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Recently on a podcast a viewer tweeted in to ask “What was my favourite female protagonist growing up?” It should have been an easy question but after pausing for an extra long 10 seconds where “Tails is not actually a girl” was spinning round my mindhole over and over, I defaulted to Lara Croft who was the ONLY female protagonist of my childhood I could think of. Despite me wanting to throw the PS1 controller (and the subsequently attached PS1) out the window as her hexagonal head dumbly stared away from attackers or she moaned “No, wrong key” in her ever present monotone, she was my only option.

nina williams tekken

As the younger of two sisters, even in games where you could choose a female character, such as Streets of Rage, my sister ultimately got first pick and so chose the token female before I even got a chance. It probably wasn’t until I started playing Tekken many years later that I even played a female character I actually liked. I loved Nina Williams electric punches, but still if given the choice I would go with Eddie Gordo due to my young hearts fascination with Brazil and his fighting style Capoeria.

In fact looking back through the roster of games I loved, Sonic, Ape Escape, Disney Titles, Spyro, Final Fantasy all had male lead protagonists. In Pokemon from the second gen I could play as a boy or girl, and while I was delighted by this, it was mostly superficial, and I still often play as the boy to liven things up a bit. Despite this as a child I don’t think I even noticed the lack of female protagonists. If I was given a choice I would always choose the character I most identified with, this was often a girl, but could be the feminine haired Hwoarang for example.
streets of rage character screen

I think this is something everyone does. Whether it’s my sister and I fighting over who got to be Miss Scarlet in Cluedo or her picking the white female character in Micro Machines, leaving me with the black female character. On reflection, I found this interesting as I obviously identified with my gender first and race second. Though had there been a feminine looking male with long, blonde hair, I could have just as easily chosen him.

Looking back on the past and still present lack of female protagonists in video games, I pondered on whether this was the huge problem everyone claims it to be. While I would say that my experience of playing the recently controversial Bayonetta 2 was certainly heightened by the character Jeanne, who I identified with as a gorgeous, kick-ass version of myself, if say Rodin had her moves, I could have as easily chosen him. When playing recent games such as Hyrule Warriors or Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel! I chose Link and Claptrap respectively based on their special abilities. While admittedly a female character could have been given these special powers I personally enjoy playing, they weren’t , in the same way that male characters aren’t given Jeanne’s high attack, low defence fighting style which suits mine.

jeanne bayonetta 2

I think what’s more important than having a playable character of your gender is to have a character you identify with. While more female protagonists, or simply choice of protagonists in general is always nice, personally play style and identification is far more important. As the younger sibling, my sister often ran off ahead of me, leaving me in the dust, she was in complete control, and while I had my own special skills, she only waited around if she needed me. In other words I was Tails. I identified with the character so strongly I believed him to be female, because I was female and I was him.

So if you ask me who my favourite female protagonist of my childhood was, it’s Tails. Genitals irrelevant.


Georgina Young

Contributor

British girl, currently in Japan. Surviving on a diet of retro games. Worshiping the god that is the Sega Megadrive. I like Nintendo.



  • Stuart Burns

    Valkyrie Lenneth will always stand out for me.

  • wcg

    Mine was The Bionic Woman. I loved that TV series and Six Million Dollar Man.

  • This is a really interesting topic you are breaking and it leaves me a bit conflicted. I agree that we don’t need genders to identify with a character, but I would say they make it far, far easier because they are the most obvious of similarities we can share with a character. Without knowing anything about the characters personality or his experiences, we can see that he belongs to our gender (or doesn’t) and that leads, especially in kids, to the subconscious bias you are talking about.

    You projected yourself onto Tails because you didn’t know about his gender, but I do wonder how things would have changed back then for you if you’d known that he is supposed to be male. You were, in a sense, lucky to not know of Tails gender because this allowed you to subvert the subconscious bias you would have had at the time.

    Though I have to say that I find the whole topic interesting. Why do we have that subconscious bias towards our own gender? Is it a societal construct (as many post-modernists would argue) or is it something biological, an inherent ability to identifysimilarities that make us levitate towards those who share them?

    I saw that effect in action myself back in 2000 or so, when we had a Dreamcast in the mall running Dead or Alive 2 and none of the boys that frequented the game consoles after school dared to pick a female character. It’s like it had become this unwritten taboo, we didn’t talk about it, we didn’t acknowledge that the taboo was there, we just adhered to it. We all picked Hayabusa (because he’s a frigging Ninja) or Bass (cause he looked a bit like Hulk Hogan and was huge as a tree) or whoever else there was, but no one dared to even give Helena or Ayane a second look. We played “Winner stays” and I ended up winning some, losing some. Fun was had.

