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?
International Women’s Day is this week, a time to celebrate women and all the awesomeness we bring to the world! Last year, I wrote a series of blog posts about awesome female characters in fiction, most of which focused on Disney princesses and heroines. So this year, I figured it would be fun to continue that series into the theme of video games!
So to celebrate Women’s Day, here are five awesome female protagonists in video games! Enjoy!
1) Aloy (Horizon Zero Dawn)
I would have wanted her to be curious. And willful—unstoppable, even. But with enough compassion to heal the world. Just a little bit. – Dr. Elisabet Sobeck
Shortly after its release in February 2017, Horizon Zero Dawn quickly became one of PlayStation’s best-selling games of all time. And with good reason: it’s amazing! This masterpiece by Guerrilla Games boasts everything from a compelling story to an engaging open world to awesome gameplay, but the greatest feature at the heart of the game is undoubtedly its player character, Aloy.
An outcast since birth in a post-post-apocalyptic world, Aloy has been determined to find out where she came from for as long as she can remember. The game introduces her character as a child, and by the time she becomes the young woman we were shown in the E3 trailers, we’re already fully on board with her quest for answers.
Aloy turns out to be an important piece to the puzzle of what happened to the world, so it’s no secret that her story eventually shifts from a personal journey to a quest to save humanity. Fortunately, the game’s excellent pacing keeps us thoroughly engaged with her character as we guide her toward the answers she so desperately wants. We come to love Aloy as much for her strength and determination as for her intelligence and compassion, until her triumphs are every bit as emotionally satisfying for us as they are for her.
Rarely has a game ever pulled me in as deeply as Horizon Zero Dawn has, and I know beyond a doubt that Aloy’s character is to thank for that. With such a strong spirit and a big heart to match, it’s no wonder she’s now one of my favorite video game characters of all time!
2) Ellie (The Last of Us)
Everyone I have cared for has either died or left me. Everyone… f***ing except for you! So don’t tell me that I would be safer with someone else, because the truth is I would just be more scared. – Ellie to Joel after he tries to leave her with Tommy
If you’ve played through the prologue of The Last of Us without crying, then congratulations: you officially have no soul.
Among the many factors that have earned this game over 200 Game of the Year awards, The Last of Us has been praised for its fantastic story, which follows the journey of middle-aged Joel and 14-year-old Ellie across a post-apocalyptic North America.
While the opening quest that reveals Joel’s backstory is tragic, most of the emotional weight of the game lies in his growing relationship with Ellie. What starts as an escort mission soon becomes a bereaved father coming to see this brave young girl as a daughter. Ellie, in turn, comes to see Joel as a father figure, and by the time they reach their destination at the end of the game, their bond has become unbreakable.
Though Joel is the main player character of the game, Ellie is an equally interesting character to whom we can’t help but become emotionally attached as we play through the story. Time and again, she proves herself courageous, clever, and resourceful. Her tenacity and attachment to Joel are most evident in the Winter act of the story, the only part of the game when we play as her and experience firsthand how mentally and emotionally strong she is as she struggles to save his life. She may be a teenager, but Ellie is nothing if not a true survivor!
3) Samus Aran (Metroid series)
But among the stars, there is one light that burns brighter than all others. The light of Samus Aran. Her battles extend beyond her life, and etch themselves into history. – Metroid Prime intro
You can’t write a list of noteworthy female video game characters without including Samus Aran! If you only know one thing about the Metroid series, it’s probably the reveal at the end of the original game that the super-powerful player character hidden in the power suit was a woman all along. Talk about a jaw-dropping moment!
Video games have come a long way since the androcentric ’80s when this twist was a big deal, but Samus is still revered as the first female protagonist in a mainstream video game, paving the way for the rest of the characters on this list and many more.
Throughout most of the Metroid series, this galactic bounty hunter is typically portrayed as powerful, brave, and tenacious, with a wide array of abilities and enough skill with them to defend the galaxy from the Space Pirates mostly by herself. Controversy and recent revelations about her character aside, there’s no doubt that Samus is one badass lady!
4) Lara Croft (Tomb Raider)
A famous explorer once said that the extraordinary is in what we do, not who we are. I’d finally set out to make my mark, to find adventure. But instead, adventure found me. – Lara Croft, Tomb Raider (2013)
With a new Tomb Raider movie coming to theaters next week, it only makes sense to include this character on the list! Mention female video game characters and Lara Croft is one of the first names to come to mind. It’s no surprise, really; when you’ve been portrayed in a film by none other than Angelina Jolie, you know you’ve hit iconic status!
Admittedly, Croft has been a subject of controversy since the first Tomb Raider‘s release in 1996. She’s been described as a tabula rasa-type character in earlier games and even a negative role model for girls due to her widespread status as a sex symbol in the video game community. However, she does deserve some praise for being an archeologist/adventurer, a line of work that requires a great amount of independence, intelligence, courage, and resourcefulness, all of which she has in spades!
