International Women's Day - Let's celebrate groundbreaking female characters!

Today is International Women’s Day, and considering all that’s happened in the past few years, from Gamergate to the #metoo movement, I think it’s important to recognize that while things seem to be changing for the better, there’s still a lot of work that needs to be done.

But we’re a video game board, and women in video games have been paving the way for decades now, both as stars of the games and behind the scenes. Maybe more than ever, we need to look at positive representation of women in gaming, so… Let’s talk about some of our favourite ladies!

Samus Aran - First appearance in Metroid, 1986 (Famicom Disk System)

Samus is probably my favourite female character. She’s a bounty hunter, which is a completely badass profession, and in the first game, there’s absolutely no attention drawn to her gender. Later games would explore the idea of Samus as a surrogate mother, which is a very neat twist in way that further empowers her, and results in a great payoff in Super Metroid. The less said about her characterization in “Other M”, the better.

Rosella Graham - First appearance in King’s Quest III - To Heir is Human, 1986 (PC, Apple, Amiga, Mac)

Despite first appearing as the typical “Damsel in Distress” in King’s Quest 3, Rosella got a starring role in the followup. Roberta Williams, a pioneer in video games, wrote the game which sees Rosella off on an adventure to save her father from a mysterious illness. What’s particularly telling about this game is that before the adventure begins, Rosella is warned that her trip to a faraway land to find the fruit that will save her father is almost assuredly a one way trip: nevertheless she agrees despite the near impossible task before her. Unfortunately, Rosella’s next starring role in King’s Quest VII would see her character reduced from the strong selfless young woman she was, to a whiny narcissistic “valley-girl” stereotype.

Terra Branford - First appearance in Final Fantasy VI, 1994 (Super Nintendo)

The first female protagonist in the Final Fantasy series, FF6 starts with an empire that is terrified of the power that Terra possesses, so much so that they’ve controlled her mind. A powerful magician, Terra would go on to join forces with one of the best ensemble casts in video games, but it’s always clear who’s the driving force behind the struggle against Kefka.

Lara Croft - First appearance in Tomb Raider, 1996 (PC, Sega Saturn, Sony Playstation)

Lara Croft is an interesting one: one could argue that she became famous outside of gaming circles because of her appearance, but that shouldn’t take away from the fact that Lara is an accomplished character in her own right. Not only is she fearless when exploring ancient tombs, but even in the earliest games, she’s shown as extremely intelligent, a fact that some people tend to forget when seeing pictures of her. Alicia Vikander, who is playing Lara in the new Tomb Raider reboot movie releasing this month, mentioned recently in an interview that as a 10 year old girl, she was blown away when she saw boys her age playing an action video game starring a female character.

Jill Valentine - First appearance in Resident Evil, 1996 (Sony Playstation, Sega Saturn, PC)

Another 1996 appearance, this time from Capcom. Jill Valentine is one of two main characters in Resident Evil. From a strict gameplay point of view, she’s the more capable of the two protagonists, being able to carry more items and pick locks (Sure Chris is stronger with the knife). The Resident Evil series would go on to feature a series of strong female characters, both heroes and villains, but the “Master of Unlocking” started the trend back during the first game.

Aloy - First appearance in Horizon: Zero Dawn, 2017 (Playstation 4)

Okay, so this is RETRO Game Boards, so I’m cheating a bit here, but I absolutely loved Horizon Zero Dawn, and in particular Aloy. She starts the game as a strong willed and defiant character, but really grows into something more (Trying to avoid spoilers here). Interesting enough, more is told about Aloy’s character through how other characters view her throughout the game. There’s been a lot of criticism of Aloy since the game released: she’s Unlikeable, too generic, not cute enough (I wish I was making that up), but I was extremely impressed by her writing and acting.

So, there’s a bunch of words about some of the pioneers of Video Game Ladies… Who’re some of your favourite characters and why?

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Not a video game character, but we should definitely mention Carol Shaw!

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Excerpt from wikipedia:

Carol Shaw (born 1955) is a former video game designer, notable for being one of the first female designers in the video game industry. While working at Atari, Inc. in 1978, Shaw designed the unreleased Polo game[1] and designed 3-D Tic-Tac-Toe the same year,[2] both for the Atari 2600. Shaw’s official job title at Atari was Microprocessor Software Engineer.[1] Later she joined Activision, where she programmed her best-known game, River Raid.[3] According to the River Raid manual, she is also a “scholar in the field of Computer Science.”

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I’m gonna play River Raid tonight.

Alis from Phantasy Star was bad ass. Having a female lead character in the most advanced console game on the market was pretty awesome.

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ps1

And of course Rieko Kodama of Phantasy Star fame deserves mentioning.
kodama

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In the same vein, Amy Hennig.

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The person who wrote one of my favorite video game series, Legacy of Kain. Her no longer working at Crystal Dynamics is why I no longer cared about the series and am fine with them doing nothing with it/canceling that single player game they were working on. It is a god damn crime that she was tied to that Star Wars game that was canceled and hasn’t been heard from since.

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River Raid has been for too long on my shopping list. It’s time to remedy that.

This was a great game:

Kelly - Spartan 087 deserves her own game. Her character was criminally under developed in Halo 5 (along with everyone else).

Peagles! The ultimate heroine

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Joanna Dark

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PELTZ PLEASE

ahem

My personal favourites have been mentioned already. I really freakin love Samus and Joanna Dark. Mostly because they’re just allowed to be women and it’s not really commented on (barring some weird stuff in Other M). I like that because I guess that would be ideal sometime in the distant future (like in Alien… it’s like they’re past all that).

I’m really loving these posts about women in the industry. It’s not something I’ve really looked into before but I’m definitely going to be following up on reading about Carol Shaw, Rieko Kodama, Amy Hennig, and others.

Peags, you should look into Roberta Williams as well. She cofounded Sierra-On-Line with her husband Ken after becoming obsessed with “Adventure” (aka: Colossal Cave Adventure) and a desire to make her own interactive fiction. She created the first Graphic Adventure, Mystery House, in 1980, having drawn the primitive graphics herself. She’d later go on to create the wildly popular King’s Quest series, along with a few other Sierra adventure games, such as the two Laura Bow mysteries.

I’m still hoping one of these days someone writes a Sierra tell-all book. Every story I hear makes the entire history of the company sound so interesting: lots of crazy stories from the early days, not to mention some of the biggest innovation in video games from the early 80s to around the mid '90s.

My two favourite Sierra adventure games were also designed/co-designed by another female developer, Jane Jensen. She started off writing for Sierra, before becoming a co-designer on King’s Quest VI along with Roberta, which in my opinion is why that game is far and away the best of the series. Afterwards, she was given free reign to create her own series for Sierra, and came up with the immensely phenomenal Gabriel Knight series.

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