Nintendo’s E3 presentation is just around the corner and recently released images of an official lanyard featuring the new Legend of Zelda game for Wii U have been leading some to believe that there may in fact be male and female versions of Link in the upcoming title.
The gender rumor first sprung up after the E3 2014 showing of the game, where Link’s new design was revealed. It seems like ages ago now, but I remember it was the talk of the town at the time since many viewed the characters androgynous appearance as leaning towards a female incarnation. Aonuma also brought the characters gender and identity into question, but later recanted, saying it was definitely Link. The recently released artwork and images have stirred up the discussion yet again, and I just wanted to add my two cents on why I think including the option to switch Link’s gender is not only good for the game but also good for the player.
Let’s start off with a simple question. Who is Link? Well the answer to that is simple: you. Link is supposed to represent you, the player, in the world of Zelda, or at least that’s what he used to be. Is he still supposed to represent the player, or is he his own character? In the original Zelda game, you are simply dropped into the game after naming your character and given no initial direction. You’re just plopped into this new world and you just have to find your own way. In many respects, the original Zelda game was an open world RPG. You could go anywhere you wanted; the whole world was open to you. This was your adventure and you could go about it anyway you pleased, and Link was just as his name suggests: a link between you and the world you were exploring.
Since his first step into the world of 3D gaming with Ocarina of Time, Link’s original purpose has seemingly been tossed aside. Instead of being the virtual representation of the player in the game’s world, he has become his own character. As more games released each incarnation of Link was given a deeper backstory, and the game’s play style changed from being open world to following a linear storyline. I believe this is where the confusion started and continued into future titles. Instead of role-playing as yourself you start to role-play as Link, just like you would with any other character based RPG (Paper Mario for example). Instead of being the one exploring and creating your own story, you are now put into the shoes of someone else and you are experiencing their adventure and their story.
In an interview, series producer Eiji Aonuma stated that Bethesda’s Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim was a big influence for the upcoming Zelda game. In Skyrim, the player is given the ability to create their characters essentially from scratch; selecting features like race, hair, body build, and gender. This helps the player become fully immersed in the game’s world, allowing them to role-play as themselves in the game space. Aonuma also stated that he wanted to take the Zelda series “back to it’s roots” with this new game. Signs of this are already clear, as the game is said to be an “open world”, allowing the player to explore dungeons in any order they choose, just like the original NES Zelda. It’s clear that Aonuma is looking to obtain that sense of immersion that the original game had, and allowing the player to choose Link’s gender would only further that goal.
It’s important for any RPG game for the player to identify with their character. For example, when you play Pokémon you think of your avatar as you and not as another character. A big part of this is allowing player to choose their gender, because it helps both male and female players identify with the protagonist. In the first two generations of Pokémon games players were only limited to changing their name, while their avatar defaulted to a boy and was unchangeable. For me personally this wasn’t a problem, but for my younger sister it was a different story. She enjoyed the game but could never fully get into it. It was always weird to her to walk around the Pokémon world as a boy named Patricia. Pokémon Crystal was the first game in the series to change that and my sister couldn’t have been happier. She was finally able to identify herself with her avatar. The same could be said for the Zelda series as well, allowing Link’s gender to be changed from male to female can help female players identify with their avatar. I realize that not all female fans of the series would want to play as a female Link, and that’s completely okay, too.
There are a lot of different opinions on this subject, but I believe that being able to choose your gender would only benefit the series. Aonuma said that he wanted to take Zelda back to its roots and I think that this addition would expand upon his goal. As an open world RPG, its goal should be to immerse the player in that world as much as possible. The series just needs to find itself and break this confusion with Link’s role as a character. Is he a separate character, or is he the player? Placing more features that allow the player to identify with their character, even when it’s as simple as being able to change the main character’s gender, would only benefit the game if they go for the latter.Leave a Comment