20 Best Female Protagonists in Video Games
The topic of women in gaming, both as players and developers, has been getting a lot of attention recently. Unfortunately, the majority of that attention has been negative and has focused more on the blatant harassment and sexism in the gaming industry and its culture.
But believe it or not, it is not all doom and gloom for the female characters in video games themselves. In fact, there have been quite a few game titles that have featured strong independent women as their main protagonists. So let’s celebrate women in gaming by focusing on these popular characters who have provided us with positive role models and given us hours of gaming enjoyment.
It was tough, at times, to come up with a total of 20 female protagonists to feature in this article. The final list, though, is a good indication of characters who have stood out in a sea of male-dominated game characters. These characters all possess similar qualities: they are brave, strong, smart and can keep up with and often surpass their male counterparts. These are all female characters who gamers have enjoyed playing throughout the history of gaming and the sort of characters we desperately need more of. They are well-written and utterly believable. They have an impact on their games’ respective stories and can kick some serious butt when required. These woman meet and exceed the challenge of saving their friends, their kingdoms, their worlds and even their universes.
Gaming developers may want to start taking notes now.
Technically speaking, Alyx Vance is not a female protagonist in video games, but she is an important part of Half Life 2 as a non-player character, so she gets an honorable mention.
Alyx is a young woman in her mid-twenties, and is a prominent figure in the human resistance against the rule of the Combine, an alien race. She is also a close friend to Gordon Freeman, the game’s protagonist.
The reason Alyx makes this list is that she makes everything that Gordon accomplishes in Half Life 2 possible. She is a skilled hacker and can infiltrate Combine security and computer systems, open unlocked doors and re-program turrets. Without her skills, Gordon would be screwed.
Ms. Pac-Man was the first female protagonist to ever be introduced into a video game way back in 1982. She served as a follow-up to Pac-Man, but went on to become far greater than her male counterpart. In fact, to date, Ms. Pac-Man is the most successful American-produced arcade game of all time, selling 115,000 arcade cabinets.
Ms. Pac-Man ate even more dots than Pac-Man and avoided more random ghosts, all thie while navigating a series of four color-coded mazes that also featured warp tunnels.
Ms. Pac-Man has since become a cultural icon and has been mentioned on The Simpsons, Scrubs, Weeds, Family Guy, Friends and Wayne’s World. In 2009, she was placed at #10 on Game Informer‘s list of “The Top 200 Games of All Time,” – the article stated that she trumped the original Pac-Man in nearly every way.
Survival horror games have always seemed to appreciate the female as protagonist. Haunting Ground, for the PS2, is one such game. In it, Fiona Belli, an 18-year-old girl, survives a car accident that results in her parents’ deaths, only to wake up in the unfamiliar setting of Castle Belli. There, she befriends a dog and must solve puzzles, unlock doors and evade (or fight) the castle’s monstrous inhabitants.
Although Fiona is not athletic and spends the majority of her time in the castle frightened and confused, she is mentally agile and quick-witted. She resists overreacting or letting her emotions get the best of her, even in the face of adversity. She is resourceful and knows how to properly assess a situation.
What makes Fiona so compelling as a character, though, are her flaws. She is gentle-hearted and trusting to a fault and has lived a very sheltered life. But somehow, she always overcomes her fears and imperfections.
The protagonist only known as Jennifer stars in the survival horror game Rule of Rose, a PS2 title released in 2006. Set in England, 19-year-old Jennifer becomes trapped in a world ruled by girls who have established a class system called the Red Crayon Aristocrats.
Similar to Haunting Ground‘s Fiona, Jennifer also has a canine companion, Brown. Brown helps her locate items and distract monsters when she encounters them.
Jennifer first appears as timid, soft-spoken and weak, easily being pushed around by others. As an orphan, she was constantly picked on, resulting in her being mostly depressed. As the game progresses, though, we see that she is actually very determined and loyal. Although she is not very powerful, she ends up as leader of the Red Crayon Aristocrats and is brave enough to fight monsters with Brown at her side.
