Thursday, December 2, 2010

Retro Repost: 6 Best Video Game Characters of the Decade

Note: This article was originally published as part of my time as an Associated Content Featured Contributor to the Video Games Section. Associated Content was later bought by Yahoo! and renamed Yahoo! Voices. Yahoo Voices shut down in July of 2014. This article is being republished here on The Code, backdated to its original date of publication to remain as a record of my writing.

For all the progress video games have made in the past two decades as a both a vehicle of entertainment and as a vehicle of creative expression, the dearth of strong, independent female characters has been a shame. 

 Traditionally, female characters have been little more than eye-candy or adolescent fantasies for the assumed male demographic of games. The past ten years have shown an increase in the number of women as protagonists and supporting characters, developed as complex and intriguing characters in their own right. Here are six of the most well-developed women in video games that the past ten years have brought us.

6. Bonnie McFarlane 
Game: Red Dead Redemption

Equals turns caring and uncompromising, Bonnie McFarlane is an intriguing figure in the world of Red Dead Redemption. While she does help Marston, the main character, back to health, she also insists that he pay back doctor fees as he heals. This leads to her teaching Marston (and the player) the basics of how the game works. While Bonnie and Marston do become close and develop a relationship, is it that of mentor and friend. She doesn't fall into the role or damsel in distress, nor does she become the swooning love interest to the main character. She is firm but fair in helping Marston get back on his feet, and remains a witty, active presence throughout the entire game. She's worked hard as the daughter of a rancher, and both her demeanor and actions throughout the game make Bonnie a strong presence in Marston's quest for justice and redemption.

5. Lightning 
Game: Final Fantasy XIII
Lightning is the lead character of Final Fantasy XIII. Unlike the gravity-defying physique of Lara Croft or the campy dominatrix fashion of Bayonetta, Lightning favors a dark turtleneck 
 covered with a leather coat. In both action and dress, Lightning is designed to look powerful not to titillate. According to Motomu Toriyama, the director of Final Fantasy XIII, "In the past Final Fantasy titles, female characters in the leading role have traditionally been very... girl-you-want-to-protect... For Final Fantasy XIII, Lightning is not only beautiful, but she's very strong. She has this independence. In battle, she's very graceful in her movements, but she's very powerful and she's very speedy." Lightning also uses her training as a soldier to keep her cool in emergencies, and when the world seems to be falling down around her comrades, she is often the one who keeps a level head, calmly doing what needs to done.

4. Elena Fischer 
Game: Uncharted (Series)

Elena Fischer is a brave and fiercely independent reporter who has crossed paths with the Uncharted series' hero Nathan Drake several times. She dresses practically for the wilderness and jungle settings of the games. She is intelligent, amusing, witty, and not afraid to place her own life in danger if it will mean doing the right thing. She is so committed to doing the right thing that she will not hesitate to call out Nathan whenever he places his own selfish desires above his own morals. As the relationship between her and Nathan develops and deepens over the course of the series, nothing seems forced. She is every bit Nathan's equal and not afraid to take risks of her own.

3. The Boss 
Game: Metal Gear Solid 3

Solid Snake might be considered the embodiment of the Metal Gear series, but The Boss is the series' heart and soul, the foundation on which the entire series is built. In the Metal Gear universe, The Boss founded the US Special Forces, led Allied forces on D-Day, and gave birth on the battlefield after being shot, and develops the Close Quarters Combat System. And this is all before Metal Gear Solid 3 even starts! Once Metal Gear Solid 3 begins, she has been the combat mentor and comrade of the lead character, Naked Snake, for years. The Boss is in her mid-forties, and is still muscular with combat reflexes still sharp; she manages to single-handedly disarm, counter attack and defeat Naked Snake in a confrontation.

But the Boss isn't just strong because she can kick butt-- she is a patriot so devoted to her cause that she is willing to sacrifice her reputation by seemingly betraying her country even though she was really going deep undercover. To help a cold-war era US not be lead into a diplomatic incident or nuclear war, she was willing to become a scapegoat. When Snake and The Boss meet for a climactic final battle, although Snake emerges the winner, the true victor is The Boss because of the self sacrifice she makes for the greater good. Naked Snake is awarded the codename of "Big Boss" as the military way of declaring him to have surpassed The Boss, but Snake (and the player) know the truth that the rest of the world never will: The Boss is the game's real hero.

2. Alyx Vance 
Game: Half-Life 2

Alyx Vance is a supporting character in the Half Life 2 episodes that doesn't fall prey to the love interest or "she's powerful because she can blow things up" cliches. While she is a supporting character to Gordon freeman, Alyx is independent, strong, and powerful without it being the core of her characterization. She also has a wry sense of humor, rarely passing up the chance to crack jokes about the situations she and Gordon face along the way, whether it's a witty one liner or even imitating a zombie to break the tension. While she is at home toting a pistol or shotgun, Alyx is also a skilled hacker. She uses those talents to disable security systems, open up locked doors and even reprogram mines and turrets to attack the Combine, turning the invader's weapons against them.

Alyx is Half-Life 2's emotional center. She is nuanced and well-written, putting a human face to what would otherwise be seen as yet another grim and gritty post-apocalyptic science fiction game. She grows as a character and a person, eventually becoming a key figure in the resistance against the Combine.

1. Jade 
Game: Beyond Good & Evil

Jade is an unconventional heroine in an under-appreciated Playstation 2 game. While many video game protagonists search for power, wealth, dominance or some nebulously-defined sense of justice, Jade's motivation is more nuanced. She wants to expose the truth about a corrupt government and protect a children's orphanage. While she is agile and capable in hand to hand combat, beating faceless enemies down won't help her accomplish her goals, so she uses her greatest weapon: photojournalism.

In Beyond Good and Evil, Jade stealthily infiltrates factories, stockyards and even military bases, snapping pictures of the atrocities and crimes committed. She risks her life time and again to document the truth and spread the word to the public at large. Jade shows strength by supporting those she cares about, refusing to back down even when it means her life is threatened, all for her quest to reveal the truth. A nuanced, complex characterization by both the writing team and her voice actor, Jodi Forrest elevate the game Beyond Good and Evil from an average stealth game into a sleeper hit. Demand for the game's re-relase has been so high, in fact the a high definition re-release is slated for the Playstation Network and Xbox Live Arcade next year.

Share This Post