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Last year for International Women’s Day we here at the Gaming Section, deep in the basement of HeadStuff HQ, wrote about the women behind the games we all love so much. Well the call came down from upstairs and bellowed “MORE! MORE!”. So despite forgetting what sunlight is and breaking the last file on our iron shackles we set to work.
Women are inspiring. In real life, in books, in movies but especially in video games. No other medium allows for direct control of a character. By playing video games we experience stories through characters. Whether they’re our own avatars, side characters or the protagonist set by the game the stories told through and by them are often cathartic and inspiring. Some of the best and most powerful stories are those told by the women we play as, interact with or even create. Below you’ll find 11 examples of inspiring women in games along with a quote either from or to do with them.
11. Claire Redfield – Resident Evil Series.
Claire Redfield is not just a badass, she’s an interesting badass. Unlike her dullard, muscle man brother Chris and boy band reject Leon Claire’s was the first interesting story told by the Resident Evil series. When Claire meets Sherry Birkin the story of Resident Evil 2 becomes a whole lot more interesting. Not only does Claire have to rescue Sherry from her mutated father and an insane police chief she must also find a cure for the young girl before the G Virus mutates her as well.
Both Leon and Chris are cops. Claire’s only a college student when she’s plunged into the nightmare that is Raccoon City. Still she fights tooth and nail to protect herself and Sherry from the zombies, Lickers and G mutated freaks prowling the city. The theme of motherhood is all too clear from the moment Claire and Sherry meet and it gives the game an excuse for Claire to retrieve a mini-gun and decimate the horribly mutated William Birkin one last time. Mr X might be invincible but not much stands between Claire and her trusty grenade launcher.
10. Eileen the Crow – Bloodborne
Probably the coolest of all the hunters that can be found throughout Yharnam. Eileen looks like a Medieval plague doctor with her beaked mask and scalpel-like knives. She means business too because Eileen is no ordinary hunter of beasts. She is a hunter of hunters. The hunters are sworn to protect the city of Yharnam from its ever encroaching beast curse. Eileen is sworn to seek out the hunters that have been corrupted by their lust for blood and kill them.
Hunting in Yharnam is a tough job. Dealing with corrupted citizens, void nightmares and creatures from beyond the stars is all in a night’s work but it takes a toll on the mind and the body. What toll then is taken on Eileen? Having to kill your work colleagues when they’re the first and last line of defense against the beast curse must be incredibly tough. Eileen is inspiring not because she dresses like a cool Van Helsing but because she perseveres against all odds. Going to work is hard but going to work and knowing you might have to kill your work BFF is harder.
9. Elizabeth – BioShock Infinite
Perseverance will come up a lot on this list because that’s what a lot of video game characters do, they persevere. Through bullets and bombs and beasts gaming’s greatest heroes have all pushed through. Elizabeth from BioShock Infinite is no different. Her will to escape is only hindered by her incredible, time-altering powers. Even they, in time, fall to her will. Elizabeth might not be playable but she is the most helpful AI companion this side of 50 Cent Blood on the Sand.
A benefit of ripping time apart and then stitching it back together is the ability to bring weapons and cover across from other dimensions. As her protector Booker DeWitt benefits from these abilities. Her enemies not so much. Though these powers form the crux of the game’s bittersweet finale they also give Elizabeth the ability to become an all-knowing oracle who can see across time’s vast ocean.
The echoing refrain of “There’s always a lighthouse. There’s always a man. There’s always a city” is haunting and harrowing because it speaks to Elizabeth’s now infinite knowledge. Before the final battle Elizabeth asks Booker if he is afraid of God. His response? “No but I’m afraid of you.” And so he should be but the sad acceptance in Elizabeth’s eyes tells a thousand different stories all with the same ending.
8. Princess Peach – The Mario Bros. Series
Yeah, yeah I know just listen. Listicles are often seen as a necessary evil of online journalism. Some would hesitate to even call them journalism. But didn’t the above segment about Elizabeth just remind you how good a game – weird revolutionary politics aside – BioShock Infinite is? Don’t you want to play Bloodborne again? Isn’t Claire Redfield cool? There, point made. Anyway onto the Princess.
Heavy is the crown strong must she be who wears it. Princess Peach has been kidnapped dozens of times and rushed between safe-houses by increasingly monstrous creatures hundreds if not thousands of times. Not to mention her original kidnap by a massive ape as well as her participation in the supposedly fun, actually torturous Mario Party games. Princess Peach is a survivor, a heroine of her own making forged in the fires of Castle Bowser. If anyone could survive a Bowsette meme – God forgive us – it was the heir to the throne of the Mushroom Kingdom.
7. Sadie Adler – Red Dead Redemption 2
Is Sadie inspiring? I would think so from the beginning of Red Dead Redemption 2 although the later game complicates this. She survives the murder of her husband, capture at the hands of the degenerate O’Driscolls and numerous other gunfights and brawls along the way. Those are facts. She also becomes a murderer, a thief and a general criminal thanks to her being taken in by the Dutch Van Der Linde gang. That’s another fact.
Sadie is inspiring not because she survives bloodshed. Nor is she inspiring because her survival allows her to continue the cycle of violence. Sadie is inspiring because she learns from her time with the gang. She uses her knowledge acquired during her time with Dutch and the boys to become a professional bounty hunter. Her capacity for and willingness to commit violence is turned into a public good. Sadie is inspiring because she finds and forges her own path at a time when women were boxed in.