Of course, it turns out that Jennifer’s adventure is all in her head – a journey through her memories. In the end, Jennifer defeats the personal demons that were holding her back.
Rubi Malone is a powerhouse of a woman in the game WET. Not only does she have acrobatic skills, but she can also handle swords, guns and crossbows. Rubi is the very definition of a virtual bad-ass.
As a mercenary, Rubi has seen it all and is known as one of the most capable “problem-fixers” alive. For the right price, Rubi will do just about anything. In fact, the back of her card in the Extra Content section of the game says: “But the truth is, if you’ve ever seen Rubi in action, there’s a good chance you are already dead!”
Rubi enjoys money and drinking and is easily angered. And you wouldn’t like her when she’s angry as she has a tendency to maim and kill what has her irked.
In WET, Rubi is hired to attack a gang and retrieve a briefcase. But a year later, she’s tasked by the same man to find his son, who has supposedly become a part of a gang. Nothing goes according to plan, so Rubi has to fight her way through London and Hong Kong to figure out just what’s going on. And fight, she does.
One can’t mention female protagonists in video games without mentioning the much-beloved Claire Redfield, the star of Resident Evil 2 and Resident Evil Code: Veronica.
Claire was always a sort of tomboy (and motorcycle enthusiast) and learned early on how to take care of herself. She owns a S.T.A.R.S. knife and eventually acquires a pistol and knows how to use both. She was one of a few survivors of the Raccoon City Incident, a zombie outbreak that devastated the city.
Claire is not just good with weapons, though. She is also both quick-witted and strong-willed. She is one of the few Resident Evil characters not afraid to show emotion, but she does not allow that to affect her judgement.
Claire eventually becomes instrumental in the fight against the Umbrella Corporation in the Resident Evil series of games and movies.
Alyssa Hamilton is the young protagonist of Clock Tower 3. In what seems to be a recurring theme in video games, she, too has lost a parent – her father. Her mother is raising her, but Alyssa attends a boarding school away from home.
In Clock Tower 3, Alyssa’s mother goes missing. Alyssa is only left with cryptic warnings and clues, which she follows by exploring her house. Alyssa is transported through time and back and learns about her family’s secrets. She learns that she is something called a “Rooder,” which gives her the ability to communicate with the dead. Although most girls would stumble under the weight of such a heavy burden, Alyssa makes the most of it and, in turn, saves the day.
Although Alyssa is very polite and caring, she also tends to be overtly sensitive and emotional. She becomes stronger and more independent, though, as her character grows throughout the game.
Miku Hinasaki is the main character in Fatal Frame. She comes from a family susceptible to the paranormal, so it’s no surprise that she has a camera that she can use to see the impossible and capture images of the Other Side.
After Miku’s father died and her mother committed suicide, Miku lived under the care of her brother Mafuyu. Both have the gift of sixth sense – seeing things that normal people cannot see. After Mafuyu goes to investigate the mysterious Himuro Mansion and turns up missing, Miku becomes worried and goes after him.
As Miku traverses the mansion, she fights curses, ghosts and other malevolent entities. Miku is not a damsel in distress, but a determined girl who goes to great lengths to find and save her brother.
Kate Walker is an American lawyer and the main protagonist from the game Syberia. In Syberia, Kate is sent to a remote French village in order to finalize the take-over of a company there. But she ends up caught up in the mythology of an island called Syberia where mammoths are said to exist.
Kate’s intelligence comes in handy once she has to solve puzzles and dilemmas in order to proceed with her further investigations. She also has great analytical skills that help her collect information when needed. Kate is more brains than brawn and her intellect is put through the paces throughout the course of the story.
In the follow-up game, Syberia II, Kate must do the same, but this time in Russia.
For fans of the Still Life series of games, Victoria McPherson is a familiar face. As the protagonist of the games, she is an FBI agent who has studied both psychology and criminology at Quantico. As such, she has earned a place as one of the top profilers for the FBI specializing in arsonists, rapists and serial killers.
