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:
- The Legend of Zelda (NES)
- The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past (SNES)
- The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening DX (GBC)
- The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time (N64)
- The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker (GC)
- The Legend of Zelda: Four Swords Adventures (GC)
- The Legend of Zelda: The Minish Cap (GBA)
- The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess (GC)
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?