Preview The Gender Select Option in Zelda: Breath of the Wild

The rumor mill is heating up. Multiple sources are strongly hinting that Nintendo will be including some form of a gender select option for the playable protagonist in the next major Zelda game for the Wii U / NX console. It hasn’t been confirmed or denied yet by Nintendo (and likely won’t be until E3), but in the meantime, Zelda fans are speculating and arguing about how such a change to the beloved franchise might be implemented.

One possibility is that Nintendo may include an established female character such as Linkle or Zelda as a playable choice at the start of the game (or in parts of the game or as an unlockable).

Another possibility is that Nintendo may simply allow Link, the iconic hero and playable protagonist avatar/character, to be either male or female depending on a gender choice the player makes at the start of the game.

But there’s a third possibility that’s even more interesting: Nintendo could just do away with a gender select option altogether by using gender-neutral language when referring to Link. Players can decide for themselves whether their playable Link avatar/character is male, female, or gender-less. No toggle button needed. No “complicated” coding needed. Just stick with the same androgynous style of Link’s physical appearance that’s been around for 30 years now in various reincarnations.

There isn’t any real reason why any of the Zelda games to date have had to refer to Link as a boy other than “tradition.” Link’s gender is completely irrelevant to the narrative and the mechanics of the games. Link’s physical representation has always been androgynous. Link has always been a silent protagonist accepting any given name the player chooses.

While we’re waiting for clarification from Nintendo about whether this rumor is true or how Nintendo might choose to implement it, anybody can see for themselves how big or how little of an impact this shift in language has on their experience of the Zelda games of the past by applying these “gender-neutral patches” (now available in a single ZIP file) to their own copies of the following Zelda games:

These patches don’t change anything in the games other than replacing male pronouns referring to Link (or the fabled hero of legend) with gender-neutral pronouns. For example, any character who calls Link a “boy” now calls Link a “kid”; “brother” is now replaced with “comrade” or “sibling”, depending on the context; “fella” is replaced with “kiddo”; and so forth. This allows all players (whom Link represents as an avatar due to the name registration system as well as repeated public comments by Nintendo) to choose to play as their own gender, or as their opposite gender, or even gender-less!

Some folks take issue with same-sex relationships, but there don’t appear to be any relationships at all involving Link in the Zelda games. Sure, there are many characters throughout the games that express their feelings towards Link, but those aren’t relationships; they’re unrequited one-way streets — Link never responds or reacts to any such “advances” — that are often written as jokes, misunderstandings or misguided flirtation. Even the supposed romance between Link and Princess Zelda never goes beyond the level of a platonic friendship.

Go ahead, try it out and give it a playthrough. Within the context of your gender in real life, how does this “minor/major” change affect your experience of these games? If you believe that Link is/was always male, can you still grant that others may disagree and may want to play these games as a female Link or a gender-less Link which should have no bearing on your experience of the same games? Does this change hinder or elevate your attachment to the Zelda series? Does it change your mind about the “true” gender of Link? Does Link need to have a “true” gender? Would you want Nintendo to implement the same gender-neutral language for Link in the next big Zelda game and going forward? Would you want Nintendo to re-release all of the prior Zelda games with gender-neutral language for Link?

North Carolina Bans Gender-Neutral Zelda

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A controversial new law went into effect today in the state of North Carolina which bans gender-neutral hacked versions of The Legend of Zelda, one of the greatest classic video game series of all time.

House Bill Official 2, also known as HBO2, makes it illegal for anybody in the state of North Carolina to play a gender-neutral hacked Zelda game. Anybody caught doing so may face up to 50 years in a prison of the gender matching their birth certificate.

In The Legend of Zelda, players take on the role of Link, a silent avatar who represents the player on an epic journey to become a hero. In a press release issued today, Governor Pat “Bubba” McCrory laid out the reasons he signed the bill that flew like a Cucco through the Republican-led North Carolina Senate:

Now we all know dang well that only men can be heroes and that Link is a boy, just like Jesus. How do we know that? It says it right there in the dang game. Read your game! And those games are written in stone, just like the Ten Commandments, and the Constitution of these here United States, and Ted Nugent’s 1977 seminal yet critically misunderstood album, Cat Scratch Fever. Why mess with God-given perfection?

