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The best video game women of 2016

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Who runs the world?

Tracer from Overwatch’s cinematic debut trailer
Overwatch
Blizzard Entertainment

Our favorite games of 2016 are diverse. Better yet, so are their casts of characters. Women make up some of the most memorable heroes of the year’s greatest games, and each one is multifaceted and affecting in her own right. This line-up of ladies is, in a word, something special.

Maria Halperin and Anne Tarver (Virginia)

Virginia Variable State/505 Games

Virginia manages to bring Maria Halperin and Anne Tarver to life without any dialogue whatsoever.

Both women are in the FBI, and assigned to investigate the disappearance of a young boy. Despite the crime plot, Virginia is largely an exploration of the two women and their lives. We learn about their anxieties, their families, and the hardships they face as black women in the FBI. Halperin’s mother was also an FBI agent, and Halperin carries a huge chip on her shoulder as she tries to follow in her footsteps — while living with the shame that her mother was kicked out of the FBI. Anne Tarver is young and ambitious, and her ambition brings her face to face with some unsavory choices. The character’s decisions and regrets are central to the plot

As a player, you don’t have any hand in deciding what these women do. You’re just along for the weird, surreal ride. In the end, Virginia is a game about two complicated women, their working relationship, and the baggage they carry.

The female heroes of Overwatch (Overwatch)

Overwatch Blizzard Entertainment

Choosing just one of the many women in Overwatch for this list is impossible. It's also pointless: Each one is a bad-ass hero in her own right, and each one individually deserves a place on this list. There's Sombra, the hacker that mesmerized thousands of players for months (and months, and more months) before she even made it into the game; Ana, who proves that a woman with a sniper rifle and an AARP card is the raddest thing around; and Pharah, Ana's daughter who's just as strong and wise as her mom.

That's not all: Mei is adorable and intelligent; Symmetra's a force to be reckoned with; Zarya is a burly brawler and Mercy's a healer who's always got her teammates' backs. Widowmaker doesn't mess around, while her nemesis is the cheery, speedy Tracer, who's ever the optimist. (She's also the game's mascot and its first openly gay character.) Lastly, there's D.Va, someone every Overwatch player can relate to, as all she loves to do is play games and binge eat. Much has been made of Overwatch's wonderful, diverse cast, and its female heroes are 10 of the reasons why the game is among 2016's best.

Delilah (Firewatch)

Firewatch lake Campo Santo/Panic

Delilah is a flawed and funny and fucked up. She’s a rarity — a character who feels like a real person, whose life isn’t tied up with a bow by the end of her story. (The same goes for Henry, but hey, we could write Firewatch op-eds all day here.) Delilah isn’t just a voice on a radio; she feels like a human being who makes mistakes, and then makes more mistakes trying to fix the first ones. She’s stubborn, and secretive, and finds it hard to admit when she’s wrong. Even if Delilah’s decisions can be horrible, they feel true to her character.

This is a real achievement for any character, much less one who never appears on-screen.

Lillie (Pokémon Sun and Moon)

Game Freak/The Pokémon Company

Pokémon games are about the player's journey as they quest to become the ultimate Pokémon master. But Sun and Moon deviate from that traditional narrative in a big way. They're less about watching the silent protagonist grow into the region's greatest trainer; instead, it's Lillie who grows the most and has the highest stakes. She begins the game as a shy girl with a big secret, unable to use any Pokémon of her own. But she's determined. She's driven. She wants to overcome her fears, make peace with her past and become as talented with a party of six as the player.

What sets Lillie apart is that she doesn't just talk a big game. She follows through with her dreams and emerges at the very end a much more dynamic, stronger person. She's the rare secondary character in a Pokémon game who gets to grow, and it's so lovely to watch it happen.

Alex (Oxenfree)

oxenfree 4 Night School Studio

The best part of Oxenfree is its remarkable cast of characters. It's a small, tight-knit group of teens, headed up by blue-haired Alex. It would have been easy for developer Night School Studio to paint Alex as a typical punk archetype, having her drop swear words and elbow everyone away in order to remain emotionally guarded. But she's much more dynamic than that. Depending on which dialogue paths the player follows, Alex can be spunky, level-headed, sweet, brash, dismissive or completely silent — even all in one playthrough. That makes her just like an average, real life teen, albeit with a wit and intelligence that anyone would be jealous of.

Throughout every hard thing that she encounters over the course of Oxenfree, Alex only becomes stronger for it. She's inspiring to any player, no matter their gender or age.

Emily Kaldwin (Dishonored 2)

Dishonored 2 trailer screencap 1280 Arkane Studios/Bethesda Softworks

Emily Kaldwin has grown from being a little girl who played with swords into a woman who absolutely slays with them.

Emily struggles between wanting freedom and justice, and her restrictive duties as Empress. She hones her fighting and stealth skills in her spare time, because she’s just that competent. All this preparation pays off when her throne is usurped. Now, Emily has seen a lot of shit in her life. Her mom was murdered, and Emily spent a lot of Dishonored being held captive. Those terrible experiences left their mark on her, but does she let that faze her? No! If you play as Emily in Dishonored 2, you’re in the role of a young woman who bears a huge responsibility to her country with grace and determination.

Nadine Ross (Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End)

Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End
Naughty Dog

In Nathan Drake's final adventure, we met Nadine Ross, a woman who takes no crap from anyone. That includes Nathan Drake and his brother, Sam, whom Nadine goes up against several times throughout Uncharted 4: A Thief's End. Although any Uncharted fan knows that a fight against the Drakes is a losing one, Nadine proves that maybe all Nathan needed was a strong female adversary to really test his cunning. In her attempt to beat out the Drakes to some very valuable treasure, Nadine time and again shows that nothing and no one can best her.

Nadine is also smarter and more pragmatic than any of the men she deals with. At the end of Uncharted 4, with her fellow villain Rafe Adler still pursuing the treasure along with the Drake brothers in an increasingly perilous situation, Nadine decides to get out while she still can. Better to escape with your life and a modicum of riches rather than die a greedy death, she figures.

The expert treasure hunter is so fierce and fearsome that she's going to get a starring role in the next Uncharted expansion, Uncharted: The Lost Legacy. She's slowly becoming one of the most beloved characters in the series, which makes perfect sense: Nadine is rad.

Sitara (Watch Dogs 2)

Ubisoft Entertainment

Sitara is a certified interdisciplinary hacker genius. In the anarchist hacker group DedSec she controls PR. The fancy skull branding and video messages the group puts out? That’s all Sitara. And she’s self-taught! Sitara is stated to be smart enough to get into any Ivy League school, but she chose not to go that route.

Sitara is funny and friendly, and provides a sort of moral center in DedSec. It’s a group of misfits, each with their own ways of handling things. But Sitara, like Marcus, is idealistic and level-headed. Still, she’s passionate about her beliefs and devotes her life to fighting against government surveillance and big corporations. Like many of the issues in Watch Dogs 2, what she cares about is hyper-current and relatable. I think we can all take some cues from Sitara in 2017 and be socially aware and super stylin’ to boot.