The Best Femme-Centric Video Games
Video games are a funny medium. You technically have limitless potential to be whoever you want to be, yet somehow it’s a tall order to deliver the following in one fell swoop: a game where you play as a woman, in a story that feels real and maybe even relatable, and where the protagonist’s womanhood goes beyond her huge polygonal tracts of land.
Now, don’t get me wrong, a plot of land is certainly nice to look at, but the fact that it’s so hard to find (let alone ask!) for a house within that land is honestly pathetic. Thankfully, we’re not in a totally barren landscape, and we’ve got new, sustainable real estate popping up every year.
Putting all metaphors aside, here are some of the best games I’ve found that center the stories of women in really engaging, dynamic ways. And, as always, please feel free to add your own suggestions in the comments!
I just wrote a review of the newest Syberia title, so I’m going to gently nudge you that way for a more comprehensive article about the series. However, for this article, I do want to say that Syberia has rung truer for me as an adult woman than any other game I’ve played.
It follows the adventures of Kate Walker, a lawyer from New York who is assigned to a mergers case in Fake Europe that ends up taking her all over the country. It’s a beautiful story about the pain and beauty that comes with moving on in your life, and it’s stayed with me in a very subtle yet effective way.
2. The Longest Journey
When you say the name “April Ryan” to some older gamers, they might just start to tear up. Why is this? Because April Ryan is the original baby of our hearts, and The Longest Journey might just be one of the best games about a young woman out there.
Not only is the narrative of a quality that’s unfortunately become a relic of its time, but the way that April inhabits this narrative is really empathetic and natural. I feel like sometimes, when writing 18-year-old girls, writers end up creating really vapid archetypes that don’t elicit a lot of compassion. April completely defies this and comes out of it as one of the most down-to-earth, hilarious protagonists I can think of in games, period.
3. Dreamfall: The Longest Journey
As the sequel to The Longest Journey, we get two delightful femme-focused narratives in Dreamfall: TLJ. The first is a return to April, wherein she’s older and more jaded, in a way that I personally found very relatable.
But the second narrative is equally as impressive: It follows Zoe Castillo, college dropout extraordinaire (we love to see it). Let’s not kid ourselves into thinking women are either 100% helpless or 100% “girlbossy”; gender is irrelevant when it comes to one’s capacity for handling life’s challenges. In that sense, Zoe is refreshing, because she is a brilliant and beautiful young woman, but she’s struggling in ways that aren’t “sexy.” The entire game is a demonstration of her capacity to grow, and I really do love that.
4. Life Is Strange
Ah, yes. One of the original “teen girls are people” game. I could sing the praises of this game’s handling of femininity all day, clumsy writing notwithstanding. Max and Chloe are utterly desexualized in ways that I appreciate, because society still has a weird hangup about teen girls “needing” to be sexy at all times.
Max is a complete dork and Chloe is reacting to her trauma in very real ways, “palatability” be damned. I love these girls to death. The game came out when I was roughly their age and their stories helped me more than I can say.
5. Life Is Strange: Before the Storm
Similarly, Before the Storm explores the ways teen girls love each other in a manner that is, again, desexualized from the societal gaze, tender and real, and utterly sympathetic. I will say that I think the overall plot of this game is pretty ridiculous and it makes it hard to take this entry seriously as a prequel. But the way it handles Chloe’s terrible teens is, in my opinion, pretty fantastic.
And then there’s Rachel. Thinking of Rachel still breaks my heart. They managed to bring her character to life so fantastically; it’s almost cruel, considering what happens to her later.
6. Horizon: Zero Dawn
I’ll be real here, I’m not a huge fan of the Horizon series! But I’ve been listening to some of your thoughts regarding my criticisms of it, and have come to the following conclusion: While the game overall isn’t really my thing, I do agree that Aloy is a pretty revolutionary character.
Aloy’s entire persona is self-materialized, in the sense that she goes about the world as an individual seeking positive change. She doesn’t operate based on how others might view her; she operates based on her own values and ethics. Her world is one divorced of gendered expectation, and she’s the best exemplar of it.
7. Mass Effect
I didn’t want to include very many—if any—games where you can create your own character, if only because gender isn’t as great of a factor in those games. But in Mass Effect, I really, truly did feel a certain degree of power tripping, playing as my badass beautiful Shepard, gunning down baddies all over the galaxy.
I think a large part of what makes FemShep so beloved by fans is the fact that, unlike its sister title Dragon Age, Mass Effect technically takes place in “our” world. It’s a version of our world that’s more or less overcome systemic inequalities, producing a future in which we can be Shepard. And come on, who wouldn’t want to be Shepard?
8. Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice
One of the big, bad wolves of storytelling is portraying female grief, because … I don’t know, god forbid we grieve? God forbid we stop being consumable for one minute? And god forbid we exhibit signs of mental illness while we grieve?
Hence why Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice is such a tour de force. It’s the sort of game that people have to take breaks from because it doesn’t shy away from the dark places the mind can take you. Moreover, the game’s developers actually researched topics surrounding psychosis, instead of just relying on reductive clichés. Bravo, Ninja Theory.
9. The Last of Us Part II
I have no definitive statements about whether or not The Last of Us Part II is a “good” game. I just know that I like how it handles the women in its narrative. They’re completely removed from societal expectations of palatable womanhood, and they endure (and precipitate) just as much rage, pain, and violence as the men in the story do.
Where this is revolutionary is in the fact that feminine rage is another big bad wolf of storytelling, and people often feel like it needs to be “sufficiently justifiable.” I’ll be honest, as a human being with a lot of pain stored in her, I got more catharsis watching Ellie go through the motions than I did with many other stories.
10. The Path
I still need to figure out how to get this game to work on my computer, but I watched creator Izzzyzzz’s long videos on the game and fell in love with its vision. The Path, inspired by the Little Red Riding Hood fable, follows five sisters of varying ages and stages in life as they stray from the road to Grandmother’s house. Each “wolf” they encounter changes their lives in ways that are abstract in presentation, yet very, very clear to anyone who’s grown up femme—disturbingly, hauntingly, beautifully so.
(featured image: Microids)
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