The 15 Greatest Women in Video Games

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Jen and I in 2010 (“non-civilian” clothes)

Jennifer Wicks and I have united to bring you this more-than-a-list that examines (and lauds) characterization of women in a medium that has not always been so good about it.  If you’re looking at this, you probably know some of the history, whether it be constant damsels and femme-fatales, breasts that begin at the collarbone, or reductive “hottest video game babes” lists.  But in the aftermath of all the damage (and with the revelation that there are more female gamers than male), we might be in the middle of a massive healing period.

Our countdown, which is labeled “15” but includes plenty of honorable mentions, is going to look at things from the standpoint of genuine characterization, depth, and impact.  And we’re going to do it without slut-shaming any of the problematic characters.

Because this is a detailed examination, there will be thorough spoilers for every game mentioned.  Only one character per game or game series is allowed (except in the case of the rare “twofer,” in which two characters occupy the same slot).  Onward!

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Wreck-It Ralph

Flattery don’t charge these batteries

Better than the numerous video game references, better than the oft-clever humor, and better than the wondrously varied color pallet, is the fact that two of the four core characters in Wreck-it Ralph are female.  A children’s movie that doesn’t throw the No Girls Allowed Clause around?  A boyish-themed film for young adolescents in which the very act of being female isn’t a bizarre quirk relegated to supporting-cast love interests?  Who knew?  Refreshingly, this film is for both boys and girls, as the deuteragonist, Vanellope (Sarah Silverman) is given as much personality, back-story, and aspiration as the title character, Ralph (John C. Reilly).  At heart, it’s a movie about outcasts, something I will always be attracted to.

The movie is directed by Rich Moore, who made a bunch of Simpsons episodes, and is just as adept at directing CG characters.  The story follows Ralph, an arcade villain who is left out of his game’s “cast parties,” if you will, because he’s big, clumsy, a bit of a dope, and prone to destroying anything he touches (whether on purpose or otherwise).  The title character of Fix-it Felix, Jr. (Jack McBrayer), is given all the credit, and despite feeling badly about leaving Ralph out, doesn’t quite understand what his fake nemesis is going through.

Finally, Ralph goes “Turbo,” a meta term for a game character that once left his game and invaded another one.  While trying to prove himself to the characters of his own game, he enters Sugar Rush, a generic character-based kart racer similar to Diddy Kong Racing or Mario Kart, and soon meets the quirky Vanellope, who seems to have a glitch in her programming.  As such, she is not allowed to race (and thus is never seen by players), a rule decreed by the corrupt King Candy (Alan Tudyk), whose name is conspicuously swiped from Candy Land.  Ralph and Vanellope decide to help each other out, and from there, the film hits all of the expected formulaic story points that a film of this type (let’s call it a Children’s Romantic Comedy) must.  The heroes have a falling out, get back together, save several days, etc.  The secondary story follows Felix’s quest to get Ralph back (for his own personal gain, because Ralph’s absence causes Fix-it Felix, Jr. to malfunction, threatening the game’s existence in the arcade), with the help of Sergeant Calhoun (Jane Lynch), the main character of Hero’s Duty, a Time Crisis knockoff wherein the player battles endless waves of bugs that share a hive-mind even in the game’s meta-world.

The world of Litwak’s Arcade is surprisingly charming and involving.  The film’s various video game references serve as in-jokes to people who get them (there’s everything from a misplaced Metal Gear Solid exclamation point to an expertly-placed portrait of Chun-Li), but there’s satisfactory accessible humor for everyone else.  Sarah Silverman’s prolific voice acting contributes multitudes to the hilarity and overall adorable nature of Vanellope.  Much of Calhoun’s charm is that she actually looks like Jane Lynch, and her prickly demeanor (said to be the result of her being programmed with “the most depressing back-story ever”) leads to some funny Odd Couple scenes with Felix, whose inherent goodness and naïvete don’t bode well for his survival outside of his own game.

Even the exposition is handled well.  Early on, a hologram of Sonic the Hedgehog reminds the citizens of the arcade world that they’re only allowed to die within their own games; if they die anywhere else, they’re kaput for good.  The supporting cast, bright and shiny and packed with characters like Taffyta and Candlehead (Mindy Kaling and Katie Lowes), is varied both in gender and personality, and the filmmakers wisely choose not to turn any beloved real-life game characters into main cast members (we all know how that turns out, don’t we, Uwe Boll?).

Not since Despicable Me has there been a CG-animated film with such heart.  Now, can we get a Candlehead spinoff?

Wreck-it Ralph (2012); written by Jennifer Lee and Phil Johnston; directed by Rich Moore; starring John C. Reilly, Sarah Silverman, Jane Lynch, and Jack McBrayer.

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