Last week, I celebrated International Women’s Day by sharing a list of five awesome female protagonists in video games, characters who lead their games with the strength and style that make us gamer girls proud. Now I’d like to acknowledge five more female characters in video games who are just as amazing, even if they’re not the main characters of their games. Badass women come in many forms and character roles!
So continuing from last week’s theme, here are five more awesome female video game characters! Enjoy!
1) Princess Zelda (The Legend of Zelda series)
Link… You may not be at a point where you have fully recovered your power or all of your memories, but courage need not be remembered, for it is never forgotten. – Zelda before the final boss battle in Breath of the Wild
After Lara Croft and Samus Aran, Princess Zelda may be one of the most famous female video game characters of all time. Since the release of the first The Legend of Zelda in 1986, both Zelda and Link have undergone various incarnations, though a few traits remain the same across all games in the series: while Link is always a brave hero, Zelda is always a kind and wise ruler.
Though it’s easy to dismiss her as yet another princess akin to Mario’s damsels in distress, Princess Zelda has a lot more going for her than a pretty face. The mortal incarnation of the goddess Hylia, every Zelda is extremely benevolent and wields the Triforce of Wisdom, making her wise beyond her years and a highly capable leader of Hyrule. In fact, the reason she even needs rescuing in the first place is usually that she willingly sacrificed herself to protect her people, a selfless act that takes immeasurable strength. As Zelda clearly demonstrates, kindness is not weakness.
Of course, the beloved princess of Hyrule is not completely defenseless. Several of her incarnations have magical abilities that she often uses to seal away evil and help Link defeat Ganon. She also shows great intellectual prowess in Breath of the Wild, as several of Link’s memories of her reveal she was a curious and devoted scholar. Link may be the player character of the series, but there’s a good reason the games are named after Zelda!
2) Undyne (Undertale)
For the sake of the whole world… I, UNDYNE, will strike you down! You’re gonna have to try a little harder than THAT. – Undyne in the Genocide Route
Heck yeah, I’m Undertrash! Released by Toby Fox in 2015, the indie RPG Undertale took the world by storm for its unique take on video game violence and morality: the only way to “win” the game is by not killing anyone!
Sounds simple enough, right? Well, some characters make this harder than it seems, and the most notorious of all is the Captain of the Royal Guard, Undyne.
About halfway through the game, players are forced into a battle against this super-powerful fish monster, who by now has chased your human player character across a sizable stretch of the monster world. From this point on, it becomes clear that Undyne values justice and honor above all else: she offers you a spear for self-defense to make the battle fair, she lets you go when she no longer sees you as a threat, and she later admits that she was conflicted about fighting an innocent human but chose to do so for the greater good of all monsterkind. Heroes have to make tough choices!
Lucky for us that Undyne turns out to be so cool, because with her incredible fighting skills and sheer determination, she could easily kill us if she really wanted to. No wonder all the monster children look up to her!
3) GLaDOS (Portal)
Okay, look, we both said a lot of things that you’re going to regret. But I think we can put our differences behind us. For science. You monster. – GLaDOS after your “reunion”
Sing it with me! “This was a triumph…”
Okay, maybe the whole “The Cake is a Lie” meme has been overplayed, but GLaDOS is still one of my favorite video game villains ever. When a supercomputer is out to kill you, you at least want her to have a sense of humor about it!
The original Portal is very simplistic in its design: you play as a test subject named Chell navigating an empty lab with nothing but a portal gun and the voice of the AI GLaDOS to guide you. The game starts out as a series of fun puzzles as you progress through the test chambers, but takes a dark turn when GLaDOS’s true colors come to light—unless, you know, lowering test subjects into an incinerator was standard practice for Aperture Laboratories.
Despite her obvious psychopathy, GLaDOS has achieved fame as one of the most popular video game villains ever created. Her dry wit and sarcasm make for some hilarious one-liners, and the fact that she’s the only other character in the game besides the silent human protagonist amplifies her passive-aggressive nature to fill the entire game. She also seems to have a genuine interest in science and even shows some signs of admiration and affection for Chell by the end of Portal 2. To say their relationship is complicated is a bit of an understatement.
Thanks to the lovable personality behind her murderous tendencies, it’s only too easy to get attached to this sassy robotic serial killer. Indeed, the final encounter with GLaDOS is considered one of the hardest boss battles in video game history—not because it’s technically difficult, but because players are very conflicted about killing her, myself included. Can you say Stockholm syndrome?
4) Tracer (Overwatch)
Cheers, love! The cavalry’s here! – Tracer’s “character selection” catchphrase
Overwatch is so popular that even if you’ve never played the game yourself, you’ve almost definitely seen this character before. Though she’s part of a diverse cast of characters, each of whom is awesome in their own right, it’s easy to see why Tracer is the face of the game. Cheerful and badass make a lovable combination!
Born Lena Oxton, Tracer’s backstory reveals she was the youngest pilot in Overwatch’s experimental flight program. After an accident left her desynchronized from the flow of time, she was anchored back in the present by Winston’s chronal accelerator, which gave her the ability to speed up or slow down her own time at will. Talk about a cool superpower!
Even after Overwatch’s dissolution, Tracer continues to be a hero and fight for justice everywhere she goes. She is fearless and determined while always remaining positive and energetic. And to top it all off, she has a girlfriend, making her a strong role model for the LGBTQ community! Tracer represents a lot of different character types, but most notably of all, she represents the optimistic hero any one of us can be!
5) Ms. Pac-Man (Ms. Pac-Man)
Okay, so this entry is more about the game than the character, but I still think it’s a noteworthy addition to the list. Samus Aran may have been the first female protagonist in a mainstream console video game, but Ms. Pac-Man was the first female video game protagonist ever!
Following the success of Pac-Man, Midway Games produced their own version of the Namco smash hit in 1982, which featured a female protagonist, new mazes, and several gameplay improvements. The result was Ms. Pac-Man, an even more challenging and entertaining version of Pac-Man that became the most successful American-produced arcade game of its year.
While Ms. Pac-Man may not have been the game to draw large numbers of women to the arcade scene, it was a tribute to all the female gamers who helped make the original Pac-Man such a success. If anything, Ms. Pac-Man brought more recognition to female players in what was often perceived as a male hobby; after Pac-Man, the most popular arcade games among women were Berzerk and Space Invaders, but Ms. Pac-Man was the first game that unapologetically catered to a female audience and pushed gaming a little closer to a gender-neutral future.
To be fair, Toru Iwatani intended for Pac-Man to be asexual so as to appeal to men and women equally; it was only after the release of Ms. Pac-Man that players were forced to think of the original character as male, which has sparked some controversy around the newer character. Still, the fact that Ms. Pac-Man was the first unequivocally female character in a video game was groundbreaking, and her game remains one of the most popular arcade games of all time. Say what you will about her character design, but Ms. Pac-Man marked a significant step forward for gamer girls everywhere!
Who are your favorite female video game characters? What other characters would you add to this list?