The video game industry has not always been kind to the fairer sex. For as long as we have had video games we have had accusations of sexism. From the arguments against the damsel in distress scenario to the misrepresented female form to Custer’s Revenge which occupies a level of sexism (and racism) all of its own, the industry has come under criticism for marginalising women in games. These days the playing field is a lot more equal; the women rendered to have unusually large breasts while wearing next to nothing is as much of a problem, in the eyes of many, as the overly buff alpha male with a ripped eight pack and an aversion to shirts. The woman always being the supporting character is as bad as the man always being a cold hearted killer who gets shit done, because hesitation is for sissies.
While I’m sure there is an argument that the games industry has a long way to go before the notion of sexism disappears, these days we have a lot more positive female characters. Unfortunately, just as video games throughout history have ruined well loved male characters, so female characters can be spoiled by a single moment or sometimes by an entire game, and sometimes for reasons other than being reduced to a mindless sex object.
#10 Nina and Anna Williams
Female characters in a fighting game that wear clothes? Tell me more!
Nina and Anna Williams have both appeared throughout the Tekken series since its first instalment back in 1994, though in this initial game Anna was an alternate costume for Nina rather than the staple character she would become. Nina and Anna are both sisters and assassins with their rivalry playing a dominant role in their individual story arcs. Both are portrayed as excellent assassins with issues and character development outside of their sibling rivalry. These are mostly centred on Nina who was used as a genetic experiment, lost her memories as a result and in a dubious twist was impregnated without her knowledge or consent while she was in ‘cryo-sleep’ giving birth to another playable character; Steve Fox.
Their role in the games, however, is continually changing which detracts from two pretty neat characters. As a general rule they are can be taken seriously but during a selection of endings throughout the series they are reduced to the role of comic relief, usually based around one of them humiliating her sister by leaving her naked in public. You can usually tell if their endings are going to be comic relief by how little clothing they are suddenly wearing, despite being fully clothed throughout the game. This contrasts greatly with their rather serious role of being employed as assassins for the tournament and Nina having a son she has been hired to kill. Instead of developing on these points, while their sibling rivalry is funny, it just leaves us confused as to whether we are supposed to be taking these characters as seriously as their story initially warrants.
(Mass Effect 2)
The Mass Effect series took romance to a whole new level allowing you to pursue a number of potential relationships (some of them even same sex *gasp*). No passing fancies or set generic love interest here, instead you can get to know your potential partner through the fine art of conversation before deciding if you want to take it to the next level. And even then it rarely culminates with you just jumping into bed with them, there’s a conversation to precede it where you talk about your hopes and fears! Like an actual relationship! With romance!
Jack has had a bit of a rough deal. After being tortured in every way, experimented on and conditioned into the ultimate killing machine she escapes, leaving behind quite the body count, only to be rescued by a ship whose crew raped her before selling her as a slave. She goes on to live a tortured nomadic and violent existence until she is thrown into prison and with it, a routine of beatings and more rape. Understandably Jack is somewhat anti-social and suspicious of others. You have the option, however, of spending time and talking with her, gradually helping her to come to terms with some of her tormented past. Eventually you can even break through her psychopathic exterior and enjoy a fruitful, tender relationship. Or you can just have a one night stand with her, leaving her as a crazed, violent psychotic who refuses to talk to you ever again after the act. Realistic it may be, but it also leaves you a missed opportunity to develop a fascinating character.
#8 Samus Aran
The moment at the end of Metroid where it is revealed that, actually, you’ve been playing as a woman all along was for many one of the first mind blowing moments in video games. Until that point you had no reason to assume your protagonist was female. This was after all 1986 when the video game industry was dominated by men and you were playing as a character in a male dominated role. Samus Aran began life as an entirely non-sexualised character which for the time was a breakthrough in itself and that is before we even consider that her character was a strong, capable bounty hunter. When have space bounty hunters not been cool?
Then Metroid: Other M happened, a game which garnered a lot of criticism for its plot and characters. Specifically the characterisation of Samus was considered to be a massive deviation from the norm, much to her detriment. Gone was the silent, self sufficient heroine whose personality was defined by her deeds and in her place we have a whiny voiced, immature child who has just realised she has daddy issues. When you are not spending your time desperately seeking the approval of your male commanding officer, you’re becoming a quivering wreck when faced with old enemies (because: daddy issues!) or being part of an overblown maternal storyline (because: women are maternal!). The fact that until now you have spent your life exploring some pretty hostile environments that make South Wales seem hospitable, and wiping out their grizzly inhabitants because that’s your job, a job you’re damned good at is apparently forgotten.
When the team responsible for previous games distance themselves from the story saying, ‘oh no don’t you try and pin this shit on us,’ you know you’re in trouble.
(Metal Gear Solid 3)
The Metal Gear Solid series has a whole host of awesome female characters (and Emma Emmerich) including the perfect spy; EVA. EVA, who first appeared in Metal Gear Solid 3 serves as your contact within the enemy base. She has infiltrated enemy ranks initially by posing as a captured scientist’s lover providing you with disguises, guns, advice and bombs. She poses as the delicate Tatyana, even allowing herself to be tortured so as not to reveal her cover. She drives a motorbike, is an excellent shot and above all does her job well. She uses her femininity to her advantage to achieve her objectives, doesn’t allow something like ‘love’ to come between her and her mission but is still human enough to have the occasional emotional breakdown and accept help when she needs it. Of course, because this is Metal Gear Solid it turns out that EVA, like pretty much everyone else in the series, is a double agent, but she’s a damn fine agent.
