My acting teacher taught me a variety of things, such as how to cry on command and sound really excited about floor wax.
But more importantly, she taught me that the hardest roles of my career wouldn't involve emotional death scenes, historical research, or any kind of physical and emotional transformation.
The hardest roles would be playing the attractive, heroic leading lady.
Not because the scenes are demanding in the least. In fact, they're usually some of the easiest: Smile, look pretty. Shoot gun, look pretty. Play hard to get, look pretty. Pouty-lipped reaction shot. Repeat.
My acting coach meant that it's easy to fall into the trap of just going through the motions as the ‘pretty girl.' I mean, who cares about my character's subtext (the emotion underneath the words) as long as I had a low-cut shirt, flat abs, and body oil, right? True – and there's nothing wrong with sex appeal – but it's the job of real actors to take something superficial and give it depth.
This same concept applies to video game heroines.
In the original Tomb Raiders, Lara Croft needed nothing more than D-cups and 9-millimeters to satisfy her demographic. But now that the bar of characterization has been raised, what makes a good heroine?
Personally, I compare it to what I've learned in acting: Leading ladies have to be tough, but accessible. Beautiful, with a vulnerable, ugly side. A strong woman and a scared little girl at the same time. Not to mention outfits and overall style need to make sense. And what about throwing some humor in there? A sense of humor makes her relatable. In other words, female protagonists should be well rounded… and not just in the physical sense.
These high standards of mine are the reason I still don't have a favorite video game heroine. The funniest thing, however, is that each of my requirements have been met – only with different characters.
So, I'm breaking all the rules, throwing on my mad scientist goggles, and splicing together some Frankenstein monsters, to see if I can create my perfect female lead.
Monster #1 – The Witty, Complex Beauty
Elena Fisher's humor (Uncharted series) + Lara Croft's style & weapons (Tomb Raider series) + Bonnie MacFarlane's emotional strength (Red Dead Redemption)
No firearm compares to Nathan Drake's arsenal of one-liners, and while he's not the first wisecracking hero, he's one of the first to have a sarcastic female counterpart who can shoot the jokes right back. Elena's sense of humor could very well be the most lovable thing about her. Combine that charming personality with Lara Croft's short-shorts and pistols, and – well, talk about a firecracker!
You can't deny that Lara Croft's body is as classic to video games as Mario's red hat. I loved her style in Tomb Raider: Underworld, and frankly, I'd wear the same thing if I were chimney jumping like a spider monkey in a hot, sticky jungle. To top off a beauty like Lara with the quick wit of Elena, I'd add Bonnie MacFarlane's full range of emotions.
Bonnie is a real, relatable woman in a man's world. We see her as a protective landowner and a respectful daughter. We watch her take a liking to John Marston, which turns into a silent love, and eventually… we see her realize that love can never develop, as she kicks the dirt like a sad little girl.
While Elena's humor and Lara's style are good first steps toward creating a dynamic heroine, it's really the imperfections and heart of Bonnie that round out this Frankenstein monster.
Monster #2 – The Hot, Parkouring Zombie Assassin
Zoey's relatability (Left4Dead) + Faith Connors' acrobatics (Mirror's Edge) + Rubi Malone's fashion (Wet)
The Zompocalypse is going to happen. We've all accepted it.
While we know virtually nothing about Zoey from Left4Dead, gamers are obsessed with her. I realized it's because she is one of the most relatable female characters around. She's extremely normal – a girl you could easily run into on the street. I guarantee if the outbreak happened tomorrow, I would be Zoey personified… but I'd wish I had the skills of Faith Connors.
Imagine being a survivor among zombies with the ability to parkour. Talk about a game-changer! Faith's unique, real-life free-running ability given to a sharpshooter like Zoey produces a character that's only missing one thing: some sexy style.
Wet wasn't exactly Game of the Year, but its star, Rubi Malone, knows how to dress. Her style is practical, sexy, and gives off a "Don't screw with me" vibe. Why do I think my down-to-earth, Apocalypse-surviving heroine needs more than just jeans and a hoodie? It's the classic saying, "Look good, feel good," because hell, if I looked like Rubi at the end of humanity, my ass-kicking ego would be bigger than a free Lady Gaga concert.
Monster #3 – The Loyal, Independent Phasewalker… with a Sword
Lilith's Phasewalk (Borderlands) + Alyx Vance's complexity and independence (Half-Life series) + Lightning's gunblade (Final Fantasy XIII)
Video games are fictional, and the best thing about fiction is that you can give characters unrealistic features, such as incredible super powers. Lilith's Phasewalk in Borderlands allows her to turn invisible and slip out of danger, then reappear in the center of the battle with a shockwave of pain. Yet, this amazing power is given to a character that's hard to get close to. Imagine this power given to a strong, sassy, beautifully complex character like Alyx Vance.
Alyx, more than Gordon Freeman, is the face of Half-Life 2, giving us a real human with which to connect as we control a voiceless hero. Maybe I'm just a sucker for that wink of hers, but Alyx's personality is a breath of fresh air in the video game land of superficial beauties.
Lilith and Alyx? They're all about guns. So, we'll stick with what they're familiar with and throw in a sword. The Gunblades from Final Fantasy are undeniably cool, and the one wielded by Lightning is probably the most gorgeous of all. Lightning's weapon, Alyx's depth, Lilith's powers – yeah, I'd play that game.
There is an obvious shortage of multifaceted female protagonists. Even in Game Informer's "30 Characters Who Defined a Decade," only six were women. In our male-dominated world of games, I'd love to see more female heroes that break the shallow mold and show us their gritty, even ugly side. And hey, a few more funny girls wouldn't hurt, either.
So, those are my creations – what are yours?
Lisa Foiles is best known as the former star of Nickelodeon's award-winning comedy show, All That. She currently works as a graphic designer and writes for her game site, Save Point. For more info, visit Lisa's official website.