Victoria solved the infamous Mississippi Crawler case, whose victims were all young women who had been disposed of on the banks of the Mississippi River.
Victoria is the whole package: she’s good with a gun and can fight, when needed. But she can also think well on her feet and is highly intelligent.
Kings Quest IV gave us a first. Released in 1988, it was the first major graphical computer adventure game to feature a female protagonist. That protagonist was Princess Rosella, the daughter of King Graham of Daventry.
In the game, King Graham suffers a heart attack and is on the brink of death. The good fairy Genesta contacts Rosella through a magic mirror and offers her assistance. Rosella is transported to the land of Tamir, where she learns about a magic fruit that can save her father’s life.
However, Geneste is weakening because her talisman was stolen by an evil fairy. Not only does Rosella have to save her father, but Geneste as well. Obviously, Princess Rosella prevails.
Anyone who has ever played a Metroid game knows about Samus Aran. Generally seen in heavy armor and toting serious weapons, Samus is an ex-Galactic Federation soldier turned bounty hunter. She has appeared in every Metroid game and is well known as one of the earliest female protagonists in video game history.
Sticking to popular video game tropes, Samus started out life as an orphan after her parents were killed in a raid by Space Pirates. Samus was taken in by the alien race, the Chozo, and was infused with their DNA to give her a strong resistance to alien environments. She was also trained as a warrior and given her infamous Power Suit.
According to the Galactic Federation, Samus is known for her “superior skills and sense of justice.” Most of her missions revolve around getting rid of lifeforms, known as Metroids, who drain life energy and can be used as biological weapons. However, it’s always just another day in the life of Samus, saving the universe one Metroid at a time.
Faith Connors is the main protagonist in Mirrors Edge. Having lost her mother in a city riot, Faith left her family at 16 to live on the streets, resorting to petty thievery. But after robbing the home of an ex-Runner named Mercury, she was caught and taken under his wing to be trained as a Runner herself, part of a group of underground couriers who operate outside of the city’s legal security and surveillance measures.
Even after the government began to crack down on Runners, Faith continued to serve the rebellion against those in charge of the city. Her athleticism lends itself well to traversing the city’s highest peaks and staying far away from the government’s eye. She relies on stealth over strength, but can protect herself, when needed.
Faith believes that freedom is more important than anything else and seeks to help the rebellion in any way that she can.
Chell is familiar to fans of the Portal series. In the first game, she is taking part in the Aperture Science Enrichment Center’s test under the supervision of GLaDOS. Unfortunately, GLaDOS tries to kill her, so she escapes. She is immediately brought back to the facility, where she escapes again in Portal 2.
Valve has gone on record saying that Chell is the female version of Gordon Freeman, the silent protagonist. Because of that, we really don’t get to know the character per se, but we do know that she’s intelligent and can figure out puzzles that formulate her escape plans.
Chell almost didn’t appear in Portal 2, but play testers of the game demanded her return. Chell also received critical praise with GamesRadar’s Joe McNeilly who called her an example of deconstructing first-person shooter archetypes, the antidote to the half-naked woman cliche. “The hero of Portal just happens to be a normal-looking and normal-dressing woman like 50% of the world’s population,” he said.
And that’s what makes Chell a great character. She’s like other women, but she rises to the occasion of defeating GLaDOS and escaping the confines of her prison.
April Ryan first appeared in The Longest Journey, and then later in its sequel, Dreamfall: The Longest Journey. She is the main protagonist in the first game and one of three primary characters in the latter. April has been consistently praised as one of the most memorable female characters in the history of adventure games.
Ragnar Tornquist, the writer of The Longest Journey series, compared April to a young Frodo Baggins in the The Longest Journey, but said that she had evolved into a more “Aragorn type character” in the follow-up game, Dreamfall. The beauty of April’s character is that Tornquist has stated that April was not created as a female protagonist for the sake of having a female protagonist. Tornquist stated that he felt that a female lead was a better fit to the story where progress is as much about empathy and helping others.