There just ain’t no way Link ain’t a boy. He wears a tunic, boots, earrings and bracelets, he has no facial hair, he loves his horse and he plays the most lovely melodies on an ocarina. If that don’t make him a man, then my name ain’t Pat. And you gotta admit, Pat is definitely a manly man’s name. It would take a room full of dumb-as-rocks writers to come up with a comedy sketch that questions the gender of somebody with a name like Pat. But I digress…

Any girl (or “funny boy”) who wants to play a popular classic video game with a female lead protagonist can go play Metroid. Or Tomb Raider. Or any of the 8 games of the Top 100 best games of all time that feature girls in the playable lead. I mean, come on, 8 out of 100 is more than plenty. That’s like 7 too many if you ask me, amiright fellas?

We must put an end to this slippery slope before folks start trying to de-mustache Mario and replace Ms. Pac-Man’s stripper shoes with sensible flats.

North Carolina attorney general Roy Cooper said that he wouldn’t enforce or defend the law because gender-neutral Zelda games harm no one.

Gender-Neutral Ocarina of Time

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Zelda jumped from 2D sprites to 3D worlds in The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, released in 1998 for the Nintendo 64 console with much fanfare and critical acclaim. It has since been ported to the GameCube, Wii, Wii U and 3DS, but the original N64 version remains at the top of many “best games of all time” lists.

Like the other games in the Zelda series, the in-game text of Ocarina of Time refers to the player (Link) as male even after allowing the player to input their own name into the game. I’d like to be able to play this game with my daughter and not have the game calling her a boy, so I hacked a gender-neutral version that replaces all of the male pronouns with gender-neutral language wherever it refers to Link.

Does this mean that some of the relationships depicted in the game — all of which are notably unrequited since Link never responds to any romantic advances — might not be strictly heterosexual? Sure. Why not? I don’t see any reason why the fantasy land of Hyrule couldn’t include some diversity just like the real world. The only two female characters in the game that are mentioned as potential partners with Link are Ruto (the Zora princess who presents Link with the Zora’s Engagement Ring for rescuing her) and Malon (whose father, Talon, jokingly asks if Link wants to marry her). Link’s relationships with the other female characters, including Saria and even Princess Zelda, are loving but strictly platonic friendships.

What about the all-female tribe of the Gerudo which Link must infiltrate? Aren’t they suspicious of Link because he’s male? No, not necessarily. The Gerudo are suspicious of all newcomers regardless of gender. They don’t allow anybody to enter Gerudo Desert without their approval. Link only has to pass a few of their trials to prove that Link is a hero worthy of their respect and to gain permission to roam freely through their territory. Link’s gender doesn’t really have anything to do with it.

After using one of several methods to extract or “dump” your own Ocarina of Time N64 game cartridge (specifically, the 1998 original North American release) into a non-byte-swapped Z64 file, you can then apply my gender-neutral patch of Ocarina of Time as a .vcdiff patch file using the free xdelta utility which outputs a modified Z64 file. You can play the modified Z64 file using an N64 emulator or you can play it on an actual N64 using any method that allows custom Z64 files to be played on the N64.

This project is an ongoing work in progress, but here are the gender-neutral patches for the games in the Zelda series that I’ve completed so far and have made freely available:

Gender-Neutral Four Swords Adventures

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Multiplayer Zelda was only a pipe dream until Nintendo released Four Swords as a bonus add-on with the GBA port of A Link to the Past in 2002. But it wasn’t until the follow-up Four Swords Adventures for the GameCube in 2004 that lonely players without three other Zelda friends could control all four Links in a single-player campaign mode, albeit with tedious maneuvering of pre-defined formations.

If you’re able to round up three other Zelda friends, all four players can each connect their own GBA with GBA-GC link cables and have portions of the game played on their own GBA screen. But for the ultimate Four Swords Adventures game play experience, each player can bring their own GameCube, GameCube GBA Player and TV display for supremely blissful 5-screen Zelda nirvana.

Like the other games in the Zelda series, the in-game text of Four Swords Adventures refers to all four players as male. I’d like to be able to play this game with my daughter and not have the game calling her a boy, so I hacked a gender-neutral version that replaces all of the male pronouns with gender-neutral language wherever it refers to the four Links.