Unfortunately, a rather distracting element of her character is that she walks around with her breasts hanging out and we’re really not sure why. When you first meet EVA she helps you out by dispatching a wave of enemy soldiers with a mixture of stunt biking and good shooting, then she introduces herself by taking her top off. While EVA maintains her lack of clothing, even though in a jungle she must be getting her fair share of insect bites, she also strips numerous times in the game. If her breasts are meant to distract the enemy it certainly works as we seem to be spending a lot of our time wondering just why she sees fit to walk around half naked. EVA is such a competent agent it seems bizarre that her outfit of choice would be next to nothing, especially in a combat zone.
#6 Chun Li
Chun Li remains the first arcade girl that was both understandable and acceptable as a crush. Once she was available on Super Nintendos and Segas, players could spare the time to battle through the streets, take down the sinister Bison, and discover either a back-story that motivated the characters to fight or a set of circumstances that gave more insight towards future Street Fighter instalments. Chun-Li’s father was murdered by Bison, and she was, no longer a cute girl with frilly socks but a strong character who, unlike almost every other girl in the gaming world at the time did not need a man to save her.
However, with the arrival of Street Fighter III: 3rd Strike came a huge array of adjustments to her fighting style. Other characters like Ryu retained their familiar moves and styles, but Chun-Li’s new look and moves threw players off. While Marvel vs Capcom would re-establish her much loved style it could not change how muddled and strange her back story and motivation became. All of a sudden, Chun-Li was a police officer who ran around arresting other Street Fighter characters instead of seeking out Bison. She wasn’t a strong, smart woman out for revenge, she was a confused cop falsely arresting innocents. The icing on the cake was when Marvel vs Capcom revealed Shadow Lady, a character that showed what Bison would torture Chun-Li into.
The final word was that all of Chun-Li’s established strength and superiority had been wasted. She avenged her father, but then she didn’t. She took down Bison, but then she didn’t. Finally, the only way she could apparently keep up with Wolverine and Ryu was to be tortured and transformed into a wholly new character, by the man she was supposedly out for in the first place.
Bayonetta started out with such promise. Billed as pretty much Devil May Cry but with a woman in lieu of Dante as the protagonist, it could not be bad. Dante is one of the more popular characters in video games, despite his overblown attitude and heroism so a female version of him was bound to be awesome, right? That Bayonetta ended up being a highly sexualised character surprised no one, in fact it was pretty much a given considering Dante is about as cocky, buff alpha male as they get. In fact it was a major part of her character, she was even being praised as a feminist icon as she was so completely comfortable with the way that she looked she had no qualms in using her sexuality to achieve her own ends. So what went wrong?
Unlike the others in this list who were awesome until a particular gaming moment occurred, the character of Bayonetta was ruined the moment the game’s creator, Hideki Kamiya, opened his mouth. In a series of interviews Kamiya revealed that Bayonetta was basically his “perfect woman” and that he thought all women should dress like her. Further in reference to his favourite moment in the game, where Bayonetta confronts a female antagonist, he came out with these words of wisdom,
“that was my way of expressing the feminine notion that, to one woman, all other women are enemies. Even women walking by each other will check out what the other is wearing, and might smolder a bit with antagonism.”
Well he would know.
Suddenly, Bayonetta is no longer the empowering figure we had thought she might be, instead she becomes the fulfilment of a male sexual fantasy, which probably explains why her proportions make Lara Croft’s breasts look natural and why the camera angles focus on her backside (which was expertly crafted). Oh and she pole dances in the ending. It’s just downhill really.
#4 Ada Wong
When Ada Wong first appeared in Resident Evil 2 there was nothing initially untoward about her. She met up with rookie cop Leon Kennedy and together they decided to fight their way out of the zombie infested Racoon City. Although it developed that she was a secret agent and that she would ultimately betray Leon in favour of a sample of the G-virus, she could not actually harm Leon, and instead saves his life by sacrificing her own, apparently dying in his arms after confessing that she had fallen in love with him. And we all wept manly tears.
Then Resident Evil 4 came along and Ada is a character transformed! Now she’s practically a super hero. Gone is the strong but emotional character we had grown to love from her previous appearance. Instead every semblance of emotion and vulnerability (you know, things that make for well rounded characterisation) has been replaced with attempts to make her such a complete hardass that she is now completely unbelievable and we just cannot relate to her.