    But at one point I stopped being comfortable with the unwritten taboo. Why shouldn’t I pick a girl? So when my turn came again, I selected Kasumi. I can still remember the exasperated reaction at me picking a female character and sound bites in the vein of “She’s a girl, she’s too weak”. Needless to say, but I didn’t lose even once for the next hour or so until I had to go home. Kasumi was simply too fast for the male characters. Next day at the mall, I wasn’t the only one playing female characters. The taboo had been broken. And that’s why Kasumi is my favourite female character growing up.

  • Jeremy Corbeil

    Some might argue that gender enchances the indentifiableness (is that a word?) of a character. In other words, if a character you identify with was your gender, you would identify with that character less if it wasn’t your gender. Moreover, mileage may vary based on the individual and how masculine/feminine that person is. I guess what I’m saying is: I appreciate your perspective and I admire your perspective of identifying beyond gender. Though, I’m not sure everyone is capable of being so broad minded.

    Personally, as a guy, I don’t mind having more female protagonists at all. I like slipping into the mentality of characters regardless of how much I identify with them, as long as I generally like the character. Having said that, let’s be honest, I like sexy video game characters. Like Maya from BL2 -> pretty damn hot. Maya’s a great character in her own right to begin with, but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t find her easy on the eyes.

  • More females (and everything else in between and different colors, etc) is fine by me as long as it fits with what the developers want to make and they are not pressured to do so by certain cancerous elements of our society. Ultimately it doesn’t matter if the game is crap. The only female protagonist that comes to my mind right now I liked (besides Lara Croft) is Cate Archer.

  • Gasbandit

    As a staunch GamerGate supporter, I would welcome more female protagonist options. I’m always a big fan of character customization – it really helps immersion for me. I think this is one of the areas where, for example, the saints row franchise really gets things right. I’m all for additions to gaming – more character options, including more female options, is a good thing. What I don’t like is when people tell developers what they CAN’T do. “I don’t like this boobplate/chainmail bikini, get rid of it” etc. Tokenism isn’t true inclusiveness, and I don’t want the creative process to have a social justice “sword of damocles” hanging over its head, with devs going through the game with a checklist saying “did we address feminist issues the requisite minimum number of times?”

    Of course, Just like every 80s kid, my first notable female protagonist was Samus Aran, and yes, my friends and I all put in the Justin Bailey code to have her run around in her zero suit (just called her swimsuit back then). But it was quite the plot twist for 6 year old me to realize this badass bounty hunter had been a girl all along.

  • Kitten Mother

    Y U NO Dixie Kong??

    …I grew up with Dixie Kong from the Donkey Kong series ( SNES ) and always loved Dixie. She was very little like me, though…but I still freakin’ loved that character. Most others I had to identify with were..male characters. Like Timber ( Diddy Kong Racing ) Bowser ( from all games…for some reason I really freakin’ love Bowser and will choose him every time in Mario Kart games ), Funky Kong ( had a big crush on him when I was little…no idea why xD )….and for the most part, that was pretty much all I can think of.

  • inningseahorse

    I seem to be pretty much alone on this, but as a girl, I always preferred playing as male characters. It was always nice and something different to play as a girl (Beyond Good and Evil was my favourite) but if given the choice, I would choose the guy every time. (Not transgender either.)

  • TeLin特林

    That is one badaas story!

  • TeLin特林

    My wife played Persona3Portable last year…when Persona 4 Golden came out it took me forever to convince her to play it…AL because she wasn’t given the choice to play as a female protagonist.

    Eventually she tries it a month or so ago…and is addicted.

    I think, for some, choosing your own gender enhances the experience.

    My wife is a feminist.(Gamergate has almost become a “Dead Wo/man Zone”…and weirdly she used to dislike Anita but now she’s all behind her….but I digress…) So, perhaps it’s an empowering feeling for some females…and perhaps for some guysid imagine…

    I’d honestly love to see more games with a female protagonist rather than a superficial choice.

  • Rogar the Greater

    As long as it’s what the developer wants, and that they don’t feel pressured into it.

  • Groovie Dood

    Growing up and playing games. I never once picked a character to ‘identify’ with. I always chose the one that suited my play style. Of course I was an Atari kid. there wasn’t a lot of male/female types in games then. 8 bit arcades and the like.
    When Games evolved into a better representation of people and computer memory allowed for a more complete story to be told. I never chose on game over another, just because of the protagonists sex/race. I was just as likely to pick E Honda, or Guile as Opposed to Chi Li in street fighter 2. It all depended on how I wanted to play that day.
    Tomb Raider was my favorite game for a long time. I’d stay up til 3-4 am listening to the radio and trying to solve the level or find all the secrets. It never occurred to me that she was a female and I was a male. I just didn’t care. it was a fun game. That is all that mattered.
    Now I’m older. Games are so much more advanced. I always pick female avatars in games. Why? Because I like the female form more than the male. It is more appealing to look at. (call me sexist IDGAF.)
    tl;dr I don’t care about sex/race in a game I play. I just want a fun, involved game.

