Samus Aran is regarded by many as one of the first female protagonists in games. She is also considered an example because she is a powerful female who can do everything a man could do in games. It was a surprise for many gamers when finishing the original Metroid to discover they have being playing with a female protagonist all the time. She still make to top ten lists when talking about strong female characters. Unfortunately, the fact she is female is irrelevant.
'How?' you may be asking. See, let's go back to the first Metroid games for a little. In the first one, you had not a single clue of Samus gender. For all you know, she could have being a robot all along. Or a lizard-man. Or Pink and Brain trying to do what they do every night. Her gender was irrelevant. She had a vagina and boobs, yes, but for the gameplay, story and interactions with other characters, it was irrelevant. I haven't played any new Metroid game, like the Prime series or the new Wii one. So, I can't say if she evolved from a simple frame to support the armor. But the Samus from the NES and SNES games was doing nothing for female characters.
In the same time that Samus rose to fame, another female lead deserved a better recognition.
Because the Sega Master System was not very popular, most people may not know the existence of this JRPG. One where the main character, Alys, is a woman. And different from Samus, she never hid the fact from the player. You could play with a cool female lead from beginning. But Samus is more popular and well known, so she receive more credit than she deserve.
Honestly, Lara Croft did more for female protagonists than Samus.
Lara was a badass female lead. She had everything the male ones had. Skill, beauty, intelligence, witty one-liners. And she became famous and successful without having to hide the fact that she is a woman. There was no trick involved in making people recognize that yes, she was a woman and no male gamer would hid the fact that they enjoyed playing as her.
|She changed a lot.|
|I like her. Do you?|
Jill Valentine is a police officer of an elite squad. And she dress as such. No revealing garments, no fan-service-y camera angles or boobs who shake like they have a mind of their own. She was strong and capable and dressed like a job like hers asks for. But since Lara had boobies bigger than her head, she is the most remembered one. But today...
|The game is awesome too.|
Jade from Beyond Good & Evil is considered an example of female lead. Strong, unique, caring. She captivated gamers all over the world.
We have come from a long, tortuous road to have a female lead who could be the lead without hiding her female status and without having to be the wet dream of a 14 year old virgin. Yes, characters like her are still a minority, but the fact that they exist today shows that game makers are in fair disposition to give them a chance. Maybe in ten years, character like Jade, Faith from Mirror's Edge and Elena from Uncharted will be on equal foot against the eye candy only characters we have as majority today. But only if we, gamers, give them the praise they deserve.