Link, the legendary hero(ine)
by on June 5, 2016

Link! The Hero of Hyrule! A young adventurer who heeds the call to action and saves the land from darkness. Reincarnated time and again, forever destined to wield the Master Sword in defense of the Triforce and the people of Hyrule. Link, of course, is us, the persona we embody when we play a Zelda game, the avatar of our own heroism; the stand-in that represents us in the world of the game. Link is defined by many things: the tools we wield when we play, the land we save, the monsters we defeat, the dungeons we explore, the characters we meet. A green tunic, a sword, the Triforce of Courage. The actions we take and the fantasies we fulfill when we pick up the controller.

The stronger our connection to Link, the stronger our link to the world becomes.

That is why future Zelda games should allow the player to choose Link’s gender.

This may be a controversial position. You may have some concerns with the concept, and that’s fair. I posit that (a) this would allow more people to enjoy the games we love, and (b) it would have no ill effects on the quality of the game, its story, or its characters.

Let’s dive in.

The audience surrogate

There is a long history of characters who represent the viewer, reader, or player and help draw the audience in to get them emotionally invested in the story. This character is the audience surrogate: someone that the viewer relates to, sees themselves in, and empathizes with. The surrogate may say or do things that the viewer could see themselves saying or doing. The surrogate asks questions that the audience wants to ask. In some cases, the audience surrogate is fluid; a different character from scene to scene, or depending on who the viewer is. Harry Potter and Charlie Bucket are classic examples.

Images of Harry Potter and Charlie Bucket

As a general rule, the more you can relate to a character, the more you will empathize with them, and the more effectively that character will pull you into the story. The ultimate surrogate would be a character modeled after you, the viewer. They look like you, talk like you, act like you, think like you. That’s why fan fiction writers often write themselves into their stories.

The surrogate is often the main protagonist, but not always. In Sherlock Holmes, Watson is an audience surrogate; Holmes himself is a genius whose mind works in strange ways, whereas we, the audience, usually identify more with Watson. This shows the second big role of the audience surrogate: they are often rookies or outsiders or bystanders in the story, learning new information at the same time as the audience. It allows authors to write exposition: if a surrogate is ignorant, then they need to have things explained to them, and thus, the audience.

Luke Skywalker, Bilbo Baggins, the Doctor’s many companions in Doctor Who, and Penny in The Big Bang Theory are other examples of audience surrogates.

Character abstraction as amplification

Ok, so you want an audience surrogate in your story. Now we just need to make a character that everyone can strongly relate to and see themselves in! …Which is easier said than done. As I said before, the ultimate audience surrogate is someone exactly like the viewer in every way. But that only works for that one person. The more detail you add to a character to make them relatable for one audience, the less relatable they are for a different audience. If you start with a stick figure, that figure is equally relatable for everyone. If you add a skin color, then it’s more relatable for people who match that skin color, and less for those who don’t. Add gender, same deal. Add dialog, a voice, a backstory, personality, facial features, level of education, cultural background, and family. Every detail brings that character closer to one part of the audience and further from another part. Scott McCloud illustrates this in his excellent book, Understanding Comics:

An image that shows a progression from a stick figure to a detailed photograph of a man's face.

Many video games allow avatar customization so they can have both detail and relatability. Mass Effect allows you to customize your character’s looks and backstory, for example. But there is another way, common in games, comics, and cartoons: character abstraction. If you leave details unspecified, then the audience will fill in the blanks with assumptions from their own life. Voila: instant relatability. This can work with visuals, personality, background, and everything else. Anime and manga offer a great example of this: most Americans think that anime characters look Caucasian, whereas people in Japan think they look Japanese. The reality is that the characters are abstract and don’t resemble either; they’re just simple lines on a screen or page, and the audience is subconsciously filling in the blanks.

This also has the advantage of amplifying the details that you do define. Let me cite Scott McCloud again: “By stripping down an image to its essential ‘meaning,’ an artist can amplify that meaning in a way that realistic art can’t.”

"When we abstract an image through cartooning, we're not so much eliminating details as we are focusing on specific details. By stripping down an image to the essential 'meaning,' an artist can amplify that meaning in a way that realistic art can't."

I’m sure you’ve put it together: silent heroes are a way of abstracting an audience surrogate. Instead of defining details like voice or personality, we leave them undefined, which in turn allows the player to superimpose their own identity onto the character. Well, their own identity plus the now-amplified details that define the fantasy we’re fulfilling. Link is successful because he is us, plus a little extra: the skill to wield a magic sword, a heroic destiny, the wind of Hyrule at our back.

Link in abstract

So let’s look at Link. He’s a silent hero. He’s already had many character-defining traits, like voice, dialog, or detailed history, abstracted away to make him a better audience surrogate.

But he’s not completely abstract. He has a character design, after all — we know what Link looks and sounds like. He’s always been male, so far. In Ocarina of Time he had a voice and body language that conveyed personality. Recall the scene where Saria gives him the Fairy Ocarina, and he backs up then runs away. In The Wind Waker, Link’s face and movements had personality and emotion. In Skyward Sword and Twilight Princess, Link’s character is strongly implied by the way others act towards him and the way he’s animated in cutscenes.

The level of characterization is a spectrum. Let’s chart it, which might look something like this:

An chart of all the Zelda games that ranges from "more abstract" to "less abstract."

Note that this chart represents the abstraction of Link as a character, which includes but is not limited to the visuals. If we were to add other games, something like Final Fantasy X would be to the far right of the Zelda games, and Half-Life 2 or Portal would be near The Legend of Zelda or Zelda II: The Adventure of Link.

Newer Zelda games tend to have a less abstract Link. This is fairly easy to explain: the more visual fidelity, the more Nintendo needed to fill in Link’s personality to keep him from feeling stiff and out of place. It’s a balancing act: Nintendo needs to leave Link a blank slate while also needing to show relationships to other characters and place him in the world.

There’s some interesting stuff that can happen if you have some strong characterization in an otherwise blank slate avatar. If you show a relationship towards another character — protector, mentor, friend, rival — then anyone who inhabits that avatar will more readily feel that relationship. If Link expresses emotion, then it can help create that same emotion in the player, but it also risks distancing the player from their avatar if the player’s mindset doesn’t match.

The Wind Waker has some successful scenes where Link’s animation and face help prompt a strong emotional response, because many players are already primed to feel those emotions by the gameplay and events leading up to them. But sometimes, Link would show an emotion at odds with the player’s mindset, and that would distance us from our surrogate character. Excitement was usually far from the player’s mind when finding the umpteenth Triforce Chart, for example.

Link’s huge variety of expressive faces, almost emoticon-like, combined with the heavy abstraction of his design was a deliberate attempt from the Zelda team to use these concepts. It was probably the reason they chose The Wind Waker’s visual style. They highlight Link’s emotions and reinforce and direct the emotions that they wanted the player to feel.

A collage of Link's faces from The Wind Waker.

Breaking barriers

So we’ve discussed the value of a good audience surrogate and using abstraction to achieve that. Link exemplifies this philosophy already. But there is a detail that we can’t abstract away: Link’s gender.  This impedes some players from identifying as Link.

My conclusion: Let players define the gender of their Link at the beginning of the game.

I envision Zelda games where the player chooses their gender, but that choice changes very little in the game’s content or story. At most, it would affect the pronouns in dialog and some slight visual changes. I would leave Link’s relationships, motivations, personality traits, and classic outfit untouched. I would even use the exact same animations. I don’t think that many female fans want a female Link if she’s portrayed as less strong, courageous, and capable or more vulnerable, nurturing, sexy, and demure. The goal is to reduce barriers between the player and their surrogate without altering the role that they play.

karane

Karane, from Skyward Sword, is close to a good female Link design.

