Madeline – Celeste
Madeline, the main protagonist in the platformer Celeste, is a fascinating character and shows how we could strive to overcome difficulties we may face with our mental health, despite the overwhelming challenge it presents at times.
Late into the game Madeline does something striking and manages to convince the other side of herself (Badeline, who represents demoralising and harsh thoughts to Madeline throughout the game) to work with her in order to finish their climb of the mountain Celeste. After an encounter with Badeline, Madeline convinces this other side of her that she doesn’t need to be scared of the journey they are on. Instead, if they work together, these troubles can be overcome, at which point Madeline becomes stronger in-game.
Madeline comes across as such an inspiration because on this journey she shows how difficult struggling with conditions such as anxiety are. However, when she needs it most, she is able to leave behind the thoughts that demotivate her and become stronger. This, to me, is why Madeline is an inspirational character.
Faith Connors – Mirror’s Edge
Still recovering from the shock of finding out Samus from Metroid was female, this 12-year-old cis male who went to an all boy’s school with his only two brothers bought a copy of Mirror’s Edge. Yes, the main character was female, and yes, being a boy expected to only get attached to male characters, I was admittedly afraid of what other boys thought, but the graphics looked gorgeous and my short-lived parkour hobby was soaring.
Immediately, I was immersed. The first-person perspective and lack of on-screen displays made me forget that I was playing a character. I look down, I feel dizzy. I get shot, I feel genuine panic. So much focus was on raw physicality that I never questioned the limits of the character I was playing; if all it takes is 5 seconds for male characters to recover from gunshots, why can’t female characters? This game was a revelation for my premature prejudices, and I wish there were more like it.
Leaf – Pokemon LeafGreen
It seems a bit odd to have one of my favourite female characters in gaming be a silent protagonist in an RPG. Leaf doesn’t have great lines, or memorable cutscenes, but she’s important to me nonetheless.
I’ve played Pokemon LeafGreen too many times. I even recently went through it again to commemorate the game’s 17th birthday, and was shocked by how much of it felt like muscle-memory.
Most of my playthroughs were before I came out as trans. Back then, in the closet, being able to – even within the confines of a pixel-art game – be allowed to just be a woman, without pomp, circumstance, without a pressed-upon personality or the over-the-top sexualisation so common in video games, to just be, was so… comforting, so validating.
In the simplicity of a character that had no canon lines or specific traits, Leaf could be anyone – she could even be me.
Perhaps some will feel I have – in writing what amounts to one of many defenses of wider character options – wasted or misaligned my choice, but I will always remember the times I was Leaf before I was me.