Like many fledgling gamers growing up in the early 2000s, I spent a sizable chunk of my childhood trying to rescue Princess Peach. Jamming the buttons of my silver Gameboy SP with primal ferocity, I crossed harsh, distant lands and ground-pounded pixelated Goombas for her, collecting bonus coins, mushrooms, and 1-ups along the way. She was the perpetual damsel in distress – the delicate, classically beautiful prize waiting in a flouncy pink ball gown at the end of every Super Mario Bros. adventure.
But she was also a symbol of oppression: Something to be won, something to be pitied. A pawn. A stereotype. A ditsy, one-dimensional embodiment of white, heteronormative, cis-normative beauty. Something – not someone. The only playable characters in that iteration of Super Mario were the brothers themselves, Mario and Luigi.
It wasn’t until much later, long after I stopped gaming, that it occurred to me: Peach’s suffering didn’t stem from her inability to avoid capture. It had nothing to do Peach at all, nor the confounding lack of security at her palace. Peach suffered because she was created by programmers who saw no higher purpose for her existence. In the animated world they crafted, her femininity precluded heroism.
Thankfully, new worlds are being created—worlds in which gender has no bearing on a character’s potential for leadership and complexity. In the midst of the annual Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3 for short) currently happening in Los Angeles, I bringeth good news for BUSTies everywhere: A slew of new games featuring female protagonists are rolling onto the market this year, many of which are being presented by female programmers during the convention. With women comprising half of all gamers, all we can say is: finally.
So release the confetti and plug in your consoles! The patriarchy is about to get seriously pwned (pew pew pew!) in these upcoming titles:
1. Dishonored 2 from Bethesda Softworks marks the return of Emily Kaldwin, all grown up from her role as a ten year old heiress in the first Dishonored. In the sequel, she’s an assassin who can wield a sword AND a crossbow as she pleases.
2. Beyond Eyes from Microsoft depicts Rae, a blind girl whose other senses are heightened, leading you through an impressionistic, watercolor-esque landscape in search of her best friend: a cat named Nani.
3. Horizon: Zero Dawn chronicles the conquests of Aloy, a female hunter who lives in a post-apocalyptic world inhabited by mechanical dinosaurs.
4. FIFA ’16 from EA Sports is going to include a women’s soccer team. YAAASSS.
5. The Mirror's Edge Catalyst reboot will tell the origin story of Faith, its central character (notably, Faith doesn’t even need a gun to finish her enemies – such a badass).
6. Lara Croft, one of first female protagonists to appear in a video game, continues to slay and take names in Rise of the Tomb Raider from Square Enix.
7. Bethesda's much anticipated Fallout 4 will also allow players to choose a male or female character. Ditto for Mass Effect: Andromeda from EA and Ubisoft's Assassin's Creed: Syndicate.
Images courtesy of Square Enix, Bethesda Softworks, and Microsoft