This isn’t pushing an agenda; this barrier is real, complete with real human ramifications. I have a sister that loves action-adventure games and has enjoyed Zelda games in the past. She enjoys games more when she can play a female avatar. Her favorite action-adventure game is Ubisoft’s Beyond Good & Evil. She once asked me if I could recommend more games like it or Zelda, with female leads. I, a professional game designer who loves this genre, could only give her a paltry, tiny list. And one of those games was Okami, where you play as a female wolf.

It’s common to respond with, “But I can play characters of opposite genders just fine.” Or “I’m a female player, and I don’t care about having a female option!” That’s fine! Some players feel these effects more strongly than others. And sometimes the effects are subtle and unconscious.

When I ran my Zelda Fan Survey in 2014, I got nearly 6,000 responses. One of my questions was “Should future Zelda games allow you to play as a female protagonist?” and over half of the responses were in favor of either a set female protagonist or a gender selection option.

There have been a few cases of parents hacking ROMs of Zelda games to change the sprites for Link and the pronouns in the character dialog for their daughters — and nothing else! That’s all it took.

I want to tear these barriers down so that more people can enjoy and be inspired by these great games.

Which brings us to the final question: what do we lose from the Zelda experience if we offer this option? What is the price?

Gendered characterization

To answer that, we must ask: is Link’s gender important? Is there something we gain from a set gender that we lose if we offer a choice?

In some stories, gender is very important. Cersei, Sansa, Brienne, Arya, and Catelyn’s character arcs in Game of Thrones are all heavily influenced by the role of women in that world and the way they react to that role. The same goes for the male characters: in that setting, there are certain expectations that come with gender, and characters’ influence, opportunities, and challenges are affected. When they deviate, they face consequences.

It matters when defining romantic relationships. There are cultural expectations that come when portraying romantic relationships. What are the courtship rituals and expectations? How are power and responsibility divvied up? How do other characters react? The list goes on.

I say that none of this matters for Link. Link has almost no gendered characterization in the Zelda games. You could swap Link’s gender in any Zelda game, and it still works, even in ones with less character abstraction. Regardless of gender, in The Wind Waker you’re still playing the protective older sibling. In Twilight Princess you’re still acting as an older sibling to the Ordon children, the childhood friend to Ilia, and the friend who teaches Midna selflessness. None of these are inherently male or female.

Link has never had a canonical romantic relationship. Usually, when players perceive one, it’s because they are projecting themselves onto the avatar. When I was 12 I had a crush on Malon. That colored my perception of her: I always thought of her as a romantic interest for Link. But nothing in Ocarina of Time supports or implies that; what happened was that I identified with Link and projected my own thoughts about Malon onto him. The silent hero worked exactly like it should. This was not inherent to Link’s character; it stemmed from the player. It can work the other way around, too; some players might have identified with Malon in those moments instead of Link. This is where shipping come from, my friends.

Link’s relationships with Midna in Twilight Princess and Zelda in Skyward Sword went a little bit beyond player interpretation and actually implied romantic feelings. With gender selection, that level of implied romance would likely be toned down, not as a statement against same-sex romance but because it would define a character trait — sexuality — that is best left undefined to help with surrogate relatability.

There isn’t much else. Maybe we’d want more male characters Link’s age. Over the course of the series, there are many important female peers for Link but very few male ones. We have Groose, Ralph, Prince Komali, and Ravio, maybe Mido. Across the whole series! Just like male players can project relationships with Link’s female peers, we’d want female players to have that option. I’m down with better representation of my gender amongst Link’s peers. Open a new front in the shipping wars, I say.

Don’t do it wrong, Nintendo!

the-legend-of-zelda-the-wind-waker-hd-screenshot-ME3050184580_2I’ve explained why it’s important to offer this option and why it wouldn’t damage the experience. I have one last warning: there are many ways for this to go wrong. Nintendo has a pretty good track record with how they treat gender, but they’ve made some missteps. Letting Team Ninja destroy Samus’ character in Metroid: Other M or letting Koei anywhere near original female character designs in Hyrule Warriors were missteps. Changing Tetra’s character from strong, self-reliant pirate captain to passive and vulnerable as soon as she learns she’s a princess. So the dangers are there: giving a female Link design unnecessary vis
ual changes, making characters act differently depending on gender during important story moments, or failing to portray a female Link with the same character traits as a male Link.

I could see this going very well or very badly depending on Nintendo’s philosophy while developing a Zelda game with a gender selection option. However, I’m optimistic that Nintendo would do a good job with it.

Fin

It’s been a long road, my friends. I’ve made my case. I think giving a gender selection option is a no-brainer. It’s a win-win with all upsides and no downsides. It will make some players feel more invested in the character they’re playing while preserving the male Link for the rest of us. It won’t damage the storytelling or the relationships between Link and other characters. It will broaden the Zelda audience without sacrificing quality. It means I would have an answer the next time my sister wants a recommendation for a great action-adventure game with a female lead.

It would make the Zelda games better and make Zelda fans happier.

May the way of the (gender-neutral) hero lead to the Triforce!

Max Nichols
  • Hey! So we had a glitch in our comments system and comments weren’t showing up. Now it’s fixed! Comment away, folks 😀

  • Jarlmann

    Giving the players a female option to play with in Zelda is a great idea, just dont tamper with the already well-established Link. Add a second, female option like Linkle for those that would prefer that. Don’t need to change the past to make future games better, just increase options.

    • JaidynReiman

      This. I WANT the ability to play as a female character. I really, really want that kind of thing implemented. Making Link a female is the complete and total WRONG way to do that, no matter how its handled.

      The incarnation argument is complete BS. It doesn’t matter that each version of Link is a different character. As a whole, Link is Link, Zelda is Zelda, and Ganodorf is Ganondorf, regardless of which incarnation it is.

      • Max Nichols

        Would you want a separate female character that was also a silent character like Link? Even if it meant having two silent characters in the same game?

        I’m operating on the assumption that Nintendo leaves the character you play as a silent audience surrogate, and in that world it seems odd to me to offer a female character that is A: Not a silent surrogate, or B: is a second silent character in the same game.

        • Vladislak

          Maybe if you chose the female option then Link wouldn’t be silent and if you chose the male option then the new character wouldn’t be silent.

          Kind of like in Pokemon; you occasionally meet up with the character you didn’t choose and have friendly battles/duels, but ultimately it’s the character you choose who saves the day in the end. As long as they don’t go overboard to give Link some obnoxious personality I wouldn’t mind that. Just use him sparingly and keep his dialogue in line with the actions/reactions we see in most games. SS Link had enough characterization that he may as well have had dialogue if he wasn’t the playable character.

          And it’s not like a Link has never had dialogue, technically the Hero’s Shade was OoT Link after all. 🙂

    • Max Nichols

      What if they had a gender selection option when starting a new game, and one was a male named “Link”, the other was female with a different name… but otherwise the story and the game was the same?

      I suspect that this also wouldn’t sit well with you, but I’ll be curious to hear your thoughts.

      • Jarlmann

        No, that’s actually what I’m looking for. Say your choice of protagonists are Link and a sister, and their relation and interaction with NPC’s along the way is exactly the same, as both have the same back story for NPCs to draw info from. Ofc, this kind of breaks the tradition of Link being an evergoing incarnation of the hero of time, but I don’t think fans would be opposed to that incarnation being split into a sibling pair for once.

        • F-Lambda

          Heh, this would be an awesome implementation if applied to Wind Waker! Link gets kidnapped, and Aryll rescues him!

          Although, the whole thing with the Helmaroc King confusing Aryll for Tetra might not work as well for Link, but, then again….

