As rumors swirl around the potential for a revolutionary change to the Legend of Zelda games, one writer finds the end result symptomatic of Nintendo’s current direction.
Nintendo is a company that prides itself on being the games industry version of Disney. The Japanese gaming giant has rightfully earned a reputation as a publisher that can appeal to children and adults alike with its unique brand of charming premises and deceptively simple gameplay, and as a result Nintendo has garnered a huge following of loyal fans.
It’s easy to see why, too. Games like Super Mario Bros., Donkey Kong, and The Legend of Zelda are everything that gamers want people to think video games are capable of – compelling content, a straightforward but unique narrative, and innovative gameplay that lays the foundation for years of entertaining experiences to come. The latter series has especially made some giant leaps forward in terms of becoming an inclusive space for gaming’s constantly growing and diversifying population: Hyrule Warriors featured the introduction of Linkle, the female version of series protagonist Link, and the Triforce Heroes game prominently and proudly let gamers garb Link in a dress if they so chose.
It’s for exactly that reason that when rumors first began to speculate that the new Legend of Zelda game would include a female protagonist, fans of the series were perhaps more eager to believe the speculation than they should have been. After all, Nintendo’s approach to gender in the Legend of Zelda was clearly becoming more modern, and the company had already set a precedent for a female Link with the creation of Linkle. It wasn’t just the evidence, though – it was the reputation. Nintendo is a family company, and families include women. Gamers wanted to believe in Linkle because it was so easy to do.
Then, Nintendo’s E3 presentation of the new game, The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild happened. Mid-way through, the presentation team switched to include two women on stage guiding fans through another segment of the game that had been separately loaded up from a previous playthrough just minutes earlier. Surely, this was the moment that Linkle would take center stage in a brand new Legend of Zelda game, and fans the world over would finally be given the choice to have a female protagonist in one of the most popular gaming franchises in the world.
It simply wasn’t to be. The women on stage demoed a very fascinating section of what is a very fascinating new game, but it was still just Link in a blue tunic carrying on as though it was the early 1990s and video game advertisements still talked about cooties like they were a real thing. If that was it, though, Nintendo could perhaps be forgiven for missing out on a chance to showcase a new heroine that was sure to help the Legend of Zelda franchise take the next step into the future.
Unfortunately, an interview with Nintendo producer Eiji Aonuma surfaced minutes after, and he flat out denied the possibility of a female protagonist in Breath of the Wild. When he was asked why, Aonuma responded with a question:
“If we have Princess Zelda as the main character who fights, then what is Link going to do?”
I want to love Nintendo the same way I did when I was a child, because they’ve been the genesis of so many of the most important moments I’ve experienced growing up. When quotes like this surface, though, from prominent members of the Nintendo design team, I want to bury my head in the sand and deny any association with the company at all.
What is Link going to do? Whatever Nintendo wants him to do – he’s a character in a video game, and the company has complete control over his actions in any given iteration of the series. Maybe Link can get kidnapped by Ganon, who has finally decided after all these years he is going to address the problem of his evil plans falling apart at its source rather than inadvertently draw its ire. Maybe Link can go on vacation, because honestly he’s been pretty hard at work saving the world every three or four years.
What is Link going to do? Who cares! Why does Link need to do anything? Why can’t Link be a woman sometimes, when a gamer wants Linkle to be their protagonist rather than Link? It’s not like Link has ever had speaking parts in a Legend of Zelda game. It can’t be that difficult to let gamers choose between two silent protagonists in a game. And that choice mattered a lot to a huge number of gamers, many of whom are voicing their displeasure on social media right now:
"If we have Zelda as the main character who fights, then what's Link going to do?" Didn't they both fight Ganon at the end of Wind Waker?— Kyree Leary (@KyreeLeary) June 14, 2016
Link is not one character but the incarnation of heroes across time. No justifiable reason why that incarnation can't sometimes be female.— Carolyn Petit (@carolynmichelle) June 14, 2016
Please stop shooting yourself in the foot.
Sincerely, it hurts to look at. Just stop.
Person with a Zelda tattoo.— Dina ✈️ E3✨ (@PetiteMistress) June 14, 2016
here's the thing about the triforce: it's made up and it can change. Also, a game where you save Link would be interesting— Pat Baer (@patbaer) June 14, 2016
The thing is, though, that as disappointing as the reason for Linkle being excluded as a protagonist is – and it really is heart-breaking – the problem doesn’t start and stop at the way Nintendo went about deciding the reason it couldn’t feature a female protagonist in The Legend of Zelda. The exclusion of Linkle from the game is symptomatic of the bigger problems facing Nintendo right now. Namely, Nintendo just can’t seem to find a way to reconcile its family-friendly image with a more modern definition of family and gender.
Nintendo fans, as a general rule, are some of the most optimistic and hopeful people in the video game community: quick to embrace diversity, always eager to see something unique or innovative, and welcoming to those who are new to what, for them, is so familiar. Nintendo as a company sometimes seems to be completely disconnected from this.
Nintendo the company is quick to shy away from any controversy, usually preferring to avoid it before it starts by taking the safest route possible. Sure, Nintendo is probably in the process of developing a controller that will occasionally give gamers a wet willy for losing at Mario Party 347, but the thought of re-imagining one of its biggest titles as a triumph for both male and female heroes is simply too much.
That disconnect is also the reason why Nintendo fans are finally beginning to give up on the company’s approach to video games. It’s not that Nintendo is producing bad content, or that the company is no longer innovative – it’s that the content and innovations are never synchronized with each other. All the hardware breakthroughs in the world can’t generate the same level of excitement that thousands of young female and male gamers alike could’ve experienced booting up a new Legend of Zelda title and being presented with the ability to play as a video game representation of themselves.
The exclusion of Linkle from Legend of Zelda, and the reasoning behind that snub, are a perfect example of how Nintendo has never stopped being innovative but is quickly being left behind by the rest of the gaming world. We as a culture and a community are millions of miles away from the world that Link first came into in 1986, and it’s time that Nintendo realized it. Nintendo fans are something truly special, and they’re a very diverse bunch – they deserve to know that Nintendo is paying attention, and right now that just doesn’t seem to be the case.