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Though a minority of gamers are female, that minority is a significant one–and growing. There's no denying the facts and statistics. While women make up very little of the user base for sports-based video games like FIFA, their numbers are much more significant in other video game genres, ranging from adventure to fantasy to strategy and beyond. However, the industry still overwhelmingly caters to a male user base. Oftentimes, women are ignored by gaming companies, making some games unfriendly or simply ridiculous to some women. But on the other hand, there are just a handful of video games that are great for girls (and guys), for one reason or another.
The Lara Croft/Tomb Raider Games
Though my personal favorite is Tomb Raider II, the prolific Lara Croft: Tomb Raider series is easily one of the best video games that are great for girls and guys alike. With a strong female protagonist, engaging action, and strategy, these adventure games are simply timeless. As the central figure in a now-massive video game empire, Lara Croft as a character offers girls and women a chance to engage as a relatively well-rounded female character, with personality and skill (which, admittedly, ranges from game to game). As far as adventure games to play that will appeal to girls go, Lara Croft may just be the gold standard.
Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild
Zelda is the modern day "Frankenstein/Frankenstein's monster" error. The Legend of Zelda games are named for this character, leading many non-gamers to mistakenly believe that the titular character is the main hero and protagonist of the games. On the contrary, Zelda only briefly appears in most of the games, and generally plays a role only slightly better than the helpless damsel in distress, waiting to be saved by the actual playable character, Link.
But that's all in the past. A mod for the latest release, Breath of the Wild, allows players to play as Zelda herself, a development which makes one of the greatest video games of all time all the more exciting and appealing to female gamers. Zelda is also an extremely powerful playable character in Brawl, which many critics overlook.
Super Mario/Super Princess Peach
The biggest issue that women take with the video game industry is not so much that the games are not themselves "fun" for women, but that they lack female characters—or at least, compelling female characters—for women to play. The Mario franchise itself has often been an example for this, as only a few of the many playable characters in the franchise are female, and some games place those characters in simple instrumental roles as damsels in distress. However, contentious though it may be, it's unfair to to sell Princess Peach short in the franchise, as her abilities as a playable character are in fact some of the best. As one of the oldest female characters in video game history, this well-loved and well-hated standard of the franchise is truly one of the best video game characters of all time, and Super Mario remains one of the best video games that are great for girls.
Portal is one of the greatest video games of all time. While fantasy adventure and shooter games make up the bulk of popular video games today, Portal takes a more strategic spin on the video game genre. The first-person perspective is that of a recently awoken test subject, Chell, who is guided (and taunted) by an AI through a series of puzzles. This game is intellectually engaging for players of all kinds, and a stimulating option for girls and women, especially those who are less inclined towards the more violent single player options out there. It's a minimalist take on the video game that evokes some of the nostalgia of early gaming, with a strategic complexity that fosters stimulating engagement for the player.
Assassin's Creed Syndicate
Assassin's Creed Syndicate has shown itself to be widely popular among female gamers, surely in part because it's one of the first of the Assassin's Creed games to offer the ability to play as a female character. Set in 19th century London, this installment of the franchise allows you to play as twin assassins Evie and Jacob Frye. The game has been well reviewed for character development and complexity, as well as improved graphics and compelling plot lines. The result of some of the additions and changes made in this new installment has shown a robust increase in its female fanbase and usership, demonstrating the practical benefits for development companies to improve the diversity of their games.
Street Fighter allows players to choose from a handful of female playable characters, but the overwhelming favorite among girls is the beloved Chun-Li. Though the game and the character have their critics, Chun-Li holds an important role in the history of video games as the first playable female character in a fighting game, debuting in 1991 and remaining an overwhelming favorite in the following decades. Other female characters in the franchise include Cammy, who offers many special skills and abilities compelling to players. However, the consensus (from what I've seen) seems to be that Chun-Li is a singular character for fans of the game.
The Resident Evil franchise boasts a lot of complex, interesting female characters for women to play as, play with, and appreciate. Known for its particularly complex and engaging plots, the Resident Evil games have succeeded for years by making characters that people care about, for better or worse. Claire Redfield, Jill Valentine, Ada Wong, and many others offer just a few examples of the adventure games' ability to develop compelling female characters, which allow girls to see themselves represented in action. Shinji Mikami, Resident Evil director and producer, made a pretty simple statement that sheds light on why this franchise is so popular and loved for many women "I won't portray women as objects or submissive," he said in an interview. Shouldn't be a shocking statement, of course, but it makes you think: maybe it really is that easy.
Final Fantasy (VII)
The Final Fantasy series is another game franchise that succeeds in large part through its offering of compelling playable characters. Yuna in Final Fantasy X, is an especially beloved character for girls and women who are tired of female video game characters constantly being portrayed as one-dimensional, tough girls. While there's nothing wrong with this kind of characters—many of my favorites fall into this trope—the consistency with which game developers make this kind of female character alone leaves the impression that strong women are always somewhat masculine women. Yuna allows girls to play as a kind, passionate, feminine character, without sacrificing the engaging gameplay we hope for in a popular franchise.
There's a lot to be said for Mirror's Edge. The compelling dystopian future, minimalist game style, and environment are among the top reasons for its popularity. Also among these top factors is the well-loved protagonist, Faith Connors. In these games, you play as Faith in a dystopian future, essentially doing a lot of pretty cool parkour throughout a futuristic city. While heavy on action in this sense, Mirror's Edge is not, overall, a particularly violent or combat-based game, offering a lighter (literally) and more minimalist option for gamers, in contrast to other popular franchises like Resident Evil and Final Fantasy, which tend to operate significantly in the dark.
Harvest Moon: Light of Hope
Not everyone is into epic fantasies and adventures (although, why not, am I right?). Especially popular among young girls, games such as Harvest Moon: Light of Hope allow girls to play around and develop a world of their very own. It spurs creativity, in a low-pressure, pure fun kind of way, making these video games that are great for girls who are a bit younger, and/or not necessarily so much into gaming. People often forget that video games come in all kinds of packages, and even people who don't think they like them could probably find some they love if they look outside the main drag of adventure, fantasy, and shooter games.