  • True Davad

    You forgot to mention crushes like Ruto. That would not have been possible with chosen gender. Or alternate solutions like having other playable characters which I think is needed anyway. Link is a reincarnation so I don’t think his gender can be different story wise and I don’t think it is good for continuity. My all means have other playable characters who are female and with non-sexist portrayals (Team Ninja ruined Other M, I agree). It only works if the character is built like that from the beginning. Like Fire Emblem Awakening (I have not played Fates yet but I am sure it applies too.).

    If they did make Link’s gender an option then do it the way you suggested of course. I think Link just would not be the same if he was a girl. I know not everyone shares that last sentiment and it is an option but still. I am not sure Link would be perceived the same as a girl. It also limits certain story options if he is a girl.

    In Conclusion, I don’t think it is a good idea but it would not scare me away from the series personally.

    • TheShadowHatter

      This doesn’t make any sense.

      #1 Why mention Ruto and it never being possible? was the article advocating for changing the genders of OLD established Links?

      #2 you just mentioned Link is a reincarnation, so how are you defiant about an option to select a female Link when that respects the lore and reincarnation, which doesn’t have a rule saying you have to be born the same gender as your ancestor.

      #3 How is it not good for continuity? Are you implying Link is only one character and there’s not multiple Links with their own stories and adventures? because that doesn’t make any sense to me.

      #4 ” It also limits certain story options if he is a girl.” explain this to me, because that makes no sense, unless you’re someone that thinks that Link bangs every female character he sees (or at least Zelda) for some strange reason (probably having to do with the memes people keep making of it), and even then femLink could bang every guy she sees (or can be lesbian, which honestly doesn’t matter because that’s not important to the story of the game).

      • True Davad

        You point out that I mentioned reincarnation in point 2 and then contradict noticing that with point 3. You also assume all kinds of things I never implied once.

        Now that I pointed that out I will address your points.

        Point 1: Ruto’s crush would not work at all with a female Link as I stated in the ORIGINAL post. This also ties in to point four.

        Point 2: Notice most off his physical characteristics are the same between incarnations? Gender would be pretty important for that to work.

        Point 3: Point 2 answered this.

        Point 4: It limits the story options for other how other characters perceive Link such as a crush (Example Ruto). I do not think Link bangs every girl he comes across and (Don’t hate people) In my opinion most Links never have romantic relationships with Zelda because few games give any implication of that, and those that do are just trying to appeal to the Zelink shipping. Even then they could just be close friends.

        • NasiDe

          Point 2: Only if you rely on cissexism (which makes a lot of gender arguments super ridiculous but… w/e. I’m too tired to argue that.)

          Other points: ..why would a crush on Link from a feminine character on Link be impossible if they were feminine (unless Nintendo actively avoids lgbt representation, which is backwards thinking)?

          • Ship Yes

            Why must everything be political correctness? This is becoming exhausting. If they want to represent the romance between the male and female characters ONLY – so what?

            What is so wrong with it be limited to that? You’re still free to project whatever fantasy you desire. The creators are not obligated to complete your desire because you believe X, Y and Z and they shouldn’t either, because more is not necessarily better.

            SS was a great step in that direction of romance, and to tell you the truth, it’s about time. The relationship between Link and Zelda has become frustrating. While most games do not hint any romantic connections, some should and if there should be any focus between romantic relations it should be Zelda and Link.

            If they are reincarnated as alternate forms, (Zelda as Male / Link as Female), this is also fine, but also unnecessary baggage to add to the story.

            More does not mean better.

          • TheShadowHatter

            “You’re still free to project whatever fantasy you desire. ”

            exactly! so why are you defiant on an option to change Link’s gender when it changes NOTHING? you can still have your fantasies if you wish.

        • TheShadowHatter

          Point 1: Ruto’s crush could still work, unless you’re someone who believes love is between man and woman, which you’re allowed to have that archaic and incorrect opinion, but that doesn’t mean Ruto couldn’t be a lesbian or bisexual, but none of this matters because the story is about saving the world, not Link slaying some fish puss.

          Point 2: You do realize Link is androgynous so that he could be more of an avatar for players right? so Link could be female and practically still have the similar appearance to male Links because male Links look feminine on purpose. Also WW Link looks different from OoT Link and LttP Link. They don’t share any similarities except for blonde/dirty blone hair and a slender frame, but that’s obviously due to years of fighting and training so that doesn’t count. Also green clothing doesn’t count because you aren’t born in those green clothes.

          Point 3: your Point 2 didn’t address it at all, and reincarnation means Link could have been born female at any point in this seemingly endless cycle of incarnations, so it’s possible for FUTURE Links to be born female, just not already established ones, but nobody is trying to change established Links.

          Point 4: you just contradicted yourself in your own post. so how is it limiting a story option for one possible character to perceive Link as a crush, but it’s okay for close friends? or am I not reading your point correctly?

          Also let’s not forget you’re using examples of ESTABLISHED GAMES WITH ESTABLISHED LINKS. If this option comes into play, it’s for FUTURE LoZ games like Zelda U and such, and in those games you don’t know the characters and their relation to Link, so you cannot comment on how a gender option limits the story when you know nothing about the story, nor the characters and their relationship to Link.

          • True Davad

            Point 1: Their are several problems with making them lesbian. It would not accepted by other characters the same and THAT changes the story. It also changes the sexuality of the characters depending on Link’s gender and that is weird.

            Point 2: If you look at the body and facial structure it is always very similar. The only differences come from graphics like Toon Link looks different because of the toon graphics, not actual story differences in appearance.

            Point 3: Perhaps it wasn’t clear after restructuring my article but I stated reincarnation in my original post, So I can’t imply they are the same person, nor did I in any way. You acknowledged I mentioned reincarnation, then act as if I implied that they are one Link, which is not what I said at all. that is a contradiction in your original post.

            Point 3 Cont: Furthermore the lack of physical differences is why he can’t be born female as stated in my original post. Read it carefully next time so you don’t miss such critical details that already explain my words instead of saying I implied something I never said.

            Point 4: I don’t understand how I contradicted myself or what you are trying to say. I simply said that it limits how other characters perceive link if you change his gender because since his gender is not set, they can’t have a crush on him since that would be gender dependent. Everything else was personal opinion in response to you baselessly accusing me of thinking Link banged every woman he sees as I wanted to clarify that was completely unfounded.

            If it wouldn’t work in a past Zelda game it limits their possibilities should they want to do something similar in a future game.. So these points do apply to future games just as much as past games.

            Also considering how controversial this decision would be, potentially costing them fans, why would they make it? It would be unlikely to bring in many fans, certainly they would lose more than they gain. More playable characters with some happening to be female is a far better solution in my opinion.

