Shawn Sackenheim is an aging gamer tired of the typical and always on the hunt for peculiar and intriguing games. You can find him on Twitter at @ShawnS52 or at his co-blog GameLuv.com. He is also part of the panelist roundtable at the Delightful Critics Club founded by +Quaisha A. Thornton.

I’m the kind of guy who loves to see absolutely every tradition, stereotype and establishment subverted and remade. So while the vocal outcry from most seems to reverberate calls of ‘fake geek girl’ and ‘get back in the kitchen’ I’m all for female empowerment and equality. There’s a million discussions to be had but for the sake of this post I’ll stick with video games, and namely those coming up in 2013 (and maybe beyond depending on release schedules).

Things have largely been improving with the way women are treated in games over the years. There are still “booth babes” at trade shows and powerful armor continues to reveal more and more cleavage but for an industry still in its hormone-soaked adolescence I think we’re doing pretty good. Though the din of small minded people on the Internet is loudest the voices of sensible journalists, developers and gamers are growing louder and, more importantly, easier to find.

Even sticking just to mainstream retail there are plenty of promising female leads in 2013. The already-controversial re-imagining of Tomb Raider is one I’m personally excited to experience. Like I said, this is the industry’s teenage years and while Tomb Raider may wind up relying on ‘torture porn’ tropes it’s still something we haven’t seen done as effectively in other games. I see it as gaming realizing there are more stories to tell than just vengeance and violence but still leaning on those trappings as it pushes forward. Of course, what happens to Lara and how the writing is handled will ultimately determine if what we’ve seen so far is exploitative or empowering.



Courtesy: FightWordPoverty.com



Another game that seems to be hanging onto explosive action because it believes that’s what has to happen in games is Beyond: Two Souls. Quantic Dream’s follow-up to Heavy Rain will hopefully see more introspection into lead character, Jodie Holmes, than psychic-powered rage. We’ve seen a little bit of both so far but I get the feeling that there’s pressure to stick with big action and cut out the quieter moments. Here’s hoping the story doesn’t get lost in excessive action… and distracting voice actor performances.

Courtesy: CreativeUncut.com
 

In more traditional form is Capcom’s Remember Me. Starring the leggy Nilin who climbs around Neo-Paris on the run from police and takes them on in acrobatic combat, what’s really interesting is her ability to remix memories. Along with what I’m expecting to be her own twisty tale, Nilin can change tiny parts of characters memories. Seeing these little moments and the sweeping repercussions that changing even one of them has looks way more promising than the typical gamey parts.

Courtesy: CreativeUncut.com
Elsewhere in 2013 we have more games featuring male player characters whose actions are guided by or mirrored back at them by some powerful female leads. Though you don’t play as Elizabeth in BioShock Infinite her actions and impact on the world around leading man, Booker, are by far the most interesting thing about the game. Another story I’m excited to see unfold is that between Joel and the young Ellie in Naughty Dog’s The Last of Us. We’ve already seen how the players actions affect Ellie and I’m sure there will be many more moments where simply her presence makes us think about what we’re doing.


Courtesy: EyesonAsia.com | Bayonetta action figure



On the could-go-either-way end is Ninja Theory’s take on Devil May Cry. They’ve created some of this generation’s best female characters and while I hope that DMC’s Kat will similarly put Dante in his place I’m afraid she may just be there to fill in the story. I’m also expecting discussion on female roles to come out of Grand Theft Auto V. Rockstar hasn’t been a champion for strong female leads but they did seem to get better at it with Red Dead Redemption and I hope it only expands in GTAV. Also worth mentioning is Bayonetta 2 because as hyper sexualized as the character is she was an unstoppable and infallible powerhouse in the original and the sequel promises to follow in kind.

I don’t readily have a list in my head of female leads from years past but I’m fairly confident in calling 2013 the best yet. There’s still plenty of misinterpretation, sexism and exploitation in the industry but as more people come to play the small circles that drive those traits will have to change or get left behind.