Geek Bomb was founded to celebrate and inspire women in geekdom, and we pay a lot of attention to the way that women are represented in the industry as well.
Unfortunately, women in games have had a rough time of it. Too often, we’re the butt of the joke in violent games about tough guys, or hyper-sexualised and insignificant to the plot. As a woman, it was hard growing up with these kinds of characters being the norm in games, and Matt didn’t get much out of this habit either. I know because we’ve talked a lot about our favourite women in games, and we decided to celebrate the characters that have broken the mold and challenged the industry’s perceptions of what a woman is good for. Thankfully, there are lots of amazing female characters in recent games, so we have lots to talk about!
In all honesty, we could have picked any of the women that help make up Overwatch’s colourful cast of heroes. From the sinister sophistication of Widowmaker to the ultra-confident D.Va, everyone has their own story to tell and does so with a lot of heart and flair. The obvious choice, however, is the game’s cover star.
Otherwise known as Lena Oxton, the cheeky Brit is one of the game’s more popular and iconic heroes, thanks in part to her bright costume, smartly crafted time-bending abilities and that upbeat English charm. Easy to use but hard to master, Tracer’s Blink and Recall abilities can become a thorn in the side of anyone defending against the unique attacker, especially when stationary, and her speed only makes her harder to combat. A real asset on the frontline if used effectively!
Commander Shepard (Mass Effect original trilogy)
Commander Shepard quickly became one of the most iconic sci-fi gaming characters and is synonymous with the genre these days. The option to play as either gender means that a lot of the press material for the series focused on the man, but for a lot of fans, FemShep is the true hero of the original trilogy and the woman we think of when we talk about the series that changed the modern RPG.
Strong, smart and able to look almost however we want her to, she led the crew that saved the universe over and over, and depending on your choices also cured a genophage, saved a species from extinction, and stood up for journalistic integrity. But she was never a one-woman army, a distinction that humanised her and kept her from becoming a cliche. Just like we praise Ripley from Aliens for being written genderless, Shepard excels because there’s no difference in the accomplishments or abilities of the male or female version of the character.
Cortana (Halo series)
So iconic and influential that Microsoft named its Windows 10 and Xbox One personal assistant after her, it could be argued that Cortana is just as crucial to the Halo universe as Master Chief. It’s her relationship with Master Chief that produces one of the series’ great bonds, as man and AI fight to take down countless Covenant threats. As your trusty assistant, Cortana ensures you’re not going into battle alone. Prequel and tie-in comics show that Cortana has saved Chief’s bacon on more than one occasion, making her, in essence, Chief’s guardian angel.
Obviously, there’s only so much that Cortana can do, given that she’s only a bunch of ones and zeroes. What she does bring, however, apart from helpful assistance and reminders of the task at hand, is a personality. While Chief might be lacking this somewhat, Cortana more than makes up for it, making her subsequent ordeals with “rampancy” in the later games much more difficult to stomach.
Lara Croft (Tomb Raider series)
Lara Croft has always been a character who tops lists like these, but the reboot has given us the best iteration of this iconic lady yet. A younger Lara is scared and inexperienced in the 2013 game, but she persists. She loses friends and a lot of her own innocence, but she always fights to avenge that. In the sequel, she’s become hardened but is no less willing to do the right thing at great personal risk. If you have Lara Croft on your side, you’re gonna do okay.
In a series about mystical rituals and ancient artifacts, Lara keeps the story grounded. Her open-minded but level-headed approach to the fantasy tropes makes them feel less like storytelling cliches and more like real experiences that we can share with her.
Ciri (The Witcher 3)
Ciri may be the girl you spend most of The Witcher 3 searching for, but she’s not helpless or an idle character. While Geralt’s tracking her down, Ciri’s on her own hunt, and it takes her through time and space and a lot of angry people who want to control her. Spoiler: she never lets them. She’s fierce and loyal and sticks up for Geralt as much as he does for her.
The Witcher 3 is full of strong women – it was hard to choose who to write about between Ciri, Yennefer and Triss – and I’m not going to pit them against each other and claim that Ciri is the best character, but she is constantly being tested and coming out on top in a way that even Geralt might be defeated by. Seeing her fight for herself for the first time is the moment you know that Ciri’s got this, and that success or failure will depend on her.
