I recently finished Assassin’s Creed: Syndicate’s Jack The Ripper downloadable add-on. It was a fun little side story featuring some stand out moments and mechanics, but what really sucked me into the story was the change to the playable character, Evie Frye.
Evie and her twin brother Jacob, the two playable characters in Syndicate, are in their mid-to-late twenties during the course of the main story. The Jack the Ripper DLC is set twenty years after the conclusion of the Fryes’ narrative, making the twins both over forty in the game. Jacob is missing from the story, having being kidnapped by Jack, meaning the entire narrative is played from Evie’s point of view.
And that struck me as something quite unique. When was the last time I had played as a female character over forty years old? Heck, when had I ever played as a female character that made a point of them being over thirty?
The gaming landscape is becoming more diverse with each game that comes out. Characters that are male or female (or in some cases neither), black, brown, or white-skinned, and LGBT+ are increasingly common on our screens. The only outlier is age, I can’t remember a playable character with graying hair or a few wrinkles.
Well, apart from male characters.
Some of the biggest characters in gaming are men in their later years, such as Ezio Auditore in Assassin’s Creed and Sam Fisher from Splinter Cell/Rainbow Six (around fifty years old), Max Payne in Max Payne 3 (forty-eight years old), Joel from The Last of Us (late forties), Geralt in The Witcher (late forties), and Solid Snake in Metal Gear Solid 4 (who even though is canonically forty-two years old, looks closer to eighty), yet I couldn’t think of a single female character that could fit the same age bracket.
So I went for a look.
More than a Number? – A Search for Older Female Characters
First, some people might take umbrage at my liberal use of the phrase ‘older female characters’. One person’s idea of old might be another’s thought of coming into the best years of their life. I’m going to use the phrase ‘older female characters’ just as a catch-all term, but I’m trying to match male for female characters, like the male characters listed before.
And secondly, this is only for PLAYABLE characters.
The first older female character that came to mind was Iden Verso, the lead character of EA’s Star Wars: Battlefront II. Iden is a member of Inferno Squad, the special forces of the Sith Empire, and her story plays out from the end of Return of the Jedi, as she slowly changes sides from the Empire to the Rebels.
Iden’s story comes to close a few months after the destruction of the second Death Star when she is still in her thirties, but the rest of her story continues in a downloadable epilogue, dubbed Resurrection. Here, Iden, now with graying hair, brings herself back into the fight against the First Order. However, these final levels amount to three playable sections out of thirteen overall levels.
Evie and Iden are of the same cloth; the most elite warriors of their day, brought out of retirement to bring the fight to enemies once again (funnily enough they almost mirror each other, being brought away from familial duties by the disappearance/death of a loved one, to do battle against a former friend turned enemy).
And after Iden and Evie, I had to do a deep dive to find some more older female characters, which was much harder to do that I previously thought it would be.
First was Selene, the main character of the recent sci-fi-Souls-like Returnal. Selene is middle-aged in the game, but is just as smart, capable, and agile as any of the thousands of playable white men in her same age category. Without giving much away, Returnal is all about the passage of time, and so an older character with skills and knowledge that a younger person does not possess factors in pretty well.
Another character is the ‘Crime Granny’, Helen Dashwood, from Watch Dogs: Legion. This character, despite being nearly eighty years old, became the stand-out character of the E3 Reveal Trailer, and when she became freely playable in-game, we found she was just as capable as any of the other resistance fighters. However, Helen must come with a caveat; she is an optional character to play as, as all characters in Legion are, and so doesn’t carry the same weight as Evie, Iden, or Selene.
Rainbow Six: Siege has twenty-five out of its sixty-one operators identifying as female. Most of these characters are actually in their thirties, with only a few outliers in their late twenties. The oldest is the Peruvian operator Amaru, who is forty-eight, but the oldest male operator is Zero (Sam Fisher under a different codename), who is sixty-three in the game.
One place I didn’t think would have older female characters were fighting games. While all fighting games have at least one old man archetype (usually doing some powerful ancient martial art), I didn’t realise that Chun-Li from Street Fighter is fifty-three in the most recent game. The same goes for Sonya Blade from Mortal Kombat, who in MK11 is now well into her fifties. But while these are both kicakss older characters, would we ever see Chun-Li reach the same age as Gen, one of the older men of Street Fighter, who is believed to be in his seventies?
So from everything above you could say there are quite a few older female characters. But all of these characters come with asterisks; most are character selections, or if they are the main character then they are relegated to a downloadable extra or an epilogue. Why is that? Why have older female characters not taken centre stage like older males?
Plausibility is out of the window. Iden and Evie are raised from birth to be fighters. Selene is an accomplished astronaut. Helen is a retired police engineer. All of Rainbow’s operators are hand-picked due to their combat skills. Chun-Li and Sonya have dedicated themselves to perfecting martial arts. Each of these women have learnt the skills to be competent and capable video game protagonists.
Is is just…the ‘M’ word? Possibly. But I would also posit that age factors into that discussion as well, as a younger woman on the cover is an easier sell than an old-age pensioner in the same position.
But then I have to think, are people coming to these games for the female characters, and not say the frenetic multiplayer, or the fact it’s another Souls-like game, or high review scores, or the myriad reasons that people chose to play their games?
Again, possibly. But somewhere there is someone playing the game because there is a woman in the main role. Anecdotal evidence aside…it’s me. I was drawn to Evie Frye for being the first female Assassin in the series, in the same way as I’m drawn to Kassandra and female Eivor. And upon learning that Evie was approaching middle-age in Jack the Ripper, I was hooked.
An older character can give us something unique, bringing up questions that have rarely been explored in gaming like ageing and the concept of change. Losing skills that were once easy, a defiance against advanced/unemotional responses in war and peace…or even just to see a character grow and mould over time.
Not to mention, women are going to have different responses and issues to grapple with than their male counterparts, would this not also be something new and interesting for the industry to show?
And even if a game doesn’t tackle personal drama and age is relegated to cosmetics, just making the character look older would be something special.
I want to see Lara Croft raiding tombs in her 50s.
I want to see Chun-Li with graying hair still being able to go toe-to-toe with Ryu.
I want to see Ellie in TLoU3 be older than Joel was in TLoU2.
It’s possible and there is no real reason why it can’t be so.
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