  • Cy

    No, what we need is more well written characters. It doesn’t matter what gender they are (although personally I’d rather play as a guy), just that they aren’t lazy stereotypes or characters that are only there to fill a diversity quota. Honestly, I’d like to see more games go the created character route. I love creating characters, and it’s an easy way to be “inclusive” without going on a war against white, male characters.

  • Namirual Alyt

    There are two major elements to this discussion. One is “game as service” vs. “game as art”. Games that I would consider services are most multiplayer games that involve player avatars, like MOBAs, MMORPGs and the like. In these cases there having a variety of female avatars should be the default position unless there are really stringent thematic considerations.

    As far as single-player games with narratives go, I’m of the opinion creative freedom in crafting the narrative always trumps any right to have the kind of avatar you’d like. I say this largely because I’ve always preferred fixed protagonist to customisable characters; a character you create yourself will hardly ever have an interesting story arc, making them pretty bland as protagonists. The problem is, so long as games revolve around violence as the primary method of conflict resolution, male protagonists are going to be more common. Outside action games things are more equitable, but it’s only a partial solution. Honestly, though, I think that current rut of bland male action hero protagonists that most AAA games have would be dire even even if you disregard the gender issue; with any luck things will get better once the industry tires of making bland cinematic shooters.

    Something that was more common before but is increasinly rare in this day and age is the Resident Evil arrangement – two protagonists, one male, one female, both with their own slightly different scenarios. I really wish games did that more often, because in many ways it’s really the best arrangement possible. (Also, Jill was always better than Chris.)

  • We don’t need more bankrupt studios, that’s for sure.

  • SirBittle

    A character is what you make of it. In lots of games, gender is superficial and doesn’t actually affect anything. If it’s a story being driven around that character however and they have their own personality, own thoughts, other than just being an avatar for you, then I think it helps in any situation to be well-written.

    What I don’t want are games where a female protagonist is used just for being female. That is, a character with no development that is just trying to fill some kind of quota and then claimed to be “progressive”. There are plenty of games with meaningless male protagonists, but no one heralds those as being special somehow.

    I think games are art. If artists want to have a female character, let them. If they want to have a male character, let them. Neither is sexist.

  • Mark Andrew Edwards

    I dunno.

    I preferred playing Blaze or Chun Li, her kick attack was deadly. There never seemed to be a shortage of female characters to play in games where the gender of the protagonist mattered. (was the tank in Battlezone a guy or a girl? And what IS Qbert anyway?)

    I care more about the game than about the gender I’m playing. Though I do appreciate a girls butt if I have to stare at one for hundreds of hours. Looking at you, WOW.

  • Andy

    Do we need more Black protagonists?
    Do we need more Yellow(asian) protagonists?
    Do we need more Trans protagonists?
    Do we need more Animal protagonists?

    ect ect ect.

    What does it even matter? Its about the game. Not the protagonists.
    There is no NEED in any protagonists.

  • watwut

    I’m a women too and character gender (in both games and movies) is pretty much irrelevant to me too. Gender is just one of many characteristics one have and it is far from being the most important. Personality and the situation the character is in matter much more.

    For example, I can not relate myself to rigid strict characters no matter what their gender is. Flexible chaotic characters work perfectly fine for me, again, no matter what their gender is. I do not care much about visionaries cooking up grand strategies, I do like assassins and troubleshooters. It is much easier to relate to a male with similar personality and discard his gender then into a women with personality too far from mine.

    That does not mean that I can not enjoy a game with unrelatable character, just that I will play it for reasons other then the character itself.

    Moreover, I do not think female character current batch of feminists calls for could possibly lead to characters I would like. They demand female characters to be perfect (and stereotypical) females while I prefer somewhat flawed characters. It is so much more fun to play someone flawed. They demand that female character is not insulted or mistreated at any moment, but I like when the character is underdog for a while and rises up from there.

  • Issunsaki

    +1 for Cate Archer.
    I personally don’t believe any other female character (or male, even) can ever top her level of awesome.

  • Jonathan Roberts

    Gender is just one of a multitude of elements that go into designing a character. As long as the chacacter is compelling and in some way relatable. Think of your favourite characters throughout your whole time playing video games, why did you like them so much? was it the fact they were male/female that made you love them?