In the games, April discovers early on that she is something known as a Shifter – a person who can move between two worlds. Through her journeys, she discovers where she belongs and learns to become a fighter for the things she believes in. She becomes strong in both body and mind.
When American McGee writes about Alice in Wonderland, it’s not the typical tale we are all familiar with. And Alice is anything but the typical girl we’re familiar with. For starters, this version of the tale picks up after the book, Through The Looking Glass. Alice’s house burned down and killed her parents, leaving her as the sole survivor. Because of this, Alice has lost all touch with reality and has gone into a catatonic state in a room at Rutledge Asylum.
And Wonderland? Well, it’s all stuff that seems to be happening in Alice’s fractured mind. And yet she uses the setting to deal with her personal issues and move past them. If Alice saves Wonderland, she can restore her own sanity. This Wonderland, though, is much scarier than the world in the books. But Alice traverses it and forces herself to face her innermost demons.
Aya Brea, from Parasite Eve, was also an orphan. Are we seeing a pattern here? After the loss of her parents, she grew up in a variety of foster homes. Aya overcame her circumstances, though, to study criminology at the University of Virginia. She eventually became a police officer in New York.
One evening, Aya attended an opera performance by a young singer named Melissa Pearce. Unbeknownst to Aya, Melissa had once received a corneal transplant via Aya’s long-dead sister. The mitochondria from that cornea had lain dormant, but began to transform Melissa into Mitochondria Eve, a horrible being that sought to kill all of mankind.
Of course, Aya, too, had dormant powers that were awakened, something referred to as Parasite Energy.
Aya fought Eve and the horrible creatures that she spawned, eventually defeating the monster that Melissa had become, as well as the Ultimate Being Eve had given birth to. Aya became a hero amongst government ranks for her courageous and self-sacrificing acts.
Aveline de Grandpré
Aveline de Grandpré serves as the first female protagonist in any of the Assassins Creed series of games. The daughter of a wealthy French merchant and an African placée bride, she occupied a position of wealth and respect within the city of New Orleans before she became a part of the Brotherhood (or sisterhood, as it were).
Aveline used her abilities as an assassin to bring down slavery within her city. Although she has been painted as a villain by Abstergo, she was truly a hero and an important part of the American Revolution.
In Assassins Creed 3: Liberation, the game is an Abstergo product being released to show the assassins as psychotic murderers, but a hacker group has compromised the game’s code to show Aveline’s true struggle against the evil Templars for the control of the Americas.
Jade was originally created for Beyond Good & Evil by Ubisoft developer Michel Ancel who wanted her to resemble a real person rather than a “sexy action woman.” In the game, she and her ally, Pey’j, work together to rescue orphans that they have been taking care of and to expose a corrupt government.
As a character, Jade has received nothing but positive reception and is always at the top of lists like this one. The focus of Jade is not on her being female, but on her role, situation and meaning of her actions within the game. She is both strong and smart and manages to not only survive the game, but also to save the day and defeat the bad guy.
The IGN PlayStation team listed Jade as one of their top 10 gaming heroines, describing her as “inquisitive, smart, brave and fully-clothed.” In a sea of heroines who are not that, Jade stands out.
Although Female Shepard does not have a default first name and is actually one of two choices for character creation for the Mass Effect series, she has captured hearts and minds as the top female protagonist in video games. She has made so much of an impact that the BioWare team actually put her on the double-sided cover of Mass Effect 3.
Female Shepard follows the same plot as the male version of the character, but much of her appeal comes from the voice acting done by Jennifer Hale. Hale’s voice for Shepard is both commanding and compassionate and she has created a multi-layered character that just works well.
The actions of Shepard, too, seem to merge better with a female protagonist. The story itself seems more interesting with Female Shepard in charge.
Do you have any favorite female protagonists not listed here?
If you have a favorite female video game protagonist not listed here, let us know in the comments.
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