Let’s start with this: we are all human beings, and there’s nothing wrong with thinking that some people are sexy. It only becomes a problem when a subset of people becomes fetishized, or are seen as nothing more than objects to be sexualized. More often than not, women are the ones objectified, even though demographics have shown that nearly fifty percent of gamers are female. The problems remain: the industry has traditionally catered to young men, and changing mentalities is a slow process. This is why, in 2017, we still see female characters who are supposed to be badass warriors, and yet, are still dress in impractical and revealing outfits.
This is what companies still think that we want as gamers. The entire industry has been guilty of following this trend, and unless we let developers and publishers alike know that we are ready to move forward with a more equal and realistic depiction of women, ridiculous female armours and two-line backstories will remain for the foreseeable future.
Once again, there is nothing wrong with a woman being sexy and showing skin. It’s problematic, however, if a woman’s worth is reduced solely to her attractiveness. This is why we have decided to balance things out a little and offer this list of female characters who are more than their physical appearance. These characters are strong, though not necessarily in the physical sense. They are fleshed-out, fully realized characters with motivations beyond providing eye candy or serving as objects for the player to rescue.
These are the kind of female characters of which we need more.
15 Lara Croft (Tomb Raider)
Though Lara Croft first became famous because of her very 90s (and extremely blocky) depiction of the female anatomy, the first Tomb Raider (and some of its sequels) are fantastic games which showcase Lara’s many abilities. Not only is she an archeologist, but she is also something of a survivalist, surviving a plane crash in the Himalayas and relying on her wits to stay alive in the mountains. She’s also a bit of a gun enthusiast, rarely being seen without her two handguns.
As for the brainy parts, she is credited (in-game) with discovering the Ark of the Covenant, the Philosopher’s Stone, and a bunch of sacred artifacts from the lost world of Atlantis. Any of those discoveries by themselves would be enough to make her the Neil deGrasse Tyson of archeology, and yet Lara is content with retiring to her manor after her adventures.
14 Nisha The Lawbringer
Nisha is one of the four playable characters in Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel, where she is known for her proficiency with handguns — and for being merciless. In the Borderlands universe, she is also known as the Sheriff of Lynchwood, a town she rules as a tyrant (where each of her 200 laws are punishable by death). As a bad-ass gunslinger, she is also ruthless, taking on any job which allows her to kill the most bandits.
Though Borderlands 2 depicts her as a villain, The Pre-Sequel shows that the character is a lot more morally ambiguous than first thought. We learn about her dysfunctional childhood (where she had to put down her own puppy with a shovel) and about her relationship with Handsome Jack. These two things would be enough to send any sane human being over the edge, but Nisha simply embraces the madness.
13 Impa (The Legend Of Zelda)
Like most characters in The Legend of Zelda, Impa has had many incarnations, showing her as anything from a young caretaker to an elderly village leader. The different versions of Impa do share a few characteristics, such as the fact that she seems to be near immortal, often living way past the normal life expectancy of a regular human being. She is also often depicted as the real parental figure in Zelda's life, raising her and nurturing her powers. In Ocarina of Time, Zelda is able to hide as a ninja in Hyrule for seven years. Make no mistake: this is because of Impa’s guidance.
When depicted as an older woman, Impa is always a wise leader, often one of the last protectors of Hyrule before the land entirely succumbs to Ganon’s evil. Sure, Link always swoops in and gets all the glory. But more often than not, if there is anything left to save by the time Link arrives, it’s because Impa was there to hold everything together.
12 Sonya Blade (Mortal Kombat)
Sonya was the first female character in the Mortal Kombat series, and, as such, she has been given a lot of character growth over the years. Originally a mere member of the Earthrealm Special Forces, she is now the General of the Outer World Investigation Unit. Sure, those are all made up agencies, but it’s a pretty big deal in the Mortal Kombat universe. It means that she’s the boss of Cassie Cage, Jax, Cyrax, and Kenshi. It also means that she gets to hold a grudge against Kano for an unhealthily long time, though he did murder her partner so we can give her a pass on this one.