  • Bee Stee

    I think imagining yourself as the character you’re playing is always a fascinating discussion. Recently Lords of the Fallen has received some criticism from players for not being able to create their own character. Many of these players enjoyed the freedom/customization of the Souls series and didn’t care for LOTF’s grizzly/manly protagonist. I’d say it’s safe to assume that people differ on the subject on a case by case basis.

    I’m also curious by the call for more female (main?) characters. Is it a matter of quantity? I’d argue that female characters are leaps and bounds ahead of their male counterparts in terms of quality. In the games I played this year I found female protagonists to be much more rememberable and had a much greater impact on their respective games. Some standouts are:

    Edea from Bravely Default

    Aurora from Child of Light

    Red from Transistor

    Bayonetta from Bayo 2

    This is just my personal thoughts but I’m curious what others think. I genuinely can’t remember a male character I played as this year that I gave a damn about (other than Shovel Knight).

  • Tanis

    For me it doesn’t matter what the protagonist is (I mean jeez, some of the most fun games ever don’t even feature humans..) as long as it’s what the devs wanted to make. I have hundreds of games with female protagonists and many more with ensemble casts and that’s cool but I like playing as male characters too.

    I can relate to any character as long as they are decently developed and I’m sure most people can too 🙂

  • Not that uncommon in all the MMOs I have played, I know several women who always play male toons.

  • I’m somewhat on the opposite end. I’m more likely (but not always) to play female characters than male and I’m one of those cis white males everyone seems to hate upfront. They just seem more fun to play as and I can’t really explain why other than they’re more fun to customization. Maybe just a different perspective? maybe just “It’s fantasy!” Don’t know.

    Everyone also seems to forget the Resident Evil series has had and continues to have great female leads in it. Jill Valentine happens to be my favorite female lead in any series.

  • ninmecu

    I would argue it’s less about the gender of the protagonists and more about the variety. If you have a well written character, it shouldn’t matter what gender/ethnicity it is. UNLESS it’s meant to be ethnically accurate or within the purview of a specific culture(Like Connor in Assassin’s Creed 3). Ultimately, in my personal opinion(though this is from an RPG fan), the character’s individual traits matter far more than physical attributes like Gender. However, I wouldn’t object to more diversity so long as it doesn’t result in some sort of “Minimum quota” and “token characters” the way certain people are keen on. Just, the idea of a Token Character rubs me the wrong way.

  • Jesus Christ

    Sure, I have no problems with more female characters. Diversity is always welcome. Just don’t force devs to make characters just for the sake of diversity only.

  • Fatherless

    I took a creative writing class one summer when I was a kid and we did an assignment where were had to write about our imaginary best friends. All the boys had male IBFs, and all the girls had… Male IBFs.

    There’s a lot of angles to examine that experience from – but its worth sharing.

  • Olai

    More women both pixelated on screen and developing them behind the screen. Sure.
    But its dangerous to pressgang devs into forcing them into games, it creates tokenism, and thats even more lazy and dangerous than the over-use of old tropes IMHO.

  • Tempest

    The thing is for me from what I have seen in gaming history. A video game will always be seen as good regardless of who the lead is as long as gameplay is great. For all the screaming from these SJW they never look at the history of gaming at all. Games like Metroid, Tomb Raider, Street Fighter, Okami, etc have female characters, but are far more remembered for how fun they played over who the gender was. But games that focused solely sex to sell with everything else being terrible are not seen as good games, average at best. Liesure Suite Larry Box Office Bust, Custer’s Revenge, BMXXX are just a few games that sold on sex alone and no one likes it because they are just bad games. Great games that sell both sex appeal and gameplay are done by team ninja. DoA series (with Volleyball) and Ninja Gaiden. Bayonetta there too.

    For a fact. There is no video game at all that is praised for the sex appeal in it alone. None. Either get the gameplay right or it’s a bad video game.

  • Fenrir007

    I’m all for more female representation, as long as it isn’t hamfisted inside the game to get through the “minorities checklist”.

    What I really want, though, is better writing across the board in games. Let’s face it, most of it is pretty bad (and forcing the hand of developers to write what they are not comfortable writing will only drag it further down – if I know I can’t write a decent female main character, might be a good idea not to make one, for example). Maybe hire more actual writers from outside the industry to collaborate…?

  • Dialga Indigo Brite

    What I would put to them instead, is the lovely sword of justice.
    From my shiny pink Virizion.

  • Dialga Indigo Brite

    Why do you describe these problems with your sister not being fair to you as if they are impossible to talk about and/or resolve?