What we learnt from the helpless princess in video games: part 2

For those who have taken the time to read our first article you will know that we discussed how the images of women in video games are perceived as sexy, but still full of stereotypes.

Let’s continue exploring the world of video games and the female characters in them…


As is in life, women often play the supporting roles in video games. And as the old saying goes « behind every great man, hides a woman ». That also appears to be what the designers of video games think when creating female characters : as that of support. For those who are addicted to One Piece (debut in 1997) like me, you probably know the character of Nami, one of two female crew members (the other is Robin), and one of the smartest characters of East Blue. According to Eiichiro Oda, who is author of the characters, her skills were in navigation; a role that for once is not given to a man. Despite her superficial and venal temperament (she is passionate about fashion and obsessed with money) she is undoubtedly the one who shows the most compassion and sympathy of all the characters in the story. She cries easily and forgives those who have hurt her. When she does not count the money she has in her coffers, she tries to console her friends. And panicked in the face of imminent danger, she only fights if her life is in danger. From this we know her as the intelligent, but submissive and a motherly figure of the game.



It’s the same for Aeris in Final Fantasy VII, released in 1997. She is considered a weaker character, whose attacks have less power and uses her magic to heal others in her team. And so when the female character is not a quest object or being sexualized, she embodies the caring, protective role, the gift of self.

The Helpless-woman@Square Enix

As you can see, women play a supporting role in many video games between the 1980s and 2000s. It seems as though it has taken companies, such as Nintendo, Sony, a long time to become aware of the women’s movement, and the progressive digitization of homes that now includes more than just the teenage boy in his bedroom. As a consequence, there is already a paradigm shift that is set to change the  image of the woman in a swimsuit or the whiny female persona. But until we see a male character strutting around in a revealing swimsuit for the pleasure of the female gamer we will not see attitudes change about equality in video games.


Today, it is no longer rare to see female characters in the lead role; and nothing to do with the  »helpless little princess ». A universe that has given the woman an important status is the game focused on combat fighting. From the youthful to the seductive femme fatale, many female profiles are increasingly present in fighting games. It’s therefore easy for a player to identify herself in a character and choose her favourite fighter based on this self-identity. As it was in my younger years, I always choose female characters as a priority because it’s much easier for me to identify with my character. In the game Street Fighters I loved to defeat the male characters. The weak and helpless women characters of the 1980s slowly transitioned into stronger characters by the early 2000s. Now fighting games show us increasingly powerful women who are not afraid to take blows or fight for a good cause. This is the case of Chun Li, Sophitia, Aya Brea, Ayane, Kasumi, Faith, and Samus Aran; a trend that hopefully continues.

However, while women in modern societies demand more recognition and social equality, women continue to be overwhelmingly emancipated in video games. But it is no longer enough to only attract young pubescent males. There is now a growing opportunity to attract a new category of players: the female gamer.  Indeed, the female gamer no longer hide in the crowd for fear of being mocked by a hordes of men (or even their female peers). On the contrary: she now asserts herself and wants to be recognized in the gaming world.

5° The gender question 

Now more than ever video games allow us to choose the sex of our avatar. Starting with Pokemon (Nintendo), where the main character was traditionally a young boy, its Gold,  Silver and Crystal versions allow us to choose if we are a young boy OR girl.


So now Nintendo makes a point of always staging the male or female character option in most of its games. Even as early as 1994 Nintendo went as far as not allowing the player to predetermine the sex of the character Samus Aran in the sci-fi video game series Metroid. This former Galactic Federation soldier has become an intergalactic bounty hunter and is equipped with futuristic armour and weapons. Here the focus is on the objective of the game, and it is only at the end of the game the player learns that the strong heroic character is in fact a woman. We will ignore the fact that when Samus removes her helmet to reveal she is a woman she stands close to naked and claim this a small revolution for that time.


To sum it up, video games are useful testing ground for stylizing gender. Although old stereotypes persist in game design, the fact remains that there is increasing diversity in the types of games, goals and topics discussed. And even if the subject remains a debate, let us not forget that women are ever more present in the creative process of video games, often as game designer. This incentivizes more video game publishers to take into consideration the increasing profile of the female players.



It should be mentioned that in 2013 the 48 percent of gamers were women, of which 36% are over 18 years old, so watch out guys!


Hope you enjoyed reading this article and thank you for your attention!