  • Oscar Yasser Garcia Juallek

    “The silent hero worked exactly like it should. This was not inherent to Link’s character; it stemmed from the player. It can work the other way around, too; some players might have identified with Malon in those moments instead of Link. This is where shipping come from, my friends.”
    Yeah…bullocks, there’s an omission there. Ruto and even Saria weren’t fan interpretations, they DID imply heavily if not outright stated themselves or by third parties they had a thing for Link, which wasn’t exactly a portrayal you could achieve with a genderless or gender flipped character(seriously, of all the potential love interests in Ocarina of Time, it’s quite your fault to pick the only one that didn’t imply or had a statement to back up any sort of crush whatsoever). In fact, that’s a character trait that has been consistent on Link since he became 3D(and even some 2D games have it): he has a lot, and I mean A LOT of implied love interests(ignoring fan theories, there are at least a dozen through all across games, which even includes a tree for some reason), and the constant of spurting jealousy between NPCs for varied reasons(Mido, Groose, Keet, the kid in Twilight Princess that has a crush on Agitha). Granted, this is mostly a quirk, but omitting it was quite faulty on your side, because it’s not exactly an unknown factor.
    Personally? I find the notion of that barrier to be STUPID. Not because it’s not a real thing, but because it spreads segregation. Are we really THAT conditioned to play as someone that identifies US and nothing else? To never be able to see through a different person’s mindset? We have to give options so we can always make it look a character to look as much as us as possible, otherwise we can’t identify in others shoes? I mean, I applaud the search for diversity. More females, more black protagonists…more female black lesbian protagonists if you will. But I frankly think the same way male players are encouraged to play as females females should be encouraged to plays as males. It’s odd because saying to to a female character is disregarded as sexist, but saying no to a male character or reducing it to an option is something no one bats an eye about.
    And I know the entire proposal of this is based on the idea is that Link is, always have been and is always meant to be an audience surrogate. Ignoring the fact I have issues with the examples(Harry Potter is a dumb kid I would like to NOT identify myself with), what if…they are trying to characterize Link? I mean, it’s quite evident in your chart that, save for a few exceptions(which I would even debate, specially A Link Between Worlds) Link has been losing abstraction. What if, despite not being clear on that, they want to make him a properly fleshed out character? Would you oppose that?

    • JaidynReiman

      Ruto was outright interested in Link, and all indications were that Saria was as well. The most theorized version was Malon, who never showed any real interest in Link, but it is totally correct that Malon is the wrong one to base it on.

      Either way, the romantic aspect of it isn’t a major deal. The bigger deal is the history they’ve built up with Link. It doesn’t matter that its a different Link in some games, Nintendo treats Link as a character part of a whole.

      Then if you argue the female Link option, you have to argue the male Zelda option, which would not at all work. Link did originate as a “link” to the player, and still is, but he was never strictly an avatar, and they’ve gone to make him less and less of a character over time.

      Aonuma also stated that he wants players to feel immersed in the world, as if they are truly Link. That argument fails miserably if Link s just an avatar for you to fit into. He’s not. He’s his own character who exists in the world.

      The better option would be to have a second playable character (who is a female) and end the argument right there. Aonuma even hinted that they might be considering implementing a co-op feature in main Zelda games (when he made the comment that he wants to reinvision Zelda and go away from the status quo, one of the things he referred to was the idea of Zelda as being an entirely single-player experience), which I think would be really great and interesting. But it would require a second playable character to be available.

      • Max Nichols

        Some interesting points in here.

        The Aonuma quote you mention actually seems to support Link being an avatar; being “truly immersed”, and feeling like “you are Link” all screams silent avatar to me.

        I think our big difference is just how we think about Link. In my mind, Link is barely a character at all; he’s just a avatar to project myself onto when I play the games. He doesn’t really have his own motivations, or his own personality. Clearly you disagree; we experience these games differently.

        On a related note, I don’t think it follows that offering a female Link options requires us to have a male Zelda. There’s no requirement that these two characters be opposite genders. And in my mind Zelda, unlike Link, IS an actual character, with dialog, motivations, etc. She has a much more fleshed out role as a character separate from the player.

        • Oscar Yasser Garcia Juallek

          ” He doesn’t really have his own motivations, or his own personality.”
          That’s factually wrong though. In many games there’s a clear driving motivation for Link. Wether is saving his childhood friend or sister(Skyward Sword, Wind Waker), or finding his sense of identity(Ocarina of Time). He also does have plenty of personality. From expressions and reactions alone, we can deduct he’s a heavy sleeper, goofy, cheerful, good with children, oblivious to love, can be very impulsive when he’s worried or specially when he’s angered, and so on. None of that is subject of my subjective perception, all of that is directly into the game.

          And Aonuma has flip flopped a lot in the matter, actually.Let alone, there are plenty canon reasons why all the triad that composes the Triforce is pretty much coded at this point.

          • Max Nichols

            Well, we’re talking about a broad spectrum using binary terms (is or isn’t a character). Yes, Link does have some actual character traits in most games after OoT, some much moreso than others. I have a whole big section in my article above that talks about this and even charts it out.

            I would argue that any silent surrogate avatar character falls on the side of “not a real character”, though obviously that’s a bit subjective and open to interpretation. It’s certainly not “factually wrong”.

            As for the canon thing: I’m not worried about it. Nintendo has a long history of making up new canon as it pleases them, even if it seems inconsistent; they’re not going to stop. Look at the mechanics of the Triforce, for instance; they’re wildly inconsistent from game to game. I just don’t care about that. And even if I did care, I can’t think of anything in the current canon that says that the gender of the hero must always be male. Unless you count “it’s always been that way” as evidene that “it must be that way”, but clearly that’s a fallacious argument. Every game in the series does something that’s never been done before.

          • Oscar Yasser Garcia Juallek

            When the emotions are specific enough to make impossible to portray the broad palette of players it IS factually wrong, or at least poignant to an actual character that isn’t built as a surrogate only. It certainly varies between protagonist to protagonist and isn’t black and white, but it DOES get to a point where saying there’s no character in mute surrogates is plain denial. Lucas has no dialogue during most of Mother 3. You can’t say me with a straight face he is no character, for instance(I do see the elephant in the room in how that little dialogue he does have makes the difference…BUT STILL. You could easily replace that dialogue with Link’s pre-scripted non-abstract reactions throughout Skyward Sword and it has a similar effect. I’m sure as heck I don’t sleep as much out of habit alone these days…nor I carve wood. I can’t afford the luxury on either of them anymore) Heck, I’d even argue in the small…like A Link Between Worlds Link being way less abstract than you’d list him…as so far I perceive more than being a fluctuation of abstraction, the constant reduction of abstraction actually seems consistent, as Link seems to be growing more and more into his own character and less as a surrogate avatar.

            As for why, there’s both Miyamoto’s statement of “a boy and a girl rising to protect Hyrule” and the fact both of the other sides ARE coded for even more arbitrary reasons, which would make the notion of messing up one part of the triad awfully inconsistent.

  • Fenrir

    Honestly my issue with the gender-neutral Link idea stems from the connection I feel from Link as a male character. He’s alwayd been a male character. He was the little boy who was inspired by Miyamoto’s dreams of adventure when he himself was a little boy. I don’t see the importance of changing the attributes of an already established character for almost 30 years to meet with, which we can honestly admit here, the gender issues of today. Samus, for instance, is one of the most badass women in gaming and personally one of my favorite characters of all time. She, at least until Other M, was a hollow character devoid of almost all personallity and could easily have been considered an avatar for the players. But if in this day in age Nintendo decided to change the game so that you could also play a male Samus the argument would be different. Stripping the strong female role away from Samus would be almost catastrophic. Taking away the boy who set off on an adventure and ended up becoming the reluctant hero would take away what makes Zelda so special to me and my sister as well. Bending to social issues in attempt to make everyone happy isn’t always the thing to do. You can have a Zelda like experience without having to change who Link is. But that’s just my opinion.

    • Yomi

      Your argument falls flat because Samus is one person, always has been in all her games (well, it’s up for debate with Other M) but Link is not one person. Link is multiple reincarnations, and allowing players to choose which gender they could play as would not change Link’s past, present, or future. Changing Samus’ gender would no longer make her Samus, an entire part of her life is being told through her games, where as when you play as Link you’re simply on one grand adventure that ends when you vanquish evil, Link’s gender plays no role in who his character is. So yes, there would be a large outcry if they added a gender option for Samus because a male Samus is not ‘Samus’, unless it were a male clone or something which would still be ridiculous.

