If You're Arguing Against A Female Link, You're Missing The Point

Nintendo could have pushed gaming forward with the introduction of a female Link. It's a shame they didn't.

This year at E3, Nintendo went all-in on their new Legend of Zelda game. They devoted hours upon hours to showing off gameplay, dissecting mechanics, and generally exploring and commenting on the beautiful world they had created. The hype they generated was immense and undeniable. The game looks innovative, well-designed, and above all, fun.

However, for many fans, the hype train was slowed a bit by the confirmation by series creator Eiji Aonuma that, despite fan speculation, The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild's Link would be male, not female. When he was asked about this, Aonuma explained that the decision had to do with the makeup of the Triforce -- that since Zelda, Link, and Ganon all represent different parts of the Triforce, swapping Link's gender might mess with the balance in some way. Though he never explains exactly how.

He further explained that the team had considered making a game where Zelda herself would have the lead role, but the idea was nixed early on since Link apparently wouldn't have much to do if Zelda were doing all the fighting.

Of course, this caused a sizable reaction from the gaming community, from fans disappointed that the new hero of a beloved series would not be female, to fans who are staunchly opposed to a female Link since it would mess with the format of a game series they know and love very dearly.

But as far as I have seen, most of the people arguing against a female Link don't seem to be aware of why one would be so important in the first place.

Gaming Is (Still) A Men's Club

Look at your shelf right now, the one where you keep all your video games. What percentage of those games are from major publishers and feature playable female protagonists? If my count is any indication, it'll be about a tenth of the total, and that's including games with character creation mechanics.

The truth is that major gaming studios, with a few notable exceptions, are not writing stories that specifically star women, and that is a big problem. They're either writing stories that star men, or writing stories that can star anybody, and that's because they are, consciously or unconsciously, writing stories for themselves. As of 2 years ago, women only made up about 22% of the gaming workforce, despite the fact that more women own gaming consoles than men

Knowing this, it's not really a surprise that AAA studios generally don't create games that star non-white, non-male characters, since the studios themselves aren't generally that diverse. However, for gaming to thrive, and to encourage more people to get into gaming not just as a hobby, but as a career, this needs to change. More stories need to be told that speak to the experience of being a woman, not just pay lip service to it with a generic story and a character creation mechanic.

An Issue Of Representation

As a white male, I can literally point to thousands of games, The Legend of Zelda included, where I can see myself as the protagonist without having to do a bunch of mental acrobatics. Instead of simply playing through somebody else's story, I get to lose myself in the game and play through the adventure as if it is my own. It's one of my favorite things about gaming, and is a feeling entirely unique to the format.

And that's a privilege that non-male (and non-white, non-cisgendered, non-heterosexual, non-binary for that matter) people either don't have, or have to look a lot harder for. Nintendo could really have blazed a trail here and allowed a gigantic audience to experience the new Legend of Zelda game in a new way by structuring the story around a female hero.

If you think about it, it'd be a perfect fit. According to the Hyrule Historia, the legendary hero, Link, isn't just one person -- it's more of an idea, or an inheritance. The hero is chosen somehow. There's no reason in the world of the game that the hero can't be a woman.

Which is why so many were disappointed when Aonuma made those comments. It sounded like an excuse at the worst, and insensitive to the wishes of fans at best.

And while I do not believe these comments are sexist, the simple truth is that the world is still largely a sexist place. In addition, I don't believe the lack of a playable female Link is sexist in and of itself, but the fact that a small percentage of major-market games have playable female characters, while women make up about half of the gaming audience is.

Having said all of that, as a male, my privilege dictates that I don't get to decide what is and what is not sexist towards women. And if you're a guy too, neither do you.

Shut Up And Listen

It's important to realize that as a man, I will never have the ability to truly empathize with a woman who is arguing for the inclusion of a female Link since I've had the benefit of having so many games that star me (or somebody a lot like me). I'm pretty lucky. I don't know what it's like to be treated like an outsider in a fandom, because I've been the target market for the majority of the video games that have ever been produced. And I've never experienced any real, harmful sexism or prejudice.

