the artistry and psychology of gaming


Worthy Women

Worthy Women

For all the bad press we (or maybe just I) give the games industry for their portrayal of women in their games, there are many examples of strong and courageous female protagonists that many female gamers are proud to support and play as. Here will be a little run down of the female gamers most worthy of our idolization and love, the type of girls we’re happy to know exist in the video game world because they provide us succour from the hundreds of walking pairs of boobs that the developers of the world have foisted on us  in the past.

What are the criteria for idolization, I hear you cry? As you might have gathered from my previous articles, we’re not a fan of stereotypes because stereotypes are by their very definition, uninformed and damaging. Therefore, we don’t want any vacuous damsels in distress. There’s nothing wrong with needing to be rescued but we’d rather you didn’t scream and gasp and generally just get in the way while it’s happening. Women aren’t the ‘fairer sex’ in anyway but name; we can deal with gore, horror, danger and all the synonyms of ‘peril’. Female gamers have no time for dealing with pathetic protagonists. For someone to be idolized, they need to have values you share and traits that you aspire to have and no-one aspires to fear mud or chipped fingernails.

It’s all about striking a balance. I’m not trying to bash the femininity out of the female characters but at the same time, portraying us as weak, demure excuse for boobs is just getting the wrong end of the stick completely. We want characters that are obviously human, with flaws as well as strengths but with dimensions to their personality that are deeper than simply their status as ‘female’.

So, in no particular order, here is my short-list:

Seth – Lost Odyssey

Lost Odyssey probably isn’t the most widely known game around but I think it’s a brilliant JRPG and I highly recommend it; you get a hell of a lot of game for your money and I’ve enjoyed it so much I’ve played it 3 times over. So there. What makes it are the characters, who really are top notch; funny, well-rounded and admirable people. One such character is the wonderful Seth Balmore. She’s an incredibly powerful swordswoman and used to roam the seas as a pirate, stealing from the rich to give to the poor like an aquatic Robin Hood. She’s utterly fearless, quick to chide but also quick to encourage. She’s a stickler for justice but thoroughly kind hearted. She also just looks decidedly normal. Okay so her hair is blue but it’s not like some of the outrageous gravity defying hairstyle we’re used to seeing from the Japanese character designers. Her outfit, although pretty short, is beautiful and detailed (She actually wears shorts underneath her skirt…How practical is that?! Females around the world rejoice). Admittedly, we haven’t quite reached the point where her armour actually covers the *bleeping* chest region, but I can forgive her because she’s wearing sensible and protective leather boots. Her power and skill thankfully translates into gameplay as well; she’s the fastest attacker by far and incredibly handy with her sword, you can always rely on her to not miss an attack.

GLaDOS – Portal

This is a teensy bit debatable, seeing as she is an artificial machine and technically has no gender, but that seductive lilt of her voice leads us to believe that she is indeed of the female persuasion.  GLaDOS (or Genetic Lifeform and Disk Operating System) is the AI overseer of the Aperture Science Laboratories and a very complex character. At the beginning, she seems like the AI paragon; fulfilling her designated duties to the letter but it quickly becomes apparent that she’s more aware than a machine should be. Her passive-aggressive nature appears very early on with everything she says being a thinly veiled but often wittily phrased threat. By the end, we know she’s arguably psychotic with sprinklings of masochistic sociopath apparent as well. She’s also witty, highly powerful and in control (and even when she isn’t, she still doesn’t back down or give up). She is highly complex and very much in conflict with herself at the most fundamental level of her new found personality; she was programmed to care for humans and to aid them whenever they need help but with her new found sentience, she uses nothing but her cold, hard machine style logic as she’s incapable of feeling real emotion. She is a character tormented and restricted; even her outward appearance is that of a woman  tied upside down with her arms restricted behind her knees. Perhaps to idolize her is slightly too strong a word but she’s such a complex character, representative and symbolic of so much that we cannot fail but to appreciate her presence in the gaming world. There’s almost more to her than a human because she has all the conflict of both man and machine. Of course, I don’t approve of her decidedly murderous nature but she was so much more than a villain; she was a machine created but one who broke free of her programming, becoming highly sentient, intelligent and as a result, very trapped and very bored. Can we honestly say that after so much time twiddling our thumbs, we too wouldn’t kill a whole building of scientists with a deadly and probably quite agonizing neurotoxin?

Alyx Vance – Half Life 

What a breath of fresh air this woman is, clad in casual jeans and a hoodie. She’s an accomplished engineer and computer expert. Add to that a honed wit, cheerful disposition and a sharp tongue and you have a thoroughly relatable and respectable character worthy of admiration and idolization by everyone, not just female gamers. She was so loved because she was so thoroughly normal; she didn’t have outrageous hair or over the top fantasy clothes or use magic or have breasts three times the size of her face. She was just like someone you might know in real life and it made her accessible and easy to relate too. She was understated but brilliantly human. For the male audience also, she was long overdue as a character. There has often been fantasies related to female video game characters (when you spend so much time with them, how can you not fail to develop feelings of some kind for them?!) but it is so often hard to reconcile because of how otherworldly they seem. However, Alyx was normal and the sort of girl you could imagine really existed, someone who felt real for all the right reasons, an all round vivacious and accomplished woman. She was a companion NPC that deviated from the norm as well; she wasn’t a love interest, she was just a very handy assistant and because of how integral she was to your progression through the game, she felt indispensable. The emotion towards her was very real; you cared greatly for her, such is the nature of an interactive medium like gaming and the success of such a well designed and scripted character.