      • Oscar Yasser Garcia Juallek

        “Link’s gender plays no role in who his character is”
        Skyward Sword and Ocarina of Time would like to have a word with you. Let alone pretty much all the three main entities of the series are gender coded. It would be plain inconsistent to just mess around with Link

        • Tony

          Your concept of gender is baffling.

          What does being male have to do with SS Link, or even OoT Link?

          • Oscar Yasser Garcia Juallek

            Both have thematic importance in how they interacted with other characters. SS Link had this rivalry with Groose for Zelda’s attention that wouldn’t work as much if it was a she(and it’s not irrelevant, it was a key catalyzer for character development).

    • Max Nichols

      Hey Fenrir,

      That’s fair! I think I understand where you’re coming from, mostly. I think that the idea of Link as the boy who picked up a sword while exploring the world around him is a powerful, important one. Clearly it is to you. I would be vehemently against the idea of changing Link’s gender to female without offering a gender selection option, for instance. That would just be swapping one issue for another.

      But I think that offering a gender selection option works. It still allows you to have the character you clearly cherish: Link, the young boy on an adventure. The experience you’re looking for would still exist. There would just be a slightly different one for someone else to enjoy if they chose.

      I’m curious to hear your thoughts.

  • TheShadowHatter

    I just want “fans” to understand that Link is an INCARNATION of the hero, so it’s completely plausible to have a female Link in future LoZ games.

    I hate all this talk about “SJW” and “equality bs” when Link having a gender option arises, because Link is the ONLY character in the Nintendo brand where it actually makes sense due to reincarnation.

    Also having the player decide whether Link is male or female in future games doesn’t suddenly erase the Hero of Time and his accomplishments, or the Hero of Winds with his accomplishments, nor the LttP Link’s accomplishments. Those Links are all established characters that will always be male. All it does is respect the lore of the LoZ series.

    • Oscar Yasser Garcia Juallek

      Yeah, because the Goddess can reincarnate always in a female and so does Demise’s curse…but oh no, Link needs diversity. I always scratch my head at that, because it DOEs make for an inconsistency to assume the incarnation of evil always has to be male, the bloodline(not even reincarnation, just the darn bloodline) of the Goddess can only bring power to females, but the hero? Meh, it can be whatever the f**k.

      • TheShadowHatter

        Well I can understand Ganondorf’s always male thing in OoT considering Gerudo’s lore, but I didn’t read up on the Goddess able to be reincarnated as female all the time.

        Link doesn’t have any reason he can’t go female except for Miyamoto’s words of “a young boy and girl will be born”, but you could take those words and apply it to make it so that if link is selected female, then zelda becomes a prince instead.

        Either way I would still play a male Link, but my issue is people trying to attack an option that respects the lore of the series.

        • Oscar Yasser Garcia Juallek

          The Holy Light in Minish Cap anyone? It’s clearly stated only the maidens of the Royal Family inherit it. What about the origin of the inheritance of the name Zelda in Zelda II?
          The more the series advances, the more this triad get’s specialized. Again, it would be inconsistent to just have Link the only one that can swap, specially since the original hero was a boy, and so his spirit makes more sense reincarnated as the same. I really don’t think it’s entirely respectful to the lore to mess around with any of these three.

          • TheShadowHatter

            Minish Cap is one game, and that one game has it’s one maiden, but that doesn’t mean future games would have anything to do with the holy light in the minish cap, or any other “gendered” items/spells/things in other games. Remember, this is option is for FUTURE games, not past ones with established Links that are male.

            I never understand people and this type of logic. I had someone telling me that in WW they garb the males in green clothes to honor the hero, and they wanted to use that as their reasoning that somehow the inhabitants of outset island know about the reincarnation of Link, but that person didn’t realize that the Outset islanders are honoring OoT Link, so it wasn’t them knowing about reincarnation so much as they were just honoring the established Link from the OoT games.

          • Oscar Yasser Garcia Juallek

            The entire heritage(name, abilities) has always depended on the gender, though. You’re basically breaking a lot of the lore with said “options in the future”(the very NAME is based on the notion of the maidens of the Royal Family).

          • TheShadowHatter

            I’d like to see what parts of the game were dependant on gender.

            also I’d like to know why changing the very name of Link in every game isn’t lore breaking in itself.

    • Koradin

      The thing is it doesn’t respected the series unless when selecting a Female link it makes Zeldas character male…and changes his name…Because If you read the end of the first page of the Hyrule historia (i guess technically the 2nd) Shigeru miyamoto literally says “Each time the world is blanketed in evil, a young boy and girl will be born.”.

      • TheShadowHatter

        That part is fine, because like you said it’s in the lore based off of Miyamoto’s own words.

        My issue is the fact that they can’t change genders at all because some people have some weird traditions with their video games.

        The lore recognizes reincarnation and it’s the base for the rest of the story, so having the option of a female link and male zelda makes sense and can be done.

  • DustyPumpking

    Hey Team Ninja didn’t ruin Samus’s character, literally all the problems were because Sakamoto, who both wrote the script and pushed for wiimote only gameplay.

    Other than that I agree that Link should have a choosable gender, there’s no good reason he shouldn’t

    • Max Nichols

      Yeah, I’ve had a couple of people point that out to me. I did not know that! I’m not convinced that we can absolve Team Ninja from guilt entirely – I’ve worked on a game dev team working with an external license, they totally had some influence over it. But they may not deserve the lion’s share of the blame.

  • NintendoPSXTheSecond

    No. I could go on about this why this is a bad idea but I’ve already done that months ago on a similar article on Nintendo Everything.

    • Max Nichols

      Would you be willing to provide a link to that comment? I think it is a good idea (obviously), but I’m always willing to be convinced.

  • DimensionalRanger

    Whoa… Looks like I came too late to witness the salt storm.
    In my opinion, we are faced with two different mindsets:
    1. People who want to live the story of the hero(ine)
    2. People who want to live something more along the lines of their own story.
    The first group are those who take the story that has an already established world with an already established hero, and take it from there.
    The members of the second group prefer having a story that they can control so that it becomes more their story, and less the story of the hero in question, these are the ones that would love a gender-customizable protagonist.

    However, the series in question is called the –>Legend <– of Zelda. A legend is a story starring an established hero in a story that is his/her own, not the story of the listener/reader. This is why the protagonist is silent, to solidify the concept that we, who are not really the protagonist, are seeing the story through the eyes of a not-too detailed avatar that still is his own/her own character, and Nintendo, although not always very keen on having a ground-breaking story, have kept that aura of a story that is the hero's, not our own.

    I am not saying gender customization would be a terrible idea, but that its addition would take the <> out of the Legend of Zelda. When you listen to a story, you do not decide what the characters do or who they are, they act and are on their own (unless you are the author).

    And yes, Aonuma-san and Miyamoto-san are saying that they are changing the conventions of the Zelda series, but that doesn’t mean they are changing the Zelda spirit.
    Again, the customization of the hero would make the Zelda experience as we know it disappear, to be replaced by something similar to the recent fire emblem games or by almost any modern RPG, the series would cease to be special in its own way, and could lose its place as the powerhouse of Nintendo.

    However, if the hero was, in a future installment, exclusively female, that would be great, I’d love to see what the female incarnation of the hero would look like. The world is set, with its hero(es) villain(s) and other people, go and live the story of this epoch’s hero.

    In essence, change to the Zelda series is good, it gives it fresh ideas that rejuvenate it, but if you tamper with its title: The Legend of Zelda, it will cease to be that, and lose what made it so special in the first place.

    Congratulations for reading this far! It’s a dying skill in the days of flashy videos. My one closing comment is this: Emily Rogers, you have unleashed a veritable typhoon upon the Internet, its power is truly awe-inspiring!

