The characters in video games today are a lot different than they were 30 years ago. The obvious difference is they aren’t huge pixel blobs with a somewhat identifiable shape, but the most important thing is that now, they are more like people. For a generation of young gamers, they have had the pleasure of growing up playing games where a woman could not only be the lead character but have a solid backstory and outdo the boys instead of just trying to keep up.
It isn’t that uncommon for many younger women and girls today to identify with their favorite female characters in video games more strongly than actual actors who have played roles on television or the movies. There are good and evil characters, with all shades in between. Whatever the scenario is, most games now include at least one strong female character that is more than just window dressing to appeal to women gamers.
Aya from Assassin’s Creed Origins is one of the best female characters in gaming. She may even be the most interesting character in the series, even surpassing Ezio. Her husband, Bayek, is a solid character, but it is Aya that has the best story. She breaks with all conventional norms to start her order of assassins when she leaves Bayek and ensures that her order only kills those who truly deserve death. Her character wants nothing to do with spilling blood just because it can be done. Her story makes her strong, independent, and resourceful, which is why she is so popular among many younger women, as discussed at Assassin’s Creed.
Senua in Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice is such a unique and wonderfully constructed character that playing her is a challenge that differs from what gamers will find almost anywhere else. Senua is slowly going mad, but she isn’t so far gone that she can’t be saved. As the player, you guide her on the road to redemption. It is a dark and introspective journey, but rather than being a downer, it is amazingly engaging, providing glimpses into what it is like to live and cope with mental illness that no other game has done as well. Her journey is powerful, and the narrative is equally strong, making her a must-play character.
In Mass Effect, Commander Shepard is unlike any other character in gaming and one of the most popular among young women in any genre. Shepard can be a male or female, but what makes the character special is that there is total gender equality. If you play Shepard as a female, she gets all the same choices to work through the story that a male Shepard does. The character is always facing some sort of catastrophe, betrayal, loss, and even death, but always pulls through it. Shepard is one of the most unique, and not only powerful characters in gaming, but s/he is empowering to play as well because there is never a limitation placed on Ripley based on gender roles and norms. According to SyFy, gaming needs more characters like Commander Shepard.
In Dishonored 2, Emily Kaldwin is the grown-up version of the child appearing in Dishonored. By making her a playable character in the sequel, gamers get to play the game out through her eyes, which is how it really should be since the story is hers. She is super to play as far as what she can deliver as an action-based character, but what gives her real depth and dimension is the way she was written. They gave her doubt in her abilities to lead but matched it with the determination to press on as long and hard as is needed. As much as any character in gaming, Kaldwin is human and easy to relate to as well as very playable.
It goes without saying that Lara Croft of the Tomb Raider series has a spot here. It is this character that really paved the way for all the others listed here and in play today. In the ’90s, no one was really making games with a female lead that could do anything the male characters, and often better. Over time, she has gone from being an overly-buxom adventurer, to where she is in the latest reboot as a still sexy, but sharp as a tack, hardened adventurer that is never in a bind she can’t escape. As the iconic female character in gaming for better than a decade, Lara Croft is one of the best.
There are plenty of great female characters to play not listed here, including Cassandra from Dragon Age Inquisition, and Celes Chere in Final Fantasy VI. These characters are so well developed and enjoyable to play, that it isn’t just female gamers that should be giving them a go, guys should too because a good story and character transcend gender.