So this past week at the big sparkly, but eventually causing a sense of emptiness and some hype, Electronic Entertainment Expo, the new Legend of Zelda, named Breath of the Wild, was fully revealed. Prior to this announcement, there were a lot of rumours swirling around about Link potentially being a girl/woman this time round, or at the very least the ability to chose Link’s gender would be present. Turns out Link is still a guy in this new one.
Now there really isn’t anything inherently wrong with having a male protagonist for a videogame or keeping Link male. In fact if a developer or Nintendo wanted to do or say something interesting about masculinity or being male, like with Final Fantasy XV , I would understand them keeping Link male and in fact, sort of celebrate it. Additionally the act of keeping Link male isn’t malicious either; it’s a shame there isn’t an option to make Link female, but hey whatever.
As for why people, myself included, wanted a female Link or Zelda as the protagonist in the first place? Well because diversity in regards to genders of videogame protagonists is always welcome and frankly needed within the industry for it to improve. Yes there are a lot of great female protagonists, but until it doesn’t become a selling point for a woman to be a protagonist or for it to be exceptional for a game to do so, more women in games are needed. On top of that having a big character such as Link from a massive franchise such as the Legend of Zelda be female or to have Zelda as the main character, would be a HUGE sign of good faith from Nintendo towards the goal of more diversity. Yes they could make new characters who are female, but to be frank that doesn’t always work since newer characters get less attention and people are less likely to care; thus making a pre-established character ,whose gender doesn’t really matter in the end since it’s not a key part of his story/characterisation, female or making an already pre-established female character the protagonist, would be fucking fantastic, awesome and encouraged. Plus we could get cute lesbian couple Link and Zelda and make some really good messages about girls/women also being allowed to be adventurers/courageous.
What I’m really actually annoyed/angry about is what Eiji Aonuma, the producer behind Breath of the Wild and the main driving force behind the franchise, said was the reasoning being keeping Link male. In an interview with Kotaku, Aonuma stated that the reasoning behind keeping Link male was that:
“…[if] princess Zelda [was] the main character who fights, then what is Link going to do? Taking into account that, and also the idea of the balance of the Triforce, we thought it best to come back to this [original] makeup”
“The Triforce is made up of Princess Zelda, Ganon and Link. Princess Zelda is obviously female. If we made Link a female we thought that would mess with the balance of the Triforce. That’s why we decided not to do it.”
There is a lot to unpack here and criticise here, so lets get started.
My first criticism is about what Aonuma said about in regards to what Link would do if they made Zelda the protagonist . It should really be obvious how ridiculous that statement is, but I’ll explain anyway. Surely such a creative person who has made so many imaginative pieces of art in the past can think f something for a character to do right? Why is it so easy for Nintendo or Aonuma to have the imagination to turn Link into a living painting, yet as soon as he may not be the main character, they run out of ideas? This is a really piss-poor excuse for not having Zelda as a protagonist. If they just said we just want “Link to be the protagonist”, that would be far better because it doesn’t make them sound so pathetic. But if that is a genuine response, that’s really sad that someone so smart can’t think up of a simple solution to a simple problem.
But apart from that there is another issue in what Aonuma stated in this interview, namely that having Link as male keeps the Triforce in ‘balance’. So here I think Aonuma is confused about what balance means since having two men and one woman as part of the Triforce, is just as equally as un-balanced as having two women and one man in it. Its simple maths really and is quite ignorant to say. If he really wanted to keep the Triforce ‘in balance’ why not make Link non-binary and only refer to them with gender neutral pronouns. Not only would this be a wonderful piece of representation for non-binary people like me, but it fits perfect within this weird as logic Aonuma wants to satisfy. In fact Aonuma has already stated that this really might already be the case.
Apart from all that I really think the issue here is indeed firstly ignorance (not malicious hate towards women or anyone not male), but more so it is a symptom of thinking that ‘male’ means standard and/or ‘normal’. What I’m saying is that I feel that Link is ,and was, created to be a male because that is what his creators thought was ‘average’, relatable and what they consider a blank slate for someone to put themselves into. The reason why I feel this is as, frankly, Link is typical RPG character who has no visible personality (at least in earlier games up to maybe Majora’s Mask ), can be named whatever the player wishes, doesn’t speak and so is a tabula rasa for the player to put themselves into to immerse themselves into the game. Thus the decision to make Link male was not a decision at all for his creators and his current designers; but rather it was what they thought was a blank slate any player could use to experience the adventure as themselves.
This is a very flawed way of thinking since, well, not every one is a pale skinned, able, presumably-cisgendered-and-straight male. Not a lot of people are in fact at all like Link so having him be designed to be a blank slate for the player to put themselves into while still having these set traits is very flawed and inappropriate. What would be best is one of two things. The first is to make him more unique and more of a character, as well as reducing the amount of customisation/techniques that make him a blank slate, which would lead him to being a unique entity thus making his specific traits that I mentioned above more justifiable. The other thing they could do with Link is to make him completely or more customizable, which should at minimum include being able to change gender and race, thus making the figure of Link a true blank slate for the player to properly put themselves into. With Link, his designers are trying to have their cake and eat it in regards to immersion and characterisation, which leads to a massive dissonance and failure to do either right.
So in the end my HOT TAKE™ on this whole situation is that: Link can be a guy as long as he is not presented/designed as a blank slate while still being a man; he could also be male if the developers want to say something about masculinity; what Aonuma said is flawed in all senses (but that what he said is not borne of malice, but of ignorance); Zelda should be the protagonist one day; female Link should happen and that Link should be non-binary or gender neutral.