The Lara Croft effect: Girls, games and glory
From a Greek demigoddess to a fearless tomb raider, women characters are leading the line in video games
Most of the popular video games display a stark gender imbalance. Male characters often take centre stage, with the women playing second fiddle. Or they are cast as characters with no agency, who need to be saved all the time. The Tomb Raider series was an exception, with women characters taking the spotlight. The option to play as Kassandra in Assassin’s Creed Odyssey, part of one of the biggest gaming franchises of all time, is a step forward, suggesting a shift in mindset in the gaming industry. With more women taking up gaming and streaming extensively on YouTube and Twitch, game developers are moving to tap this growing user base. Here’s a look at some of the iconic women video game characters of recent times.
Halo’s iconic female character Cortana has figured consistently in all the games in the series (the first game came out in 2001), albeit in different forms. To begin with, this Artificial Intelligence (AI) based character doesn’t have an actual form and exists as a virtual avatar visible only on a computer screen. In later games, Cortana can be augmented in the real world using a sort of projection device.
Her appearance has evolved with every game. From being a straightforward character who was trained to emphasize on logic and had the ability to change colour, she goes on to mimic human-like emotions, making interactions with her livelier. Cortana also embraces blue as her default skin colour, which aligns well with the space-centric vibe of the Halo series.
Cortana’s role in the game has also grown. From being an assistant in the earlier games, she has evolved to play a more story-defining role.
Women have featured extensively in Assassin’s Creed games, but mostly in supporting roles. That changed with Assassin’s Creed Odyssey in 2018. Playing as the demigoddess Kassandra is a lot more fun than her male counterpart Alexios. Armed with Leonidas’ broken spear and the 50-odd abilities that she uncovers during the game, Kassandra is a witty character who likes to mock her opponents to the point of provoking them into a fight. She is also intellectually gifted and can debate on various subjects, such as absolute freedom of speech and its consequences on society, with Greek philosophers like Socrates. As players progress in the game, they get to unravel the shades of Kassandra’s character. She is a vulnerable mother who fears for her son’s life and decides to send him away to protect him. Yet, she finds the strength to take heart-wrenching decisions like killing her own brother for the larger good of the Greek nation. Assassin’s Creed Odyssey wouldn’t have been the same without her.
One of the most adored women characters in video games, Lara Croft has fans across all gender groups. Her adventurous streak, ability to solve puzzles and not get overwhelmed in the most adverse scenario has been the key driving force behind the series that spans three decades. After video game company Square Enix acquired Eidos Interactive in 2009, the Lara Croft games took a new turn, with Lara’s character getting a makeover. Shorts have given way to coarse pants and the picture perfect appearance with a classic ponytail has been replaced with a bruised look and dishevelled hair.
With new games in the series becoming far more challenging and opponents more violent, the new Lara Croft shows her resourcefulness by using the gaming environment more often to her advantage.
One of the key characters in The Witcher series of books and video games spanning decades (the first game came out in 2007), Yennefer stands out as an independent, mature and commanding figure. She can make snap decisions and stand by them even if it goes against the norms and offends people around her. Her strong facial features, violet eyes and deep voice also add to her charismatic appearance. Unlike Geralt, the protagonist, swords aren’t her primary choice of weapon. She is a sorceress and prefers magic, in which her abilities are more powerful than Geralt’s. In her choice of attire, Yennefer also prioritizes comfort and readiness for battle over elegance or pomp.
The brainchild of legendary game designer Shigeru Miyamoto, Princess Zelda was one of the first woman characters in a video game (The Legend Of Zelda). Since the first game in 1986, she has featured in more than 10 titles, evolving from the damsel in distress to playing a more formidable role alongside Link, the game’s other central figure. Though the characters in each game share the same name, their appearances have changed over time. Zelda’s role has grown allowing players to identify with her strong and selfless persona. During some of the games, players get the option to step into Zelda’s shoes, fight the bad guys and rescue Link.
FIRST PUBLISHED07.03.2020 | 11:00 AM IST