Women in Video Games: Female Leads and Feminist Titles

Women make up nearly half of the population of video game players, but representation within those games has yet to catch up. We have certainly seen more female protagonists and non-playable main characters year after year. Could this be due to the increasing number of women designers and developers, or brands recognizing that women, also, play video games? 

The selection of titles is now growing, and if you do not think games are for you, some of these might change your mind. Whether it is the beautiful artwork, intriguing game mechanics, or immersive storytelling, here is a small collection that features strong women and are feminist-friendly.

Life Is Strange

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Made by French developers Dontnod and distributed by Final Fantasy publisher Square Enix, Life is Strange explores time travel and relationships. It takes place in the Pacific Northwest, a story revolving around a teenage photographer named Max, who moves back to her hometown to go to art school. While she tries to navigate high school drama, she discovers she can manipulate time, and reconnects with her childhood best friend Chloe.

Much of the game revolves around learning about people, so she can tease out their secrets, all while racing against time to prevent the looming specter of destruction she glimpses in her visions. Though there is a lot of darkness hiding behind the beautiful facade of the town, her relationship with Chloe creates such bittersweet pathos it brings players to tears.

So many games depict women as currency: secondary characters to be won by heroics, or manipulated emotionally. In Life Is Strange, there is emotion, but it is not reduced to flat romances that function as plot devices. There are romantic aspects in the story, but the main connection that the game explores is friendship and its complicated facets reflecting the choices player make through all aspects of the game (and potentially life).

Gone Home

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This title is the first created by Fullbright, and also takes place in the Pacific Northwest. Gone Home was created from the point of view of a young woman, who has just arrived at her family home. It is more of a “story exploration” game, as there are no other characters. She has spent a year abroad, and is coming to stay with her parents and younger sister, all of whom are eerily absent from the house. Through the older sister’s eyes, a coming-of-age story takes shape, as well as a coming out story.

Gone Home is an unusual game from a contemporary perspective, and takes its form from the 90s point-and-click computer games that would have coincided with the time period in which it is set. Tracing the complexities of family relationships and a budding romance, your exploration of the house also involves a Riot Grrrl soundtrack, which movement would have been happening nearby in Portland. Gone Home is contextually sensitive with its animation efficiently setting the atmosphere.

Fullbright is looking forward to their newest work Tacoma, taking place on a spaceship -- a bit more fantasy this time?

Never Alone (Kisima Ingitchuna)

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Speaking of native context, Never Alone is a female-protagonist game of a different genre. In Never Alone you play an Iñupiat girl named Nuna and her companion Fox, as they try to solve the mystery of a never ending blizzard that is threatening her people. The two characters work cooperatively to solve problems. The game was created with the contribution of 40 elders, storytellers, and community members of the Iñupiat, Alaska natives. Narrated in their own language, the environment was built informed by their folk tales, customs, and values.

Not only this is a story about a girl who saves her village, it also provides a window into the Arctic world that is seldom seen by the rest of us down South. Never Alone was created by Upper One Games, which was established by a for-profit subsidiary of the Cook Inlet Tribal Council, the first indigenous-owned commercial game company. It won the Games for Change award in 2016.

The Last of Us

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The only entry in this post that does not star a woman as the main playable character, The Last of Us, nevertheless comes up in many feminist-friendly lists. This post-apocalyptic zombie action game flips the script with a female companion that is not just a damsel-in-distress. Ellie, a teenager that you team up with early in the game, is considered to be the other main character in this game, and possibly even the scene-stealer. Her impact in the game makes her an integral part of many reviewers’ experience.

While the video game industry is not known for its inclusiveness, there are some really great titles that star complex, badass women. We’re seeing more all the time, and it’ll mean more representation, and intersectionality in this powerful interactive medium. Hopefully it will also mean greater diversity within the community that’s making games too!