The 15 Greatest Women in Video Games

  1. Chloe Price (Life is Strange)

choeOne of the greatest video game characters of all time, Chloe contains multitudes. To call her three-dimensional would not be giving the developers or actress Ashly Burch enough credit; seek out reaction videos or the game’s Facebook page for a taste of how rawly this character has affected people.

Chloe is a fully realized young woman with a tragic backstory and a difficult life – not because it’s tropey and trendy to make a character with those things, but because that’s how lives actually are. Her mother, Joyce, moves to the suburbs with dreams of a perfectly landscaped yard and a perfectly landscaped family, but when her father is killed in a car accident, Chloe, a peppy and cheerful young girl (yet a blooming punk rocker) changes. At fifteen, she becomes the hair-dyed, slang-slinging grunge factory she was destined to be, but she’s angry and lost. Four years later, at nineteen, this anger has grown into more than typical teenage behavior. Once a student at Blackwell, the most prestigious art school anywhere in Life is Strange‘s fiction, she now hangs out with the drop-outs. She makes bargains with dangerous drug dealers. She aggressively snaps at her mother for making tiny jokes, and she refers to her stepfather (a shell-shocked veteran with a surveillance fetish) as “step-douche” to his face.

The core of Chloe’s problem isn’t some mysterious thing that she doesn’t understand; she knows what it is: everyone leaves her. Her father died. The girl she loved disappeared. And her best friend, Max, fell out of touch when she went away to a fancy school in Seattle. These abandonment issues surface again and again in Chloe’s young adulthood, manifesting as selfishness and jealousy, but just as with a real-life best friend, it’s not our job to judge her: we genuinely feel for her even when she’s being irrational, and through the eyes and actions of Max, we try whatever we can to make things better.

While Max is the protagonist of the story, Chloe is the central character. Max discovers that she can rewind time when she witnesses Chloe being shot to death in a Blackwell bathroom after a blackmail scheme gone wrong, and after Max rights things, the two reunite. During the course of the week that the game spans, Max and Chloe bond again, share nostalgic talk about the simpler days while indie music crackles through the hi-fi, and learn the various meanings of letting go as they attempt to gumshoe their way to discovering what happened to Chloe’s friend Rachel Amber. None of it comes easy. Spending so much time apart, both women have changed, and Chloe’s resentment makes re-bonding an uphill battle, even though Max is apologetic. Though the game has a central mystery involving a serial killer, scads of intrigue, intricately constructed thematic material and motifs, Life is Strange transcends what a “game” is, and rather becomes a visual novella focused on character development and the relationship between these two girls, one of whom the universe seems to be gunning for.

Chloe’s portrayal, down to her mannerisms, unique way of speaking, skill at neologism, struggle with identity, and status as an underdog made her a very real person to gamers, and many experienced actual grief once the game ended. And while she’s what some might call a “woobie” underneath, she’s confident in her sexual fluidity, and conflicted about her feelings for her best friend just as Max reaches a point in her life when she realizes she could actually be in love with a woman – how this plays out depends upon each player’s take on Max, but the body language, eggshell-treading conversations, and physical contact between the two is so deliberately and carefully crafted by the developers that it’s impossible not to read the myriad internal frictions in every interaction.

As the game consciously deconstructs things like idol worship (Max idolizes Mr. Jefferson, and Chloe worships Rachel; look what each of them turns out to be), it also deconstructs character tropes – in Chloe’s case, about half the cast sees her as a manic-pixie-dream-girl and the other half as an entitled, angsty teenager prone to complaining about “first-world problems.” But those who wish they could be as cool as Chloe don’t see the very real pain, and the others aren’t looking closely enough to recognize her genuine reasons for being this way. Yeah, her blue hair is cool, but there’s a serious dichotomy between who she was when she was dirty-blonde and who she is now. The game is always aware of problems of identity – Max is in that place too, and she’s balancing her determination to keep Chloe with everything else she has to do (school, artwork, family, a suicidal classmate, etc.). In this way, Life is Strange creates a realistic simulation of actual friendship while providing characters that are already defined as people. Deciding whether to have Max answer her cell phone while Chloe is talking is truly a more difficult decision than any world-altering choice in a sci-fi/fantasy battle epic.

The beautifully tragic center of one of the most emotionally evocative pieces of visual media we have (and receiver of the most raw and honest game-character voiceover ever), Chloe now serves as not only a prime example of how to write video game characters, but she’s also a symbol for an anti-bullying campaign that spawned from the game itself (which includes trigger warnings and suicide hotline on its title screen). Moving forward from here, whenever we feel an attachment to a game character, many of us will think back to our blue butterfly.

Honorable mention from Life is Strange:

Maxine “Max” Caulfield

maxThe little artist, detective, misfit, and everywoman we all relate to, Max is simultaneously living her youth and pining for her childhood. She’s a talented photographer with a promising career ahead, but there’s something missing from her life, and her priorities change after reuniting with Chloe (and discovering that she can mess with time). Call her a hipster, call her a fake; it doesn’t matter. Max saves a bullied classmate from jumping to her death, uses her power to continuously keep Chloe alive, and has the most bona fide heart of any protagonist in a choice-centric game. Without Caulfield, there’s no Price. Literally.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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