    • Obie Skjoldr Figueroa

      Legends by their nature have already defined characters. Your assumption of legends being empty slates is wrong.

      • DimensionalRanger

        I didn’t say that, ” A legend is a story starring an established hero in a story that is his/her own, not the story of the listener/reader.”

    • Max Nichols

      “Again, the customization of the hero would make the Zelda experience as we know it disappear, to be replaced by something similar to the recent fire emblem games or by almost any modern RPG, the series would cease to be special in its own way, and could lose its place as the powerhouse of Nintendo.”

      Do you think you could elaborate on why? That seems like a pretty extreme conclusion. From where I sit, the vast majority of existing Zelda games could be retrofitted with a gender selection option and still work fine, without any re-writes (with a few small exceptions, like the way the Gerudo talk to Link, or Ruto’s crush). I think it’s incredibly important for the Zelda games to maintain the core of the experience, the stuff that makes them great. I just don’t think Link being a set gender belongs on that list.

      As for the “legend” thing: I think the important aspects of the legend is what the hero did, the challenges the hero overcame. “Legend” also implies that some time has passed, some details are misty, some parts may have changed… but that, as long as the core of the legend’s story remains, it’s all OK. If anything, the word “legend” convinces me even more that the series could handle gender selection without losing anything.

      • DimensionalRanger

        First off, I must apologize for the huge amount of text I rolled out, it can get confusing.

        What I meant by that was that what makes Zelda a “legend” is the fact that it is an already established story that the player is experiencing alongside the established hero.

        The moment the player is able to change the basic elements of the story, like the hero himself/herself, the story ceases to be the classic, fairy-tale story that the Zelda spirit is based on and goes down the “choose your own adventure” or “Dungeons and Dragons” path. These ‘paths’ are more relatable to games that offer many customization options such as Skyrim or the recent Fire Emblem games. Remember, this is not our fantasy, this is the Hyrule fantasy, it is what makes Zelda, Zelda.

        And no, the customization does not ruin the story, but it makes the experience very different from the already-established story one. A great example is the difference between the two Xenoblade games: the first one was alike to a Zelda game, everything was already defined and you were living the story alongside Shulk and his friends; the second game, Xenoblade X, had a fully customizable avatar, who was truly a blank slate and really was your projection into the game, the ‘feel’ was tangibly different from the first game (both games were good, do not get me wrong!). This is what I mean by the ‘Zelda spirit’.

        But you see, the root of the problem is how much we consider Link to be an avatar and how much we consider him to be a character. I truly believe that Link is, just like the hero of a legend my grandpa would tell me before bed, a character that has been intentionally under-developed (no speech, etc.) so that the player can have some wiggle room when it comes to experiencing the story. In this fashion, the story is more “stable” if you will, but it does not impose a 100% fleshed-out character’s view of the situation at hand onto us.

        Remember: yes, a legend can be changed with time and yes, if link had been a female in past games the story would not be in shambles, but you can only listen to one version of a story at a time.

        In the end though, none of this arguing matters, the big N will be the one to decide, it knows what it wants Zelda to be.

        What I think this rumour really did was to clearly seperate the Zelda fans that focus more on the story and lore from the Zelda fans that focus more on the gameplay-related fun. I think we both know in which clan we belong, and I am absolutely fine with that difference.

        I hope everyone will be able to always enjoy Zelda in the future, Nintendo has its creative ways.

  • Vladislak

    I’m not at all opposed to a female protagonist, but I don’t see the need to change Link specifically. I find gender-bending to be a lazy practice that shows the developer doesn’t care enough about the issue to make a real effort.

    Make a female protagonist, but make her a strong independent character that can stand on her own apart from Link instead of simply being tied down to the concept of “the female Link”. Get creative and show some real effort. Some have suggested playing Zelda, and while I’m not opposed to that either, she would need some adjustments to make her a stronger character. Tetra was a step in the right direction there though.

    I also half-disagree with the statement that there have been no canon romances in Zelda, as Link and Zelda kissed in Adventure of Link, Zelda kissed Link in the linked ending to the Oracle games, and the song that plays whenever Link and Zelda are together in Skyward Sword is even titled “romance in the air”. Heck, Nintendo even released a trailer for Skyward Sword explicitly called the “romance trailer” that featured Link and Zelda.

    And that was a step in a direction I was really excited to see, to actually see a relationship like that be fleshed out a bit more. This is something lost in a gender-neutral character (well, depending on how controversial Nintendo wants to get).

    You also very briefly addressed the counter-argument “But I can play characters of opposite genders just fine.”, and dismissed it with the statement that not everyone is like that… But I really have yet to meet someone who had issues with it. In fact, not only can I identify with a female character like Terra from Final Fantasy VI, but I’m GLAD she’s a strong female character and would be angry if someone tried to change her just because they wanted her to be physically more like them.

    Which is another point, there’s something of a double-standard going on in the world today, because if someone said they were going to change Samus into a male character there would be a lot of people crying foul. Well, maybe less after what Other M did to her but you get what I mean. That may seem like a typical comment you’d get from someone who’s against this kind of thing, but it’s worth taking into consideration because it does have some merits.

    I don’t think you need someone to be similar to you at all to connect with them, in fact I feel less connected with LoZ Link than SS Link, because SS Link feels like more of an actual fleshed out character that can be sympathized with. This is despite the fact that SS Link and I actually don’t have much in common.

    People should connect with characters based on their personalities, their morals, and their actions. If they can’t get over a character not having certain physical traits then that’s a shame, but it’s also rather shallow of them. Granted everyone is different, and they’re going to connect with different
    characters differently, but it’s literally impossible to please everyone if
    you’re going to nitpick about physical appearance.

    Characters are going to be different than you, some may not like it, but that’s just how stories are told. There’s nothing wrong with that.

    So to reiterate, I’d love a female protagonist, but make her a new character. We don’t need to force changes on to the old characters to cater to everyone, because as I said, you can’t please everyone and people should be connecting on a mental and emotional level with the characters instead of just shouting “Oh no, they’re physically different from me!”.

    • Max Nichols

      Hey Vladislak, thanks for the excellent response. I appreciate you taking the time to go into so much detail here.

      I think you and I have very different relationships to the character “Link”, which is the source of our different opinions here. Link, in my mind, is not really a character at all except in a few broad-stroke details. When I’m playing a Zelda game and Link does something, I don’t think “He did that”, I think “I did that.” He’s an extension of me, the same way that a car is an extension of it’s driver (“He hit me!” vs “His car hit my car!”). This is a bit fluid; in some cutscenes in recent Zelda games like TP or SS, I think of him as an external character, whereas in most scenes and during gameplay I do not.

      RE genderbending being lazy: I don’t think of it as genderbending. Genderbending is usually a term applied to taking an existing character, and swapping gender. In the case of a Zelda game, A: I don’t think of Link as his own character, and B: each new game features a new “Link”. Given our different relationships with the character Link, it makes sense that you view it as genderbending, but I do not.

      I definitely agree that you don’t *need* to match genders with a character to empathize or identify with them. Female fans have been identifying with Link for 25 years, after all. But I do think that gender differences can add… friction to that process. For some people much more than others. In a largely subsconscious way. So this is about reducing that friction to make it easier to identify, even if it’s not strictly necessary.

      RE Samus and the double-standard: You’re absolutely right. Most of this same logic could all be applied to Samus, and there would probably be an outcry if Nintendo released a Metroid game where you could make a male Samus. I don’t really have an answer to that point.

      • Vladislak

        I suppose from that perspective I can see why you’d feel differently. That’s just not how I look at it. And that’s fine with me, the world would be a boring place if everyone thought the same.

