By Arvind Radakrishnan / March 8th, 2016
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.
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.
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.
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.
Gender-NeutralLegend of ZeldaLinkNintendo