Throughout the years there have been a multitude of articles depicting “the top female protagonists in videogames”. The problem with these articles stems from a reoccurring pattern of repetitive female leads. While the repetition of many of these female leads is absolutely well deserved, this common reiteration has washed away the opportunity for additional females to rise into the spotlight. We are all aware of Lara Croft, Zelda, Samus Aran, and the ever expanding list of triumphant women protagonists; which leads us to the question, where do the uncharted female leads fit in?
In this article, 6 female protagonists that you may be unfamiliar with have been highlighted to show that there are many more bold female leads than just the well-known superstars.
WARNING: Mild spoilers may prevail in this article.
Max Caufield (Life is Strange)
First on our list is a character who everyone can relate to in some way or another. Life is Strange features an adorkable 18-year-old, Max Caulfield, who begins as a average introverted outcast in Arcadia Bay. Her mundane lifestyle is completely twisted one day as she gains the ability to rewind time and this is only the beginning of the transformation from awkward Max to ‘Super Max’ (check out the game to understand that nickname in more detail). Besides embracing an epic progressive storyline, Max grasps more character development than most games while still staying true to her personal roots. As a female lead in a game, Max Caulfield is all that and a bag of chips. She’s quirky, intelligent and her outlook on life is perfectly summarized via her pop culture references and hipster attitude. How Max is perceived is not heavily weighted on the fact that she is a female nor is it based on her being a sexualized object to gain attention. She goes through a tornado of emotions that can hit home for anyone. From vulnerable one second to empowered the next, DONTNOD has created such a believable and accepting female protagonist, that as a player you begin to care and feel her emotions in each scenario as if they were your own. She is not a stereotypical female character but more of an open book and unashamed of her life and beliefs. Max Caulfield is just one of many reasons that make Life is Strange as intriguing as it is.
Clementine “Clem” (The Walking Dead: A Telltale Series)
Probably one of the better-known characters of this article, The Walking Dead: A Telltale Series has the ability to bring the ultimate feels, which is why Clementine has secured a spot in this list. If a small, yet strong little girl surviving in a harsh zombie apocalypse does not make your list of top characters, allow me to dive into more detail to persuade you. First off, she is tough-as-nails from day one. Clem is one of the very few who makes it as long as she has on her own with minimal help along the way, because in a zombie apocalypse the company you keep can only get you so far. Secondly, through her young age she remains strong and forceful to endure the struggle both physically and mentally. Clem is able to protect herself while thinking more rationally than most of the adults in tough situations and act accordingly. While emotions run high in such a stressful environment, she is able to push those aside to remain calm and mature in survival mode. In many situations she has become the only voice of reason, which is an extremely admirable leadership quality. Season One introduces a light-hearted, unbroken Clementine while Season Two brings a more realistic, hardened persona which carries over into Season 3 as well. Finally, to summarize her in one sentence, she leaves an impression on you. You root for her to do well, even as a fictional character it can be difficult to watch her struggle and fight for her life. Telltale should probably include some tissues with game purchases because only the heartless will avoid feeling a strong pull of compassion for Clem to survive and thrive during the series.
Aurora (Child of Light)
Child of Light is not your average game nor are the characters involved. The game centers around the evolution of Princess Aurora, who runs around the wilderness with a magical firefly. Sounds like a sparkly and happy Disney movie, right? Wrong. Our next character featured on the list, Aurora, is far from stereotypical royalty. At first glance, Aurora’s personality may seem like the same development of the various princesses we have encountered before, including being mischievous, intelligent, and impressionable; but this is far from her true self. While Aurora may be kind and show love when needed, she also can be quick to anger when provoked. One of the things that makes Aurora so memorable is her frequent frustrations with strangers calling her “princess” and having to constantly correct them with a large amount of sass. The developers do an excellent job of summarizing the game by saying it involves “an active heroine, no prince charming at the end, focused on the idea that we need to grow up, leave home and take responsibility to make a change in the world”. Aurora provides the game with a certain spunk that you do not see in many protagonists, even males, which is why she deserves a spotlight. It is not her gleaming crown that makes her such an epic figure, but more about her desire to be different, bold, and dauntless.