Commander Shephard – Mass Effect

The beauty of the female Commander Shepard is that the only difference between her and the male Shepard is aesthetics. She’s exactly the same character, treated in the same way by everyone and wearing basically the same clothes. The lack of differentiation between the two sexes is refreshing, especially because she’s wearing sensible armour and the developers weren’t tempted to do what often happens in other games, which is have basically the same protagonists, but if it’s a woman, give her a pair of knickers and hope for the best. She’s versatile and can become whatever you as they player want her to be and this lack of restrictions made her an attractive proposition to female gamers. She isn’t a strong women, she’s a strong person and is admired for her skills and achievements in their own right. She’s bold, assertive and a natural leader but most of all, she is whoever you want her to be and provides you with some admirable baseline qualities that make you feel like stepping up the mark.

Farah – Prince of Persia: Sands of Time

A resourceful, cunning princess and a dab hand with the bow and arrow, Farah is a strong and welcome addition to this line up. More than capable of matching the sarcastic Prince in wit, she proves to be an able and thoroughly appreciated companion. She is the keeper of an incredibly dangerous and powerful weapon and fully capable of defending it no matter what the cost to her, letting nothing get in the way of this objective, not love, not fear. She’s the sort of character who uses her ‘feminine wiles’ without seeming needlessly sexual. She does what she has to do for the good of the world and uses whatever methods will help her achieve her objective. Her sexuality is never flaunted but should a time come when to use it would be to further her cause and protect her people and country, she does not shy away. She is highly practical and never fearful of a challenge and her courage and bravery is unfailing.

When characters can make or break a game, it’s so important to get it right. As I mentioned back in my first article (Objectification of Women in Video Games) the perceived all male market isn’t as male as you might think and they’re also far more mature than developers give them credit for. No one is happy with just eye candy these days, we need substance and personality; that’s what makes a strong and memorable character. These ladies fulfil all that criteria and more and I think many a developer could learn something from them.

This is only a very short run down though, thankfully there are many more. Please let me know who you admire in the gaming world, be them male or female, in the comments below.


  1. Obviously many are going to say Samus Aran so I’ll just skip right over her (although I will admit she is better representing women in her earlier years…she still feels hollow…even if that is intentional because of the style of the game). Since you have mostly modern women, I’ll pick a few classic ladies.
    First I will have to start with the female character from Seiken Densetsu 2 (Secret of Mana), my favorite game of all time (allegedly her name is Purin but you can change her name and the game does not suggest a default name). She is almost your anti-typical female character of the 16-bit era. She was strong (she frequently started fights and even enters the party fighting with iron knuckles), she was bold and stood up to both her father and her kingdom when she knew things were wrong, and she also had a soft, gentle side for Dyluck, the love of her life. Sure her sprite was probably a bit too flirty for her character but if that game could have handled the equipment being displayed on the sprite, she would have been decked out in normal armor (and RARELY was there armor that the main male character could wear and she could not…head accessories are a different story). She would not hesitate to fight the fight she needed to fight (and even at the very touching ending becomes the one who encourages the trio to fight the last fight to save the world at the cost it may risk the world).
    Izuna, talk about an interesting character. Sure she has a bit of a fanservice going on to draw the guys in but once you begin your journey, you quickly begin learning that she is by far not just another “pretty woman to put on the cover”. From the title of her first game alone (Izuna: The Legend of the Unemployed Ninja), you can already get a hint that it is a game with a good sense of humor (and she is the source of a large majority of that humor). She may not be an ideal role model (lazy, questionable morals, etc.) but she will be there to get the job done and is even better than the male ninjas at what she does. She also has a very strong fan-following because she breaks the mold above and beyond.
    Alena, the woman of women of 8-Bit RPGs. Princess Alena (retitled Tsarevna Alena in the modern re-releases to give her kingdom a more Russian theme) was first introduced to us as her chapter begins and is titled “Chapter 2 – Alena the Tomboy Princess”. Herself, Maria from Legend of the Ghost Lion, and Samus Aran are the only 3 women to take a more “manly” approach (instead of seduction or being the “Help me! Help me!” females in their story. Nara from Dragon Warrior IV is debatable…she is a fortune teller but does nothing to support or push against the standard female roles). Alena hates being tied up to the castle as her princess role and the first thing you get to have her do is break out of the castle (but she gets caught so she does it again =P ). As you progress, through her chapter, you get to let her participate in a hand-to-hand fighting tournament. Even in gameplay, she ends up being your best physical fighter in the game (the only one who can compete with her is Ragnar McRyan who is a royal knight). While she sounds all “tough” and “tomboyish”, when you reacquire her in the final chapter, you get to see more of her feminine side as well (so she isn’t JUST a simple tomboy character).
    And for a last one for now is a much more modern woman, here is Master Etna from the Disagea series. Her main role is to help Prince Laharl to take over the Netherworld and then take it over right out from under him (they’re demons and evil deeds like that are something that they just praise eachother on). Her ‘master’ title comes from her rule over the Prinny Squad (and you get to learn VERY quickly that the prinnies would BEG for Etna to be a “wimpy helpless woman” any day because she rules with a fearful iron fist). She is cocky and confident but still knows her limits and her flaws (and you eventually learn there is someone trying to manipulate her strings). In fact, what becomes a part of the plot at one point in the story is what makes her physically different from your normal female character…a flat chest (something that, while aware of, gets offended and hurt when Laharl points it out). Usually in battle, she would prefer to sit back and let the prinnies do all of her hard work (in fact, she’d order one of them to lie on the ground just so she can use the prinny as a cushion). While she may sound like “all bad news”, she does hold her own in battle very well (and must if she wants to defend the title she yearns to steal for long).

