The Nerd Chord: Zelda’s Player-One Heroine
When I was eleven, The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time got me questioning—why does the Hero of Time have no voice? How do you save Hyrule without saying a word? Still, it was clear from the story what made Link the Hero of Time. Ocarina, more than any other Zelda game, establishes him as a figure destined to reemerge throughout history and beat back the forces of evil. I got the point: I’m supposed to be this guy with loads of courage and unparalleled tenacity. And I’m supposed to speak for him.
That’s what an avatar is: a character into which a player can inject his or her personality, desires, objectives, etc…but if you attack the cuccos, they’ll attack right back. (You can’t be evil in Zelda, nor can you be a girl.) This avatar has always been creator Shigeru Miyamoto’s intention for the series, and it did wonderfully in getting a quiet kid like me to assert my own voice. I circled back to save the kingdom again in A Link to the Past on SNES and then again in Link’s Awakening DX, on Gameboy Color.
I saved the hell out of those maidens, and I’ll never forget that magical Conch Horn. But during that generation’s revolutionary jump to 3D gameplay, it was Ocarina‘s heightened immersive nature that convinced me I was saving the world. It didn’t matter what was going through Link’s mind on those quiet nights in Kakariko Village when that old Owl was talking at me or when I was hunting for Skulltulas. I can’t remember a time before that in a game when I could just be me, peacefully. I still named him Link, though.
Last November, a female version of Link—Linkle—was announced for Hyrule Warriors Legends. She sports two crossbows, a cute green hood like Link’s, and a belief in herself to be the reincarnated Hero. Needless to say, sketches of this female version excited a lot of people and spurred more than just a bit of discussion. Many, including myself, are excited at the prospect of a gender-neutral avatar in the next main Zelda game—possibly one who chases her dream and goes for it. We ask, “Why shouldn’t a player be able to fully assume the identity and gender of the Hero of Time? Why can’t a girl save Hyrule?”
Others respond you can’t change canon and the Hero is meant to be just that: a Hero, not a Heroine. Fair enough, but no one is calling for changes to previous games. That would be overkill. I can’t help wondering whether these naysayers are the same people who have always shipped a romantic relationship between Link and Zelda even though the two have only ever been friends. And even though homosexuality in the Zelda universe has never been disproved (come on—Tingle!?), are there people who are afraid such a relationship between Linkle and Zelda could happen? Would it be the end of the world?
No. It would not be the end of the world or the franchise. In fact, it wouldn’t have to change anything as far as storylines and character development; Linkle would mark a new beginning for the Zelda series. It would mean players old and especially young would be able to feel truly at one with the character, free to be whichever gender they prefer while they save Hyrule; Zelda’s new gender option could appeal to everyone. It would mean a more interesting presentation of the actual legend of Zelda—it could show us a cloudy, much-forgotten history in which the Hero’s gender was unclear. Or the game itself would show us a time in Zelda lore when the Hero was more interpretive. If there were different interactions or even storylines, it could also mean an extremely high replay value that would be difficult to ignore and a smart move on Nintendo’s part, given the necessary marketing and branding.
In part, changes like these could also account for the repeated delay of the new Zelda game—first from 2015 to ’16, now to ’17. Much of that has a lot to do with the release of Nintendo’s new system, now named the NX. It’s plain that, when Nintendo says they want to “make this a better game,” they mean all-around, from graphics to gameplay. If they wanted to create alternate weapons and alternate ways of using them, they could. There’s nothing stopping them creating a new version of Link, the player-one hero, that most faithfully embodies Miyamoto’s original intention for Zelda’s avatar protagonist. But still, it’s unclear whether the new Zelda Wii U/NX will feature a gender-neutral protagonist—that is entirely up to Nintendo. Any such plans will definitely be unveiled next month at E3. There, Nintendo’s show will feature Zelda and nothing else. Details of the NX will most likely go public at the Tokyo Game Show in September.
It was so easy for me to ignore criticism, social or otherwise, and enjoy Zelda since Ocarina of Time. Windwaker is irreplaceable to me because I remember riding the waves, humming along to the best score in the series, feeling everything through that music and those emotions so clear across the characters’ cel-shaded faces. It’s been a pleasure to witness the strengthened depiction of relationships from game to game, especially those between Link and Midna in Twilight Princess or Link and Zelda in Skyward Sword.
Maybe it’s time now to be a little more socially aware and inclusive of everyone. People want to build walls to protect the sanctity of Zelda, but that mentality goes against everything Nintendo stands for—innovation and growth. Without these indispensable qualities, things tend to stagnate. Then again, far be it from me to go on preaching about gender inequality in this Nerd Chord. What do you think?