Many people who are arguing for the inclusion of a female Link have experienced this, whether it's the latent sexism that exists in the world today or whether it's something much more concrete. Dismissing their arguments out of hand with a comment like "But Link's always been a guy!" is something that is only possible because of privilege.

Instead, listen. If you don't know what it's like to be a female gamer, ask. Ask somebody why the inclusion of a female Link would be so important, or what it would mean to them. And listen. Try to understand where they are coming from.

I know. Us gamers love to talk about what we're passionate about. But too often, when we talk, we silence the voices of others. Be open. And engage in debate. To be clear, I'm not saying that anybody who thinks Link should stay a dude is sexist, but it is ignorant to think that this debate is simply about one video game or one video game company. 

In order to grow as a community of gamers, we need to engage with other people's opinions, and even if we disagree, try to at least understand where they're coming from. In recent years, the gaming community has become fractured and broken, known more for ugly and hateful acts than inclusivity. The best way to fix that is to truly be more inclusive, from the conversations we have to the stories we tell to the characters we play as. 

And that's the most disappointing thing about all of this. One of the most storied and beloved franchises in gaming history could have pushed gaming forward in a very real way, but they chose not to. The least we can all do in lieu of a female Link is to listen a bit harder to the folks that want one.

Published Jun. 17th 2016
View Comments
  • Rothalack
    Master O' Bugs
    Link has been male since 1986. I still haven't seen a good argument as to why he should suddenly be female, this article included. As well, saying men can't decide what is sexist and what is not is also a sexist thing to say.
  • Mathenaut
    "What percentage of those games are from major publishers and feature playable female protagonists? "

    This is interesting because of where the lines are drawn on what counts. Nevermind that most games don't even have gendered protagonists to begin with. Nevermind that most popular games aren't even from major publishers. Numbers don't quite look as drastic then.

    The biggest reason why this gets so much pushback is because this generally spawns from the bandwagon camp of people new or otherwise not invested in the franchise, know little about it, and just want pandering changes for sake of.. well, who knows what really.

    This sense of pushing changes to longstanding characters just betrays the ignorance of longstanding female characters in desperate need of attention, but don't get it because the people who should be pushing for it don't know better.

    Though, as recent controversies are showing, this is an outspoken and over-represented demo that has little impact. Thankfully.
  • asdfer_5695
    This article is absolutely ridiculous. You're asking Nintendo to change the sex of one of their MAIN PROTAGONISTS into a female even though he has been around for like 30 years.

    I don't know why suddenly people talk about a too low number of female "heroes" in video games. Men were always the ones fighting foor food back then and in Wars now. So its just logical to present the protagnist as a male person. Feminists are destroying this world by going way too far. Yes some things might need a little change but this is just ridiculous.

    And I'm pretty sure real female gamers don't give a shit if they play a male of female character.
  • Ainyan
    I don't know how many times I've read arguments like this recently, but I actually have a standard response now:

    As a female gamer, I don't want genderbent male heroes. I want new female heroines. I want characters that are built from the ground up as strong females, not characters who have years and years of baggage as a male protagonist. I don't see any reason for Link to be female. Link is male. Link has always been male. LoZ has a strong female character (Zelda) - if Nintendo wanted to do a female-oriented LoZ game, then I would hope they'd use the ready-made female protagonist Zelda, not a genderbent Link.

    What I don't understand is why so many women are willing to settle for old, established franchises to be 'womanfied' rather than demanding new, powerful, strong females starring in brand new franchises, with beautiful worlds, engaging storylines, and a pletora of badassness. I don't know about you, but I don't want Natasha Drake. I want more Lara Croft. I want to see Alanna and Kerowyn in video-game form. It's like saying the only way women can be the heroes of their own destiny is if they started life with a dongle.

