My Perfect Imperfect Video Game Heroine

My acting teacher taught me a variety of things, such as how to cry on command and sound really excited about floor wax.

But more importantly, she taught me that the hardest roles of my career wouldn't involve emotional death scenes, historical research, or any kind of physical and emotional transformation.

The hardest roles would be playing the attractive, heroic leading lady.

Not because the scenes are demanding in the least. In fact, they're usually some of the easiest: Smile, look pretty. Shoot gun, look pretty. Play hard to get, look pretty. Pouty-lipped reaction shot. Repeat.

My acting coach meant that it's easy to fall into the trap of just going through the motions as the "pretty girl". I mean, who cares about my character's subtext (the emotion underneath the words) as long as I had a low-cut shirt, flat abs and body oil, right? True – and there's nothing wrong with sex appeal – but it's the job of real actors to take something superficial and give it depth.

This same concept applies to video game heroines.

In the original Tomb Raiders, Lara Croft needed nothing more than D cups and 9 millimetres to satisfy her demographic. But now that the bar of characterisation has been raised, what makes a good heroine?

Personally, I compare it to what I've learned in acting: Leading ladies have to be tough, but accessible. Beautiful, with a vulnerable, ugly side. A strong woman and a scared little girl at the same time. Not to mention outfits and overall style need to make sense. And what about throwing some humour in there? A sense of humour makes her relatable. In other words, female protagonists should be well rounded… and not just in the physical sense.

These high standards of mine are the reason I still don't have a favourite video game heroine. The funniest thing, however, is that each of my requirements have been met – only with different characters.

So, I'm breaking all the rules, throwing on my mad scientist goggles, and splicing together some Frankenstein monsters, to see if I can create my perfect female lead.

Monster #1 – The Witty, Complex Beauty

Elena Fisher's humour (Uncharted series) + Lara Croft's style & weapons (Tomb Raider series) + Bonnie MacFarlane's emotional strength (Red Dead Redemption)

No firearm compares to Nathan Drake's arsenal of one-liners, and while he's not the first wisecracking hero, he's one of the first to have a sarcastic female counterpart who can shoot the jokes right back. Elena's sense of humour could very well be the most lovable thing about her. Combine that charming personality with Lara Croft's short-shorts and pistols, and – well, talk about a firecracker!

You can't deny that Lara Croft's body is as classic to video games as Mario's red hat. I loved her style in Tomb Raider: Underworld, and frankly, I'd wear the same thing if I were chimney jumping like a spider monkey in a hot, sticky jungle. To top off a beauty like Lara with the quick wit of Elena, I'd add Bonnie MacFarlane's full range of emotions.

Bonnie is a real, relatable woman in a man's world. We see her as a protective landowner and a respectful daughter. We watch her take a liking to John Marston, which turns into a silent love, and eventually… we see her realise that love can never develop, as she kicks the dirt like a sad little girl.

While Elena's humour and Lara's style are good first steps toward creating a dynamic heroine, it's really the imperfections and heart of Bonnie that round out this Frankenstein monster.

Monster #2 – The Hot, Parkouring Zombie Assassin

Zoey's relatability (Left4Dead) + Faith Connors' acrobatics (Mirror's Edge) + Rubi Malone's fashion (Wet)

The Zompocalypse is going to happen. We've all accepted it.

While we know virtually nothing about Zoey from Left4Dead, gamers are obsessed with her. I realised it's because she is one of the most relatable female characters around. She's extremely normal – a girl you could easily run into on the street. I guarantee if the outbreak happened tomorrow, I would be Zoey personified… but I'd wish I had the skills of Faith Connors.

Imagine being a survivor among zombies with the ability to parkour. Talk about a game-changer! Faith's unique, real-life free-running ability given to a sharpshooter like Zoey produces a character that's only missing one thing: some sexy style.

Wet wasn't exactly Game of the Year, but its star, Rubi Malone, knows how to dress. Her style is practical, sexy, and gives off a "Don't screw with me" vibe. Why do I think my down-to-earth, Apocalypse-surviving heroine needs more than just jeans and a hoodie? It's the classic saying, "Look good, feel good", because hell, if I looked like Rubi at the end of humanity, my arse-kicking ego would be bigger than a free Lady Gaga concert.

