The Women of Resident Evil
I have realized in my life that there aren't that many hard-core female gamers out there. I wouldn't even describe myself as a hardcore gamer, although I might come close. Regardless, a feminist can't help but appreciate the steps the video game world has taken in order to elevate the status of women. And some may argue that, since the target audience of video games is men, the fact that women are portrayed with brains AND brawn in them is twice as progressive as the portrayal of tough women in movies and television, whose gender audience is often split down the middle, or targeted at women.
Let's travel back twenty odd years to the eighties, or the birth of video games. Nintendo was just starting up, and it's first notable female character was Princess Peach, who at the time didn't even have a name. She was known as simply Princess Toadstool and generally fulfilled the role of "damsel in distress" for the hero, Mario, to rescue. Nintendo, along with its sister and rival game companies, have come a long way since Princess Peach in terms of women in their games.
While Peach has never really escaped her frilly, helpless stereotype, she has become a fixture in Nintendo's Super Smash Brothers
series of games. A user can choose Peach as his warrior and battle other Nintendo heroes such as Link, Mario, and even Donkey Kong and Bowser, who have both kidnapped her in the past.
Samus in full body armor
However, Nintendo was actually a pioneer in the field of video game feminism. So much so that they can even be forgiven for creating Princess Peach and leaving her more or less unchanged since 1985. Samus Aran stepped onto the field of video game protagonists in 1986 as the bounty hunter hero of Metroid
. She was probably the first video game heroine ever. Completely encased in a gender-neutralizing body-suit, her true sex wasn't revealed until the very end of the first game, where she takes off her helmet and reveals herself to be wearing a pink leotard underneath. The revelation was so shocking at the time that it was revolutionary. Since then, there have been rare glimpses of Samus beneath her armor. This may be one of the reasons that Nintendo introduced Zero Suit Samus (this time in blue, not pink) to their latest installment in the Smash Brothers
series (called Super Smash Brothers Brawl
Zero Suit Samus
Nintendo did not stop there. The introduction of Joanna Dark onto the video game scene began with the first Perfect Dark
game in 2000. Joanna has been called the female James Bond, without the promiscuity. The title of the game is also Joanna's code name, which she earned due to her perfect performance in training missions. Joanna was a role model particularly for young girl gamers. She was conservative but still attractive, sneaky, and very clever. There was no obstacle that Joanna could not conquer. Joanna differed from her earlier counterpart, Lara Croft, in that she had cropped hair and appropriate attire for her missions. In addition to that, her proportions were not exaggerated to meet the needs of gawking, girl-starved boy gamers. Joanna was a strong, independent woman as resourceful as MacGyver and as smooth as James Bond. While Joanna's look has still evolved over the years, her games hold that classic feel of the first Perfect Dark
on the Nintendo 64.
Going back to the 1980s, Nintendo had another Peach-like princess who had a similar habit of getting kidnapped by the baddies. However, this princess had a whole series of games named after her: Zelda. And there is a reason that there are so many legends about our lovely Zelda. Seeming to realize that they needed to differentiate Zelda from Peach, Nintendo equipped her with powerful magical abilities, including the ability of prophesy. As the game series progressed, Zelda became almost a Cassandra-esque character, constantly in the position of knowing the future but unable to change it. Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time
depicts Zelda as a young girl eager to help save the world and teams up with the hero, Link, but they ultimately fail. In act two of the game, Zelda (now seven years older) disguises herself as the
Zelda disguised as Sheik
warrior Sheik, and gives Link cryptic but useful advice and displays her nimble battle skills. She manages to remain elusive to Link, constantly out of reach, and is always ten steps ahead of him. The character of Sheik was so well-received that he was included in two Super Smash Brothers
games as a persona Zelda could transform into on the battlefield. Nowadays, the name Princess Zelda is indicative of deep wisdom, powerful magic, mystery, and skill.
But Nintendo was not alone in developing these adventurous women. The Resident Evil
franchise has several strong-willed women, all of them playable characters in at least one game. The most famous of these is probably link
, portrayed by Sienna Guillory in the film version of the game. But there is also link
, an average college student who was forced to learn how to fight to survive during the outbreak in Raccoon City where she went looking for her brother. link
joins the cast of female gunslingers as a corporate spy in a stunning red gown which seems to conceal several weapons and gadgets.
There are several other brilliant female characters in video games, including Aya Brea from Parasite Eve
, Jade from Beyond Good and Evil
and the disturbed Heather from Silent Hill
. Not only are these wonderful women perfect examples of clever agency and girl power, they are also in very well-written games, which are fun to play and have interesting storylines. If you are not a gamer, but have been thinking about dabbling, I would strongly suggest any of the games mentioned in this article. Although one may want to start with the Legend of Zelda
if you want to be eased into the adventure.
From left to right: Jade, Aya and Heather