    I feel it is important that we stop trying to fix the gender discrepency in games - and in life - by taking away from one side to give to the other. That is not how you create equality, that is how you create division. Every time you genderbend a male character, you're looking at all of the men who play the character - who identify with the character, and are telling them "You can't have him any more, because we want him". That's not equality. That's not fairness. How would you react if Lara Croft, if Samus, if Faith were suddenly men? I'll bet you'd be screaming. And you'd be right to.

    What we need is for developers to create new, original franchises with new, original female protagonists. Or, even better, for games to start being built around the idea of a gender-neutral protagonist, where the player can choose to play whichever character they're more comfortable, male or female. As long as we're willing to settle for old heroes genderbent, then no one's going to put forth the effort to come up with something new and original.

    Want change? Demand change from the ground up. Demand that the next time a major AAA developer is considering its new FPS IP, they consider making it with a female or gender-neutral protagonist rather than generic_male_01. Women deserve more than just old stories retold with boobs. We deserve our own heroes and our own stories.
  • RobotsFightingDinosaurs
    Featured Contributor
    I agree with all of this-- the only point I differ with you on is that since Link is a new character in every game, I personally wouldn't see a female Link as a genderbent character the same way I would if, like in your example, they made Nathan Drake female.

    Of course, I don't want an old story retold with boobs, and if Nintendo did choose to make a female-led Legend of Zelda game, they'd need to follow through and make the story engaging.

    I feel like a lot of the disagreement on this topic revolves around whether people see Link as one specific character or as an idea. Since I fall on the latter side of the spectrum, there's a very key difference from having the next game in the Zelda franchise star a female Link than, say, remaking Ocarina of Time with a genderswapped Link (or for that matter, turning Samus into a guy). It's for this reason that I wouldn't see a female Link as, well, taking away from one side to give to the other, if that makes sense.

    That said, I respect that not everybody shares my reading of the character! You and I agree 100% that the most important thing is that yes, women get their own heroes and stories in video games. And just to be clear, I'm not in favor of bulldozing gaming history to do that.
  • Stan Rezaee
    Featured Contributor
    I feel like the overall message of this opinion is "If you don't think Link should be female then your sexist / pro-GamerGate". Granted that the reasons that creator Eiji Aonuma were very weak, however many are right that given that Link is an established character it makes no sense to change the gender. However what they should have done is introduced a new playable female character that has her own quest but is also working with Link for the same goals. Similier to how Metal Gear Solid 2 tried to tell Snake's story from another characters perspective.
  • topher339
    Ashley is right in several aspects. And while I realize it wasn't your intent, your article did come off as rather patronizing. It gives off a slight "I'm right, your wrong" kind of feel. I would suggest avoiding giving sections titles like "Shut Up and Listen" or titles that imply that the reader is "Missing the Point".

    Anyway, I agree that there needs to be more female protagonists in gaming, however, I have always been, and always will be, a strong opponent of gender-swapping well-established characters. The Zelda franchise, and Link in particular, is Aonuma's child and what's been a large part of keeping Nintendo afloat. They won't mess with that. Nor should they.

    There is no compelling reason for such a change. The only reason being the "there's not enough female characters in gaming" that's always tossed around. It doesn't say much for equality if you have to essentially force a character to be gender swapped. It's a tradition, one that shouldn't be changed for the sake of looking politically correct. After all, it's the creator's vision, not the community's. I think it's safe to say the majority of Zelda fans still prefer a male link. It'd be a case of changing things in spite of the many for the benefit of the few.
  • cactusjudy
    What about having Link's gender be a choice? His gender doesn't affect the story at all. I don't think it's *necessary* for there to be a female Link, but offering the option doesn't seem like such a bad idea imo. Or perhaps we could see some side games about Linkle, since she seems pretty bada$$.
  • topher339
    I would be leaning towards no. It still changes an established character. What I would prefer to see is a game where you play as Zelda in a more spin-off like title where Link and Ganon do not appear. They already have a great female protagonist, they just don't use her much. Or they could introduce a new character.

