What does a galactic bounty hunter, a fearless archaeologist, and a biohazard suit-wearing alien hunter all have in common? This isn’t a riddle and it’s not a bad bar joke. I promise. When a male-dominated industry presented a stunning lack of diversity in lead characters, these women emerged as the unique heroines the gaming world so desperately needed. While they still came with their own female representation controversies, nobody could deny the impact they left in gaming history. These women—Samus, Lara Croft, and Toby Masuyo a.k.a Kissy—broke barriers in a way that opened the door for more leading ladies to make their video game debuts. With these women blazing their own trails throughout the 80s and 90s, the modern era of gaming now has one of the most dynamic and diverse casts of female leaders that the industry has ever seen.
The presence of a woman in charge is no longer a spectacle. A playable female lead, while still uncommon, is no longer culture shock in and of itself. In fact, the presence of a female protagonist is now a game element that is likely to be received with a wave of praise from most gaming critics. But the sheer presence of a woman in charge is not enough—not anymore. If developers hope to create a captivating female lead that will join the likes of Lara Croft and Samus as one of the most beloved gaming protagonists of all time, they will need their new heroine to do a lot more than just show up.
She Will Need To Feel Relatable and Complex
Horizon: Zero Dawn simply gets it right on many different levels, and one aspect that simply can’t be ignored is the game’s complex protagonist. Gamers are introduced to Aloy when she is still just a child and for good reason. Guerrilla Games was not trying to sell the dream of a protagonist that does right for the sake of doing right. Aloy’s origins clearly lay the groundwork for who she turns out to be as a heroin. She is more than a random “do-gooder” fighting for truth and justice. She is an outsider who has gone through a significant portion of her life being treated differently for something she can’t control and doesn’t even understand.
At a young age, she learned that her own selflessness and compassion was not enough to counteract a label that had already been assigned to her. It is with this upbringing in mind that Aloy sets out for answers, but also carries with her the burden of a higher level of understanding. For this reason, her willingness to offer assistance often comes with a slight bite and bluntness. It’s easy to see that she has evolved from the young, innocent girl we were introduced to in the first few minutes of the game. Every new mission in the game seems to remind us that there is always more to Aloy and always more to uncover. That combination of mystery, along with the compassion you can’t help but develop for her as she struggles to find acceptance all while dealing with one tragedy after the next, is a key reason why she is arguably the most beloved female lead to emerge in 2017 so far.