This is the kind of discussion that will have Anita Sarkeesian and the rest of the social justice warriors and feminist overlords demanding censorship and safe spaces, but it must be done. Guys are guys, and we like sexy. While the gaming world certainly has its low points of female objectification—as do film and television—there are female characters who broaden the concept of sexy from the mere physical.
This isn’t an attempt to justify poor examples of female characters or to placate the male gaming audience with an “everything’s fine the way it is” montage, but it’s a discussion on what true sexiness can be.
Here’s my list of the top sexiest characters in video games. They’re attractive not only for their physical form, but also their inner qualities. (Yes, I know these characters aren’t real women, but they’re representative and display qualities men appreciate in women—or at least I do.)
1. Maiden in Black, ‘Demon’s Souls’
FromSoftware designed the brilliant Maiden in Black in “Demon’s Souls,” who appeals to our need for comfort and sanctuary. In the game, you give her souls to level up your stats, but she is so much more. A quiet and seemingly submissive character (despite holding all your power), she is an almost maternal presence whom you depend on when you struggle with your fears.
“Demon’s Souls’” oppressive and dark nature in both game and audiovisual design really make character interaction stand out. The game is so often killing you and setting you back, showing you how weak and stupid you are, that after a time you just want to rest and feel some measure of comfort.
It’s similar to an adventure series or action sequence in science fiction or fantasy novels. At some point, the characters need a break. The fellowship in “Lord of the Rings,” for example, is able to rest in the presence of Galadriel in Lothlorien after escaping the horrors of Moria. She’s powerful but nurturing. In “Demon’s Souls,” the Maiden in Black is similar.
The choice for a woman to play this role is key, because females are naturally nurturing. Men rely on that strength for empowerment and encouragement. The Maiden in Black becomes like a beacon of hope, something the player needs as he struggles through the game. She gives strength (and intelligence and faith and stamina) by dripping power into the player as he kneels before her. It isn’t subjugation; she is a guardian figure, someone the player could come back to as a source of strength.
When I played the game, I never felt like she was a simple vendor or stat bank, but something that emotionally tied me to the game world. There is sexiness in the power to nurture.
2. Rydia, “Final Fantasy IV”
We are first introduced to Rydia as a young girl, but she grows and develops into a compelling and powerful woman. In the middle of the story of “Final Fantasy IV,” Rydia is hurled into the sea after an attack by the eidolon Leviathan, after which the characters see neither hide nor green hair of the sapling summoner. She’s taken to a place where time moves faster—Feymarch, home of the eidolons (spirits of FFIV), where she is trained.
When she returns, she is now a young woman with massively upgraded summoning abilities and increased black magic. Rydia’s training and subsequent return, while only a short time for us, was years for her. Before our eyes, she blossoms from a young girl into an adult woman, which is a powerful thing to behold and attractive as we see her come into her feminine glory.
I think games should explore this theme more often, and there is certainly a sexiness in growing more mature—that growth itself is interesting and beautiful.
3. Ciri, ‘The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt’
There’s a misconception going around in gaming that women are only portrayed as weak damsels who can’t do anything for themselves, but this ignores the myriad of examples of female gaming characters who are immensely powerful. Cirilla Fiona Elen Riannon is one of them.
She is probably the most powerful being in the Witcher universe, having trained at the School of the Cat and possessing abilities that include teleporting and rapid health regeneration—and those are on the lower end. She also has great sword skills, which I find sexy, and it’s a shame too few female characters have that skill.
Being able to play a character like Ciri, however, isn’t simply a male power fantasy (a generalization about male gamers that needs to take a long walk off a short cliff). The act of playing her isn’t just about wielding power but entering into the character, and Ciri has depth because she’s so real. Quality writing helps to achieve this and has the benefit of immersing players into her psyche. Ciri is compelling not only because of her strength but her realness.
Her relationship with the protagonist Geralt really brings this out and helps set the tone for the story—the desperation and love he shows to protect Ciri from the titular Wild Hunt, all while she believes she can fight them. It’s a father-daughter type of relationship that helps Ciri seem more human.
