With adult women officially the largest demographic in gaming, no one can say that it’s a boy’s club anymore.
But even with that information plus the fact that video games now rival films in terms of revenue and expense, very little of that cash goes towards the writing department and we still get the same ‘roided up dude rescuing a helpless princess with explosions that would make Michael Bay jealous.
Luckily, there are exceptions, and if we all give these game creators the props they deserve for breaking the mold by creating badass female characters with actual stories, maybe we’ll see more wonderful characters like these in the future.
5. GLaDOS, Portal
As the voice that spawned a thousand memes, GLaDOS is the robotic tormentor/cake enthusiast from the Portal series. It’s her job to guide test subjects through a labyrinthine maze of puzzles and traps, a job she does with just a bit too much enthusiasm. You really hurt her feelings by not dying – why don’t you just fall into a vat of acid like a good little lab rat?
GLaDOS isn’t technically a woman per se, but she’s just oozing villainous charm. Much like Heath Ledger’s Joker, we’re never totally sure where the crazy ends and the cunning begins; it’s up to you as the player to try to navigate her fractured psyche and maybe discover a glimmer of tragic humanity under all of it.
GLADoS is funny, sad, and terrifying – everything a good villain should be.
4. Faith Connors, Mirror’s Edge
Mirror’s Edge was a noble effort, an attempt to do something new with the consoles that were fresh on the market at the time. It’s an intense first person game with less emphasis on shooting and more on energy and speed. Gone are the grim apocalyptic overtones in Gears of War and Call of Duty. Mirror’s Edge is about color, passion, and fearlessness, and nothing represents that better than the game’s central character, Faith.
Faith Connors is a “Runner” – a delivery woman and parkour expert in a world where all electronic communication is monitored 24/7. When her sister is framed for murder, she embarks on a one-woman offensive against a world that wants her to fall back in line.
In a world of nihilistic shooters that revel in violence, Faith reminds us of the pure joy of living life to its fullest and moving at your own pace.
3. Elizabeth Comstock, Bioshock Infinite
Whether it’s Mario versus Bowser or Link versus Ganon, all games deal with power dynamics. Elizabeth Comstock from Bioshock Infinite represents one of the most complex examinations of power in the entire medium of gaming, presenting a girl who could have been a mere damsel and watching her blossom into a reality-warping god.
You play as Booker DeWitt, a detective in the 1920’s dispatched to Columbia – a floating city ruled by the despotic and religious Father Comstock. It’s your job to rescue Elizabeth, Comstock’s daughter, who possesses the ability to open “tears” in the fabric of space. At first, the game toys with an age old “rescue the princess” formula, having you pull an ineffectual Elizabeth out of her Rapunzel-esque tower. It’s later on that Elizabeth takes on a billion more dimensions and grows into one of gaming’s all-time greatest supporting characters.
Elizabeth is far from helpless in combat, able to open “tears” at strategic points on the battlefield to turn the odds in your favor. As her powers deepen, so does her relationship with Booker, so much so that she begins eclipsing him as the story’s true protagonist.
We might be looking through Booker’s eyes, but this Elizabeth’s journey, and it’s a fascinating one to behold.
2. Samus Aran, Metroid
Yeah, I know. But no list of greatest women in games is complete without everyone’s favorite bounty hunter and it’s worth analyzing exactly why this silent, faceless protagonist has endured as a symbol of what women can (and should) be in gaming.
Samus started as a joke. The creators of the original Metroid wanted to give players a shocker at the end of their alien-blasting platform shooter – so they added a secret ending where the man under all that space armor was revealed to not be a man at all. A thousand pre-teen boys dropped their controllers in horror as they realized they’d been playing as a girl the entire time – then promptly picked them back up again for the sequel.
Later incarnations of the character might have sexed her up a bit (and don’t get me started on the misogynistic crapfest that was Metroid: Other M) but the soul of the character has always garnered the utmost respect from gamers. Samus is a true warrior – calm, capable, and able to hold her own against alien beasts five times her size.
You can keep your Master Chief – give me a Samus Aran any day of the week.
1. Alyx Vance, Half-Life 2
Looming head and shoulders above a thousand other helpless damsels that clog our gaming systems, Half-Life 2’s Alyx Vance stands beside protagonist Gordon Freeman as a friend and equal. It’s through her experiences that we’re introduced to the world of the game, wherein humanity has been enslaved by aliens known as the Combine. And it’s through her wry wit, earnestness, and determination that we’re given a reason to prevail.
Throughout the game, Alyx acts as a teacher, a sidekick, a comic foil, a leader, and a warrior in her own right. She struggles and triumphs as we do, never devolving into a trope or cliché. She brings considerable weight as an ally in a firefight, but she’s equally adept at nonviolent solutions to problems.
You couldn’t ask for a finer comrade in arms than Alyx Vance.