2016: The Year of the Heroine

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A recent study conducted by the Pew Research Center found that men and women are equally likely to report playing video games. With just as many women playing games as men there should be just as many male leads as women in our games. So I went to my local EBGames and scoured the shelves, finding that there are barely any games with female leads. Of those that are available there are even fewer where the character in question is a developed, meaningful representation of women. Thankfully in the past couple years women are starting to be used in games as the compelling and relatable characters they need to be. 2015 games like Rise of the Tomb Raider, Cibele, Life Is Strange and Undertale all promoted substantial, realistic women.

Good_M1_endingAs we move into 2016 there are more playable female characters than ever before. Women have always had a presence, albeit a small one, in indie games. As indie games have become a significant part of the industry it’s become easier than ever before for someone to turn a game idea into a reality. This has led to a surge in thoughtful, developed female characters.

This year also sets a new bar for strong women in AAA games with many prominent publishers like EA, Bethesda, Ubisoft and more putting women leads in their games. This gives many players hope for more from their games after decades of “Whitey McStubbly” (to quote Rhianna Pratchett) being the only character they could play as. This archetype has been the dominant main character in games for years. The generic, macho, 30-something-white-guy-with-some-stubble “dudebro” is finally being challenged by compelling, refreshingly human female leads in 2016.

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So here are the video game heroines from the coming year that are fighting against the disparaging gender imbalance that currently exists in games:

Aloy from Horizon Zero Dawn

Aloy lives on earth thousands of years after humans are usurped as the dominant species on the planet by the robot dinosaurs. Aloy exists alongside these dinosaurs in the same way the early humans existed alongside the predators of the ice age. Aloy’s primary weapon is a bow which she uses to place traps as well as mount frontal assaults. She is a fearless tribal hunter who skillfully stalks her prey using various weapons and skills that she acquires through her adventure.

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In an interview with DualShockers, Senior Producer Mark Norris talked about Aloy, saying that, “she will discover who she is. She will discover her purpose in the world. She will discover the weak points of the machines. She will discover all these different tribes around the world. She will discover people that will become very important to her over the course of the game.” From this it’s clear that Aloy’s story will be compelling, an exploration of her character and her motivations. Aloy is a character I can’t wait to get to know better.

Faith from Mirror’s Edge Catalyst

The original Mirror’s Edge released back in 2008 to mixed reviews and underwhelming sales. One thing that most reviewers agreed on was that Faith’s character was an important step forward for women in games. She was not a love interest or a damsel in distress. Instead she was the most significant and most influential character in the game. This in a year  when the biggest releases (Grand Theft Auto IV, Gears of War 2, Metal Gear Solid 4) all starred a generic guy with some facial hair and a frowny face.

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Mirror’s Edge Catalyst will tell the origin of Faith and the runners, focusing on Faith’s development as a character. While Speaking to Polygon, the game’s producer Sara Jansson explained that, “We wanted to make sure that Faith had actual character development throughout the story. She’s not the same person when the game starts as when it ends… We are not building up to the storyline of the first game; we’re building up the character of Faith.”

Emily Kaldwin from Dishonored 2

It’s important to note that you can play as a man in Dishonored 2. The player will have the choice to play as Corvo, the main character from the original game, to account for different endings to the original game. However, all of trailers and promotional artwork only show Emily and her style of combat. Making Emily the face of Dishonored 2 is a deliberate action on Arkane Studio’s part to push players to play as her and begin to tear down the notion that you need a dudebro character as the face of your game to sell it.

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In an interview with Mashable, co-director Harvey Smith described Emily’s character as “an empress outlaw on the run”. Emily is 25 years old, much younger than Corvo was. She is determined and skilled, having inherited many of Corvo’s abilities while also possessing many new abilities of her own. This difference will create what Smith describes as “a different theme in the narrative sense, in the literary sense”. Emily will give players a new, refreshing lens through which to explore the world of Dishonored.

Sasha from Severed

Severed is a first-person, RPG-light adventure starring a one-armed woman named Sasha. Sasha awakes in a nightmarish land of horrific monsters and has to trying to find her lost family. Sasha is so heroic that with one arm she fights her way through the world, dismembering monsters with her sword and using their remains to upgrade her armour.

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When speaking to Power Up Gaming, DrinkBox Studio’s co-founder Graham Smith said that the game was pitched by the studio’s concept artist, Augusto Quijano. Augusto is from Mexico and is living in Canada. Smith said that “the game’s initial idea came from [Augusto’s] feelings of missing his family, and so the story of the game is about this girl who wakes up and doesn’t know what’s happened to her family; something tragic has happened. It’s exploring feelings of loneliness and loss and death.” To see more awesome Severed stuff check out their site.

Michonne from Michonne: A TellTale Games Series

TellTale has proved that they craft well developed and purposeful women in their games. With Clementine in the first and second season of The Walking Dead and great characters like Carly, Katjaa, Christa, Sarita and more, TellTale’s The Walking Dead has always deliveredrealistic women that resonate with players. So when it was announced last year that their next Walking Dead game would star fan favourite Michonne many were excited. Excitement grew when it was announced that Samira Wiley of Orange Is the New Black would be the voice actress bringing Michonne to life. Michonne is shaping up to be one of TellTale’s best games to date.

