OPINION: The Idea of Gender Neutral Link

Tuesday, March 8th, 2016

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gender neutral link header

Not too long ago, Zelda Informer posted an article about a hack that a father, Tony Smith, made for his 6-month old daughter where he removed the male pronouns for Link in Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past, and replaced them with gender-neutral pronouns. There were a lot of responses on web sites that covered this story. Some liked the idea, some hated it, and some were divided and explained the issues they found with it, while noting some positives about the concept.

The idea was that his daughter may not be able to relate to Link due to the male perspective, and was based on similar hacks that replaced Link with Zelda, or made it seem like Link was a girl (bringing back flashbacks to the confusion of ‘Zelda is a boy’, etc.). The hacks are cool in concept, having Pauline save Mario from Donkey Kong, and Zelda save Link in A Link to the Past. But on this topic, one might wonder whether or not they could work with the idea of changing Link’s pronouns from male to gender neutral to allow Tony’s daughter to relate better.

Link Between Worlds

To start, it needs to be said that Tony’s daughter is probably too young to even read or understand the text. I have a niece who I would watch while playing some of the 3DS Zelda games – A Link Between Worlds when she was born, and Majora’s Mask 3D when she was almost a year old. She was a little interested in watching, but judging from what her parents said, she doesn’t seem to understand the dialogue, which also goes for the shows she watches where she’s more interested in the antics rather than what the characters say. I’m not saying Tony’s idea is pointless, but perhaps he should wait until she’s older. At this point my niece is a year and a half, so she’s going to start understanding some of the shows and maybe some of the games she watches me play at times.

You could say, why not show her a game with a female protagonist, like Metroid? That could work, but Metroid doesn’t have much dialogue at all, and A Link to the Past is a fairly story-driven game for its time. Not many other games were that story-driven at the time, and with a female protagonist to boot, except for a few like Final Fantasy IV. But it seemed to be more around what Tony Smith grew up with, as opposed to anything else. Nothing wrong with that, as most parents show their children the media they grew up with. But back to his idea, why change Link’s pronouns? Is he teaching his daughter that she can’t relate to male protagonists? Some people mentioned this, and I feel there’s some logic in that. I related to Claire Redfield in Resident Evil, a few friends were able to immerse themselves in the character of Samus Aran while exploring desolate planets, and a cousin of mine felt empowered as the gymnastic Lara Croft. Gender didn’t matter to them, and similarly, women were fine with playing as males; my friend’s mother liked playing as James Bond in Goldeneye, his sister loved playing as Link in Ocarina of Time, and my sister found Mario fun to play as in Super Mario 64. The other issue is, unlike the other hacks, Tony Smith is changing a characteristic of Link’s that was defined, while the other hacks just swapped characters around and left them as is. However, in the end, he’s not really harming anyone. I think the idea is novel, and he’s having harmless fun. I just think in the end, perhaps he should  have left Link as a character alone, and gotten his daughter started when she is older.

Ocarina of Time | Link

But now there’s the idea of whether or not Link being gender-neutral in future games should become standard, or an option, in future installments. As a concept that could be utilized in a future installment, this could potentially work in theory. Many people view Link as fairly feminine looking in most games, especially in designs for the new Zelda game on Wii U, so being gender neutral could work in that regard. Link is also very much an avatar for the player, considering Shigeru Miyamoto said the character’s name, ‘Link,’ was meant to symbolize a link between the character and the player. Some people note that since the original Link was male, it wouldn’t make sense if he suddenly became gender neutral, or was even reborn female. I can see why this would confuse people if the hero suddenly was female by default, but the idea of reincarnation is not tied to gender. In the Avatar series by Nickelodeon, the Avatar is not only from a different nation when reincarnated, but in some cases, they are not the same gender either. Aang is male, but his reincarnation and next in the avatar cycle, Korra, is female. So it did not matter there, and no one treated the avatar any differently due to their gender.

Based on the Avatar series, reincarnating the hero isn’t necessarily an issue with the idea of gender neutrality. This could help with the ‘link to the player’ idea that Miyamoto had in mind, and depending on how Nintendo goes about it, players could still view Link as male like he has been. And it has to be said that every Link in the series is not the same entity, not just in terms of reincarnation but that they are presented as vastly different; Link is a farmer in Twilight Princess, he was raised as a Kokiri in Ocarina of Time, he’s a conductor in Spirit Tracks, and so on. Only in games like Ocarina of Time and Majora’s Mask, and The Wind Waker and Phantom Hourglass do we actually get the same Link from a previous game. Some physical aspects of Link tend to vary too, including his age and hair color, the former being anywhere from a young boy to a young man, and the latter being blonde, dirty blonde, or brunette. Link even became a wolf in Twilight Princess briefly. Based on this, Nintendo could move onto changing other aspects of the character even further when you realize that fans didn’t react too negatively to these aspects.

