Female representation in videogames has been a popular topic in recent times. The question of how they’re being portrayed, or if they’re even being portrayed at all, has prompted me to think about who my favorite female videogames characters are. But that made me realize I actually had two different answers. Do I pick my favorite examples of female characters in videogames, or do I simply choose my favorite characters who happen to be female? (And is it bad that those are two separate things?)
Well, why not cover both? For this first part, I will discuss my favorite examples of characters that I think represent a positive and appealing portrayal of females in videogames.
I’ll set the simple guideline that the character must be playable in the videogame series she originated from.
Jade (Beyond Good & Evil)
The protagonist of creator Michel Ancel’s unfinished symphony is truly a universal hero. While she’s not a blank slate like, say, Link from The Legend of Zelda, her personality is very easy to relate to. She’s down to earth (or Hillys, or whatever), and she’s a smart character with good motives that probably match with the player’s.
Her appearance mirrors her universal appeal, as she doesn’t seem to embody any particular ethnicity. She could be black, white, Asian or Latino, and certainly she’s been interpreted in each of those ways. But most of all, she’s just a cool character design that manages to be attractive without being hypersexualized.
It’s a testament to the appeal of her character that fans have been clamoring for a sequel to her lone game for more than a decade. More than just having another adventure, I think players want to step into the shoes of a character like Jade once again.
April Ryan (The Longest Journey)
When I first played the cult classic adventure game The Longest Journey, April almost immediately reminded me of Jade. They have so many similar qualities that they feel like long lost sisters.
April is just a regular student trying to make her way through college, working a crummy job, and dealing with the creep across the hall who’s always hitting on her. But eventually, she realizes her destiny is much greater, and she struggles to come to grips with it as she gets swept up in an epic adventure that sees her shifting between two different realities. She’s easy to empathize with, being a smart, grounded character even when her world gets completely flipped on its head.
Sadly, I’ve never been able to finish The Longest Journey, as I’ve ended up having technical problems the two times I’ve tried. So, I’ve also never played the sequels in which April appears, but is not the main character. Still, from what I was able to play, she’s definitely an appealing character that I warmed up to immediately.
Samus Aran* (Metroid)
I include Samus here with an asterisk because while she was definitely a pioneering character for her time, things have gotten a little more complicated in recent years. Still, I think she’s definitely worth mentioning for her positive attributes.
Samus was one of the first strong female leads in a game, and with her appearance being concealed by a space suit at the time, most people didn’t even realize she was a woman. But she came across as cool, capable and independent without (for the most part) being overly sexualized, and for a long time, she was the gold standard for how a female protagonist should be portrayed in videogames.
Of course, I have to address the “reward” at the end of most classic Metroid games in which Samus is shown to the player without her suit and, well, wearing very little else. I can forgive that bit of hypocrisy, though, because it was still far better than a lot of what else was out there for quite a while.
With the character having taken some unfortunate missteps in recent years, Samus has been surpassed by better examples. But she deserves credit for being an early pioneer, and female videogame characters might not have come as far as they have without her.
Honorable Mention: Alis Landale (Phantasy Star)
This is only an honorable mention because I’ve never actually played Phantasy Star. However, I’ve always found Alis to be a pretty impressive character considering that not only is she a female main character in an RPG from the ’80s (and a groundbreaking one at that), but she’s fully dressed, even wearing armor and everything! That makes her nearly as much a pioneer as Samus Aran, though unfortunately far less recognized.