        I do think that just adding a new female protagonist would solve most of the problems for both sides of the argument, there may be a few things here and there that either side may not be a huge fan of, but you can’t please everyone.

        Thanks for staying civil, you never know what’s going to happen when you
        post something potentially controversial on the internet. I wasn’t sure
        what to expect.

        For the record even though I don’t have quite the same opinion, it was still a good article and I did enjoy reading it.

  • Todd DuBois

    I don’t think it’s in dispute that Link is a reincarnation of “the spirit of the hero”, and that depending on the game and setting his relationships and the nature of his connection to Zelda vary. In Skyward Sword the romantic tension is really quite obvious for example, while elsewhere one could say there is more distance – or that, at least, Link more resembles the chivalrous knight defending his liege.

    Given all that, who’s to say that in this sprawling mythology Link didn’t exist as a girl now and then?

    That said, them figuring out a way to involve a playable Zelda or some other completely original character (not Linkle, too derivative) seems like an ideal. Imagine a game, for example, where the player had to switch between Link (male or female) and Zelda with their own unique abilities in order to advance through dungeons. Link can still be the focus, but wouldn’t it be nice for other people to directly matter in a game that’s not Hyrule Warriors?

  • William Stanhope

    The problem isn’t whether Link is male or female is has everything to do with the fact that just because someone is offended we change everything that is decent and good in our society. If a female Link or “Linkle” is introduced then I ask how we have until there is a trans-gender option. I personally have no issues with any choice, however do tarnish the legacy of something great because a small group of individuals have an issue with the way something is made.

    • Max Nichols

      I think you misunderstand the motivation. I don’t think anyone is offended that Link has historically been a male character. And if they were, that wouldn’t be sufficient to convince me. So no, the goal isn’t to sooth the temper of offended people.

      The goal is to make the experience of playing a Zelda game even better for players who want to identify with their avatar more strongly, and would have an easier time of it with a female option.

      • TheShadowHatter

        you hit the nail on the head.

        plus the lore respects the male/female option of link due to reincarnation.

  • Obie Skjoldr Figueroa

    The biggest thing with this is… Link is now, like it or not, a male character. If done right, fine. This is a very, very, convoluted issue that stems deeper than what you’ve gone into. Legend of Zelda was originally a coming of age adventure meant for young boys. It was that missing link between youth and adulthood. It mimicked the traditions that have long been absent from the majority of society. (The bar mitzvah/ bat mitzvah, the native American spirit quests, sweet 15/16) I’m not saying it’s the direct equivalent; but it was the hope of Mr. Miyamoto that it would fall in line with something of that nature. No one anticipated girl gamers would approach the numbers they do now, no one foresaw the need for a relatable protagonist in the legend of Zelda games. It’s a fantasy story, a legend. I.e. Fitting within that scope, it’s not needed to provide a gender option. That’s like arguing that little red riding hood should have a boy in the main role, or David being a girl. The legend of Zelda is exactly that: the story. If we were an omniscient bystander, following along, I could understand the need for a gender select option… Instead, we’re LIVING the legend as those characters did. The game is merely the medium for that story. You mentioned Harry Potter, I didn’t see anyone needing a female protagonist in those games. Is it only acceptable to declare the “need” for a gender relatable character because his legend was not dictated in text beforehand? In which case, Link as a character has been, the manga, other books, the historia itself, the very legend in the games, accepted as canon, all depict him as a male. This shouldn’t be a call for a gender option in the legend of Zelda, but rather a redesign of the series- something fitting. As I said before, I’m not opposed to the idea of gender selection provided it was done right. Then I propose: finish Link’s legend arc. Let him be remembered as he was: a young boy who grew into a young man, molded by his experiences. Usher in a new era of games, with a new protagonist, one not dictated to being male in countless prior iterations. There is plenty of places to plug those games in without affecting the core legend of Zelda traditional experiences.

  • The Lavender Swirlix

    screw the haters if nintendo wants to add gender selection I’m all for it, its literally not going to change anything about the story or the gameplay. Link is a pretty blank slate as you stated in most games so why does it matter. As for the people saying it will mess with Link’s romantic relationships, Link has never really had much of a romantic attraction that we know of to anyone, minus what is implied in SS, and they are not the same links in every game, so for all we know he could be asexual, so go pound sand, you’re literally fighting over something that won’t affect you in any way. This is 2016 people theres no reason for there not to be character customization if nintendo wants to add it. And if they don’t, thats fine too. Stop getting your pants in a knot over this stuff…

  • Russ

    And Princess Zelda could be Prince Zelda! Tingle…. ommm, leave ‘him’ be.

    • Max Nichols

      Hah. I wouldn’t want to go crazy – gender swap everyone in he game or anything!

      I don’t even necessarily think that Zelda should switch. Zelda is a much more established and detailed character than Link, in most games – she gets dialog, for instance! She’s not a blank slate audience surrogate like he is.

  • jay

    When I was a little boy 27 yrs ago I use to play like I was link and fight Gannon and yell out zelda like the old commercial . To me it’s very romantic in all aspects . I like the comment on building a strong women character in the series, or using any of the strong women characters in the series. Like impa, could you imagine playing her and her taking you to realms you would have never imagine. It could honestly be the threading to some of the story’s back grounds with how there pieced out.

  • Max Nichols

    Hey, just saying: There are a lot of excellent replies here. Great discussion. Thank for playing, everyone.

  • The Missing Link

    I know I’ve mentioned this personally to you, Max, but I figure this is a good place to mention this again:

    I agree with the essential premise of everything you’ve said, but I agree with hesitations. Those hesitations have to do with the fact that I want the Zelda series to transform itself in many directions simultaneously, some of which feel more mutually exclusive. For me personally, I find myself driven by games with a deep sense of story. I find myself playing lots of Assassin’s Creed, The Witcher 3, Tomb Raider, and Uncharted where characters are rich and vibrant and have tangible interactions with the world. To be honest, this is my dream for the Zelda franchise (though I know not everyone would be as equally passionate about this). I want the world of Hyrule to mean something. And while it’s technically not impossible to have a gender-selectable/avatar-selectable protagonist in said games, I feel that abstracting away Link’s character to its bare essences would sacrifice this possible direction. Don’t get me wrong; I’d still love to see it, but I don’t think Nintendo would be able or willing to do both in the same bound.

    So that said, I don’t know if Zelda U will take a full step or even a half step towards this “high-fidelity” experience. In many ways, I do feel like Zelda (and Nintendo in general?) lags behind the super-rich detail of a world (though Golden Sun and Fire Emblem visibly remain exceptions to that rule). So if we’re going to get a lower fidelity version of Link to play in the next Zelda game, I cannot see a real harm in it. Nintendo might, however; Link is one of their pieces of IP, and diluting Link away might sacrifice some of the “star appeal” to them. Granted, they do have Linkle now (who granted so far isn’t exactly a pure substitute for Link, but you know they could always rebrand her as something more in future games), so maybe they’ve got more ample opportunity than they used to? 🙂

  • Shona

    As someone who began playing Zelda from the first game onwards, I used to view Link very much as a character of his own. The supporting comic books and cartoons did the same thing. For a long time, Link was my favourite Zelda character. And then as the games evolved and technology evolved, I found that Link’s character wasn’t evolving. I wanted to know more about him and his story, but he began to take a back seat to other characters. I think Twilight Princess was the first game that really frustrated me in this regard.

    Nintendo has been emphasizing the fact that Link is the player’s “link” into the game, and I thought at first that was because they were worried about doing anything too drastic with him that would upset the fandom (such as giving him more of a voice) than the fact that he’s an avatar. But honestly, if this is the way that Nintendo is going to go — that they want to make Link an avatar and make him this generic-vague-reincarnation-of-ye-old-hero hero — then why not allow the players to customize him? Who’s to say that the hero wouldn’t be reincarnated as a woman, or with any number of differences? I’d absolutely love to see and play as a female hero in that case.

