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More and more I’ve come to respect developers whose major female characters don’t fall into one of these three tropes: Useless Damsel, Flawless Beautiful Strong Genius, or Wizened Mother Figure

It's a generalization of course, and it's not exclusive to games media, but I do find these three tropes rearing their heads VERY frequently in gaming, especially major studio releases — it's a bit tiresome honestly. These tropes are pretty self explanatory I'd say so I'll just touch very briefly on these here:

You have the Useless Damsel who is quite an old trope indeed and is basically a patsy with no agency, existing only to support the male characters or provide a bit of reason to go after the Big Baddie. We're all pretty familiar with this one I think and not much need to dwell on them here. I'll say that I see this one a bit less frequently than I used to but by no means is it vanquished.

The one I see increasingly is the Flawless Beautiful Strong Genius who basically has no negative qualiaties whatsoever and in some ways seems to be a half-assed sort of response to criticism about the first trope. I'd probably put a character like Aloy from Horizon Zero Dawn in this category. Does what she does out of an endless fountain of kindness and goodness, with no hang ups really or anything that personally holds her back from being Her Best Self and has all the other characters following at her beck and call. Frequently these protagonists feel more like something the studio decided on because they wanted Diversity Brownie Points rather than being interested in telling a story about complex woman living a complex life. Sure she has agency, but she's also totally unrealistic and unrelatable.

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This is something that male protagonists also sometimes have, to be sure; however, much more frequently you'll see male protagonists have some kind of flaw or hubris which limits them or drives the story forward in some way. Like, how often does a female protagonist have some kind of hubris which limits them until it is finally overcome at the end? (this is the part where you furiously type your example of choice at me and that's all well and very valid, but it's definitely less frequent than with male protagonists, and I feel pretty confident making that assertion.) On a related note, I find that, very generally, devs are reluctant to cast women in roles of antagonistic power, and when they do it's often of a very same-y, 'black widow' or 'femme fatale' archetype.

The Wizened Mother Figure is less irritating to me than the others because I do think there is a pretty comparable male archetype for this as well and it's pretty common to all stories. however, I still find myself rolling my eyes a bit at the wise old sage-woman directing the usually-male protagonist about some cliche life lesson.

Overall I really respect studios who manage to write female characters that avoid all three of these tropes and give us an interesting female major character who has flaws to overcome, strengths AND weaknesses, and has a complex story to be told as the game unfolds. I like experiencing stories that feel like they have a unique and specific perspective and think they make us better and more empathetic people, so I hope the games medium continues to push these kinds of characters forward.

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What are some characters that break these molds for you, and which characters were you disappointed to find were just a rehash of tired old tropes? Do you think the medium is improving in terms of getting these characters more representation, and what can the industry do to further support that? Is there anything unique about the games medium which promotes this or is it exactly the same forces as act on other mediums?


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