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From Peach to Shepard: The Improving Female Characters

As a female gamer, I’m often expected to rant out about the hypersexualisation of female characters and throw my controller at the wall over the current female players that we have available to us. However, I’m not going to rant about it, and although hypersexualisation of the female counterpart in games is an issue, it is important to realise the changes that have been made over the years. The female character has evolved at a rapid pace in the past few decades and it’s important to notice that change is happening, and fast.

Princess Peach

Although video games were around in the 1970s it wasn’t until the 1980s that games with characters, and multiple characters really came into play.  In the 1980s the female characters that are generally remembered are Ms PacMan, Princess Peach, Zelda, and a couple of female fighters from Street Fighter or Tekken. There aren’t that many and a good portion of those few are damsels in distress or generally a weaker character to the male counterpart. I do mean generally, as I often would kick arse with my female characters in both Street Fighter and Tekken, but even I noticed that a lot of their moves weren’t as powerful as some of the male characters. As a whole, though, women needed saving.

In the 1990s things really did step up a notch. Female heroines came into play and there began a step towards equality in gaming. There were powerful women in the gaming world that had men in awe. Lara Croft is most likely the iconic female character from the 1990s. She is definitely one of the more known characters that is loved by many and is the leading player, where in some games you can later change into the female player. In the 1990s, a female lead player who was not a damsel in distress was becoming more common. Jill Valentine, Terra Branford, and Aya Brea are only a small sample of the increasing number of females in games. Even the Fallout series began with the choice of choosing male or female characters. The women on our screens were becoming more able to fight and fend for themselves. They were become saviours of our gaming world.

Female Shepard from Mass Effect 3

In the 21st Century it rapidly ballooned with character choice and customisation. There is a long list of female characters that we can chose to play and even edit. There are a substantial amount of iconic female characters in gaming these days. Think of all the female Final Fantasy characters from VII onwards, Half-Life, Metal Gear Solid series, Resident Evil in the later series, and there are plenty of other examples. My favourite is female Shepard from Mass Effect and I also like the female Grey Warden in Dragon Age. Although there is still some inequality in the gaming world in terms of  how women are portrayed, it is important to see how far we’ve come in the last 30+ years. It is important to hold onto the fact that times are changing, still. We now have women that can kick men’s arse up and down the universe without a care in the world–they are influential people who made a difference and could be awed just as much as the male characters.

Although hypersexualisation and general portrayal of women as being weaker is still happening today, there has been a bit upheaval in the gaming world in the past 30 years. I feel the industry needs a pat on the back for including more females, and needs positive encouragement to keep the changes coming.

Going from Princess Peach to female Shepard is something that should be congratulated.

About the author

Susie Cumberland

Susie is from the dark side of Nottingham and is a Research Data Analyst. She spends her free time watching movies, killing things in games, and pretending to work. Also, Susie has her own science based craft business called Astrodoodles. She is a keen doodler of space things. She can be found floating around on twitter @susiecumberland

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