    Otherwise I want Link to be a fully fleshed out character in his own right, the same as any number of RPGs and adventure games with strong protagonists such as The Witcher.

    • Max Nichols

      You want Link to be a fully fledged character, with voice and personality and dialog? I shudder at the thought, hah. Few things are more horrifying to me.

      It would be a really hard sell – because we’ve had 25 (30 now?) years of Link as a silent hero, there are a LOT of years-old expectations and personal interpretations of the character, and some of them are probably wildly divergent. You could never give him the level of character you’re talking about without alienating *most* of those interpretations; Nintendo would have to break a lot of eggs to make that omelette.

      It would probably color perceptions of older versions of Link,too, similar to the way that once you see a movie adaptation of a book, it’s hard to unsee the actors when you read the book again.

      • The Missing Link

        But yet the Link of Twilight Princess seems incredibly disjoint with the rest of the world because of that entire blank slate personality. The world of Twilight Princess is entirely high-fidelity, and this is partially because of the HD nature of the game but also because that there is a greater emphasis on fleshing out the plot, setting, and characters of that world. Link, however, remains entirely abstract, floating through the world with smiles, grunts, and sighs. While technically Link has some implicit characteristics just as he does in every other Zelda game, the contrast between his companion Midna–a finely articulated character–and Link–who isn’t–feels a little lopsided.

        Yes, technically we’ve had 30 years of Link being a silent hero. But to spin the coin the other way, we’ve also had 30 years of Link being strictly male.
        It would seem to me to be equally bold and courageous to do both things. Either way, you’re changing conventions. Either way, you’re daring to be different. Either way, there are risks involved. Besides, enough games have explored this; enough games have given a multitude of voice options; I don’t think the risk is as perilous as you make it out to be…

        • Max Nichols

          I agree with your read of TP. I think there are two obvious strong solutions: Make Link a non-silent hero, which is… unthinkable to me, or make the world more abstract or stylized. Obviously I prefer the latter option. I’d rather have another Wind Waker than a TP with Link talking. A thousand times over.

          The big difference between what I suggest (providing a gender option) and what you suggest (giving him a voice), is that my suggestion only adds options, it does not take any away. The option to be a male Link is preserved. The option to preserve his role as a silent surrogate cannot coexist with your suggestion; that option can only come at the expense of the Link we’ve always known.

          Granted, I also think that they could have just done a better job with their writing and cinematography in their cutscenes. I just finished my first replay of TP in 10 years, and there was definitely room for better execution without resorting to changing the style or the character.

        • Max Nichols

          I agree on Twilight Princess. Link’s silence, facial animations, and vocalizations felt out of place and somewhat goofy in that world and game. I think there are two strong solutions: turn Link into a fully-fledged character, or make the game more stylized. Obviously I prefer the latter; the former is unthinkable to me. I loathe the idea. It would be so alienating. I’d rather have another Wind Waker or even just a repeat of TP’s goofy Link than a TP with a talking Link.

          It’s worth mentioning that we wouldn’t need to be AS stylized, or stylized in the same way, as The Wind Waker to solve this problem. There are many other approaches. We could go in a more anime direction, for instance. I’ve always wanted a Zelda game that looked like the stained glass WW art, or like LttP concept art.

          I think it’s a false comparison to equate a gender selection option with making Link talk. The gender selection option is purely additive; it’s an option, but the old style of experience – male Link – is still available. We’re not taking that away. It’s much harder to provide both silent and talking Link in the same game.

          Finally, though those are the two nuclear options to solve the TP goofy Link problem, I think there’s plenty of room for Nintendo to do a better job executing on writing, cinematography in cutscenes, and Link’s sounds. I just finished replaying TP (the first time in a decade!), and I was struck by how they made many choices that HIGHLIGHTED Link’s odd silence, like camera cuts to his face right after another character asks him a question, etc. They just straight up did a bad job with that.

  • GreenLink

    I see Link as CHARACTER. I don’t ever thing when playing a Zelda game, that I am somehow Link, or that Link is me. it doesn’t matter how blank you make him, I still see him as him and me as me.
    yes I experience and explore the world through him, by controlling him, tellin him where to go and what to do. as I see it he has the ability to do any of the things I make him do in the game, otherwise I wouldn’t be able to make him do those things. I myself would likely not be able to do those things, but I manage to successfully make him do those thing, because he was already able to do those things and I told him to.
    I see him as his own character that would be able to go off and save Hyrule, defeating evil and all that even if I didn’t control him. but controlling him allows me to have a part in it. he lets me control him or tell him what to do, and in exchange I get to go on his grand adventures with him. yah if Link dies as I’m controlling him and I get a game over, I say “I failed”. I failed to beat the game I’m currently playing, and I failed Link. also I admit, Link is a blond haired, blue eyed, tall and skinny left handed male. My hair is kinda light brown now, but is was blond for years, I’m ambidextrous because I “wasn’t allowed” to be left handed in elementary school, but I am naturally left handed. I am also tall and skinny, with blue eyes. but I wouldn’t say I look like link. and even if I did, I would say it as “YES! AWSOME! HURAY! I look like Link!” not “Link looks like me”.
    I see like as an awesome, cool, wonderfully heroic character that I want to be like. he is Link. changing him would ruin the experience for me. I wouldn’t be going on an adventure with my idol Link anymore, I’d be traveling around Hyrule with some other person that’s trying to do Links job.
    I feel like having the ability to make Link a girl, would be changing Link, who and what he is, making him something else. he wouldn’t quite be the awesome guy I’ve always known him to be, he’d become some doll that anybody could change however they like. no I’d say make a new character. make some new female character that people can play if they like, someone separate from Link. let Link keep being his own thing.

  • jibaycx

    I’m all for a female Link since two years, and this article is the best I read about it, thank you!
    Everything -and more- was said 🙂

  • programninja

    Contrary to some people’s opinion, it isn’t that hard to do opposite gender crushes. While Nintendo is probably too big to have the same dialog both genders for all characters, they can make a character a friend if you choose one character and they can have a crush if you are the other gender.

  • bob

    God, its a game… Get over it… What’s next? Mario and Luigi have to be renamed to Marla and Louise? Because they don’t “identify” with someone??? Jesus h Christ don’t we have more important things to worry about?

    • jibaycx

      Well, if you care about “important things” (like saving the world from billionaires), a website about Zelda isn’t really “the place to be” 😉
      Also, for your information: Mario and Luigi (and Samus, and Lara Croft…) are characters, Link (and all his incarnations) are most an avatar than a character like the writer explain if you read this article.
      You’re welcome :3

  • thecityismychurch

    No.

  • Napsu67

    Nooo, please don’t make Link a female.. He’s always been a male and there’s no need to make him a female just to please some feminists. I wouldn’t want to see a Male Lara Croft, she’s always been a female, and keep her a female (Uncharted isn’t the same)

    • Napsu67

      Or Samus, don’t make Samus a male. She’s always been a female so i would not want a male Samus, and it’d look stupid, same goes for a female Link. You got Linkle already, be happy.

  • Andrew Defty

    Link is too ingrained into peoples minds as the dude in green (or that Zelda bloke! lol!) to be changed really, like Gannondorf and Zelda.

    If you change the gender of Link, you would have to change the gender of Zelda and Gannondorf. But, none of that matters as they are eternally bound to be reincarnated every “X” amount of years as the “same people!”…

    Yawn! Time to get off this topic now…