Monster #3 – The Loyal, Independent Phasewalker… with a Sword

Lilith's Phasewalk (Borderlands) + Alyx Vance's complexity and independence (Half-Life series) + Lightning's gunblade (Final Fantasy XIII)

Video games are fictional, and the best thing about fiction is that you can give characters unrealistic features, such as incredible super powers. Lilith's Phasewalk in Borderlands allows her to turn invisible and slip out of danger, then reappear in the centre of the battle with a shockwave of pain. Yet, this amazing power is given to a character that's hard to get close to. Imagine this power given to a strong, sassy, beautifully complex character like Alyx Vance.

Alyx, more than Gordon Freeman, is the face of Half-Life 2, giving us a real human with which to connect as we control a voiceless hero. Maybe I'm just a sucker for that wink of hers, but Alyx's personality is a breath of fresh air in the video game land of superficial beauties.

Lilith and Alyx? They're all about guns. So, we'll stick with what they're familiar with and throw in a sword. The Gunblades from Final Fantasy are undeniably cool, and the one wielded by Lightning is probably the most gorgeous of all. Lightning's weapon, Alyx's depth, Lilith's powers – yeah, I'd play that game.

There is an obvious shortage of multifaceted female protagonists. Even in Game Informer's "30 Characters Who Defined a Decade," only six were women. In our male-dominated world of games, I'd love to see more female heroes that break the shallow mold and show us their gritty, even ugly side. And hey, a few more funny girls wouldn't hurt, either.

So, those are my creations – what are yours?

Lisa Foiles is best known as the former star of Nickelodeon's award-winning comedy show, All That. She currently works as a graphic designer and writes for her game site, Save Point. For more info, visit Lisa's official website.


    Wait - Lightning's a girl?

      AHahaha wow.

    Didn't really read the article because I've got to get moving this mourning but I thought I'd just pop in with this comment.

    The best video game heroins are the ones I create in RPGs with my female Shepard from Mass Effect being my favourite. She's hot, she's nice, kind, has a sense of morality that matches my own, helps people out, is a great leader, can inspire people, can take care of herself, is a good fighter, can make the hard choices when required, is good at listening to people and offering good advice. Pretty much she's my perfect woman.


      Kind of a reply to you Wolf, and to the article in general.

      I get that Lisa is looking for a 'perfect' heroine, but I'd be happy even with imperfect ones. My female Shepard was modeled on Jenny Shepard (see what I did there?) from NCIS. I find her a really fascinating character, in the show, and I think the general personality transferred to Mass Effect really well! She's tough, professional and a soldier, so very masculine in that regard, with a personal vengeance vendetta, again very masculine. But she has the very strong romantic weakness for Gibbs, and she's gorgeous.

      So my Jenny was similar, a soldier, made to look as much like NCIS Jenny as I could, but taking the harder almost always renegade options. Not enough to make her unethical, but to definitely indicate some personal reasons for making decisions, not always going by the book. And as things develop in ME2, she gets more and more attached to Garrus, who is becoming harder and harder himself.

      Of course, NCIS Shepard's vendetta ends up getting her killed...

      "The mourning" good one, I feel the same way.

    At the end of the day, I dislike video game treatments of female characters because they inevitably have no agency. I think that's what makes Alyx such a compelling characters for me - she is often more competent than our hero Gordon. So, in that vein, I nominate KOTOR II's Kreia as my favourite (anti) heroine. Sure, she is integral to a rather unfulfilling ending, but goddamn if she wasn't a terrify, powerful and machiavellian badass.

      I didnt like KotOR IIs ending all that much and then I realised that its sits in the middle of what should have been a trilogy.

      The second one should always end on a downer leaving things open for the final chapter.

    I just finished Uncharted 2 so I'm for Elena at the moment. The thing I like about her is, she is a normal woman. Not trying to be swank or anything say like the girl from Wet. You just know she was used to sell the game.

    Monster #1 for sure. IMHO it is the most attractive and realistic of the 3 monsters described.

    I must admit when i saw the cover pic of the Half Life 2 chick I had flashbacks of walking behind her to watch her bum while she led me around... ah, good 'ol days.

    God, just DON'T go there about a female character needing to be a "scared little girl" as well as a strong woman. Team Ninja did that to Samus Aran, probably THE strongest woman in gaming, and look where that got them! Ruined the character!

    Alyx doesn't need to be crossed with anyone. Alyx is just... perfect.

    Alyx perfected?

    Isn't she already?
    (Pretty but also smart! BLOODY good characterization team HL2! Where the fuck is EPISODE THREE?! UNESOLVED PLOT POINTS!)

    WTF would you mash up Alyx with anyone else? She's a genius engineer, has a great sense of humour, is attractive (and it's realistic attractiveness - not some horrible plastic bimbo thing), and is a crack shot with various firearms. What more do you want from a game heroine?

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