Despite calls for more playable female characters to be included in video games, it appears that developers have been a bit slow to catch up. One thing I
have noticed is a number of titles where you can play as a female character only as part of additionally charged DLC. I’d hesitate to call it a ‘trend’, but given how few female characters get the spotlight in games, it’s more a concerning commonality that reinforces female characters as an exception that costs the player more to use.
- Red Faction: Guerilla (2009) – Apparently this game was originally developed with a female lead, but this got changed later on in development (which is apparently why the promo art for this game is so generic). You can play as Samanya, the main female character from the main game, in the DLC. I believe she is the Red Faction series’ first (and likely only) playable female character. (Paid DLC)
- Batman: Arkham City (2011) – Catwoman was the bonus DLC, allowing you to play some missions as this character. I’d argue that playing as Catwoman was playing B:AC in hard mode, since she couldn’t escape a fight nearly as easily as Batman could. (Requires code to unlock; this code came with an original copy of the main game or could be purchased)
- BioShock: Infinite (2013) – The third DLC pack gives players control of Elizabeth (the first playable female character in a BioShock title)… but not incredibly powerful, bender-of-reality Elizabeth, but weak Elizabeth who can’t even knock a Splicer out with a wrench unless she surprises them. (Paid DLC)
- Total War: Rome II (2013) – Coinciding with Patch 14 (which was around a year later than the game launched) was the release of the Daughters of Mars DLC that introduced female units onto the battlefield for the first time. This made some people unhappy on the grounds of rabble rabble “historical accuracy” rabble rabble. (Paid DLC)
- Payday 2 (2013) – Payday’s first playable female character is the swear-word-loving Clover, arriving more than a year after the game launched. (Paid DLC)
- The Last of Us (2013) – The Last of Us did have Ellie as a playable character during some sections of the full game, but she did get a lot more focus in the Left Behind DLC. (Paid DLC)
- Infamous: Second Son (2014) – The First Light DLC put players in control of Abigail “Fetch” Walker, the first time a woman has been the lead character in this series. (Paid DLC that was also a stand-alone expansion game)
- Assassin’s Creed: Unity (2014) – Originally, players who bought the Season Pass for this title could play a 2.5D sidescrolling title where the main character is female assassin Shao Jun. But then Unity received such terrible press that Ubisoft made the key Season Pass content free for new buyers… except for Shao Jun’s game, which is still charged separately. (Paid DLC)
- Middle-Earth: Shadow of Mordor (2014) – A free skin was made available that would let players play as female Lithariel, but all the sounds, cutscenes and content remained as if you were still playing as the original male Talion. (Free DLC)
The above isn’t an exhaustive list, but simply a starting point for consideration. It’s a statement about how games treat female characters when many of the first playable female characters in these series appear locked behind paywalls.
Playable female characters: available if you’re willing to wait and pay a little extra.
Thank you for putting this list together. A few earlier examples:
“Castles”, by Interplay (1991) had the option to play as “King” or “Queen”, but your portrait in conversations (a single half-screen non-animated picture) was always a King. I think they acknowledged somewhere that the Queen graphic existed but was left out to squeeze the game onto two 3.5-inch floppy disks. (Meanwhile, the credits contained a slideshow that could have lost some pictures without harm to the game.) The “Northern Campaign” expansion did restore the Queen picture. Oddly, she appears much younger than the King. The manual states that, regardless of gender, you are “now entering middle age”, and your son and heir, Prince Henry, is in his “late teens”.
“Jedi Knight: Dark Forces II” (1997) had Kyle Katarn as the protagonist. The “Mysteries of the Sith” expansion (1998) had Mara Jade, but only after you completed a few more busywork missions as Kyle. Also, while Jedi Knight had (admittedly low-budget) live-action cutscenes – along with “Rebel Assault II”, these were a big deal before “The Phantom Menace” was released in 1999 – the Mysteries of the Sith cutscenes were all rendered using the game engine. So, we got live-action scenes of Kyle Katarn hitting things with a Lightsaber, but none of Mara Jade.
“Half-Life: Decay” was part of the Playstation 2 release of “Half-Life” (2001). It was built in, so didn’t have to be bought separately like other examples on this list, assuming you owned a PS2. It featured cooperative muliplayer with protagonists Gina Cross and Colette Green. While Barney Calhoun of “Half-Life: Blue Shift” got thoroughly integrated into the plot of “Half-Life 2”, these characters have not yet reappeared.
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