But on the other hand, the idea was that Tony Smith’s daughter couldn’t relate to a male perspective, and as I mentioned before, I know many women who related to male characters, and they all related to Link the most. Based on this, could Link’s gender be an issue with relating to him? I would say no, but it’s not like there aren’t issues preventing people from relating to Link. Some people say that since Link doesn’t really have a personality in some of the games, it’s hard to relate to him in those games, even if that was the idea. Now in recent games, this has been fixed more or less, with 2011’s Skyward Sword having a Link that many fans related to and loved for that fact. Looking at Link’s gender, I do wonder that if they change Link to gender-neutral, how would this effect the lore of the series? The lore refers to the hero as ‘he’ and ‘his’, and depicts the hero as male. Assuming the game does maintain some consistency like referencing an older title, this could cause a problem. A new title with gender neutrality in mind would have to have a different legend entirely to be safe.

Additionally, some people say Link’s gender doesn’t matter in the main story of some games, but in a few titles, it actually does come into play. In Ocarina of Time, Link has a love interest in Princess Ruto of the Zora, who gives him the Zora’s Sapphire as an engagement ring, not out of gratitude unlike Darunia or The Deku Tree, to the man she loves and wants to marry. There’s the Gerudo, also present in Majora’s Mask as well, and they known for being hostile against men including Link. One can’t ignore the implied romantic feelings Link and Zelda have for each other either. Nintendo would perhaps have to go with a different mindset if they implement gender neutrality; this isn’t meant to be taken as a bad thing, as if Link’s gender is central to the franchise. I don’t think Link’s gender is an issue with relating to him, however other factors are present. And I do believe Nintendo themselves may have to think about how they could go about this idea, as it could go in a few different ways; it could be significant, or it could be minor. But I do believe that instead of a gender neutral Link, another idea could be utilized that Nintendo has been thinking about.

Linkle

Eiji Aonuma stated that Linkle could be used in future games, and with this in mind, many possibilities are opened. The option of playing as Link or Linkle could be a better idea in a main Legend of Zelda game and could appeal to both genders and ideas instead, while leaving the original design of Link untouched and still usable for future games. It’s been confirmed that Linkle is not female Link, but considered to be like a younger sister to the hero where she is her own separate character. Furthermore, Nintendo stated that Linkle believed herself to be the reincarnated hero of legend too, meaning she could fit into a main Zelda title easily possibly as an alternate choice for Link in a future game; Linkle could be the hero of legend without changing the game as a whole.

As an example, in the Pokemon games, players were later given a choice to play as either a male or female trainer, and that did not change any of the storyline in each game, or harm the franchise at all (unless you go on Tumblr, but we won’t talk about that). In some cases, that opened up more possibilities for the game like clothing options in Pokemon X and Y. But with Linkle, this may not be limited to just cosmetic and changing pronouns; Nintendo could add different options or sidequests for Linkle too and some for Link himself. The possibility of using Linkle has some versatility for the franchise, and can open up some opportunities. But at the same time, a gender neutral Link could be far more simple and may not do too much depending on how Nintendo goes about it.

The original article sure did spark a lot of mixed feedback from people. It’s an interesting idea for sure, but should Nintendo look into it? How would they implement it? I can see it working well, but I do wonder about some of the potential problems like changing the lore of the series. As a whole, I wouldn’t mind. I’m always interested in seeing my favorite franchises adding more to the games to add to their appeal. If I had to choose yes or no to the idea, I’d honestly probably say no solely for consistency and for what I’m used to; I’d prefer an option for Linkle to add something else entirely new. But I could see why people may like the idea of a gender neutral Link, and why they would want it. And I personally have no issue with that in mind. I would be interested to see how Nintendo could tackle this or how they’d view this.

About Arvind Radakrishnan

Arvind is a YouTube Let's Player who aspires to become a future programmer in a gaming company. He enjoys doing many things game related from cosplay, collectibles, making videos of them and some variants of games. He plays action/adventure, survival horror, and RPGs mainly.




  • TrueWiiMaster

    Honestly, I’d be much more interested in a game that lets you play as Zelda, at least for part of the game. While Link is technically a different person in most games, he’s still an established male character, and I’d prefer him to stay that way. And as mentioned in the article, his gender hasn’t kept the many female fans from immersing themselves in the games as the hero. The Zelda games are for everyone.

    • azariosays

      there’s a game for you

    • Mr0303

      Wow, that’s mean.

    • TrueWiiMaster

      I should have specified that I’d be more interested in a GOOD game that lets you play as Zelda…

  • comawhite94

    I’m a man, yet I thoroughly enjoyed playing Bayonetta, as well as Metroid, games with female protagonists. Why does it seem like women can’t handle seeing a man on screen? I don’t recall the last time that men begged for Laura Croft to be made a man. Seems like a very shallow, narcissistic request to have established characters changed so they can be just like you.