Also, while it’s an ability that most Mortal Kombat characters possess, let’s not forget that she can kill people with her bare hands (or her legs — she’s pretty versatile), often ripping them in half in the process. That certainly makes her one of the most scary-strong people on this list.
11 Chun Li (Street Fighter)
While most lists choose to focus on Chun-Li’s thighs, this one would rather focus on her martial arts expertise, a skill which she developed to such a point that she can move her legs as fast as lightning. Her skills are no accident, however, as they were acquired through her father’s teaching as well as her police officer training.
Most people seem to forget that Chun-Li is an officer for Interpol, and that as such she is a dedicated protector of the innocent. Her sense of justice motivates most of her actions throughout the Street Fighter series, though she is also fueled by a desire for revenge. Bison did kill her father, which is one of the few things the 1994 movie got right about her. No matter the amount of disturbing fan art, it’s impossible to deny Chun-Li’s toughness.
10 Claire Redfield (Resident Evil)
Originally appearing in Resident Evil 2, Claire Redfield had to show what she is made of from the get-go: in a city where everyone seems to either be dead or an undead monster, Claire is one of the few people who manages to survive until the end. Better than that, she voluntarily stays in a city that she knows is overrun by zombies and mutated creatures.
Claire’s reason for putting herself at risk is her brother, Chris Redfield, whom she aims to save. This is a nice inversion of the usual trope, though Chris did not even end up being in Raccoon City. Throughout the series, she shows dedication to the people she is tasked with protecting, often taking on the role of a mentor to her charges. With Resident Evil often reusing characters from its past, her resourcefulness makes her a character we would love to see again.
9 Samus Aran (Metroid)
As one of the elders of this list, Samus Aran has been going all over the galaxy since the mid-80s. Just by her job description, Samus is the ultimate badass: she is a space bounty hunter, which just might be the greatest combination of three words ever spoken in the English language. As one of the first female protagonists in video games history, her reveal in the original Metroid was a breakthrough at the time, and she paved the way for more women to be depicted as heroes and warriors in gaming.
Even if we only take the character for who she is, she’s an ex-soldier who runs around planets and star bases shooting space pirates with her gigantic arm cannon, which can produce anything from energy beams to missiles to ice particles. She’s a history maker AND a machine of destruction. You can’t really ask for anything more.
8 Alyx Vance (Half-Life 2)
Though Alyx is never a playable character in Half-Life 2, she shows more personality than the protagonist, Gordon Freeman, ever does. She’s also an invaluable companion, and the main reason why the player can progress and stay alive through the game. As one of the main figures of the Resistance, she could stay behind and direct things from afar, but she knows that Gordon does not stand a chance on his own. Instead, she tags along for most of the game and acts as a guardian angel.
Not only is she a skilled hacker who can break through locked doors and reprogram turrets, but she’s also a proficient shooter, who takes out enemies, often before you even see them, with her precise aim. She’s also an accomplished mechanic, as exemplified by Dog, her pet robot, which she built from scrap parts. Basically, Alyx is like Anakin Skywalker without the Force, but also minus the whining.
7 Jacqui Briggs (Mortal Kombat)
There are two main things which make Jacqui Briggs an interesting character. The first one is that she’s a kickboxing champion, having competed in the Junior Olympics at some point before becoming a professional. Being paid to kick people in the face is a pretty impressive way to make a living, in my opinion. The second thing is that she is a member of the Earthrealm Special Forces, meaning that she actively and voluntarily joins the fight against the Netherrealm, mostly to avenge her father’s suffering.
Oh yeah, she also has mechanical gauntlets on her hands, which give her powers similar to her father’s cyborg arms, but without needing to have your limbs ripped off first. With her gauntlets equipped, she can fire plasma, bullets or even rockets from her fingers, which is always a plus when trying to rip people in half or putting a hole in their head.
6 Chell (Portal)
Not much is known about Chell, but what we do know is that —like a futuristic John Cena— she just never gives up. In Portal, she is put through a series of grueling tests, which she must perform with only the help of the portal gun, and sometimes, a Companion Cube. Eventually, she even takes down the unstable GLaDOS single-handedly, only to be dragged back to the lab and do it all over again.
