makes her the real star.
And everything you discover points towards a strong female character, struggling against the rather old-fashioned attitudes of her family. No spoilers here (as the game isnt yet a year old and it has just been confirmed for console), but the way Samantha kicks back against society and the will of her parents is something to be admired.