Why I’m Gender-Hacking Zelda

I’ve been getting a lot of questions about why I decided to hack the Zelda games to make the playable protagonist, Link, gender-neutral for my daughter and why I decided to release the patches online. So I tried to address it as best I could in my interview with The Mary Sue:

I have no idea which video games will “speak” to my daughter or if she’ll even become enamored with video games at all. I just wanted to tilt the odds slightly by removing what I saw as an impediment that could possibly prevent her from experiencing my favorite video game of all time in the same deep and immersive way that I was able to experience it. I always felt like I was Link and that I was the hero going on the great adventure to battle evil and save Hyrule and its inhabitants. There wasn’t a single odd pronoun in any of the Zelda games that broke the spell for me, but that’s because I just happened to be a dude and the game’s text assumed I was a dude.

The words we use and the stories we tell in our games and books and movies are important because they not only reveal how we see our world, but they also show how our world could be. Too many of our monomyths — ancient, new and recycled — tell us that only men can be world-saving heroes. In her impressionable years, I hope that my daughter discovers and consumes so many female monomyths that she will never see a ceiling above her. And in her powerful years, I hope that she creates new monomyths of her own.

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

Coincidentally, it turns out that I might be helping to return Link back to Link’s original roots. I reached out to Clyde Mandelin, professional translator and author of Legends of Localization, for his take on the debate over Link’s intended gender in the early Zelda games. Specifically, I asked him if the original Japanese language version of A Link to the Past (“Triforce of the Gods”) referred to the player as male in the game and instruction manual. He dug into it and found something quite extraordinary: Link’s gender is very rarely mentioned anywhere in the original Japanese game, box or manual! While the English manual for The Legend of Zelda refers to Link as male more than 70 times, the Japanese manual specifies Link as a boy only twice! It appears there was a notable shift to define Link’s gender more concretely when Nintendo exported Link from Japan to the English-speaking world in the late ’80s and early ’90s.

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2 thoughts on “Why I’m Gender-Hacking Zelda

  1. You could just have her play Metroid to get across your point about gender not mattering… You do not have to ruin a charracter…

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    1. Hi Justin,

      Yes, Metroid is a common example of one of the best of games of all time that features a female as the leading playable hero. But even with Metroid included, only 8 of the “Top 100 Games of All Time” have a female playable lead protagonist.

      Metroid is a very different style of game from Zelda, and although I thoroughly enjoy the Metroid series, I have always felt a stronger emotional connection with the Zelda series, which is why I wanted to make the Zelda games more accessible to my daughter and to share it with others.

      I don’t believe removing explicit references to Link’s gender ruins the character. I actually believe it improves it by making Link more of a natural avatar for all players to enjoy. In one of my previous posts, I quoted Zelda series creator Shigeru Miyamoto and series producer Eiji Aonuma who have both said that they intended for Link to be more of an avatar for the player rather than a defined character. I don’t think that they have ever said that Link’s gender is an important trait or that Link must necessarily be male. I don’t see any problems with making Link gender-neutral so that players can form their own opinions about Link’s gender (or not even think about gender at all) when playing as Link. There are many gamers like myself who enjoy playing the Zelda games with Link serving as an avatar that allows us to project ourselves into the game world. The wonderful thing about this patch using gender-neutral language is that it harms no one and it allows all players to experience the game however they wish to experience it.

      I’m not seeking to change your mind or anybody else’s mind about Link being male. If you would like to play the game and think of Link as being male like yourself, you can play Nintendo’s version or you can play this gender-neutral patched version. The gender-neutral language doesn’t change anything and if you play through it, you will find that it doesn’t stop you from thinking that Link is male, which is perfectly fine.

      It might help to think of this gender-neutral patch as just an accessibility improvement to make the game more accessible to more people. If my daughter would like to play the game and think of Link as female like herself, she can play this gender-neutral patched version and it won’t call her a boy. If a transgendered person would like to play as Link and think of Link as transgendered or not having a gender at all, they can play this gender-neutral patched version and it won’t call them a boy. Other people’s experience of the game should have no bearing on your experience of the game.

      I hope this helps to clarify. If you do play through the gender-neutral patched version, please let me know if you find any errors or problems. Thanks!

      -Tony

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