    Sure, it wouldn't really change anything but it would be like changing Snake from MGS to female just for the sake of it. It would be change for the sake of change. If it serves no other purpose then it is of no need.
  • RobotsFightingDinosaurs
    Featured Contributor
    There's a lot to unpack here-- first of all, the fact that a female link would be a change to an established character. I've said in other comments that I disagree with this reading of the character, but it's not like Link hasn't been changed before. Remember the time Link was a wolf? Is making Link female more of a change than that?

    And again, like I said in my article, I'm not saying Link necessarily SHOULD be female. I'm just saying that for the sake of representation in gaming, it'd be nice. And since Link is a new Link in every game, these kinds of changes can be justified if that's the story that Aonuma wants to tell.

    I also really didn't want to give off the "I'm right, you're wrong" vibe, so I apologize for that. The general point of the article was just to point out that the argument for a female Link isn't really just that-- it's an argument for increased representation of women in games in heroic, playable roles, and that it's important to understand that, especially with the gaming community in the state it is in today.
  • topher339
    Yes, it would be a larger change, for a couple of reasons. First, transforming into a wolf and changing gender are two very different things. Secondly, Link's change to wolf form was temporary, a tool of the game. A gender change is not temporary.

    "I'm just saying that for the sake of representation in gaming, it'd be nice." This is what I disagree with. I do not believe that something such as a character's gender should be changed for the "sake of representation". Create a new character or create a new franchise. Don't change something that is already set.

    I wouldn't necessarily think of each Link as a different Link. Each one is more of a reincarnation that occurs throughout time. There is always a Ganon, Link, and Zelda and they all look similar to every other one that came before and after.

    As I said, I realize you didn't mean for the article to sound the way it did and don't hold it against you at all. I've done the same thing before.
  • Ashley SSS
    Associate Editor
    This entire article is so patronizing I considered not leaving a comment to let it slide to the bottom of the pile and leave whatever controversy-hungry individuals who decide to descend on this article do so, but I will be the first.

    I have been playing video games every day for a long time, 26 years to be exact. That's long enough for it my gaming to be considered a "lifestyle". I hate to say that I take games very seriously, but I do. And I certainly do side with developers and creators over the market when it comes to artistic and design choices, whether I like those choices or not they are the are the creators' vision. If those decisions are not for me, the game just isn't for me. Let's get that laid out before I continue.

    Can anyone give an actual good reason why there should be a female Link, a character with 30 years presence in the industry, in a hallmark mainline Zelda game? A character with a massive amount of value within the industry, a slew of history (not in-game), and virtual icon status--is there a legitimately good reason to change this character?

    The answers you generally get to this question are simply something along the lines of the person you're asking wanting more strong female characters, and that's fine in itself but there is no reason to change a pre-existing character (which such high value to both Nintendo and the international gaming community) to another gender to sate a small fraction of people who want it. More strong female characters are needed, but not by eating a character already so well-established.

    "And that's a privilege that non-male (and non-white, non-cisgendered, non-heterosexual, non-binary for that matter) people either don't have, or have to look a lot harder for."

    I haven't experienced this, and I've been a woman for a pretty long time now. My female and non-white, non-straight friends haven't either. Now I'm not saying that's true of everyone in similarly non-standard demographic shoes, but I am saying it's short-sighted and naive to assume you (and everyone else pushing for female Link) are "helping" everyone within those demographics by trying to force changes to an already-established game or character (depending on whatever the horde is upset with this week).

    Everyone experiences games differently, and let me tell you it's not all that hard to relate to Link when you're not a dude. It's not like he's parading around in massive armor acting like a tough guy, he's androgynous, slim, and doesn't even talk. I can't say his "HYAH" noises ruin my immersion of playing the character. But again, I can't speak for everyone and neither can you.

