Was there really once a time when Ms. Pac-Man represented the height of feminine representation in video games? In the intervening years, female video game characters have run the gamut from the silent Chell of the Portal series to the bouncy participants in Dead or Alive: Xtreme Beach Volleyball. In 2013, though, it looks as though we’re comfortably heading somewhere toward the middle. The nods to sex appeal remain, but contemporary female characters also bring with them engaging stories and (usually) thoughtful plotlines. Here are some of our favorites from this year’s most anticipated titles.
1. Nilin: “Remember Me”
“Remember Me” is the story of Nilin, a brunette who wanders the streets of a dystopian Paris in search of her lost memories, and its opening moments in the Bastille lay down all-too-obvious portents of a coming revolution. Heady stuff, right? Perhaps that’s why Remember Me’s marketing focuses on something else entirely, so much so that you can introduce it as “Dat Ass: The Game” in some quarters and people will know what you’re talking about. Maybe, just maybe, it’s a plot device. Maybe we’ll see Nilin pass by the dystopian yoga parlor where she honed those curves, and we’ll see her memories rush back as she watches the people within perform their utkatasanas and down dog splits. We can always hope, n’est-ce pas?
2. Kerrigan: “StarCraft II: Heart of the Swarm”
Let’s be honest, most of us consider anyone “infested” with anything a risky prospect for attraction, but it’s impossible not to admire the resolve of everyone’s favorite bug queen as she commands the zerg armies in the trailer for the upcoming “Heart of the Swarm” expansion for StarCraft II.
Still, if bugs aren’t your thing, we also catch a glimpse of Kerrigan’s restored humanity. Good to see that Blizzard’s covering all their bases.
3. Kat: “DMC: Devil May Cry”
Here’s one you don’t have to wait for. If you’re into hoodie-clad hipster types who look as though they’ve stumbled out of Portlandia (complete with claims of psychic prowess with a bit more substance than Daphne Moon’s), then you’ll love Kat. DMC already made a big splash with critics earlier this month, much to the annoyance of players who preferred the original Dante’s white hair and androgyny, so run out and meet Kat for yourself if you haven’t already. She’s not much for talking, but it’s worth following her story all the way through.
4. Lightning: “Final Fantasy XIII-3: Lightning Returns”
Lighting, they say, never strikes in the same place twice, which makes the third appearance of the stunning heroine with the lopsided haircut all the more welcome. Prone to brooding and some real doozies of downer lines, no one would ever mistake Lightning for the life of the party, but there was always something irresistibly attractive about her stoicism next to the tee-heeing of the insufferable Vanille, and Square Enix’s decision to make her the only playable character means we’ll have a full-fledged electrical storm on our hands by the time we reach the end.
5. Bayonetta: “Bayonetta 2″
Bayonetta was fetishism made flesh. Her wide glasses and fine hair suggested a Tina Fey (or, perhaps more accurately, a Sarah Palin), while the loving attention lavished on the curves of her posterior suggested an Alexis Texas. If that juxtaposition didn’t grab you, it was the high heels the doubled as guns or (most memorable of all), the way her hair, which doubled as her costume, whipped off her body as a combo finisher. Imagine the surprise, then, when it was announced that the sequel would only appear on Nintendo’s upcoming Wii U console. The original Bayonetta’s shameless leg-spreading and chest-flashing seems an ill fit with Nintendo’s penchant for kid-friendly wholesomeness, and the decision thus raises questions about the legendary company’s future direction. We’re hope it’s not a sign that Bayonetta’s settling down.
6. Lara Croft: “Tomb Raider”
Admit it: There was never anything particularly raunchy about Lara Croft (even her famed bustline originally stemmed from a coding error), and her shorts and sporty shirt catered to a girl-next-door brand of sexuality that any reader of The Smoking Jacket should appreciate. But no, Crystal Dynamics wants us to get to know the “real” Lara, which apparently involves dumping her on a hostile island, beating her until she’s bloody, and subjecting her to what was once interpreted as a possible attempt at sexual assault. Fear not, she kicks all their asses, and it’s probably satisfying to do so. And while there’s something depressing about taking such a playfully impish gaming icon and subjecting her to such “realism,” Lara clearly emerges as a force to be reckoned with. Far from shaming us, her handling of the ordeal only makes us love her more.
7. Elizabeth: “BioShock Infinite”
Apparently all those accolades for artistic achievement in gaming and an exhibition space at the Smithsonian didn’t impress the folks behind 2007′s BioShock. The original, to hear developer Irrational Games tell it, lacked a certain “bro” appeal, and the outcry from existing fans was deafening last year when the cover art for BioShock Infinite was revealed to feature some shotgun-toting stubbled hunk who looked like he could be the great grandfather of Uncharted’s Nathan Drake.
What’s less discussed is that the heroine Elizabeth, who sashays about the floating city of Columbia in cerulean skirts, also figures into this bro attraction scheme. She’s a fascinating character, true, but her low-hanging bustline seems better suited to saloon girls in the era’s red light districts. Still, without that emphasis, we may have been deprived of the heavenly cosplay of Anna Malova, whose interpretation pushes Elizabeth beyond mere eye candy to timeless, unforgettable beauty. Small wonder, then, that Irrational chose her as the official model for Elizabeth not long after her breathtaking photoshoot. It’s not irrational to want even more, is it?