Resident Evil has long been a series of shock and horror, but regardless of what monstrosity players have to face, women have been given just as much of a fighting chance as men. From the first game in 1996 up to the present day, the franchise has created an iconic cast of intelligent and skilled women with care and respect. Where so many other forms of media lean on them as simple narrative devices, this series creates fully realized characters and drops them into a hellscape of the zombie apocalypse. On Resident Evil’s 25th anniversary, I would like to feature these women and the consistent strength these games have given them to face off against horrifying life or death situations.
Let’s start things off with the first and one of the most important women in the Resident Evil franchise: Jill Valentine. Jill has become a recognizable face of the Resident Evil series and easily one of the most well respected women in video games. She has been with the franchise since the beginning with Resident Evil which released in 1996.
She is one of two playable characters, alongside her male counterpart Chris Redfield. Jill is an equal to Chris and the other male characters of the franchise, a rare example of a female character not dressed suggestively but functionally, and she is given the same respect as other members of the team. Jill has extensive military training, experience with weapons and explosives, and lock-pick expertise.
She is part of the Special Tactics and Rescue Squad (S.T.A.R.S.) Alpha team, and in RE 1, her and her team are sent to find a missing squad and find out what happened. Jill utilizes her strengths and skillset to uncover the T-virus and learn its secrets: how it has the ability to turn humans into zombies and the nefarious secrets of the Umbrella Corporation.
Jill even manages to destroy their most powerful weapon, take down Umbrella, and escape all on her own. This was rare at the time to have a female playable main character who is not overly sexualized and equal to men. In later games, Jill does go through an evolution of sorts with the change of direction of the series. She does end up having some more revealing optional costumes, which is such a shame because she really does not need that. However, throughout the franchise, Jill Valentine has always been depicted as a strong independent character who can take care of herself. I hope that when we see Jill again, the franchise focuses on that, rather than her costume.
As you may have guessed, Claire is the younger sister of Chris Redfield from the first Resident Evil game who followed in her brother's law-enforcement footsteps to become a police officer. In RE 2, Claire travels to Raccoon City herself to find and save her dear brother. Along the way, Claire encounters Leon S Kennedy—narrowly saving her from a zombie attack—after which they then work together as equals to escape the RCPD. Separated half way through the game by a burning vehicle, it is up to Claire to get herself out of the zombie-infested city on her own.
In Resident Evil - Code: Veronica, which takes place three months after RE 2, Claire is still searching for her brother. She ends up getting captured and taken to an Umbrella-owned island, but she manages to escape when opportunity arises. Claire later becomes a member of TerraSave, which is a non-profit humanitarian aid and protest activism organization. Throughout her various appearances in the Resident Evil franchise, Claire is always shown as a strong woman who will do anything for her brother and the causes she believes in.
Ada Wong is the perfect anti-hero to balance out the likes of Jill and Claire. Whereas the former women to appear in the series are true heroes in desperate times, Ada is a double agent spy of sorts who appears in Resident Evil 2, playing both sides between the villain and Leon S. Kennedy. She has been hired by a variety of clients and is always successful “on her own terms.” The best part about Ada is that she follows her own rules, which often results in her betraying the organizations she works with in order to achieve it.
The Resident Evil franchise was still fairly new when Ada was introduced. She was initially depicted in a short skirt and heels, which some have criticized as being too sexualized. However her style is more of a “James Bond” international spy aesthetic, which she embraces. Ada is the type of character who you never know what her real intentions are.
She is complex and will always have you guessing which side she's on at any given moment. For example, in Resident Evil 2, she is hired to collect a sample of the G-virus from Umbrella’s lab in Raccoon City. When she meets Leon, she changes her plans and ends up helping him. While in Resident Evil 4, when we see Ada again she is helping Leon with his mission to save the president’s daughter only to find out she is really attempting to collect a sample of the Plaga parasite, and is working with the game’s villain Albert Wesker. Regardless of her motivations or allegiances, Ada stepped forward into new territory for women in the franchise by being just as uncanny and unpredictable as any mysterious male counterpart.
This brings us the tall vampire lady herself, Lady Dimitriscu. While Resident Evil Village has not been released yet at the time of writing, the Internet is abuzz about her. From what we learned via the demo and various trailers, she appears to be the lead villain with a few female vampires by her side. This was a completely different change for the franchise that typically focuses on zombies and monsters as the principle antagonists. Lady Dimistriscu is an elegant female vampire. However, she isn’t the first female villain in Resident Evil; that title goes to Eveline codename E-001, a bioweapon in the form of a young girl in Resident Evil 7. It seems like Lady Dimistriscu will be the core focused villain in Resident Evil Village.
Lastly, I would like to touch on some lesser known women in the franchise. Resident Evil S.T.A.R.S. member Rebecca Chambers is the youngest member of S.T.A.R.S. and field medic who started university at the age of 18. While in Resident Evil 2, Sherry Birkin is the daughter of the scientist who created the G-Virus. Infected with the virus but also injected with an antidote to stop it from spreading, she spends her life fighting bioterrorism. The only “damsel in distress” character would be Resident Evil 4’s Ashley Graham, who is the daughter of a former U.S. president. There are entire segments of the game revolving around saving her like a mini-game. However, I believe this was needed to move the story along and does not focus very much on how helpless she is.
The Future of Femininity in Gaming
Resident Evil is a franchise that never is afraid to depict women in various ways. Since the beginning of the franchise in 1996, the series has done one thing very well and that is represent women as equals. Characters such as Jill, Ada, and Claire are empowered, intelligent women who can manage on their own and are considered leads within the franchise. In later games, when Resident Evil does allow more sexualized content in the form of various optional costumes the characters are not designed or portrayed to be sexual in nature. They are still competent, strong characters. Resident Evil broke the mold in 1996 and has continued to evolve the way that women are showcased in video games. From strong, intelligent leaders to fierce villains, Resident Evil has it all.