Creating realistic women as characters enhances their appeal. Ciri is sexy because she’s genuine, she’s flawed, she’s not a doll or sex-bait, but a girl whose character comes first and her sexiness is secondary. A woman’s attractiveness grows the more authentic she becomes. If all there is to a woman is shallow glitz and glam or physical traits, then her sex appeal doesn’t amount to much. It’s when a woman is real—with all the imperfections, the flaws, the struggles—that she’s most attractive.
4. Aqua, ‘Kingdom Hearts Birth by Sleep’
Of the three playable protagonists in “Kingdom Hearts BBS,” Aqua is the only female, but she is probably the one most likely to receive the Mark of Mastery, the sign of becoming a Keyblade Master, which indicates her superiority over the other characters and displays her maturity and knowledge.
She’s the kind of girl who’s the class president, gets all the grades, and is good at sports, but you are only jealous of her talent, not her, so there is little animosity toward that archetype. You respect and admire her.
I like Aqua because she has the best move-set: fluid and forceful. Having a character with better dodge abilities as well as heightened magical skills is my preferred play style in Kingdom Hearts. This doesn’t mean I want to control her, but this style enables her to unleash her power. With Aqua, that power is not only physical. She’s intelligent, which makes her more independent and not a mere puppet. It is her power and her intelligence that make her sexy.
5. Elizabeth, ‘Bioshock Infinite’
“Bioshock Infinite” has to be praised for its game design of Elizabeth. So often we are tasked with painful escort quests that involve shepherding a weak and slow character that result in horribly slowing the game’s pacing and making combat hectic and stressful. Elizabeth is not one of these escorts.
Aside from her attractive early-1900s design, Elizabeth stands out mostly because of how competent she is in the game. She is so helpful in combat that you never have to worry about her getting hurt. She has the cleverness and knowledge to avoid getting into trouble, and assists you with exchanging ammo and money. She really feels like a partner, not some suitcase you have to drag along, as is the case with some characters.
Elizabeth makes the game enjoyable, and while she first appears to be the classic damsel in distress, that is flipped and she’s revealed to be a central pillar to the plot—she also has unearthly world-rending powers. It’s just so nice to have a female character be your counterpart, not dragging you down or trying to put “a stupid man” in his place. This partnership, in which the character isn’t too weak or too obnoxiously strong and dismissive, is extremely sexy.
6. Elizabeth, ‘Shin Megami Tensei Persona 3’ (FES Version, Specifically)
I guess I like the name Elizabeth. With her white hair, yellow eyes, pale skin, the use of polygons (circles in this case) and the color blue, The Velvet Room’s attendant topped my list of all the female characters in “Persona 3.” She is a mysterious woman (and mystery is something a lot of men find sexy) who imbues power.
Like the Maiden in Black, she is masterful and powerful, but she plays the role of the helper most of the time, handing off knowledge to the player, almost like a teacher. Elizabeth also has the unique quirk of having no idea what anything is about outside of the realm where she resides, so a few side quests involve introducing her to normal life. As a result, you feel like you’re showing a new girl around at school, which is cool.
I like when girls are inquisitive in an intellectual way, which characterizes Elizabeth. She also scores points with me for having one of the coolest persona (Thanatos). I’ll admit some guys like it when a woman challenges them, gives them the “what for,” and puts them in their place (although we don’t want that all the time). Elizabeth is one of the few on this list that does that by being “Persona 3’s” end-game super boss, gaining the title of the most difficult fight in the game. Let me just say, she’s not gentle.
7. Tali, Mass Effect Series
Nerds rejoice! Best Girl of the Mass Effect series has made it on to the list. Let’s begin with the visual aspects. I love a woman in purple, a great sensual color. She also has no face! Well, not one we can see anyway—once again, the charm of mystery, something that compels men to pursue women.
Tali is an engineer of the Quarian race. She’s an alien nerd, basically. Mass Effect is hailed as one of the best Western RPG series, with interesting characters that drive your actions through the game. Tali’s race is somewhat like space nomads, and their culture and her accent give her a Middle-Eastern feel, which adds to her sense of mystery. This quality, along with her physical attractiveness, makes her more intriguing than sexualized characters in the game.