6. Madeline – Celeste
Celeste never loses focus. From its icy, encouraging chip tune soundtrack to its main heroine Madeline Celeste is really only about one thing: climbing a mountain. The mountain is both literal and metaphorical. Why do we climb mountains? Because they are there. Madeline is climbing Celeste Mountain to prove that she is not afraid. She wants to master her fears. She can’t do this without knowing her fears. She is afraid of failing and this manifests as a darker, purple haired version of herself.
Fear has never been presented so literally in a game. Madeline is afraid of failure and so are we. We are, in our different ways, afraid of not reaching the summit just as we are afraid of finding out what awaits us there. The only way to know and master both of these unique fears is by pushing forward. To conquer our metaphorical mountains we must also conquer the physical one. Neat, right?
5. Aloy – Horizon: Zero Dawn
Aloy is an outcast but she is also the Chosen One. Horizon: Zero Dawn might essentially be Star Wars with cave men and robot dinosaurs but it’s the characters that make the world come to life. Aloy’s ascent from ignored outcast to Anointed savior is quick and leaves the poor young woman with a hell of a case of cognitive dissonance. Not only is she now welcomed where she was once shunned but now she must save those doing the shunning.
Aloy doesn’t want any of this. Aloy wants to travel the world, see new places and meet new people. Saving the world, these places and these people was never really on her agenda. That’s what makes her so easy to root for. A lesser person would retreat into a hole and wait out the end of the world. Aloy attacks the apocalypse with teeth bared and bow drawn despite a life lived in forced isolation. She might not be the hero of her own story but she’s the hero in everyone else’s and that’s all that matters.
4. Sam – Gone Home
It takes a lot of chutzpah to up sticks and run away with your girlfriend. But Sam did that. Gone Home gets a lot of flack for not being a traditional game but just because you’re not shooting anything or hopping from platform to platform doesn’t mean Gone Home doesn’t get to be a game. Gone Home tells a warm, empathetic, heartbreaking story and although the player character is Katie it’s Sam that the story moves around. Sam and her girlfriend Lonnie are never seen outside of the odd photo or sketch but they don’t need to be, so well written are their characters.
Gone Home, beyond whatever else it did or didn’t do for games, recognises what it’s like to feel alone and afraid. The house is an unfamiliar environment for Katie just as it was for Sam but as players begin to know its rooms and corridors and secret passages we come to know and to sympathise with Sam’s plight. Home doesn’t have to be a place it can be a person and Sam found that home in Lonnie. If Sam’s story lit a spark or warmed someone’s heart then that’s enough to be inspiring.
3. Ciri – The Witcher series
Ciri pops up pretty rarely in the first two Witcher games which is fair enough considering Geralt’s amnesia. In The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt Ciri is constant. A figure of both fact and fiction it’s never clear whether Ciri exists in the real world or whether Geralt is just chasing a ghost. Until we see her story from her own perspective. Ciri is a well-trained young woman as quick with her wits as she is with her sword. For a woman being constantly hunted by inter-dimensional elves encased in black steel she’s maintained a pretty decent sense of humour.
Ciri is the heir to the throne of Cintra, a long extinct nation whose lands are wanted by all the Northern Kings. Ciri doesn’t give a fuck about any of that though. She’s content to live life like the man who raised her. Eschewing ball gowns for riding boots, scepters for swords and fine wine for grog Ciri is in defiance of every known ladylike behaviour as well as several laws probably. Ciri inspires me everyday. I only dress nice when absolutely necessary thanks to Ciri.
2. Elena Fisher – The Uncharted series
No Lara Croft isn’t on this list. I was never a Tomb Raider fan and her colonial heritage and activities aren’t exactly inspiring. Plenty to admire about Elena Fisher though. Award-winning journalist, crack shot in a firefight, loving mother, expert climber and she should win an award for putting up with Nathan Drake. The woman’s a hero, the men around her are complete idiots but she tolerates them because she loves them but never at a personal cost. Elena breaks up with Nathan Drake twice because of how stupidly stubborn he is. She never waits around for him either instead fate sends them back to each other over and over again.
Elena is her own woman who just so happens to have a tomb raiding thief for a husband. A husband who eventually settles down with her out of choice rather than than being forced to. Nathan Drake might be a fool and a rascal and a thief but he’s nothing without Elena. Without Elena he’s just another murdering, wise-cracking idiot with a million dollar smile.
1. Ellie – The Last of Us series
I could probably write a book about how much The Last of Us meant to me. I won’t but I could. The fulcrum around which The Last of Us operates is Ellie. Scared but brave, alone but open, naive but knowing Ellie is a walking contradiction but that just makes her more human. Her story is intertwined with protagonist Joel’s so that the two become one. It’s a tale of survival, surrogacy and sacrifice. A man from the world before it ended desperately trying to keep a hold on his jagged memories. A girl born into a cruel world fighting for more than a mere existence.
Ellie never feels rote or unrealistic. Her experiences are anchored in the shared empathy and cruelty of her fellow humans. The fungal zombies running about the place might be a problem but the real issue is our fellow man. Ellie’s story, from the moment we meet this impetuous brat, is a universal one. The world rests heavily on her shoulders, threatening at every moment to crush her. Most people in the world of The Last of Us merely exist Ellie wants to live and thrive. If that’s not inspiring then I don’t know what is.