Women make up 48 percent of the gaming demographic, according to the Entertainment Software Association, but playable female characters are still widely underrepresented compared to their male counterparts. When you think of playable female characters, only a handful stand out from memory — maybe more if you include non-playable protagonists.
Discussions have ramped up in the gaming community about what standards the industry should set and how women should be represented. Ubisoft came under fire after its comments during E3 2014 when the company’s creative director Alex Amancio for Assassin’s Creed Unity claimed that redoing animations to include a female avatar option in co-op would take too much time and money. “It’s double the animations, it’s double the voices, all that stuff and double the visual assets,” Amancio said to Polygon in an interview. “Especially because we have customizable assassins. It was really a lot of extra production work.”
Despite Ubisoft overlooking nearly half of the gaming demographic, there are plenty of games that haven’t. Bungie’s game Destiny has both male and female avatar options and Sega’s horror title Alien Isolation features a female playable protagonist. But gamers don’t have to look to the newest games to find options for playable female characters — here are a few of note.
1. Samus Aran From Metroid
One of the first playable female human characters in video games. Samus Aran’s womanly features are kept hidden under her power suit for most of the game. It was only until the end of the original game — and only if you completed it in under 5 hours — that her true gender was revealed. Though fans didn’t seem to mind that the bounty hunter they’d come to know was female, especially after decimating an enemy race. Samus has become the face of one of Nintendo’s most popular franchises after Mario and Zelda.
2. Chell From Portal
Another character that’s hardly seen lest you catch her in a passing glance through a portal hole, Chell is the silent protagonist of both Portal and Portal 2 games, playing along as a human lab rat for the snarky and sinister AI GLaDOS. Chell is put through the ringer, forced to complete the puzzles set before her until chance happens, and she finds a way to slip past GLaDOS’ watch and escape. Her character plays like the female version of Gordon Freeman — another silent protagonist. Her dress consisted of a simple orange jumpsuit rather than a revealing, sexy outfit.
3. FemShep From Mass Effect
The Mass Effect series allows you to choose your gender, playing as a male or female Commander Shepherd. Developers at BioWare gave equal attention to both characters during the series’ creation, giving both versions of the Commander their own voice actors.
While the development team sought to give the two Shepherds equal treatment, EA’s marketing division thought otherwise, choosing to market the male Commander Shepherd as the game’s champion. However, in the end critics and fans have given far more attention to “FemShep” and the voice work done for the character by Jennifer Hale.
4. Lara Croft From Tomb Raider
This character has seen her fair share of ups and downs (and unrealistic — verging on Barbie — proportions.) It wasn’t until recently with the latest reboot of the franchise that Lara Croft has emerged from her role as a sexualized Indiana Jones into a personality. Her recent resurgence has been split into two: the confident, matured Tomb Raider in the top-down arcade shooters and the young Lara who is becoming the Tomb Raider through her grueling experiences.
5. April Ryan From The Longest Journey
One of the most memorable female characters in video games, April Ryan is more of an honest female protagonist. She has feminine features, but her appearance isn’t overly sexual — she just looks pretty. April Ryan has an outspoken personality, but not so overpowering that she’s standing on a soap box throughout the entire game. Her conversations with other characters are engaging and have a dry humor that endears the player to her. She’s relatable — you know, always worrying about bills to pay and dreams that need interpreting.
6. Jade From Beyond Good & Evil
Photojournalist and orphan caretaker, you begin to wonder what Jade doesn’t do. In Beyond Good & Evil, Jade and her uncle team up to bring down and expose government corruption. While questing, Jade’s look is quite practical — baggy jeans and a coat — much better for adventuring than a sports bra and tight pants. It makes you wonder how Lara Croft doesn’t have scabs all over her arms, waist, and legs when she’s parkouring everywhere in short-shorts and a tank top.
7. Clementine From Walking Dead Season 2
In Telltale’s Walking Dead Season 1, players took care of little Clementine while playing as Lee, mentoring her and teaching her how to survive in this new world. Players now get to take control of teenage Clementine as she navigates this world that has changed the way people interact with each other; the civilized world is gone. Her young age means that she can’t rely on strength alone in order to survive, she must be resourceful in order navigate through the zombie plague and the people she meets along the way.