Aug 2, 2014
Why Legend of Zelda’s Link should be gender optional
A month ago, something quite peculiar and funny happened in the gaming world: A teaser was released for the new Legend of Zelda game, wherein we saw a character who looked a lot like Link, but lacked his traditional tunic. And on top of that, in jest, one of the developers hinted that this character might not be Link at all.
This made the fans wonder. If it wasn’t Link, who could this person be and… doesn’t the person above look, well, kind of ladylike? Could it be that this character is a playable woman? Would this mean we get to play as a female Link for the first time ever?
The cynical mind might think that the entire gaming community as we know it would be outraged by the very notion of a female Link, but the opposite happened, as people got genuinely excited. They actually wanted this character to be a female Link. Word got around and people were really looking forward to the finished product.
Then it turned out it was all a joke, and the figure above is just the same old Link we all know and love. It was a stretch to imagine that Nintendo would make a major change like this, so it’s hard to be too disappointed. But still, it raises a good question: Why not make Link female, or at least gender optional?
Link falls under a very specific category of gaming character: he’s what we call a blank slate character. Link has purposely been given very little personality and no voice of his own. It’s a rather common character type in RPG games, and the idea behind it is simple: By making the main playable character a blank slate, you the player can insert yourself into the story and pretend to be him. Which is also why you get to choose a name to be addressed by in these games, so the other characters can call you by your own name.
Other games that function like this are the Pokémon games, and the Dragon Quest games. However, Pokémon has had its own notable development in recent years: in marked contrast to the first few games, where gender was not optional, not only can you now choose your own gender, but also skin color and clothes.
Gender was never optional in the original Dragon Quest games, but with the updated DS releases of the classic titles, it now is.
And because both series are centered around blank slate main characters, it makes no difference to the gameplay if that character happens to be male or female. And it makes sense to have a female option available to make it easier for female gamers to insert themselves into the protagonist’s place.
This is of course not the case with all games; some, like Final Fantasy, have voice acting involved and a more fleshed out lead character, so to simply make the protagonist gender optional wouldn’t be as easy to accomplish. They would basically have to make two versions of the same game, thus having to do twice the work, which is not really feasible.
In the case of Zelda, however, the more you think about it, the more natural it seems that Link could be gender optional. You could easily have a gender optional Link in a re-release of Ocarina of Time, or Majora’s Mask, or any other Zelda game. And it would make very little difference at all.
To not have Link be gender optional at this point would be to exclude female players for no reason at all. We already know that a significant percentage of people playing the Zelda games are women. In each and every con I go to, there are at least a couple of female Links running around in green tunics.
This kind of change would be an incredibly easy tweak to the upcoming Zelda game. There’s no reason at all why Link shouldn’t be a gender optional character. It would please the fans and expand the world of female heroes in a positive way.
[—Editing/cleanup/revisions to this article provided by Dr. Winston O’Boogie and Elliot Hodgett.]