I’m all about action/survival horror RPGs (role-playing games). I remember, even as a scrawny little smart-mouthed kid, I hated when a video game didn’t feature a strong female lead, or if I couldn’t pick a female character to play through with (shoutout to Fallout and Mass Effect for always giving the option). So you can imagine how much I looked up to the badass female characters in the games that did offer a female lead.
I’m not talking Princess Peach. I’m talking the badass female characters who helped create the strong-willed woman I am today.
Lara Croft, Tomb Raider (1996)
Let’s start off this list right! I think it’s safe to say Lara was my first introduction (probably next to Jill Valentine) to badass female leads in games. And even though her giant triangle boobs weren’t realistic, she had a fancy British accent and a giant estate all her own that you were free to explore.
The Tomb Raider franchise has come a long way through the years (I’m definitely into the more physically realistic version of today), but I’ll always love the teal tank top version of Lara for introducing me to a world of strong female characters.
The 2001 film with Angelina Jolie (who couldn’t make a more perfect Lara, amirite?) came out when I was 11, and goddamn, did I ever want to be her! I even dressed as Lara for halloween at 19, vintage combat boots and all.
Jill Valentine, Resident Evil (1996, 1999)
I was first introduced to the awesome character that is Jill Valentine at the tender age of six. Yes. I was playing survival horror games as a six-year-old. THANKS, DAD!
I loved that even though she wasn’t as “tough” as her partner Chris (she ran slower, couldn’t take as much damage), she was definitely more resourceful and smart. An explosives expert and great at picking locks—which definitely came in handy—Jill’s character reassured me that brute strength isn’t everything.
In Resident Evil 3 (1999) she rocks the outfit you’d probably recognize from her character in the films. An aqua strapless top and mini skirt weren’t totally realistic, but nine-year-old me thought it was super-cool. I’ll forever associate the clack clack clack sound some boots make with video games thanks to Resident Evil 3.
Aya Brea, Parasite Eve (1998)
I was eight when this came out, and I still have the game. I prefer the second one due to improved gameplay, but I’ll always have love for the first because it introduced me to such an awesome character.
Aya Brea, NYC rookie cop, battles monsters after a beautiful (but evil) opera singer quite literally sets the crowd on fire during her performance. I followed Aya’s story into 1999 with the release of Parasite Eve 2. I most memorably fought this enormous dude who shot fire out of his mouth. Aya had me wanting to run around kicking ass in an evening gown, which I think is pretty awesome (and hilarious).
Fun fact: Having loved this game as a kid really helped me out in high school science class, with all the talk of mitochondria. So don’t ever say video games don’t teach you something!
Regina, Dino Crisis 2 (2000)
At 11, I had this game so memorized I beat it in three hours. No cheats. Not kidding.
Regina is a mad intelligent special op that you play nearly the whole game (you switch out between her and this lame looking dude near the end of the game). This girl is smart, and takes on a damn T-rex alone by the end of it.
Aaaand she has a red bob haircut. To be fair, short hair was way easier for the game developers to deal with way back in the early aughts. Plus, who has time for long fancy hair in combat anyway? (I’m looking at you, Lara).
Heather Mason, Silent Hill 3 (2003)
Heather Mason kicks ass. Period. I was 13 when this game came out, so I related so much to a sarcastic teenage girl, and being able to play one in a survivor horror game was the best thing ever.
Heather was one of the first female leads who didn’t have an overly sexualized appearance either. She wore something I’d wear at 13. And she had freckles and bags under her eyes. She was so relatable. It’s why I’ll always have a soft spot for the theatrical version, Silent Hill Revelation (2012), even though the story was total crap.
Jen, Primal (2003)
This game was BAD. ASS. Especially to a teenage girl. I mean, hard music played during combat, and the lead character was a tattooed waitress who had a rough backstory and a smart mouth. If I remember correctly, you actually start off the game going to save Jen’s boyfriend.
In the game, Jen transforms into different versions of herself, with varying powers. These aren’t exactly “pretty” either. Her whole character is chaotic but compassionate. It was really interesting, her character being more justice-oriented and Scree, the gargoyle that accompanies her on her journey being more neutral and all for the rules. Her look was very '90s, complete with baggy pants and dark lipstick.
I’m so glad I grew up in a time where I had strong female characters to look up to, especially in such an unlikely place like video games. Some were stereotypically beautiful (and kinda unrealistic) but a lot weren’t. I definitely think a shift has happened in portraying female leads that have strong bodies and sharp tongues. I’ve definitely never been the damsel in distress type, and I’m happy the characters I got to play as weren’t either.
- Were/are you into video games?
- Were you just as influenced by strong female game characters growing up as I was? Who were they?