By Anita Sarkeesian and Carolyn Petit
Illustration by Hyesu Lee
More often than not, women in games are sexual objects, damsels in distress, or disposable murder victims whose deaths provide motivation for brooding male heroes. Games that present women as fully developed humans, or that communicate feminist values through a focus on cooperation or compassion, are all too rare. Here are five that thrilled us, moved us, or just made us feel like there is a place for us in the world of video games.
Beyond Good & Evil (2003)
Early on, Jade, the game’s young protagonist, is battling a destructive alien force and finds herself trapped. Uncle Pey’j, her sidekick and friend, throws her a staff and says, “Free yourself, Jade, I’ll create a diversion,” which enables her to break free. This scene, and the game as a whole, challenges the perception of women as helpless victims and men as heroic saviors and instead gives us a glimpse into the potential for video games to encourage mutual aid and cooperation.
Sword & Sworcery EP (2011)
Games have given us no shortage of fantasy heroes who are destined to vanquish a great evil. Sword & Sworcery has all the trappings of a narrative about a brave hero on a noble quest to overcome a fearsome, malevolent force, but our sword-wielder of destiny is a woman. When, in the powerful climax, the hero known only as the Scythian succeeds in her quest, the game quietly affirms that the boots of the valiant, archetypal hero of legend do not need to be filled by a man.
Thomas Was Alone (2012)
Mike Bithell’s game takes a motley crew of shapes and turns them into fleshed-out, empathetic beings. Claire, a blue square, is at first overcome with despair. In a platformer, a genre about running and jumping, she is slow and can barely muster a hop, which leaves her feeling useless. As the pillar she is standing on collapses into a pool of water, she reflects on her hopeless life and prepares solemnly for death. But when she reaches the bottom, she discovers that, unlike her fellow shapes, she can swim! Claire sees herself in a new light, and she finds a purpose in helping others to cross pools of water that they can’t manage on their own.
Gone Home (2013)
While listening to beautifully narrated journal entries, you learn that the mystery you’re untangling in a curiously empty house is about your sister, Sam, and her high school love, Lonnie. The story’s turning point occurs when Sam is at her most honest and vulnerable. “ ‘Lonnie, do you think, you… could ever—’ ” she asks tentatively. “And that’s when she kissed me.” In a video-game landscape where female characters are scant and tales of romance are devalued, Gone Home offers a sincere and genuine lesbian love story that transcends the player’s own gender or sexuality.
Left Behind (2014)
The entirety of this short follow-up to 2013's The Last of Us is noteworthy for its focus on the complex, nuanced relationship between Ellie and her friend Riley. As you venture through an abandoned mall, the characters laugh and argue, have serious conversations and goof off. Finally, in a powerfully honest moment, they kiss. Female characters in games are frequently objects of desire, but they rarely get to express romantic impulses of their own. Left Behind is a lovely affirmation of queer sexuality and proof that big-budget, mainstream action games can tell stories that aren’t just about killing.