2011: The Year of Strong Female Characters

gears of war cartoon

Typically in gaming, female characters are either total write-offs or just re-writes of male characters but with ridiculous armor that barely covers anything except their privates. I’d all but given up on seeing believable female characters in video games, but this year actually marks the first where I was more impressed by the fairer sex in a game then I was by their masculine counterparts (no homo).

The year started off with Dead Space 2 and its introduction of Ellie Langford, a pilot for the Concordance Extraction Corporation and a survivor of the Necromorph outbreak on Titan Station. While Isaac Clarke was fighting to regain his sanity, Ellie battled the zombified remains of her co-workers (and implied boyfriend) and helped Isaac destroy the Marker and escape the station, all while losing an eye. Ellie didn’t need your help, didn’t need to be saved (again, the eye thing was a minor set-back) and she contributed way more to the story than just jump prancing around in a skimpy outfit. The same goes for Second Lieutenant Mira in this year’s destined to be over-looked Space Marine: she held the Imperial Guard together after the deaths of her superiors and kept them fighting even after the Ultramarines came in to steal the thunder.

Finally, Gears of War 3 rounded out this year by introducing us to a battle-hardened Anya Stroud and Sam Byrne, both of whom face the Locust and the Lambent with Marcus and Delta Squad in Gears’ campaign. Anya was in the previous Gears games, but she was relegated to the typical desk-bound operator role of so many female support characters. This time she’s front and center in the action, chainsawing Locusts with the best of them.

Given that Gears of War 3 was written by Karen Traviss, I’d expect that game to have a good understanding of what makes a strong female character, but I’ve seen some dissent on the Internet. This tweet, which I only saw because Ben Kuchera of Ars Technica re-tweeted it, says that Sam and Anya are still damsels in distress because they need to be escorted back to base. I just played this section of the game, and it’s totally believable that any character stuck out there would need help. It just happened to be Sam and Anya because Marcus took Delta Squad off on an alternate route to Anvil Gate. Just because they’re women in a tough position (outnumbered by Locust with no transport) I guess that makes them prime for some sexist rescuing? I’d say that they’re Gears fist and their gender second, but that’s just me.

Maybe I’m reading too much into that, but it felt like such a small nitpick for an other wise great game that treats its female characters like human beings as opposed to objects. What do you guys think? has 2011 been a banner year for female characters? Got any others you want to nominate?

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mitch@gamersushi.com Twitter: @mi7ch Gamertag: Lubeius PSN ID: Lubeius SteamID: Lube182 Origin/EA:Lube182 Currently Playing: Stardew Valley, Mario & Luigi: Paper Jam, Knights of the Old Republic 2: The Sith Lords, Battlefield 4, Tom Clancy Double Feature: Rainbow Six Siege and The Division

7 thoughts on “2011: The Year of Strong Female Characters”

  1. I think Triss Merigold is the best thing to happen in videogame stories since Celes. Sure, she’s sexualized (who in that game isn’t?), but she’s also powerful and fully realized, with a complicated relationship with Geralt that makes any BioWare relationship look like cheap porn. In The Witcher, she was a little out there. In The Witcher 2, she was a revelation.

  2. Yeah, I was surprised that Anya was gonna be playable in Gears 3, and I’m very pleased that she and Sam are actually cool, well-made characters. Epic once again pleasantly surprises me with their writing skill.

    I think that Gears 3 actually handled rescuing Anya and Sam well. That whole stigma that rescuing women equals sexism is stupid and beaten-to-death. Anya and Sam took responsibility for a tough situation, and they’re your squadmates, so you rescue them from hell. That’s an excellent moment even if they were male characters. Gears 3 looks at the sexism of rescuing women and says that you can rescue a woman character without it being sexist because if you just outright prevent, the woman becomes just as bland. A woman character who never needs saving, who is apparently a total infallible badass is lazy pandering, not a good character. A good character is one with strengths and weaknesses, and once in a while, everyone needs to be rescued. The more well-rounded and balanced a character, complete with strengths, weaknesses, and dependencies, the more so that character will break the sexist stereotype.

  3. Mass Effect 2 saw some strong females, I thought. Even without a femshep, Miranda was more than capable of handling herself, any Asari seems competent, and Tali leads her own little research group. None of them really felt like male characters with lady parts, either.

    Batman: Arkham City makes Catwoman seem very feminine, but again able to handle herself. But we’ll have to wait and see on that one.

    Now that I think about it, I can’t recall a single female in any Call of Duty game except for the lady who read numbers in Black Ops, and she doesn’t count.

  4. Sergeant Bernadette “Bernie” Mataki from Gears of War 3 I am still pissed off that she was not a multiplayer chracter choice and has only one playable part.

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