Once upon a time, in the nineties and before, female characters in gaming were relegated to being NPCs or surprises.

Samus Aran was revealed to be a woman at the end of the original Metroid was a shock to many, and part of the groundbreaking appeal of Tomb Raider was the fact that it had a female protagonist, in all the pointy polygons the game could manage in 1996.

But these days? It’s becoming a vital part of the norm, and recent years have seen many badass women in main character roles in video games, and we have proof!

Predefined – well defined

Sometimes the developers want to tell a story written with a female protagonist in mind, often aiming for themes and conversations which might not have worked for a male character. Or sometimes simply on a whim, and then everything else fell into place organically.

Image credit: Horizon Zero Dawn

Take Horizon Zero Dawn, for example, and its illustrious sequel Horizon Forbidden West. Their main character, Aloy, begins as an outcast due to a few weird aspects of her backstory, but this situation shifts, bit by bit, as players join her on the journey to solve the threat posed by uncharacteristically aggressive animalistic robots populating the post-apocalyptic world.

It would be rude to spoil the reveals, but trust us: the story is great and Aloy is one of the iconic characters of the PS4 generation.

Image credit: Horizon Forbidden West

Another worthwhile example is Forspoken, which sees a young woman from New York city who somehow ends up tossed into a much more magical place, the world of Athia.

It might sound like a typical isekai story, and in some ways it is, but Frey Holland is a protagonist who seems to really dig her new circumstance, despite a chatty bracelet attached to her, mostly because she gets what in a different genre would be described as superpowers.

Image credit: Forspoken

For a completely different tone and style, there’s the currently two-game-long series A Plague Tale, which centers the action around young Amicia de Rune, a girl who has to protect her young brother from mundane and mystical threats alike.

Amicia is just a teen, and very far from an action game heroine, so care and caution must be exercised at all times, and her relation to her brother, explored over time, is believable, complex, and often quite conflict-ridden. Truly a story about siblings.

Image credit: A Plague Tale: Requiem

The choice is yours

While the predetermined heroines are great, sometimes the game leaves the choice of main character’s gender to the players. Usually the dialogues stay the same, but something about the delivery if lines of voice actors, or the writing itself can make picking the female avatar the obviously superior choice.

Perhaps the most iconic example of this is Commander Shepard from Mass Effect. Shep is badass in any version, but FemShep, as fans call her, has become the obvious choice, mostly because of voice actress Jennifer Hale’s fantastic performance in the role.

Image credit: Mass Effect Andromeda

Although the lines fit both male and female Shepards perfectly fine, Hale’s Shep delivers all the lines in a way you instantly believe in, outshining the already excellent acting of her male counterpart. Which is what you need from a series about defending the galaxy from Lovecraftian machines and wrangling the crew of weirdos and outcasts.

The situation is a little bit different in Marvel’s Midnight Suns, Firaxis’ turn-based superhero sim, where the choice of female Hunter seems to fit organically with the story and dialogues much better than the male alternative.

Image credit: Marvel’s Midnight Suns

The witchcraft-oriented plot and relationships between characters all work thematically better with Hunter as the Daughter of the game’s main antagonist, not her Son. Thankfully, regardless of your choice, the 80s comic book/glam-rock mane available as a hair option looks glorious on everyone.

The shift is happening

Of course, the characters and games we’ve mentioned are just a few of many. From the teen drama of Life is Strange, through the interesting dualistic protagonism of Assassin’s Creed Odyssey and Valhalla, to the unseen main character of Unpacking who’s been through her share of bad times. The ranks of female leads in games are growing in numbers, and there’s no indication that it’s going to slow down any time soon.