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Michonne will tell the story of what Michonne did during the time when she wasn’t part of Rick Grime’s group and what ultimately brought her back. When Michonne was announced back in June of last year, series creator Robert Kirkman said that “in many ways, Michonne herself is a reflection of the world of The Walking Dead. She is brutal and cold on the outside, but deep beneath what is broken, she remains hopeful, trying to claw her way out of the darkness that surrounds her.” He concluded by saying that, “in our effort to bring the world of the comic and the world of the Telltale series closer together, there is no greater character than Michonne to help bridge that gap.”

Alex Oshima from Adr1ft

CRNuFezUwAAulVQAlex Oshima is the Commander of the Hardiman Aerospace Northstar IV, a massive, futuristic space station. The game begins with Alex waking up in the floating debris of her station, her space suit badly damaged and her oxygen running out. She needs to survive long enough to find a way to get safely back to earth and possibly uncover what happened to the station and her crew.

Adr1ft was conceived when creator Adam Orth was in a very dark and depressing time in his life. When replying to a tweet about the Xbox One’s DRM policy with “#dealwithit” Orth received a huge amount of internet backlash. The situation quickly became a massive online event which resulted in Orth’s resignation from Microsoft and relocation to Southern California. In this defeated state Orth came up with idea for Adr1ft. Oshima wakes up in a disastrous situation very similar to where Orth found himself after losing his job and becoming the subject of much online abuse and ridicule. Adr1ft‘s story draws a lot from Orth’s. The influence is quite obvious, both Oshima and Orth’s initials are A.O. Their stories are hopeful. Orth took his situation and turned it into an opportunity to create a game that he hopes will be an experience players can relate to and find solace in.

Cassie from Perception

Perception

Perception tells the story of a blind woman named Cassie who is exploring a house called Echo Bluffs. Cassie quickly discovers there’s something mysterious going on. As she explores the house she hears voice and senses movement when she’s not looking. There is something else in the house. Something called the Presence. For the rest of the game Cassie and the Presence are engaged in a terrifying, deadly game of cat and mouse.

Cassie can’t see her surroundings through traditional means so she uses echolocation to create a mental picture of the world around her. This is represented with a very unique visual style. Environments are varying shades of blues and blacks which outline objects and provide structure. Not being able to see provides the player with several disadvantages especially in a horror, exploration game. The team behind Perception are veterans of the industry having spent years working on narrative driven games like BioShock, BioShock Infinite and Dead Space. It’s safe to assume that given the talent behind Perception Cassie’s character will be explored very effectively. For more information or to support Perception check out the funding site.

Joule from ReCore

Joule is a bit of a play on words. The world of ReCore is heavily focused on electronic, mechanized robots and a joule is a measurement of energy used with electric currents. At the start of the game Joule is aided by an adorable robotic dog named Mack whose conscious is contained within a transferable, blue orb in his chest. As Joule travels through the world and interacts with other robots, both good and bad, she can move Mack’s conscious to a new robot to keep him alive. This means the player can sacrifice Mack’s current form to save herself and put him in a new body adding a unique, innovative element to the game.

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ReCore is being developed under the leadership of Mega Man creator Keiji Inafune. “We created this game envisioning a possible future for humanity,” Inafune explained. “I wanted to make a game that explores which direction future humanity is heading and how humanity will end… In this world, there are very few humans and this girl is all by herself.” Joule’s adventure will be one of survival. Joule is alive in a very dead world and players will need to do everything they can to keep her alive.

With such a great lineup of characters and games this year, there’s plenty of reasons to be hopeful and even excited about the status of women in games. As we move forward as an industry and as a community there will undoubtedly be an ever-expanding number of strong, playable female characters in future titles.

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6 thoughts on “2016: The Year of the Heroine

  1. ReCore sounds really interesting.

    As for Undertale, I think the protagonist is supposed to be androgynous-looking on purpose (notice the characters refer to you as “they” when they’re talking about you in the third person?) It has some great characters though. All of them, really.

    • ReCore is quite intriguing! Whether or not Inafune has taken on too much with that game and Mighty No. 9 remains to be seen.

      And about Undertale I meant that Undertale has great female characters, not protagonist specifically as like you said the main character is supposed to look androgynous. Characters like Undyne, Alphys and Toriel are all examples of terrific female characters. I should have made that clearer in the article :/

      • No, it’s clear enough. And I agree with you about it.

        All the characters in Undertale are great, in fact. I haven’t played a game before that made me feel so bad about killing even random encounter enemies that I went full pacifist.

      • Same! I couldn’t fight anything that whole game, I accidentally took a bite out of the veggie enemy once and I had to reload my save. But the game still knows when you do that, it’s fascinating. And the soundtrack is amazing, I’ve been listening to it nonstop since I played the game.

      • I learned that the hard way too. Suffice it to say Flowey reminded me of what I had done, even after I reset from the beginning. Didn’t see that coming.

        Agreed on the soundtrack as well. Apparently Toby Fox was mainly a composer before Undertale, and it shows. I’ve had a bunch of Undertale tracks stuck in my head for days. Man, this game is so good that I’m trying to lightly nudge a few of my COD-and Madden playing friends to check it out, which I usually don’t.

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