    Seriously, can you not relate to anyone who doesn’t look like you? Maybe you can just enjoy seeing a character overcome adversity, or maybe you can enjoy the dialogue between characters, or marvel at the level design or gripping game mechanics. Isn’t this the most shallow way to approach things, by boiling it down to the genitals of a fictional character?

    • Mr0303

      I couldn’t quite relate to Kratos from God of War, couldn’t we have someone a bit more peaceful?

    • Yasmin Torpelund Weaver

      THIS. Thank you!

      I’ve never had trouble relating to characters different from me. I connect with all characters through their, you know, character and their story, not their digital genitals. Most of my favourites male. lol

      Hell, I was one of the few over on Kotaku saying I was excited for an all-male main playable cast in Final Fantasy XV back when the first demo was released, and that I was annoyed people were throwing shit at Square-Enix for not including female characters.

      I got absolutely screamed at for saying so, with the absolute lowest attempt at an insult coming from another woman telling me I wasn’t a real female if I didn’t care about gender representation in FFXV. I mean, really? 🙁

    • Mr0303

      “I was one of the few over on Kotaku” – I think I found your problem.

    • Yasmin Torpelund Weaver

      Hahahaha, yeah, I had never commented there before.

      Now I don’t. People over there are savage af. XD

  • James McEneely

    I’m always confused by people saying they “can’t relate to a character of the opposite gender” when playing games. Granted, I’ll play a female character given the decision, but that’s never stopped me from enjoying games with male-only options for a protagonist.

    Honestly, not being able to relate to someone of a different gender sends all kinds of red flags and warning klaxons off in my head.

  • PanurgeJr

    “Players should be able to relate to any character, not just ones who look like them.”–players who 95% of characters look like.

  • Mr0303

    I’m a bit curious to see prince Zeldo. I don’t think a game where Linkle does all the work and the title is the Legend of Zeldo will go well with the gender warriors.

    To be honest in most games the gender the the protagonist rarely comes into play and the main focus is the gameplay. Link has always been male and altering him now is just invitation to more baseless complaints.

  • Paychi

    As a gamer for about 20 years now, not once in my entire career have I stopped and thought about the gender of any character. It has ALWAYS been about gameplay and/or story. If that’s not enough for you, then perhaps you should find another hobby.

  • Zelpok

    I see no problems with a female Link. But a gender-neutral Link is a different story. Literally. Link is an actual character in the story, not just the player’s avatar like with Pokemon. I like that specific interactions occur because of Link’s gender (like with Princess Ruto) and I’m hoping Nintendo does not change their mindset.

  • David S

    I always cringe at the idea of tampering with an established character. It really just shouldn’t be done. Link in male, Samus is female, Mario is male, Zelda is female and on and on. That is who they are, and tampering with it diminishes them overall. If you follow to the logical conclusion for the desire to make a character relateable by making them resemble the person playing, you end up at a character creator. There are plenty of games like that in every genre, and they all have the common problem that a created character has a much shallower story, if they have a personal story at all. In games like Zelda, where the backstory and character are central, it would essentially gut the game of it’s soul.

    To me, rather than trying to make Link a female, why not add a new layer of story by using Zelda’s most established female, Zelda. And I don’t mean a spin off that stars Zelda alone, but kind of like how Resident Evil 2 played, where you could choose a character to play as, and you could follow the story from both perspectives, then the paths of the 2 would intersect at the end (or throughout). That would be far more interesting to me than a simple gender swap.

  • VanFinale

    Link pretty much is gender neutral in a lot of the games. The only exceptions would be stuff like OOT or Twilight Princess. They never really refer to his gender in the games where he is a child and he is never really involved in any real romantic relationships. There’s a reason why there is an absurd amount of Link as a girl or trap “fan-art” out there. A lot of people thought Link was a girl from the start. Also any arguments that it would draw in more women is absurd the Zelda series is really big with women already.

  • Arche

    Insisting on changing (Or blurring?) a character’s gender for someone would be like watching a girl play Resident Evil as Chris, then you slap the controller out of her hands, reset the console, start a new game as Jill, then say “Here. Now you can actually get into the game.”

  • Clairity

    To be honest, I feel like Link is stuck in an awkward position between being a character of his own and a player avatar.

    Nintendo clearly wants the Zelda series to be story based, and they clearly want Link to be a character in those stories with feelings, motivations, quirks, and so on, but they’re still treating him as though he’s a player avatar (for instance, fading to black whenever there would be no choice but for him to speak).

    They could go with Link as an avatar of the player, in which case a Fallout-esque dialogue system (or even copy the system present in, say, Persona 3 and 4) and some degree of character customization would be best – why not add a gender option and a hair color slider in addition to that name you have to input on every file?

    Or they could embrace Link as a character unto himself, not bothering to put in character customization. Give Link some lines to say unprompted instead of blacking out.

    To be honest, I’d rather they go the player avatar route, but really I just want them to make a choice.