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:
- The Legend of Zelda (NES)
- The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past (SNES)
- The Legend of Zelda: The Minish Cap (GBA)
- The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening DX (GBC)
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.