Sure, Lara Croft’s adventurous spirit may not be the reason young boys have hung posters of her in their bedrooms for years, but it is one reason she shouldn’t be written off as just another over-sexualized female video game character with zero personality (God knows there are too many of those as it is). Hopefully the upcoming Tomb Raider film will do this awesome character justice!
5) Red (Transistor)
Look, whatever you’re thinking, do me a favor: don’t let go. – The Transistor to Red
I’ll be honest: Transistor is one of the few video games that have ever made me cry. And not just a few tears, either; I’m talking waterfalls. Supergiant Games are masters of emotional storytelling.
Set in a futuristic city called Cloudbank, Transistor follows a singer named Red on her quest for revenge against the people who stole her voice and killed her lover. Armed with the Transistor—the giant sword-like weapon with which she was almost assassinated and which now contains the consciousness of her fallen lover (it makes sense in context)—Red fights her way through a robotic army known as the Process. As we guide this mute singer through the city, we uncover details about the world and her backstory in the files she collects in the Transistor. We also get to watch her kick some serious butt after setting up an attack sequence for her in the Turn() function. Awesome!
As the story unfolds, we learn that Red was a highly influential figure in Cloudbank, her music being powerful enough to stir controversy and even trigger altercations at her shows. In the present, she proves to be as strong-willed as her voice was intoxicating, ignoring the Transistor’s initial pleas for her to escape the city and fearlessly charging into battle against the Process to avenge him and uncover her attackers’ mysterious motives.
What’s especially interesting about Red is that, unlike the other characters on this list, she wasn’t trained in combat or raised in a hostile environment that left her hardened and cynical. She was a successful artist who had the two most important things in her life taken from her. The fact that she chooses to face her enemies, despite the odds being stacked against her, instead of hide in a corner and cry speaks volumes about her strength of character. You don’t have to be a soldier to know that love is worth fighting for!
What are your thoughts on these female video game protagonists? Any others you would add to this list?
For every bitter winter we endure,
A welcome spring will follow in due time.
As vivid colors brighten its allure,
We celebrate its flowers so sublime.
A loving mother offers an embrace,
While sisters give their strength in numbers too.
And when the toughest challenge you must face,
You’ll find support from all of them for you.
So every March, please celebrate the gift
That is those lovely ladies in your life,
For when your spirit finds it needs a lift,
They’ll often be the sun to end your strife.
Commemorate these gems for all their worth:
Dear women, the true flowers of the Earth.
In the past two weeks, I shared a list of awesome Disney princesses and how they can be great role models for girls. But what about the heroines who aren’t official royalty? Outside of its famous princess franchise, Disney has turned out some awesome female characters who are just as worthy of recognition and a noble title as their royal peers. They may not be official princesses, but they’re still amazing role models!
So to complement the previous list, here are five of my favorite non-princess Disney heroines who girls can still look up to as potential role models. Enjoy, and for the final week of March, Happy Women’s History Month!
1) Jane Porter (Tarzan)
He seemed confused at first, as if he’s never seen another human before. And his eyes were intense and focused, and… I’ve never seen such eyes. – Jane describing Tarzan to her father, Professor Archimedes Q. Porter
Being an environmentalist for as long as I can remember, I’ve always admired Jane Porter from Tarzan as one of my favorite non-princess Disney heroines. Set on understanding and protecting gorillas, Jane jumped at the chance to go on a research expedition with her father to study the animals in Africa, which was a pretty big deal for an English woman living in the Victorian age. She’s intelligent and naturally inquisitive, evidenced by her fascination with Tarzan and her eagerness to teach him everything she can about humans and civilization. Though primarily a zoologist, she is also artistic, being clearly talented with a pencil and paper, and she shows extraordinary courage during the climactic fight to save Tarzan’s family from Clayton’s henchmen. On top of everything, Jane is extremely adaptable, quickly making the transition from being well out of her element in the jungle to feeling right at home with Tarzan and the wildlife that so captivates her. Overall, Jane is eccentric, adorable, and a nature enthusiast who any girl interested in environmentalism and conservation efforts can look up to. Long live the Queen of the Jungle!
2) Nani Pelekai (Lilo and Stitch)
Sometimes you try your hardest, but things don’t work out the way you want them to. Sometimes things have to change, and maybe sometimes they’re for the better. – Nani to Lilo
Nani Pelekai, Lilo’s older sister and guardian in Lilo and Stitch, may well be the most underrated heroine Disney has ever created. After the tragic loss of their parents in a car accident, this young Hawaiian surfer girl was forced to grow up faster than expected and take on the responsibilities of a parent to her little sister at the age of nineteen. She naturally struggles through the process, still technically being a teenager, but where it counts, she always does everything in her power to put Lilo’s needs first. From indulging her quirks to letting her adopt an alien dog just so she’ll have a friend, Nani keeps on going the extra mile to give her sister the happy life she deserves, even when it means forgoing a romance with David (who, by the way, is also awesome) or having to be brave for Lilo while her own heart is breaking. Nani is strong, loving, and completely real, making her an amazing heroine and a wonderful model of sisterly love and the true meaning of Ohana!