Faith Connors (Mirror’s Edge series)
Gliding up the side of buildings with the grace and agility of a cat, Mirror’s Edge’s Faith Connors is something of an unusual character. Her reclusive attitude is juxtaposed with her work: being employed as a “runner” by resistance groups avoiding regular forms of communication. This is what makes Faith such a unique character; her appearance – regarded as “non-sexualised” by critics – is edgy enough to represent her style and demeanour, yet is still in line with the game’s clean and minimalist aesthetic.
While you’re given a first-person view in gameplay, in order to connect with Faith and her “delivery” jobs, the game’s cutscenes do a great job of exposing you to Faith and her attempts to not only be reunited with her family, but also to solve a number of framings that could tarnish the Connors name. You are able to engage with enemies in hand-to-hand combat, but you can just as easily parkour your way around them, making Faith one of the more athletically gifted characters in this list.
Sonya Blade (Mortal Kombat series)
While it’s easy to criticise Mortal Kombat as a game so comically violent it borders on stomach-churning, especially in later iterations, the series has arguably done a decent job of adding female fighters to the mix. Literally the series’ first lady, Sonya Blade has been a regular in the series since day one, but has largely been overlooked for the more recognisable and iconic characters.
But in Mortal Kombat X, Blade plays a crucial role in the game’s single player campaign, dealing with not only spoilt daughter Cassie and long divorced, douchebag ex-husband Johnny Cage, but also the returning threat of Quan Chi and Shinnok. Blade is a strong and dangerous woman – I too would be scared of anyone who can break bones with a reverse headbutt – but also careful and considerate. It’s this well-rounded and believable portrayal of Blade in the game that finally makes her feel like a valuable addition to the series’ roster.
Clementine (Telltale’s The Walking Dead)
Given how much she has endured, it can be easy to overlook how young Clementine is. This, however, is part of the charm of Telltale’s Walking Dead series; as the series progresses and “Clem” gets older, she becomes wiser from her experiences. Coupled with the “every decision has consequences” style of gameplay that Telltale integrates so well, we see Clem grow up before our very eyes and become an experienced and valuable member of a fractured society.
While only a supporting character in Season One, the heart-wrenching conclusion hardens her resolve on so many levels, as she moves into a main role. This is when her transformation really takes shape, as she learns from her time with Lee and the naivety of her youth begins to break heading into Season Two. Smart and caring beyond her young years, Clementine’s constant optimism amongst the drab and depressing world provides an interesting contrast, no doubt reinforcing her position as one of the series’ emotional strong points and a character the player has an incredible connection to.
Emily Kaldwin (Dishonored series)
When the news came out that we could play as Emily in Dishonored 2, it made a lot of people who were hungry for representation very happy. The Empress of the Isles was just a kid when we last saw her, but as you play as her you realise how far she’s come. She’s an Empress who doesn’t shake at the thought of being with her people, or of doing what others don’t want to do if it means she can help the innocent. It’s refreshing to see a woman in a video game who isn’t only a regal leader or a cut-throat assassin. Emily is both, and it makes her one of the most interesting characters in years.
I’m also counting Emily in the first Dishonored. As a little girl and Corvo’s daughter, she has such a moral impact on your actions that it’s impossible to claim she doesn’t influence the game. The realisation that you are determining what kind of childhood she has makes a lot of players review their choices and adopt a different approach to the missions.
Alyx Vance (Half-Life series)
As a young girl, Half-Life 2 was one of the first games I played and Alyx immediately grabbed my interest. She was bold and smart and, next to the ever-silent Gordon, practically a flood of emotions. I wanted to be just like her. I’m an optimist so I’m still holding out hope for Half-Life 3, but mostly because I want to find out what happens next to Alyx. Episode 2 ended on a huge loss for her and I want to play some role in helping her get back on her feet, because I feel I owe it to her.
Alyx’s storylines and the missions she joined you on were some of my favourites because she effortlessly added so much heart to what would otherwise be a simple run and gun game. Without Alyx, there wouldn’t be much of a reason to care about the Combine and G-Man’s riddles.
These are just some of our favourite women in games! They inspire us and make games more interesting, and we love what they mean for young girls just getting involved in our favourite hobby. Who are your favourite leading ladies? Let us know in the comments below or on Twitter at @itstilby and @spookyzill.