Yeah, I said women. Not girls, chicks or babes. Women. Why? Because sure, while the girls of Dead or Alive have very nice boobs that bounce up and down while they’re kicking people in the face, as characters they’re non-events. Lets talk about the women of video games. And to show how concerned I am with character here, let’s start with,
Okay, so the ‘character’ of Chun-Li is about as irrelevant as Grover Norquist’s opinion on Mirror’s Edge, but bear with me. Street Fighter II is often rightly held up as the granddaddy of modern beat ‘em ups. Following on from a forgettable debut, 1991 saw the gaming world introduced to menly men such as Ryu, Blanka, E. Honda and Guile. Also a girl. Boasting the most iconic blue dress this side of Monica Lewinsky and a pair of legs that could put Angela Rippon to shame, in 1991 Chun-Li began her career as one of the most recognisable women in games and though subsequent games in the series expanded the female roster, even today it’s Chun-Li and her lightning kicks that people recognise. It’s unclear how much this is due to an actress playing her in the movie as opposed to Kylie Minogue who was cast as Cammy but since they ditched the blue dress in that anyway, who cares? Her name means ‘beautiful spring’ in Mandarin and she’s certainly lived up to it becoming one of the most iconic female ass-kickers out there.
By 1996 girls in games weren’t all that odd and whilst the original Resident Evil remains noteworthy largely for god-awful voice acting and dialogue worthy of the worst Japanese B-movies, it did kick-start the biggest zombie franchise of them all. It also gave us Jill Valentine. Though not as strong as the game’s male protagonist, S.T.A.R.S. (Special Tactics And Rescue Squad) cop Valentine was more resourceful and could carry more ammunition and supplies than her teammate despite the visual absence of a handbag. Jump forward to Resident Evil 3: Nemesis where the zombie menace has charged across the entire city and Jill (with a face now modelled on model Julia Voth) not only manages to take down the game’s titular villain, zombie dogs, spiders and yet more cheesy dialogue but manages to do it all wearing nothing but a miniskirt, strapless top and knee-highs. Truly someone to emulate.
Lara Croft (Tomb Raider)
It was of course inconceivable with a list such as this that the first lady of video games would go without mention. Unashamedly a sexier version of Indiana Jones, she’s been featured in games, books, TV adverts, men’s magazines, comics, an animated series, portrayed onscreen by an Oscar winner, the Guinness Book of Records named her ‘Most Successful Human Virtual Game Heroine’ six years ago and it’s easy to see why. 1996’s Tomb Raider was at the forefront of the 3D revolution for games. Platforming wasn’t just about scrolling screens and collecting coins anymore but exploring vast environments, killing endangered species and manipulating the camera to get a better view of the protagonist’s chest. Croft is arguably the most recognisable video game character in the world which isn’t bad considering Signor Mario has appeared in 200+ games and Sonic has been around for over two decades now.
Samus Aran (Metroid)
Women weren’t a big feature in games back in the 80s and when they did show up, commonly accepted practice was that they get captured, sit patiently and wait prettily in 8-bit for a man to show up and save them. Not so in Metroid. The game’s hero, Samus Aran spent most of her time onscreen dressed like a tougher version of Halo’s favourite avatar and had the guns and guts to back up the look. Ex army and now one of the galaxy’s toughest bounty hunters, it was Aran who first began to show gamers that women could do more than get kidnapped by giant apes and wait for a passing plumber to come along. Aran’s looks were based on Kim Basinger though players of the original game didn’t know it until the end – even the instruction manual referred to the asexually named character as male to hide the surprise for gamers.
The Boss (Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater)
The Boss isn’t the most attractive character on this list; she isn’t even the most attractive character in this game. What she is, is undoubtedly the female character with the best story in video games. In her 40s at the time of the game (a rarity in itself) her military career includes operating as part of a special forces unit during the battle of Normandy whilst pregnant, eventually giving birth on the field of battle and being part of the US’s first manned test flight into space (although… she crashed, but we’ll avoid the temptation for a joke about women drivers). The Boss’ heroic history however, comes secondary to the role she plays in MGS3 where her relationship with the protagonist falls hazily between mimicking that of a mother and a lover. It’s impossible to state precisely why this character warrants her place at the top of the list to those who haven’t played the game but suffice it to say her final sacrifice gives birth to perhaps the most emotional end to any video game ever and her influence is felt throughout the series. It’s not that The Boss was the coolest or best looking, but she was undoubtedly a more rounded and intriguing character than any of the others on this list. She wasn’t included as a woman for kicks, her backstory wasn’t drummed up to fill a gap nor was she merely an attractive avatar; her very character, her honour, loyalty and love is integral to the entire series affecting characters fifty years after her death and even now that’s a rarity in any video game character, let alone amongst women. Ezio and Master Chief take note. You can have a successful game that relies as much upon characterisation as it does your graphics engine.