Things are getting better for women in film and TV, from Divergent‘s Tris to Frozen’‘s supersisters Anna and Elsa. But female characters haven’t fared so well in the video game world, where they’re mostly prized for their exaggerated physical features. That’s beginning to change.
Author, educator, and kid advocate Rosalind Wiseman says that although female video game characters still adhere to traditional beauty standards, they’re being given more dimensions.
“I was recently reading an article on the top 25 girl characters on a popular gamer site,” she says. “Not surprisingly, all 25 had huge breasts, tiny waists, and flowing hair. But they were also liked because they were intelligent and skilled fighters.” Not a great trade-off, but it’s better than women showing up purely as eye candy.
Another positive trend is the ability to choose your player’s gender. Avid gamer, voice actress, and game designer Ashly Burch is a fan of this empowering option. When a girl gets to play as a girl, she says, “it gives her a world where characters — of all different species, genders, and backgrounds — treat her with respect and don’t assume that she’s weak or incapable just because she’s a girl.“
If your kids like video games, you can encourage them to think critically about their heroes and heroines. Game expert (and dad to a spirited game-playing daughter) Chad Sapieha advises, “Parents can help things along by talking to their kids about the games they play. Get them thinking about gender roles and appearances by making them compare male and female character qualities, including appearance, intelligence, temperament, interests, abilities, and duties.”
Some of our favorite video games with strong female characters are:
Smart, independent female characters take the lead in this beautiful RPG that’s fun for girls, boys, and grown-ups. Journey through the fantastical land of Lemuria, fighting bizarre creatures and making new allies in a treasure-filled, turn-based quest.
Nancy Drew: The Silent Spy, ages 10+
The entire Nancy Drew game series (29 games at last count!) is fantastic, but Silent Spy is a super thriller: Mystery-solving dynamo Nancy searches Scotland for clues about her spy mother’s death.
Portal 2, ages 10+
Chell is back, and she has to navigate more dangerous environments with the help of her portal-creating gun. With laugh-out-loud dialogue and tons of physics puzzles to solve, this first-person game is a fave for the whole family.
Broken Age, ages 12+
Follow parallel story lines in this point-and-click adventure. Shay lives alone on an overprotected spaceship, while on the ground Vella’s the first to ask why she’ll be sacrificed to a vengeful village monster.
This stylized 1920s noir puzzler has a kooky premise that totally works. Explore the streets of Paris as shadowy Dawn, imaginary friend to Didi, looking for answers to some big questions.
Half the Sky Movement, ages 13+
Help Radhika find solutions to real problems as you follow her around the globe, advocating for women in all kinds of communities. This Facebook game also allows you to partner with real-world charities and get involved in real life (IRL).
Mirror’s Edge, ages 14+
This fast-paced, first-person runner has been around for a while, but tough, agile Faith is still a fan favorite. Do death-defying stunts, parkour, and more as you zip around an Orwellian, futuristic city. (Bonus: You can play the whole game without firing a weapon.)
Katie returns from a trip to Europe to find her family’s home mysteriously empty. As she explores, an emotional story unfolds, revealing secrets about her high-school-age sister Sam. This highly touted game is a great example of using fiction to explore real-life issues.