The 10 Most Inspiring Female Characters in Video Games
As a feminist, I fully understand those who take issue with highlighting how “inspiring” women can be. We still suffer daily injustices that should have been left in the Stone Age. It would be nice if things just changed for the better, so we didn’t have to be so “inspiring” all the time. That said, allow me to clarify what I mean when I say “inspiring” here:
I find that the women in fiction who inspire me the most are the ones who go through a lot, and don’t come out of it the way we “want” them to. They’re skeptical, challenging, hurt, and demonstrate a complex array of emotions—you know, like real people do. They’re not one-dimensional “cool girls” or total baddies, they can be just as frustrating as anyone you’d meet in real life, but the inspiring part is they persevere, in spite of it all. And some of my favorite fictional women happen to be in video games. So, here are ten women in games who make the grade and leave a positive impact on their players.
Miss April was the one who inspired this article. I’m replaying The Longest Journey for the first time in years, and I’m reminded of how cool it was to control a protagonist who felt so…real. April is only eighteen, and her reactions to all the things that happen to her are realistically how an eighteen-year-old would react.
She’s pessimistic, petulant, and snarky—yet she’s still young and innocent, trying to make a difference all the same. And when her job is done, she goes through what most of us go through: an existential crisis. But she never stops moving forward, even when the going gets rough.
I personally give Zoe extra points because she’s one of the few mixed-race heroines in gaming (we out here, we exist), but of course, that’s not the only thing to appreciate about her. When we first meet Zoe, she’s a depressed college dropout, bumming around her dad’s place and living in privileged decay.
But deep inside, Zoe feels a deep sense of longing for a purpose, and it’s that longing that pushes her to become one of the saviors of her world. Zoe goes from an aimless, spoiled girl into a capable and admirable young woman, and I think that’s pretty badass.
Female rage is a topic that’s rarely handled with any sort of knowledge or care, yet it’s something that needs to be explored. We have a lot to feel angry about. And any attempt to ignore this anger is yet another attempt to control us.
That’s why I love Ellie, as faulty as she is. Her entire arc in The Last of Us 2 is about reconciling with all this pent-up rage and hatred within her, and going through it by way of destruction and pain. She does some truly horrible things, yet her experience—that of a woman fully unleashing her rage, and coming out of it realizing it’s not doing any good—is something we rarely get to experience ourselves. In that sense, playing as Ellie is both cathartic, as well as exhausting, but in a good way.
Although I now cringe at the silly things she says, Max was the first character I could ever truly relate to. When Life is Strange came out, we were the same age, we listened to the same music, and we acted the same way: weird, offbeat, and in that awkward transition between wallflower and socialite.
What made Max so easy to connect to was her authenticity, in the sense that she was written as a real person. When writers try to create a “weird, artsy girl,” they often fall into traps that serve male romantic fantasies (hello, Ramona Flowers). But Max was allowed to just be a person, growing into another person, which has allowed her to continue connecting with other young people through all these years.
Like Ellie, Chloe was a character who had the freedom to act like an angry punk. Unlike Ellie, Chloe lived in the real world, which meant she was constrained by all the rules and abuses that constrain most of us. That meant she wasn’t always pleasant to deal with, but again, I think there’s great value in having a character like this.
When people go through enough in their lives, they sometimes act out as a way of dealing with their trauma. It’s not pretty, but no trauma is, and I think there’s something to be said about lashing out against the world instead of allowing it to silence you further. Chloe’s an asshole, but something made her that way, and we get to see her realize this and heal on her own terms. I think that’s incredibly beautiful and inspiring to see.
If you haven’t already noticed, Life is Strange has a knack for writing women. And after a lot of experience in this department, it makes sense that Alex Chen—their most recent protagonist—is one of the realest, most engaging female characters in gaming to date.
Alex is a complex person: she feels other people’s pain intensely, so she often defaults to a demure exterior, yet she’s very quick to prove she’s actually quite witty and charming when given a chance. She’s endured a lot of pain herself, yet in her attempts to conceal it, she ultimately slows herself down; the climax of the game occurs when she’s forced to confront this pain. Even if True Colors wasn’t as memorable as the original LIS, Alex was a force to behold.
Being a teenage girl ought to be a paid gig, considering how much it sucks. Whether you’re still growing into your body, or you’re already there, the world is all too eager to remind you that you don’t fully belong to yourself. There are creeps and dangers always lurking, either in the shadows or in the back of your mind, when all you wanna do is just have fun.
Silent Hill 3 is perhaps the most accurate (if artistically abstract) replication of these feelings I’ve ever encountered in a video game. The titular town molds itself to its visitors’ innermost fears, and in Heather’s case, everything reminds her of being stalked, unwillingly having children, and other terrible things I won’t force you to read. Yet, even so, Heather is impertinent and strong, and she never loses her sense of self.
As a baby bi, my favorite iteration of Zelda was her Twilight Princess iteration, because, you know, hot. But as an adult, it’s clear to me that Breath of the Wild’s Zelda is the most fully-realized version of the princess, even if she’s not quite a grown-up herself.
This Zelda isn’t picture-perfect. She’s supposed to be chosen by the gods, a living representation of the people’s salvation, but really, she’s just a kid. She hasn’t quite decided who she wants to be, but she has an idea, and like most kids whose parents are way too overbearing, she’s struggling against the shackles of expectation. Yet even with all the burdens she shoulders, Zelda never gives up: when it matters the most, she rises to the occasion and continues to hold on. I’m really excited to see how she copes with the fallout of it all in Breath of the Wild 2, and to see her take more of an active role in the story.
I may seem like a glutton for violence in this list, but I’m really not. I just appreciate stories where women are allowed to fully explore their humanity in worlds that push them to their furthest. With that in mind, Sadie obviously deserves a spot on this list.
This woman had the man she loved brutally taken from her, and although it’s not explicitly stated, it’s implied she suffered even more at the hands of the O’Driscolls. But when her grief has run its course, she turns to rage as her means of survival and becomes one of the most ruthless killers in the gang—all culminating in her slaughtering the gang that stole from her, one by one. In an ideal world, we would have gotten a Sadie epilogue, because her story still had so much richness to it with her newfound journey as a bounty hunter. All the same, I’ll always love Sadie for overpowering the evil that made her suffer.
Had to save one of my all-time favorites for last. The first two Syberia games are always on sale at the Switch store, so I’d recommend checking them out because they just don’t make games like this anymore.
Kate Walker is a lawyer sent to close an acquisition deal, but in the process, she learns her client has a great deal more going on, and so she goes on a journey to investigate him. This journey ends up being her venture into true independence, as she sheds the things holding her back—her dud of a fiancé, her two-faced “friend,” and most of all, her job—and discovers that she’s meant for more in life. It’s a simple, yet eloquent series, one that made me feel incredibly inspired without being heavy-handed in its message. I don’t know if it’s possible to be a Kate Walker anymore, but I’d sure like to think it is.
(featured Image: Nintendo)
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