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After using one of several methods to extract or “dump” your own Four Swords Adventures GameCube game disc (specifically, the 2004 North American release) into an ISO file, you can then apply my gender-neutral patch of Four Swords Adventures as a .vcdiff patch file using the free xdelta utility which outputs a modified ISO file. You can play the modified ISO using a GC emulator or you can play it on an actual GC/Wii using any method that allows custom ISO files to be played on the GC/Wii.

This project is an ongoing work in progress, but here are the gender-neutral patches for the games in the Zelda series that I’ve completed so far and have made freely available:

The Gender-Neutral Wind Waker

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About 13 years ago, Nintendo let players take to the open seas in The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker. The game was first released for the GameCube and later “remastered” for the Wii U in 2013. Like previous Zelda games, The Wind Waker allows the player to become the hero by inputting their own name at the start of the game but then continues to use male pronouns when referring to the player (“Link”) regardless of the player’s actual gender. Link’s physical appearance and grunting vocalizations don’t really identify Link as a specific gender, and there’s absolutely nothing in the story of the game that requires the hero to be specifically male. This matters because male leading heroes are abundantly overrepresented in popular games and I want my baby daughter to see that gender doesn’t define a hero. Anybody can be a hero.

The Zelda games are some of the greatest games in popular culture. I’ve played and replayed all of them over the past 30 years and I’m looking forward to sharing them with my daughter if/when she develops an interest in gaming. I think the old GameCube version of The Wind Waker still holds up well today, so I decided to gender-neutral hack it for my daughter and other non-male gamers to enjoy fully immersing themselves in the experience of being Link and sailing the open seas.

After using one of several methods to extract or “dump” your own The Wind Waker GameCube game disc (specifically, the 2003 North American release) into an ISO file, you can then apply my gender-neutral patch of The Wind Waker as a .vcdiff patch file using the free xdelta utility which outputs a modified ISO file. You can play the modified ISO using a GC emulator or you can play it on an actual GC/Wii using any method that allows custom ISO files to be played on the GC/Wii.

This project is an ongoing work in progress, but here are the gender-neutral patches for the games in the Zelda series that I’ve completed so far and have made freely available:

Gender-Neutral Twilight Princess

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Last week, Nintendo released The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess HD for the Wii U. As an HD remaster of a decade-old GameCube/Wii game, the graphics are visually much sharper and the new GamePad controls are excellent, but there’s a long-standing grammatical “bug” that still remains: female players who choose to rename Link with their own name are still awkwardly referred to as male by many of the characters in the game. Link’s physical appearance and grunting vocalizations don’t really identify Link as a specific gender, and there’s absolutely nothing in the story of the game that requires the hero to be specifically male. This matters because male leading heroes are abundantly overrepresented in popular games.

I have fond memories of playing through the original Twilight Princess when it was released for the GameCube in 2006. As an old school gamer, I’m not a big fan of motion controls and I prefer the accuracy and comfort of a standard controller. I think the old GameCube version of Twilight Princess still holds up well today, so I decided to gender-neutral hack it for my daughter and other non-male gamers to enjoy fully immersing themselves in the experience of being Link in both human and wolf form.

I’ve already gender-neutral hacked several of my other favorite games from the Zelda series to fix the same grammatical bug, but this Twilight Princess gender-neutral hack took a bit longer since there was such a large amount of in-game text to review and edit.

To prevent introducing any glitches, I also had to stick within the same character length when replacing words. For example, the Gorons would frequently call Link “Brother,” so I replaced all of those instances with “Comrade.” Wherever the mayor or others would call Link “sonny” or “fella,” I swapped those out with “kiddo.” And when Malo calls Link “brudda,” I replaced those with “friend.” But in some cases, it wasn’t possible to simply swap a male word for a gender-neutral word with the same number of characters, and I had to subtly rephrase some lines of dialogue where the in-game text talks about the hero using the pronouns “he,” “his” and “him.”

After using one of several methods to extract or “dump” your own Twilight Princess GameCube game disc (specifically, the 2006 North American release) into an ISO file, you can then apply my gender-neutral patch of Twilight Princess as a .vcdiff patch file using the free xdelta utility which outputs a modified ISO file. You can play the modified ISO using a GC emulator or you can play it on an actual GC/Wii using any method that allows custom ISO files to be played on the GC/Wii.

This project is an ongoing work in progress, but here are the gender-neutral patches for the games in the Zelda series that I’ve completed so far and have made freely available: