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Games You Should Play If You Love Strong Female Protagonists

Though gender discrimination is far from eradicated, there's plenty of progress worth celebrating, not to mention a host of can't-miss games featuring female leads. Women make up over 40% of gamers in the U.S. according to data from 2020, and the numbers are trending upwards. Despite this fact, the vast majority of video game protagonists are still men. The silver lining? Data on gender diversity in gaming shows that the gap between female and male protagonists is getting smaller by the year. Of course, regardless of a player's gender, quality representation for women is a win for everyone.

Female representation in video games has evolved quite a ways since the days of Ms. Pac-Man. Look at the lineup of female protagonists who debuted with the PS5, for example. While there's room for more growth, especially when it comes to including more women of color and other diverse groups, there are many tough, intelligent, heroic women starring in some of today's best games, who kick outdated narratives to the curb. Instead of serving as damsels in distress or objects of fantasy, the female protagonists featured here are sure to resonate with gamers on a deeper level. The best part is, these groundbreaking characters are starring in a wide variety of high-quality, must-play games.

Horizon Zero Dawn

Aloy is one of the biggest reasons "Horizon Zero Dawn" took the world by storm and sold 2.6 million copies in under two weeks. Her skills in battle are unmatched as she takes on any machine, or robot dinosaur, that dares cross her. A woman with many strengths, she's a warrior who channels both mental and physical prowess to fight enemies and uncover the mysteries of her secret-filled world. Relentless in her search for the truth about her parentless origins, a plot to destroy humanity, and all the questions that surround her identity and many quests along the way, Aloy has the confidence and conviction to stop and nothing in her pursuit of justice and knowledge. Action RPG fans are sure to appreciate the depth and continuity of "Horizon Zero Dawn" gameplay as they get to know Aloy through the process.

According to GameRant, Aloy was inspired by other noteworthy women characters including Ygritte from "Game of Thrones," Sarah Connor from the "Terminator" movies, and Ripley from "Alien." Though some internet spectators resented her natural look that fails to cater to the male gaze, her real fans know it's much more than Aloy's outer beauty that makes her one of the best characters of all time.

The Pathless

Speaking of female archery pros, "The Pathless" is the hidden gem too many people missed in 2020 starring a young woman protagonist known only as The Hunter. With a bow and arrow in her hand and an eagle by her side, The Hunter is brave enough to venture alone to a haunted island where she fights to lift a curse that could devastate her world. The Hunter is the definition of fearless, and her trust in her own instincts and intuition will inspire all sorts of gamers.

Critics loved "The Pathless" thanks to its unique combination of open-world exploration and compelling puzzles, not to mention a forested environment that's pure eye candy. In a world where just about everything is a mystery, The Hunter is resolute in her path forward, even when she's not sure where it will take her. Facing uncertainty never causes her to question her goal or stray from it. Finding the answers she needs along the way, The Hunter will remind players that perhaps perseverance in and of itself is enough to press on. That, and an adorable, magical eagle friend.

Celeste

Another animated woman protagonist, Madeline's strength is bolstered by her vulnerabilities. As if its multiple award wins, challenging retro gameplay, and positive reviews aren't enough to draw players into hit indie platformer "Celeste," Madeline's story arc is the icing on the cake. The star of "Celeste" is a mountain climber in more ways than one. Not only does she scale the treacherous terrain of Celeste Mountain with its countless pitfalls that will keep even the savviest of players on their toes. Throughout the course of the game, Madeline is climbing the metaphorical mountain of her own depression and anxiety as she learns more about who she truly is.

Rich and raw, the dialogue that propels Madeline's story doesn't shy away from her struggles, whether she's battling the personified "Part of Me" that tries to hold her back from her climb or connecting with the other characters she meets along her journey. The impact of "Celeste" is even more powerful considering confirmation from its developer Maddy Thorson that Madeline is a trans woman. While developing "Celeste," Thorson was also discovering and accepting her identity as a trans woman, so the emotional depth of the game and themes of self-discovery have real-world connections.

Fair warning: this game is truly difficult. Even advanced gamers will be challenged throughout their climb and forced to question their own capabilities just as Madeline does. The ups and downs throughout the climb eventually prove to the player that they too are stronger than they first thought.

Assassin's Creed III: Liberation

As strongly successful as the "Assassin's Creed" action-adventure games have become, with "Assassin's Creed: Valhalla" defying launch expectations back in 2020, there's not enough appreciation for one unique side game that often goes uncelebrated featuring a groundbreaking, strong woman protagonist.

"Assassin's Creed III: Liberation" tells the story of Aveline de Grandpré, the slavery-fighting Assassin who combines ruthless combat, cunning displays of acting skills, and tried and true determination in pursuing freedom for those enslaved. By embodying different personas with effective disguises, Aveline is able to do everything from infiltrating enemy plans to freeing enslaved people and more — all through a unique combination of stealth, strategy, and, when necessary, slaying.

The daughter of rich Frenchman Philippe de Grandpré and Jeanne, a formerly enslaved African woman, Aveline is one of few Black and biracial characters in gaming. Her story provides much-needed representation and gives an in-depth fictional look at a disturbing yet real historical period in 18th-century New Orleans.

Though reviews for "Assassin's Creed III: Liberation" sit around the 7/10 mark on Metacritic, Aveline shines and deserves a place in gaming history.

Hellblade: Senua's Sacrifice

Last but not least, Senua's story is yet another of strength despite struggle. A psychological horror set in the Viking age, "Hellblade: Senua's Sacrifice" puts players in the shoes of a warrior woman who lives with psychosis, a debilitating mental disorder that deeply impacts Senua while not solely defining her. Senua is one of the most impactful characters in gaming this decade – if not of all time — thanks to her thoughtful, realistic portrayal and true strength and persistence. Her story is told intentionally by indie developer Ninja Theory, who took no shortcuts when it came to consulting with mental health professionals in the process.

Living with stigmatized symptoms that disconnect her from reality, players step into Senua's shoes through intricate yet disturbing sound design that will shake even the bravest of gamers to the core. As Senua battles enemies in a quest through hell to save the soul of her beloved, she hears voices in her head that often try to stop her or plant seeds of doubt. While this is sure to disorient players, it helps capture the experience of living with psychosis in a way that's sure to deepen understanding of the disorder.

Senua is a fighter fearless enough to enter hell voluntarily. Add to that the fact that her quest is to save her male lover, which is satisfyingly script-flipping and empowering. Gamers who enjoy "Hellblade: Senua's Sacrifice" will be excited to learn that they can continue Senua's story with the eventual release of the sequel: "Senua's Saga: Hellblade 2.

If you or someone you know is in crisis, please call 911, go to the nearest emergency room, call 1-800-273-TALK (8255) to be connected with a crisis counselor, or text MHA to 741741 at the Crisis Text Line.