Also, for your consideration: ever notice the dust-covered surfboard and trophies in her room, or wonder how she rides those waves so well in the “Hawaiian Roller Coaster Ride” sequence? There are various clues throughout the film that suggest Nani was actually on her way to become a professional surfer before she had to give up her dream to take care of Lilo. Now that’s truly putting family first!
3) Esmeralda (The Hunchback of Notre Dame)
You mistreat this poor boy the same way you mistreat my people. You speak of justice, yet you are cruel to those most in need of your help! – Esmeralda to Frollo
A far cry from being a royal, Esmeralda from The Hunchback of Notre Dame is a poor gypsy girl living in the streets of medieval Paris, but don’t mistake her low social status for helplessness. Not only can she hold her own in a fight and evade a dozen guards with incredible ease, she’s so enchanting that she gets three men to fall for her—an impressive feat even by princess standards. But feistiness isn’t even the main quality going for her; only too familiar with the feeling of being an outcast, this gypsy woman is easily one of Disney’s most empathetic characters, showing kindness to those who are otherwise shunned by society. For much of the film, she is the only person in Paris brave enough to openly defy Judge Frollo’s cruelty, criticizing his treatment of the gypsy people and standing up for Quasimodo when he’s humiliated by the entire Feast of Fools crowd. The ideal mix of a kind heart with a fiery spirit, Esmeralda is an admirable character and a symbol of justice for courageous girls who are always willing to stand up for those who can’t defend themselves!
4) Megara (Hercules)
Megara. My friends call me Meg. At least they would if I had any friends. – Megara to Hercules
Can you say sassy? The love interest to the heroic title character of Hercules, Megara is just about one of the sassiest characters in the Disney canon. Established as independent and snarky from her first appearance on screen, this Greek beauty is not your ordinary damsel in distress, but in fact a multilayered character with a quick wit and a free spirit. Well, as free as she can be under her circumstances, anyway. Meg doesn’t exactly have the most romantic backstory, having been scorned by men enough times to make her skeptical and dismissive of love before she meets her god-turned-mortal soulmate. Her determination to hide her past and guard her heart behind a mask of cynicism, far from portraying her as cold and bitter, makes her real and relatable. What woman doesn’t know the pain of having her heart broken, right? Still, Meg proves that she hasn’t yet given up on love entirely when she bravely sacrifices herself to save Hercules, which in a way may be the most heroic act in the film, as it allows him to save Olympus from Hades and ultimately have his godhood restored. A soft heart hidden beneath a tough shell, Meg is as strong in spirit as she is sassy in wit and is another great character among Disney’s non-princess heroines!
5) Nala (The Lion King)
He’s holding back, he’s hiding. But what, I can’t decide. Why won’t he be the king I know he is, the king I see inside? – Nala about Simba in “Can You Feel The Love Tonight?“
Who says awesome female characters have to be human? Nala from The Lion King would certainly disagree! Strong and clever since she was a cub, this lovely lioness is mature, persistent, and highly responsible, never passing up the chance to encourage her best friend’s qualities while defending her own. She acts as Simba’s closest confidante in their childhood and as his moral compass after their reunion as adults; when he’s long given up on his past life, Nala is the one who finds him and urges him to return to Pride Rock to assume his rightful place as king. And yes, Rafiki may have been the one to knock that final bit of sense into him, but would Simba ever have considered going home in the first place without the support of his childhood friend? Probably not! With a spirit as fierce as her roar, Nala is among the bravest of Pride Rock’s lionesses and a venerable addition to Disney’s unofficial royals thanks to her position as Queen of the Pride Lands!
Who are your favorite non-princess Disney heroines? Any other of Disney’s awesome female characters you would add to this list?
(What If? Exercise: Read the description here.)
She had never believed she was good enough to shine.
Until the day she learned to see beneath skin.
Her face was “plain”, but her heart pure.
Friends praised her kindness, intelligence, and love.
And she knew she was valuable.
She smiled at the mirror.
The mirror smiled back.
You believe now?
This piece is based on What If? Exercise 93: “Ten to One”. The exercise is to write a 55-word story in which the first sentence has ten words, the second has nine, etc., until the last sentence has only one word. The objective is to show that precision and thrift in writing can produce surprisingly powerful results. I hope you enjoy what I’ve written. Thanks for reading!
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