Nuna (Never Alone)
Never Alone is a fairly standard platformer that takes a deep dive into the culture of the Alaskan heritage and uses this as the base of a playable fairytale. Players control our young heroine, Nuna, in a search to end the endless blizzards that are destroying her homeland. Her village is in the midst of one of these tremendous blizzards, preventing anyone from hunting or doing anything that requires going outside the confines of their huts. As the storm rages on and supplies begin to trickle to nearly nothing, a brave young Nuna decides to set out to find the source of the blizzard accompanied by a fox with spiritual powers. What makes Nuna such a notable character can stem from the fact that she cannot be older than 10 years of age and has taken the brave adventure that none of the brave men have dared to embark on. That is just the beginning, as you play through the game you face battles and exquisite puzzles that show her intellect and valor, all while she faces whiteout snow conditions. Nuna shows compassion, admiration, and determination in this small indie game that makes her a character worth a mention due to her golden heart and bravery at such a young age.
Jodie (Beyond: Two Souls)
“I was born with a strange gift, or what they called a gift. It was really a curse. It’s ruined my life. It made me the person that I am today, a freak, a mistake, someone to hate.” – Jodie.
Jodie Holmes is the main protagonist of the supernatural, vignette-styled game, Beyond: Two Souls. Introduced on the side of the road picked up by the police, unable to recall any events leading her to her current position with a freshly shaved head, the game starts you on a path of tremendous empathy for Jodie. Interrogated by investigators, it is revealed that she posseses a supernatural friend named Aiden, which gives her the ability of telekinesis that poses a strong enough force to demolish an entire SWAT team. However, what makes Jodie so deserving of a spotlight is not simply her ability to communicate with a supernatural entity and destroy the world at her fingertips, but her snarky thrive for life that she grasps while battling with the cruel world around her. While she may appear at first glance as a weak girl that is clutching a stuffed rabbit, she is no damsel in distress and she sure as hell will let you know it by using her CIA training and Aiden to wreak havoc on guys twice her size throughout a large portion of the game.
Jodie’s beginning life was not a happy tale turned perilous for the sake of a good game plot, but rather begins roughly and ends in a similar fashion. From abusive parents, being physically and mentally attacked as the “it” child, to a mental struggle of suicidal tendencies; Jodie’s fight is not the easy protagonist story we are all comfortable with. As the story moves on though, what makes her so monumental is the fact that she is indeed, an all-loving reluctant action hero we did not expect to embrace. Military combat training, swearing like a sailor, and telekinesis barely scrape the surface of how hardcore Jodie truly is. She holds enough heroic willpower to rise above what she has endured in her past and save mankind as a whole; if that does not fit your definition of a superhero I don’t know what will.
Samantha “Sam” Greenbriar (Gone Home)
Last but not least, our final protagonist comes from a short exploration game called Gone Home. What makes Samantha “Sam” Greenbriar an interesting add to this list is that you never play as Sam herself. Instead, we learn through her younger sister, Katie, as she explores the house looking for clues as to where her family has gone. As Katie, the player is taken on an emotional rollercoaster through the past year of Sam’s life. Sam is far from the picture perfect lead character, neither physically or introspectively resembling the protagonists we have come to be accustomed to in this day and age. In nearly every aspect she is quite the opposite and breaks the barrier of standards placed on character leads, for both male and female. First off, Sam may not be the stereotypical Lara Croft strong, but in her own way she endures just as much as a wildlands expeditioner. She has the courage to accept herself and her sexuality, even when the world has completely turned against her, including her parents. She may not know how to shoot a gun, capture a castle, or lead an army, but throughout the occurrences of Gone Home she proves her determination to be who she truly wishes to be and that is more strength than many can muster the courage for.
However, as the game proceeds, you realize that strength is not the most important quality of our unique protagonist. Women in these fictitious settings can often develop as singular in dimension with reduced emotional capacity; Sam leaps over these barriers to become a complex, full human being. While we do encounter her strengths and compassionate motives, we also embrace her weaknesses. She lies, defies, and takes advantage of people in their weakest moments, but this is why Sam has made this list. You become sympathetically submersed in her tale and root for her well-being, even through her rough edges. Sam is shown as human, with flaws and admirable traits. Sam’s character is limited to scribblings on paper, yet she makes for one of the most admirable protagonists through her life journey. In the beginning, you meet an isolated socially-challenging teenager. By the end she is a protagonist in the same playing field as many of our well known heroines, compiled of bravery, compassion, and empathy.