Her interest in Leon apparently remains, this time without subtlety as every time she sees him she gasps and says, ‘Leon,’ a little breathlessly. But no reference to her sacrificial act of love is made and the two are instead strangely antagonistic towards each other. Even though her mission has nothing to with Leon’s she cannot help but support him. By support Leon I mean she gives him all the information he needs to complete his own mission and kills all those he cannot kill, even though they should overwhelm her. But she’s so “strong” now even the mutated hulk that is also the greatest soldier in the world cannot stand against her, apparently, superior combat ability. While she is only human she has all the agility of catwoman jumping from rooftops, running at great speeds, surviving graceful leaps from great distances and being able to jump impossibly high, all the while wearing a red evening dress (apparently the secret agents outfit of choice) and stiletto heels, which apparently do nothing to slow her feats of agility, even though you’re in a rural village surrounded by farmland.
#3 Samara & Morinth
(Mass Effect 2)
Former mercenary Samara has a dedication to the law that makes her a formidable character. Samara’s early life was a continued run of adventures where she discovered her impressive combat abilities but also her very strong moral code. She gave up life as a mercenary to have a family of three daughters. Unfortunately all three of her daughters suffered from a condition that killed any sexual partner they might have. One of her daughters, Morinth, obviously deciding that this was a good thing (at least she wouldn’t have to worry about calling them back in the morning) left her home in favour of a life of sex and murder, having her way with pretty much anyone she could. Samara, disapproving as only a mother can, swore herself to becoming a justicar, giving up all wordly possessions except her weapons and travelling throughout space to right wrongs. Because of her strict code of honour, Samara sees actions in black and white deserving of capital punishment or praise. Her rigidity and unswerving moral compass coupled with her determination to bring her own daughter to justice no matter the cost makes her a pretty cool and unusual character.
But if the strength of character required to hunt your own flesh and blood across the galaxy in an attempt to stop her going all preying mantis on every one she comes into contact with, doesn’t impress you, you can always kill her. After you help Samara finally corner Morinth, you have the option of killing Samara, trading her in (literally, as nobody knows but you) for her younger, sexier daughter. Morinth displays no more character than the nymphomaniac she is described to be. She wears next to nothing and of course you can have sex with Morinth, whereas Samara will politely rebuff you. Of course having sex with Morinth will kill you, but why let that stop you replacing an awesome character with dat ass?
Bioshock Infinite changed the way we would look at escort missions forever. Yes, you the gun toting protagonist have to escort your charge through hoards of enemies but thankfully, this particular NPC cannot be hit by enemy fire and in fact heals you when you’re hurt, keeps up a steady flow of magic power tonics and replenishes your ammunition almost instantly. As if this isn’t enough to endear you to Elizabeth, the nineteen year old Francophile who you rescue from a big tower in the centre of a city in the sky, she is a fount of all knowledge having read pretty much every book ever, she knows her way around a lockpick and she can open tears in the fabric of time and reality allowing you to cross between worlds.
Wait…hang on. Run that by me again?
You have a gun and sport a variety of super powers as a result of genetically altering drugs. Elizabeth can tear holes in the fabric of reality and pass between them. So why are you rescuing her? When you first arrive in her prison tower, you offer her an escape which she readily accepts and asks you to take her to Paris. Except just a few seconds earlier you saw her open a tear in reality to Paris. So why didn’t she just step through it? ‘She won’t be able to come back?’ Yes, I can see why that might deter you from exploring infinite dimensions and realities (think of all the Paris’ there must be!) as opposed to sitting in your locked room with a load of books wondering if you might be able to escape.
(Final Fantasy X/X-2)
Final Fantasy X gave us, arguably, one of the strongest characters to grace a video game in the form of female protagonist; Yuna. Aged just seventeen Yuna decides to undertake a pilgrimage that will ultimately lead to her death but in return her world, one that is constantly under attack from a manifestation of sin, will have peace for ten years. Yuna displays remarkable character development as she travels the world seeing the mass devastation which strengthens her resolve while knowing that she will never see the peaceful world for which she is working for. When she learns that the faith she has so zealously followed and is prepared to give her life for is based on a lie and corruption so great it makes the Catholic Church look decent, does she pack it in? Does she hell! She sticks two fingers up to the establishment (or she would if she were not so well mannered and polite) and carries on, determined to bring world peace, even if it kills her. Which it will. Ultimately she finds a means to end the cycle of death and deception at the cost of her closes allies. Yuna has to systematically kill her aeon friends, before losing the only man she has ever loved. Then she goes home and tells the world, “don’t worry guys, we’re safe now.”
But then! Final Fantasy X-2 happened which saw Yuna lose all the traits that made her such a strong character as well as her clothes. Frankly the fact that her costumes suddenly left nothing to the imagination is not nearly as criminal as what they did to her character. Repackaged as a runner up from the X Factor, Yuna’s primary concerns in the sequel are partying, giggling, singing and boys. She is reduced to a complete bimbo with occasional but all too rare glimpses of the strength she exhibited in the previous game. There’s even a gratuitous scene early in the game of her in a hot spring with her female cousin, both in bikinis and both moving towards each other with playful but sexually suggestive undertones.
I think the point can be best illustrated in the character reception. Yuna from Final Fantasy X was rated as one of the greatest heroines in video game history, while her duty, kindness and compassion were noted as her best traits. The Yuna of Final Fantasy X-2 was noted as one of the fifty hottest video game characters, compared to Charlie’s Angels and her “gratuitously exploitative costume” was praised by IGN.