Press Ⓧ to break the glass ceiling
Video games are known for their largely male fan-base, many of whom feel very strongly about their preferences. However, despite being a medium dominated by male leads and action packed stories, there are a handful of video games with women at the forefront of the action as well.
While there had always been leading ladies in some form or another in video games, the first wave of female leads came into mainstream popularity during the mid-1990s, and the one who stood out from the rest was none other than Lara Croft from the Tomb Raider series. A sophisticated and highly intelligent character for the time, archaeologist Lara Croft's introduction to the gaming world set gamers' expectations of future female characters. She was unlike anyone the world had seen before. She could take on the world without breaking a sweat. It wasn't until 2013, a full 16 years later, that Lara Croft got a complete remake. The reboot made her a more relatable character, focusing on her ascent from a frightened young woman to a strong survivor. The game offered a fresh narrative on Lara's backstory, something which was appealing to all gamers alike.
Lara Croft is perhaps the most recognisable name but the list doesn't end with her. While she has cemented herself as the trailblazer, there are several female leads of great significance in the gaming world. Apart from the Tomb Raider series, Resident Evil, Final Fantasy, Mirror's Edge and Bayonetta are some noteworthy franchises with strong female leads. And although Faith Connors (from Mirror's Edge) and Bayonetta are the protagonists of their respective games, there is a reason as to why Final Fantasy and Resident Evil have been mentioned here.
For one, I have played both series extensively and Capcom (for Resident Evil) and Square Enix (for Final Fantasy) didn't stop with just one female protagonist. Throughout the span of the Resident Evil series, there have been Jill Valentine, Ada Wong, Claire Redfield, Sheva Alomar, to name a few. Resident Evil, in general, has always had a wide variety of characters throughout its lifespan, but what each of the aforementioned women brought to the table was a much needed depth to the roster. And they, especially Jill Valentine, have strong personalities and immense confidence to boot. Ada Wong's character was a breath of fresh air too, lending herself to the overall story of Resident Evil 4 very well. Final Fantasy's roster of female leads is worth pointing out as well with Tifa Lockhart and Yuna being worthy of respect. But while all these characters are unique in their own ways and possess strong personalities, they do belong to franchises where they are overshadowed by their male counterparts. This is where Mass Effect's Tali and Liara T'Soni step in, changing the way female characters play vital roles through main campaigns. My fellow Overclock writer Nuhan B. Abid puts it best with his take on these timeless characters: “Tali and Liara T'Soni from Mass Effect are two characters who steal the spotlight from the main cast. Being some of the only party members who appear in all three games in the franchise, you get to see a lot of character growth. Liara, in particular, stands out as a strong female role model in the sense that she's not just a fighter but also a bona fide bookworm who gets by on knowledge (and later, espionage as she takes on a certain role in the second game). Tali turns from a shy alien to a strong independent character, as she supports Shepard on their journey, and her arc in Mass Effect 3 stands out as one of the game's most memorable parts.”
This is where an understanding of Lara Croft's influence helps immensely. At the start of the game she is but a frigid and scared human and that makes her growth so relatable, a far cry from what the previous straight-faced Lara was. The remake chronicles a young and ambitious Lara Croft, who ultimately overcomes the gruelling nature of the island she is trapped in. This character archetype was unseen and would be emulated impeccably in the form of Aloy from Horizon Zero Dawn. She, too, is left bewildered in her own world, forced to fight and hunt the Machines. Young music composer Samir Imtiaz says, “Aloy from Horizon Zero Dawn is my favourite female character hands down. She's unlike most female protagonists and her story is built up quite well from the very beginning of the game. Her development is wonderfully unfolded through the long hours of the fantastic apocalyptic sci-fi that is Horizon Zero Dawn, and at the end of the game she becomes one of the most well written characters in a new video game IP in decades.”
While the characters talked about thus far all have unique backgrounds and possess a lot of vigour, often times I believe, female characters are purposefully portrayed as strong or confident, either possessing boyish traits or oozing sex appeal. And while there's nothing wrong with that, from a gamer's perspective, that trope can start to get stale, while diluting expectations from female characters. But when Life is Strange came out, Square Enix gave to the world the most relatable female character the world had ever seen and her name was Max Caulfield. Fellow SHOUT writer and gamer Shoaib Ahmed Sayam says, “We have a fair share of female protagonists who are cool and tough, and that's why when I saw Max Caulfield in Life is Strange, it was quite unique to say the least. Granted the game itself is out of the ordinary but for the first time I saw a female protagonist who was just like everyone else, man or woman for that matter, with the same thoughts and insecurities as the rest of the world. She wasn't a flawless being like other protagonists; she was just human. This alone places her at a special place.” I can only think of two other characters like her, namely Ellie from The Last of Us and Clementine from The Walking Dead. But with more and more characters like these, we are seeing diversity: a balance between characters who possess superhuman traits and grounded individuals who are relatable amidst their own chaos.
Yes, there are debates on misogyny in video games. And yes, there are some games that are willing to make a few extra bucks by portraying women as mere sexual objects. Those games often end up as shovel ware. Regardless, there is a lot to learn from each and every female character listed here, whether it is for their heroism or for how real they seem to be. Characters like Aloy or Ellie will always be talked about and emulated for years to come.
Asif Ayon's favourite colour is a particular shade of ash but he tells everyone that his favourite colour is blue. The alliteration in his name bothers him a lot too. To inquire more about what else keeps him up at night, hit him up at email@example.com