In Portal 2, Chell not only has to contend with GLaDOS again, she also has to take on the mad-with-power Wheatley and, through a series of events which is kind of hard to break down in a short paragraph, ends up in space. Through it all, Chell has only her resourcefulness and wits to guide her, and through sheer perseverance, she does triumph in the end.
5 Commander Shepard (Mass Effect)
Commander Shepard is a fascinating pick because the character could technically be either male or female. Interviews with the developers show that both versions of Shepard were given equal importance during conception. The writers approached Shepard as genderless with most lines being spoken by both genders. A female Shepard is as charismatic, powerful, and ultimately terrifying to her adversaries as the male version.
Furthermore, though statistics indicate that the male version was played more than its counterpart, the online consensus seems to be that the voice actor for FemShep is a lot more enjoyable and makes for a more engaging experience. Jennifer Hale, who plays FemShep, brings a lot of emotion and texture to her performance. Her version of Shepard is less robotic and more human, which explains why her online following is so vocal.
4 Joanna Dark (Perfect Dark)
Though her second game was a bit of a letdown, the first one was such a success that it’s a surprise Joanna Dark did not become a household name. Joanna Dark is a super spy from the future who is so good at her craft that she has been nicknamed “Perfect Dark.” She is not only the stealthiest of them all: she is also deadly with a gun and can work her way out of any situation.
What takes the character over the top is the fact that she also happens to save an alien, the entirety of planet Earth, and eventually the alien’s homeworld. All in a day’s work: Joanna saves two planets, but also takes down an entire race of hostile aliens on their own turf. She’s an interplanetary heroine, one highly deserving of a second chance at reviving her franchise.
3 Jade (Beyond Good & Evil)
The universe of Beyond Good & Evil is a fascinating one — if not a bit strange. Despite all the anthropomorphic boars and aliens roaming around, Jade remains the most interesting character in the story. At first simply taking care of orphaned children, she becomes a photo-journalist and eventually, an instrumental part of the resistance against the DomZ, the story’s main antagonists.
Over the course of the game, Jade saves her friend, kills the bad guys, and takes down an entire human trafficking organization. The only thing missing to make her an all powerful entity, really, is the ability to bring back dead people.
Wait, what? She can do that too? How is there not a sequel to this yet? The creator, Michel Ancel, keeps teasing that Beyond Good & Evil 2 is in pre-production, but nothing concrete has come out, yet.
2 Tifa Lockhart (Final Fantasy VII)
While Cloud is the main protagonist of Final Fantasy VII, Tifa Lockhart is the real glue holding everyone together. She is the one who convinces Cloud to join AVALANCHE, and when Cloud eventually falls to Sephiroth’s manipulative ways, she is the one who saves him and makes him a functioning human being again.
Independently of her relationship with Cloud, Tifa is a bar owner, and a martial artist who relies on her fists more than magic. She also becomes the party leader at several points in the quest where Cloud is unavailable because of his Sephiroth-related injuries. Basically, without Tifa around, there wouldn’t be much of a fight against Sephiroth, and the world of Final Fantasy VII would be doomed to a quick death by meteorite. And she didn’t need the help of an oversized sword to do any of it.
1 Zarya (Overwatch)
Gameplay-wise, Zarya is a badass tank who is difficult to master but whose skills are extremely rewarding. Story-wise, she is an athlete and role-model who is renowned for her strength, both physically and mentally.
Born in Siberia, Zarya is an elite bodybuilder and weightlifter who was on the verge of becoming a star in her native Russia. However, on the eve of the world championship, her village was attacked and sent to war. She withdrew from the competition and went to work back home, joining the local army to defend the people she cares about.
Finally, as one of the strongest characters in the game, she wields a particle cannon which was straight-up ripped from a tank, and which she uses as a regular weapon. Now imagine if anyone did that in real life: carry a tank’s cannon around because a regular gun is just too ineffective for your tastes. I can’t really think of anything more intimidating.