In case you’re wondering, we do get to see her face, which Bioware decided to reveal in “Mass Effect 3.” However, it was disappointing that they used a poorly edited stock photo that looked like it was put together during a lunch break. It was so bad that I have chosen to allow Tali’s face to remain a mystery. I might never know her real face, and that mystery adds to her sexiness.
8. Lilith, ‘Borderlands’
I find it hard to believe that most men don’t find a badass girl sexy. Lilith is a Siren, a being of great power in the universe of “Borderlands” that have psychokinetic abilities and intense energy manipulation. I’m not against tattoos at all, aside from some hygiene aspects, and they can make a fine woman even more fine. Blood-red hair also makes her visual aesthetic even more attractive and appropriate given the game’s parody on over-the-top action fiction.
Lilith is odd in that she is a playable class in “Borderlands 1” then a non-player character in subsequent games, allowing players of the series to experience her play style then take a third-person perspective into her character. Along with Lilith’s unique visual design, Gearbox’s use of a modified “Unreal Engine 3” to create the cell-shade style really grew on me. While at first it appears crude, its use in the world of “Borderlands” (one that parodies films like “Mad Max”) helps establish the characters and makes them feel like a part of the world.
For Lilith, it’s about all the little things that come together to make a stand-out sexy female—powerfully confident, passionate, and fiery. She’s like a more outspoken version of Furiosa from “Mad Max: Fury Road.” Tell me Charlize Theron isn’t sexy.
9. The Boss, ‘Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater’
Ah, The Boss, the pinnacle fight of the pinnacle of the Metal Gear Solid series. People of all walks of life regard “Metal Gear Solid 3” as one of the greats in gaming, and “The Mother of Special Forces” is a solid reason for that. She represents a truly strong female character, literally (as well as all the other meanings of “strength” people like to throw around with that term “strong female character”).
Before her involvement in the game, she went on a mission to assassinate one of the Manhattan Project scientists. Before the operation, however, she found she was pregnant. She went on the mission anyway and failed because she was distracted by her pregnancy. A bullet grazed her brain, and she was in a coma for three months.
She struggled to survive and later said her body held on because of her child, whom she later gave birth to on the battlefield (creating another important character to the series: Revolver Ocelot). After that, she became infertile because of radiation exposure during atomic testing in Nevada. As you can see, she is a very unique female character who has gone through struggles only a woman can imagine.
We begin the game with her as our enemy, but it’s only because she needs to sacrifice her reputation for her country. She is willing to do anything to save the world from nuclear war. She is driven yet compassionate. Her motherly relationship with Snake really helps to create tension and drama in the final battle of the game.
I was struck by this kind of female being written in a game, because she is unlike anything I had seen before. While many female characters fill male fantasy check boxes, The Boss is on a different level because of her complexity, her willingness to sacrifice, and her strength. She shows how “sexy” is a broad term that can describe many women at different stages in their lives.
10. Priscilla, ‘Dark Souls’
This is the “forbidden fruit” on the list, which is sexy because it plays on a man’s darker desires. Priscilla is the crossbreed between a scaleless dragon named Seath and the giantess daughter of the lord of Cinder Gwyn, Gwynevere. The result is a strikingly beautiful creature who has been locked away from the world in a painting because of her beauty.
Priscilla represents that hidden innocence men desire, and the thing we cannot have. She is not, however, ripe fruit dangling from a branch to be plucked at the whim of any man. She’s actually a boss fight, and in Dark Souls that means death (she’s not that hard, though, compared Ornstein and Smough).
She can become invisible and wields the Lifehunt Scythe (one of my favorite weapons in “Dark Souls”) that inflicts high Bleed Effect, an interesting choice that may represent her sexual innocence. This is the forbidden fruit that kills you when you eat it out of your own greed and lust. This isn’t the best of sexiness, but it’s something men grapple with in everyday life as we’re sometimes drawn to the dark beautiful temptations that will only lead us to sorrow.