The lights are on
Power Member - Level 7
This piece goes out to the Junior girls of a good acquaintance's health class. Pardon me while I elaborate, but rest assured that it's worth a laugh.
A lovely experience came my way over both the internet and the short space of a friend's living room. Upon realizing we had enough gaming capable PCs on hand, four other friends and I decided a StarCraft II LAN party should commence. We're all amateurs. There was live streaming, there was embarrassment, and people discovered how hard it is to do commentary with all the players in the same room. There was oddly no alcohol.
After my collaborator Grethade uploaded the evidence or our silliness, an online friend who shall be known as Coach ended up watching it… during free time in class. In no time, he'd gathered a gaggle of students interested in seeing how the match played out, so with his finger on the mute button, betting commenced. Gambling over money in school would be in ill taste, so they bet on the right to demand "Any Time Push-Ups" of their losing peers and Coach. Apparently the my friend was banking on me, and was rewarded with the joy of making a young man do push-ups in the middle of the cafeteria lunch line, the loss a symptom of not thinking a girl could beat the guys.
Though for the record, I'm a "girl" that's been gaming for 15 years at the time of this writing.
A few young men making their bets based on the gender of the gamer is… a hint at a bigger topic for another time. As I said, this is for the girls of that class that asked their Coach to put a question to me: what game has the strongest positive female character?
As easy as it would be to prattle off the first name that came to mind, I sat down to write up something a little more detailed. All of us look for role models in our media when growing up, and I'm happy to report that while gaming does see its saddening share of poor portrayals of women, there are some great ladies out there in our games. This is far from a comprehensive list as it only contains games I've played. Hopefully there's enough here for any up and coming gamer (or their parents) to find at least one game to their taste, thus the inclusion of genres and ratings.
First up: games where the pre-determined protagonist is a woman.
April Ryan - The Longest Journey
(Third Person Adventure/Puzzle) (M for Mature)
From confused college student to "Shifter," April Ryan had more transitions in her life than just moving away from home. Discovering a whole new world parallel to the one she knows by also learning she's one of the few that can make the jump between them, April quickly finds she bears a lot more responsibilities then she thought possible. Led to believe herself Guardian of the Balance, the fate of two worlds are on the line. The fine line between science and magic relies on her, lest they combine and be abused as they were in the old days when "Stark" and "Arcadia" were not separated by the Divide.
Chell - Portal series
(First Person Puzzle/Platformer) (Ranging from E for Everyone to T for Teen)
She wasn't the smartest or the strongest test subject trapped in Aperture Laboratories when it was locked down, but Chell was the most tenacious. Not much is known about her. Implications litter the little nooks and crannies of The Enrichment Center implying she was the daughter of an employee, trapped with the rest while still young, at some point evaluated, and deemed an unsuitable subject for testing. A woman that doesn't give up is a danger to a system designed to end in failure, making Chell the last hope of the stranded without her even knowing it. The only certainty? The cake is a lie.
Jade - Beyond Good & Evil
(Action/Adventure) (T for Teen)
In the poor districts of Hillys, war is a constant. The head of a local orphanage, Jade protects the children not only from the threat of the DomZ, but also guards them against the more mundane threats of the world by keeping the power on and putting food on the table. Spearheading "Jade Reporting & Co," her most valuable weapon is a camera. As an investigative journalist, Jade has the potential to do more then crack heads: the truth could do more to end a war then any fight ever could.
Kate Walker - Syberia series
(Third Person Adventure/Puzzle) (T for Teen)
Sometimes you don't need to fight at all to be someone's hero. Kate Walker was just a lawyer and a good one at that, but when an assignment sends her chasing the heir to the Voralberg estate across half of Europe, it forces a person to take a hard look at their life. Chasing a man many thought crazy, players get the chance to see not only the melancholy remains of many people's dreams, but also get the chance to see those fantasies resurrected. In the best portrayal of a mid-life crisis I've seen in a video game (yet still a favorite when I was young), Walker is an engaging character is how she is forced to question if she's truly happy with her life, what more she could be doing with it, and what is really important. If a mad man could leave a trail of inventions that bring so many so much joy, what good might a little chaos do her?
Lara Croft - Tomb Raider series
(Third Person Action/Platformer) (Ranging from E for Everyone to M for Mature)
While somewhat controversial when taking her entire history into account, Lara Croft truly did throw open the door for female protagonists in games a long time ago on an original Playstation far, far away. There were ups and down… the media loved her, but her proportions were ridiculous. She was a strong character, but seemed to be made up of nothing but quippy one liners. The former Tomb Raiders were cheesy, but they were fun in much the same way an action film is. All that changed in early 2013. Lara has always been a character people could look to to break barriers and a new one was shattered when the series was rebooted. Going from a character that was simply entertaining to one gamers could truly feel for was an arduous journey, but a good one. I'll always have a soft spot for the old days of laughing as I tumbled around the feet of a T-Rex, but nothing quite beats this new college grad turned hardened survivor that just wouldn't give up on the people she cared about even in the face of impossible (and sometimes supernatural) odds.
Nariko - Heavenly Sword
(Third Person Hack and Slash) (T for Teen)
Scantily clad she may be… but Nariko is one character whose capabilities players will never have to question. Many of us have found ourselves on the outside looking in, and it makes her all the more relatable a character. Born on the day a boy savior was prophesied to be delivered in a divine birth, Nariko stood as a violation to her people's very religion and all theirs hopes, and so grew up a reviled outcast. In the end she is willing to tolerate them, defy them, and even bleed for them because in the end they don't deserve the war at their door despite the injustices they heaped on her over the years. While the supporting cast and villains aren't nearly as well fleshed out, Nariko is a character that stands apart not as some cliche prophesied savior but rather as a woman willing to write her own destiny regardless of the disapproval of others, and comes out the better person for it.
Sarah Kerrigan - StarCraft II: Heart of the Swarm
(Real-Time Strategy) (T for Teen)
Through much of the StarCraft series, Sarah Kerrigan's character was very much defined by others. A powerful psychic whose memory was wiped, trained to kill, liberated, then used and betrayed by her rescuers, it's ironic that she didn't have much of a chance to make many decisions for herself until she was overrun by the aliens known as the Zerg. As she began to return to herself, she didn't flee the Zerg… instead, she took control of them. Kerrigan is a good character, but not what most people would think of as a good person. While not the most noble motivation, an awful lot of fans will be disappointed if she doesn't get her revenge by the end of Heart of the Swarm.
Zoë Castillo - Dreamfall: The Longest Journey
A college dropout trapped in the limbo of indecision, Zoë is one of those characters you'd think would grate on your nerves if it weren't for how genuinely voiced she is and how relatable her uncertainty. Eventually, circumstances call for action and she can't help but step up. When her former boyfriend, investigative journalist Reza Tamiz, goes missing she finds herself chasing down the story that may have been his undoing because, "I may not like the Zoë I'm turning into, but I would have hated the Zoë who just abandoned her best friend like that." Caught in a conspiracy spanning two worlds, that resolve will have to hold if she ever hopes to wake up.
Visit later for the next installment: whether giving a few preset options or letting you build a character from scratch, there are games that leave the choice in your hands as to who you're going to play. Man or woman, the experience is sometimes different, but never lesser.
This piece was originally published on Newbcast Gaming. If you like my work, please support a small site and read it there first!