    That should be a few to get you going ~_^

    • I love them all already, they’re so varied :) And I do love the fact that some of them are beautiful or ‘sexy’ and dressed a little sparsely but they’re more than their appearance and I think that’s so important, for any character but especially for female characters just due to how they’ve been portrayed thus far. The Legend of Izuna sounds just up my street, I might try and seek it out! I love your atypical protagonists; it’s no good to have everyone be perfect! I do feel like I’ve missed out on so many fantastic games just because I’m too young :P I don’t know where I’d ever find them! These sound like amazing characters; what’s even better is that they were created that way despite being in games that were made during a time when it was mostly men playing (I know they’re not that old at all, we just both know how much has changed in such a short time) I love the fact that the developers didn’t rest on their laurels, they didn’t just decide to put them in knickers and end it there, they invested time and effort in making a wonderful character despite their target market. So there’s still hope ;) Thank you so much, these ladies sound awesome. I really need to get my hands on some older consoles, there’s a whole world of gaming I’ve not experienced :)

  2. Great article and great nod to vocational virtue feminism! As far as women in the video game world I idolize, I have to go with Rose from Legend of Dragoon. She’s easily your best character, despite being dark elemental, and her personality is one of the few in the game that the developers spent a lot of time on, making her far deeper than even the protagonist. Despite a weird choice in boots, she’s extremely practical and criticizes both the male and female stereotype at least once throughout the game. In fact, she nearly castrates one of the other party members with a cold glare for calling her tootsie. It’s true that the “tough girl” is a somewhat well-established stereotype in its own right in video games (see Alena from Dragon Warrior 4, Anna from Phantasy Star 2, etc.), but Rose has some actual depth to her.

    I’d also suggest Ursula from Breath of Fire 4 for much the same reason. She’s a general in the imperial army and fears nothing. If there’s a problem in the way, she pulls out her pistol and shoots it until it’s not a problem any more, taking the direct, logical approach to everything. She seems even more well-developed with this game’s iteration of Nina being everything an annoying, stereotypical princess can be acting as her foil. Despite all of this, she does show emotion towards the end of the game, when she runs into someone she regards as family, who has been injured. It was handled in such a way that it humanized her without feeling like it was tacked on.

  3. Great choices. I’ve never played Half-Life 2, but based on character design alone, Alyx Vance seems a worthy choice.

    I haven’t beat Lost Odyssey yet, but I agree with your choice of Seth. She’s definitely dressed more practically than Ming. Maybe cleavage is a prerequisite for casting magic? I dunno.

    FemShep is definitely my favorite Shepard. Her armor covers her head to foot as it damn well should considering she flies around fricken space with laser guns and explosions and dangerous aliens. I think Jennifer Hale does a tremendous job voicing her.

    • Oh I love Lost Odyssey, too much some may say! I’ve just finished my third playthrough and it’s about 60 hours each time, so I’m definitely a fan! I do love Ming though, even though the cleavage makes utterly no sense to me; you’re probably right, magic needs a good bit of décolleté to get it’s groove on. I think she’s still a good character but has a less depth than Seth who I do love :)

      Exactly, femshep is brilliant, she’s dressed appropriately for all the alien butt she’s kicking, it just makes perfect sense. If she was in anything else I’d be really pissed because it would just be outrageous. I was a little sad that she didn’t have as much exposure than manshep (I didn’t even know there was a customization option on my first playthrough, I had no idea she existed) but Bioware has realised this and is bringing her to the forefront with manshep for ME3, so I’m glad. And lets face it; a lot of guys like playing as women too :P Thank you very much for your comment!

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *