Games With Girls

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Release Date: 09/02/2012

Games. Girls. Historically they've not really been words you put together, at least not in a positive way. Time was girls barely played games, and when it came to female characters in games, they were rarely more than damsels in distress.

But things are changing. Games have evolved. Female characters are stronger, bolder, more prominent and, most importantly, playable.

This is our run-down of some of the best and brightest girls in gaming today. The women who solve problems, kick @$$ and actually matter.

Lara Croft
Tomb Raider

Lara seems the obvious place to start really, the first real female lead in a game - not simply the character you played, but the character the game was centred upon. And she was the first to really achieve widespread media attention.

Lara Croft and Tomb Raider took a male-dominated genre and character type and did a gender switch. Strong, feisty, independent and intelligent, Lara was everything a stereotypical female character wasn't. That said, there was always one thing (well, two things) that garnered Lara the most attention.

Since 1996's original Tomb Raider, Lara has appeared in eight sequels to date, with a ninth due this year. Again simply titled Tomb Raider, we go back to the start of the story and find out what made her the woman she is.

Tough, smart and sexy, there's no doubt that Lara Croft is still the benchmark.

Jill Valentine
Resident Evil: Revelations

The Resident Evil series has seen many female characters, from the cunning Ada Wong to the tough Sheva Alomar. But Jill Valentine is the one that stands out.

Debuting in the original Resident Evil and continuing throughout the series, Jill proved herself to be more than a match for those virus-ridden zombie types. Jill was designed to complement partner Chris Redfield by having different strengths and skills, thus showing that she wasn't just a female 'version' but an independent character and a genuine alternative to the male lead.

A promotion to sole protagonist for Resident Evil 3 showed she was capable of carrying a game on her own. Although she would return to shared billing in later games, including this year's Revelations, her continued appearances throughout the series is testament to the strength and staying power of the character.

Chun-Li
Street Fighter X Tekken

Where would this list be without Chun-Li? The archetypal beat 'em up girl showed she could certainly handle the male fighters and spawned a thousand* imitators.

Introduced in Street Fighter II, Chun-Li is one of the few characters to have appeared in almost every Street Fighter game (and crossover game) since. She has a fighting style, a character and a story that is completely her own. She's as tough as they come, but at the same time, her avenging-her-father's-death motivation showed a humanity that sets her apart from the crowd.

With a look as iconic as any you are likely to find in gaming, Chun Li has been taking on - and taking out - all comers for 20 years and shows no sign of stopping. Which is just fine - would you try to stop her?

*not actually a thousand. This is a dramatic exaggeration!

Lightning and Serah
Final Fantasy XIII-2

The Final Fantasy series is well known for blurring gender roles, with androgynous boys and tomboyish girls. Appearances aside, it has had some strong female characters, exemplified by the Farron sisters, Lightning and Serah.

Lightning was the protagonist of FF XIII, a soldier whose gruff confidence hides a more sensitive, vulnerable edge. At once both strong and feminine, she may be one of the most mature and emotionally rounded characters in the FF franchise. Serah takes the lead in FFXIII-2, and is almost a mirror image of Lightning - seemingly vulnerable on the outside, but tough and determined, and willing to do what needs to be done.

Lightning and Serah go beyond two-dimensional 'types' and prove we can have strong female characters that don't have to play up - or play down - their femininity.

SPECIAL MENTION: Samus Aran
Metroid Series

Yes, she doesn't have a game out at the moment, but this list would be remiss without a mention of Samus Aran.

Ten years before Lara put on her exploring shorts, Samus was the surprise lead in Metroid. Surprise in that it was only as you completed the game that she took her helmet off and you discovered she was, well, a she under all that armour.

One could argue that hiding her true identity is doing her gender a disservice. But by removing gender from the equation, Samus was the first character that showed gamers that women could do blowing stuff up in space just as good as men, something she would continue to do in 11 more Metroid games (as well as turning up in a handful of others). And, after all this time she still keeps the armour on.

SPECIAL MENTION: Chell
Portal and Portal 2

While Samus was someone I couldn't not mention, Chell is a bit more of a question mark for this list. After all, the star of Portal and its sequel is silent and largely off-screen, due to the first-person nature of the game. Plus she was only female because it was thought this best suited the scenario of Portal, rather than any desire to make a female character.

But it's that "what works best" thinking that makes her an important figure in the history of female characters - she's not there to make a point. And that is a point worth making.

So what does the future hold?

In 2012 we'll be seeing the Buffy-esque cheerleader vs zombie fun of Lollipop Chainsaw, point-and-click piracy with Captain Morgane and the Golden Turtle, and the largely-female cast of Akai Kitana Shin making their way to UK consoles. The Dead or Alive franchise returns with Dead or Alive 5 which looks to have toned down the exaggerated sexuality of the female fighters. There continue to be rumours of sequels to Bayonetta and Heavy Rain. And some day - maybe this year, maybe next - Beyond Good and Evil 2 will finally come out and Jade will get another chance to show the world what she can do.

Female protagonists are increasingly giving their male counterparts a run for their money. But who's your favourite? Who do you play as, and who would you add to this list? Why not leave us your comments below.

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