The 15 Greatest Women in Video Games

2. Liara T’soni (Mass Effect)

liaraA doctorate-holding scientist of the asari species (a mono-gendered, long-lived culture responsible for most galaxy-wide advances in art and technology), Liara appears as a central character in all three games in the Mass Effect trilogy. As her story arc spans several years, we accompany Liara as she grows from a mere 105 year-old archaeologist – barely an adolescent by asari standards – who has had little interaction with humans, to a ruthless administrator, to a hero who saves the protagonist of the series, to the most renowned information broker in the galaxy.

Asari women tend to be some of the most developed characters in the ME universe, partly because they live for a thousand years – plenty of time to experience things. But one intriguing bit about them is that they can mate with any gender of any species – it all happens via their minds – so they (at least Liara) have no scruples about open-mindedness and no judgment about race or sexuality (read: pansexual-panromantic). In fact, their only taboo is asari/asari relationships, since “pureblood” children have a chance of developing a genetic disorder that causes fatal brain hemorrhages in anyone they attempt to mate with. Liara is the daughter of two asari, and while she doesn’t carry the disorder, she is subject to loads of verbal assault and has been ostracized since she was young. To have none of this bother her would be unrealistic. Of course it affects her. Sympathetic players can spend hours talking to Liara, and if one should attempt the romantic path with her, one will experience the pains and joys of being with (and separated from) a living, breathing person. Just, y’know, in expedited digital form.

Besides being a skilled cryptanalyst and xenoarchaeologist, Liara is a powerful biotic (she can manipulate objects and crush enemies with a wave of her hand – a more rigid and technical version of the Force, essentially) and is a critically important member of Shepard’s combat squad. On top of that, she’s the galaxy’s foremost expert on the Protheans, an ancient forerunner species at the center of the series’s mysteries, yet another reason Shepard needs her. Liara’s importance and accomplishments makes one wonder two things: how the hell any of Shepard’s exploits would have gone right without her, and also how she has time to eat.

None of this is to suggest that Liara is infallible or that someone infallible would make a good character. Her social marginalization and inexperience with other races present her with a bit of a learning curve when it comes to communication. She’s a truly wonderful person to watch grow, whether it be simply getting used to human humor, dealing with the fact that the people she’s been studying her entire life aren’t what she thought they were, or sitting next to her as she grieves over the loss of home.

Liara’s simultaneous anxiety, vulnerability, and confidence make her both the hero of her own story and of Shepard’s, and western gaming’s resident Jane of All Trades.

Honorable mention from Mass Effect:

Jack

jackA mercenary, convict, pirate, abuse survivor, and big softie, Jack – aka “Subject Zero,” real name Jennifer – is the most powerful biotic encountered in the series. Considered unhinged and dangerous by most, Jack goes from “psychotic biotic” to becoming a teacher. She’s also a vital balancing element on Shepard’s squad, able to pull anyone back to reality with her pragmatic attitude. With an appearance that asserts extreme agency over her own body, and an inner self that Shepards of all stripes will find worthwhile to uncover, Jack is one of the beating hearts of Mass Effect.

Samantha Traynor

samantha_traynorAn Indian-British Comm Specialist aboard Shepard’s Normandy, Traynor manages to become one of the series’s most lovable and well-drawn characters despite only appearing in one game. Her skills lead to discovering critical weaknesses in multiple enemy forces, and she’s one of gaming’s first LGBT characters not to reinforce destructive stereotypes or have a struggle with sexuality as her backstory. She’s also an enormous nerd, and any Shepard who befriends her will relish hitting the arcade or playing chess over some serious dork talk.

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