Throughout videogame history, there have been female characters of various styles and genres. This is a list of the Top 5 female characters that have helped bring female equality to videogames in recent history.
Jade – Beyond Good and Evil (Ubisoft, 2003)
Jade is on this list for being the most realistic depiction of a female hero in recent history. Her character design had a goal of realism, breaking away from the common trope of chasing Lara Croft.
The story of her world greatly impacted who Jade was. She and her “uncle” took in orphans from an invading alien force. Jade was the first female videogame lead character to successfully change the classic trope of “average everyman steps up to save the world” to “everywoman”. She used her photography skills to earn money in order to support all of the children she could. The snowball effect of her photography led her on a journey to save the world. This story format has been in every form of entertainment for as long as there has been an entertainment industry. Jade was the first female videogame character to do it flawlessly, in an amazing/unique way, and it was a commercial failure.
The fact that Jade had all of the relatability that gamers wanted in a male character but still was not as popular exposed the gender classifications present in the videogame (and generally the entertainment) industry. Once the problem was identified, the videogame industry has been taking steps to correct it by including more female leads in big budget games. Jade stood alone in her class as a new female lead character, now there are many that she helped pave the way for. With another installment of Beyond Good and Evil in production, Jade is finally getting the attention that she deserves. People are now more accepting of female led videogames.
Jade is a well written character in the style of relatability that male characters have been capitalizing on for a long time but she does it in a more unique and better way. Now she is getting attention in a more accepting climate, which is a significant statement on current female and male equality in video games.
Sarah Kerrigan – StarCraft (Blizzard Entertainment, 1998)
It’s hard to think of any character that was dealt a worse situation than Sarah Kerrigan. Raised as a weapon since her childhood, she became a top-level assassin and second-in-command of the rebel uprising called Sons of Korhal. While on mission she was left for dead by her unit, including (reluctantly) her fiancé. Not only was she still alive, but the Zerg (bug-like aliens) captured her and mutated her into their new general. It doesn’t matter what gender you are, that sucks! What makes Kerrigan great is that her gender played a role in her character, but it did not define her. She was highly intelligent, skilled, tough, and motivated. So much so, that even after she was mutated, she eventually became the Overmind (Ruler) of all the Zerg! So to recap, she was second-in-command of the good guys, gets captured, then becomes ruler of the bad guys.
Kerrigan is an example of gender playing an accent role in the story of a character and not a pillar. All of her other traits are what make Kerrigan great. Her morality in refusing to use the Zerg against their enemies showed her confidence as well. Her brutality as the Overmind showed how formidable a foe she actually was.
Sarah Kerrigan is a deep character for any medium. Her success shows that well written characters don’t need to rely on their gender, but adding it in as an accent helps paint a complete picture of the character.
Chun-Li – Street Fighter (Capcom, 1991)
Chun-Li is on the list for not only being the most well know female fighter in all of videogame history, but also for being equal to her male counterparts in her abilities and superior in her backstory in a time where fighting games had little to no backstory at all. She got her start as “the” female character in Street Fighter II: The World Warrior, but has always been equal to all the male characters.
As basic as the first fighting games character backstories were, Chun-Li was the only character with a true motivation. She was an ICPO (Interpol) detective from China seeking to avenge her father whereas all of the other fighters were basically just fighting to determine who the best was. The final boss M-Bison is believed to be the one to have murdered her father. The fight to reach him becomes a motivated journey for the player.
Her attacks range from simple to complex making her many first time players choice (next to E-Honda) and once the player understands the mechanics, she can become nearly unbeatable. Chun-Li has become a staple of the franchise and has become just as recognizable (if not more) as any of the other fighters.
Chun-Li proves that women can be just as tough as men without losing their femininity. She also pushed fighting games in general to provide their characters with more of a motivation and story in order to engage the player further.
Lara Croft -Tomb Raider (Core Design/Eidos Interactive, 1996)
Lara Croft is the most famous female character in videogames. If you are reading this, you already know that. Tomb Raider was a massively successful game that pushed the limits of the PlayStation in 1996. The playability of the game overshadowed the gender bias of women in videogames and allowed everyone to enjoy Lara’s adventures. Players flocked to the game for its complex puzzles, graphical capabilities (at the time), and Lara’s sex appeal.
As the years went by, the culture of female videogame characters changed. More and more females were being recognized by production companies as a viable market. Lara became less sexualized and directed at a broader audience. Today female characters are leading major titles (Horizon Zero Dawn, Mirror’s Edge, Final Fantasy, etc.) and that would not have been possible without characters like Lara Croft. Not to mention her impact on the entertainment industry in general! Currently she stars in 15 videogames, a 50 issue comic book series (and cameos in Top Cow Productions comics), 2 novels, 1 web series, and 3 Hollywood movies making her a household name.
Society now recognizes that female characters are just as capable of staring in entertainment as anyone else. From her origins as a physically sexualized female character, to the now survivalist with a brilliant knowledge of the world, she has grown with the times and shows no sign of slowing down.
Lara Croft is a major factor regarding female characters in any and all forms of entertainment, and by expansion, life.
Samus Aran – Metroid (Nintendo, 1986)
Metroid (Nintendo, 1986) was an influential game on the entire industry. The milestones of this game include unlockable abilities, vast level exploration, and not to mention an ending that shocked everyone! Samus Aran is the most badass bounty hunter in the galaxy. Throughout the game Samus is alone but not in need of anyone’s help, even when faced with tremendous odds. After the player completes the game it is revealed that Samus Aran is a woman! This was the most powerful moment in video games for women. Not only was the main character a woman, but the game was amazing on its own and never need to use the character’s gender as a plot device. Metroid proves that gender should not matter when it comes to characters, and by extension, that it shouldn’t matter when it comes to how people are treated.
The messages on gender don’t stop there though! A secret unlock allows the player to play the game with Samus in a bikini. This objectification is a double-entendre. On the one hand, it sexualizes Samus for no reason other than the fact that she is a woman. On the other hand, that sexualization expresses that even when a character is as badass as Samus is defined as a woman she is sexualized and all other attributes that make her who she is are minimized in comparison.
Samus Aran is more than just another videogame character, she is a statement about women’s equality and how women are objectified regardless of their abilities.
Zelda -The Legend of Zelda
Ciri -The Witcher
Joanna Dark -Perfect Dark
Aya Brea -Parasite Eve
Faith Connors -Mirror’s Edge
Jill Valentine -Resident Evil