Female lead characters are rare enough in gaming, and they usually fit a male-fantasy stereotype: overly sexualized physiques and tight-fitting, skimpy clothing (think Lara Croft in "Tomb Raider: Legend"). But this was blown out of the water at the Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) in Los Angeles this week with the announcement of five new female protagonists in upcoming games, a sea change in an industry that has been criticized for its portrayals of women.
One of these games, Horizon: Zero Dawn, sees huntress Aloy using her skills to navigate a world completely transformed by the apocalypse. In Dishonored 2, Emily is all grown up and sports some very cool supernatural abilities that help her as an assassin. In another new post-apocalyptic game, ReCore, Joule destroys evil robots with her gun. In the new Assassin’s Creed the first-ever female protagonist is a master assassin with a cane-sword. The cutest of all the new characters, 10-year-old Rae is blind and players must help her navigate a world that is elusive even to them.
These characters are powerful, interesting, and perhaps more remarkably, they're all fully clothed.
In the midst of the Gamergate controversy last year, the Entertainment Software Association published a document that said 48% of America’s 190 million gamers were female. According to a study cited by law professor and author Danielle Keats Citron in an interview with the Atlantic, 70 percent of female gamers chose to play as male characters to try and avoid sexual harassment.
With the characters announced at E3, it seems developers are trying to get rid of this stigma by desexualizing the women protagonists and making them pretty badass in their own right. Hopefully their characters and storylines are just as richly developed as their appearance.
Even Lara Croft is getting a sequel this year in "Rise of the Tomb Raider," and she's getting desexualized. Her breasts are smaller and she’s finally found a jacket to go with the pants she acquired in 2013’s "Tomb Raider."
A number of games announced at E3 2015 also introduced female supporting characters, including The Division, which has one woman in a team of three, Rainbow Six Siege, which has one woman in a team of six and Halo 5: Guardians.
The addition of more secondary female characters is something that Pratchett applauds. “It was really exciting,” she said. “Especially in quite traditionally male-heavy franchises like Gears of War. There definitely seemed to be more of a female presence than we’ve seen for a while both in games and on the stage.
“I hope that as the [number] of female protagonists (and antagonists) grow, we'll start seeing more diversity in personality, flaws, talents, age, ethnicity, ability, sexual orientation etc.,” Pratchett said.
While this may be the case, Pratchett also noted that women protagonists are still vastly outnumbered by their male counterparts, but at least we're on the way. Meet the new female faces of gaming below.
Aloy from Horizon: Zero Dawn (Developer Guerrilla Games, Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment)
Release Date: 2016 for PS4
Set 1,000 years from the present, Aloy is a huntress who uses bows, spears, traps and other equipment to hunt post-apocalyptic robotic dinosaur-like creatures for their resources. She is empathetic and dynamic and has red hair, part of which is braided into some pretty awesome plaits to keep it out of her face.
Emily from Dishonored 2 (Developer Arkane Studios and Bethesda Softworks, Publisher: Bethesda Softworks)
Release Date: 2016 for Xbox One, PS4 and PC
In the original steampunk-like Dishonored, players could only choose the male character Corvo Attano. Set 15 years after the original on the island of Serkonos, players can now also choose Emily, a badass supernatural assassin with a long collared blue jacket and pants that we really want to get our hands on for Halloween.
Joule from ReCore (Developers comcept Inc. and Armature Studio, Publisher: Microsoft Studios)
Release Date: Spring 2016 for Xbox One
As one of the last surviving humans on Earth, Joule partners with robot companions to battle evil robots by shooting them with her gun. Out of all the new characters, her brown vest and pants are the most tight fitting but not overly sexual. She also has a cool cape and knee-high boots.
Evie Frye from Assassin’s Creed: Syndicate (Developer and Publisher: Ubisoft)
Release Date: October 23 for Xbox One, PS4 and PC
Who doesn’t want to play a master assassin that can do parkour and uses a cane-sword and throwing knives as weapons? Set during the Industrial Revolution in 1868 London, Evie is the eldest of the Frye twins battling the criminal underground. This is the first time players of the Assassin’s Creed franchise can choose an assassin female protagonist. We would also like to get our hands on her assassin hood and jacket combo.
Rae from Beyond Eyes (Developer Tiger & Squid, Publisher: Team 17 )
Release Date: Summer 2015 for Xbox One, PC, Mac and Linux
In one of the most interesting games featuring a female protagonist, Rae is an adorable 10-year-old blind girl wearing a white dress and purple rain boots. The premise is that she needs to find her missing friend, a cat called Nani and she has to go on a journey to do so. Players can only see a slight distance and must reveal the world through touch, sense and sound and help Rae face her fears (like loud noises) along the way.