    "... is ignorant to think that this debate is simply about one video game or one video game company." What is similarly ignorant is thinking that changing a character is the right way to go. A new character as the MC or something, sure, that's fine. But changing any pre-existing character's gender or race, to me, feels disrespectful not only to the character but the initial creator's vision and devalues the character as a unique--instead it can be this, this, or this!--aka nothing special when compared to the original character.

    "There's no reason in the world of the game that the hero can't be a woman."
    And there is no reason in the real world that Nintendo's second-biggest character should be gender-swapped either.

    Don't assume every woman wants already-established characters to suddenly became female. Don't assume no woman can possibly relate to a male character (and vice versa). And finally, don't assume a long-running, cautious company like Nintendo with a character so recognized as Link to suddenly change him up at the will of a small fraction of the community, when the creator (Aonuma) simply doesn't want it that way because it's his creation and his character. Have some goddamn respect.
  • RobotsFightingDinosaurs
    Featured Contributor
    First of all, I really did not intend to come off as patronizing in this article, so if I did, that's completely on me. Other than that, I'm going to try to respond to your comments as completely as I can because they're all valid.

    Personally, I view each Link, across each game in the series (besides direct sequels like Majora's Mask) as a completely different character. So for me, although there admittedly isn't a reason to create a female Link, doing so wouldn't be changing the character, it'd be creating a new one. It seems like you don't see it that way, which is totally fair!

    I also don't want to speak for anyone else in this post)(or really, ever). I'm not assuming all women are for a female Link, and I'm not assuming all men are against it. I just think that there is some history behind this controversy worth exploring.

    And personally, my opinion is that yknow, yeah, there was no reason Nintendo should have made Link female (other than increased female representation in gaming). It just would have been nice if they did given the lack of stories about women in mainstream gaming.

    I mean, at the end of the day, my thesis here was that people should listen more, so I'll take my own advice here. I can totally understand where you're coming from, and to be honest, I think the disagreement stems from the fact that we both have very different ideas of who (or what) Link is, and my ideas are no more 'correct' than yours are.

    So that's my spiel, I guess.
  • Seth Zulinski
    Well I came here to rant my rant, but nevermind. You and Ainyan covered everything I was going to say far more eloquently than I could or would have.

    I will say LadyLink (and this article) do come off a bit heavy on the sort of forced tokenism that a front page article on this very website praises Overwatch for avoiding.

    Video games are literally limitless design space filled with unending possibilities. Cannibalizing known and loved characters to feed women the leftovers isn't progressive, it's lazy and insulting. I definitely hope and fully expect that Nintendo and other major publishers up their game when it comes to creating strong female protagonists and representing women well in gaming - and I also hope to high hell they put more effort into it than a "reskin".
  • RobotsFightingDinosaurs
    Featured Contributor
    I totally agree with all of this! And like I've said in other comments, I think a lot of where we butt heads on this is that I wouldn't view a female Link as cannibalizing a character, since it's a different Link in every game. For me, every new Link is a truly new character, if that makes sense. And because of this, should Nintendo ever decide to make Link a woman, it'd be absolutely necessary that the game have a fully fleshed out and worthy story behind it-- otherwise what the hell would the point be?

    I'm not for tokenism either, and for that matter, I'm not one of the people pushing hard for a female Link-- I just think it'd be cool. The point of the article, generally, was to make the point that the argument for a female Link isn't just that-- it's the argument that you're making in this comment, that major publishers need to up their game in creating female protagonists, and that they saw the potential for that in a new Zelda game, if that makes sense.

    I feel like a lot of the disagreement here is in what we think a female-led Zelda game would be. In my mind, it'd be designed from the ground up with the idea that this Link is a woman. It wouldn't be a gender swap, it'd just be a distinct character, much the same way that the Wind Waker Link is distinct from the Ocarina of Time one. Does that make things a bit clearer?

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