Male (Is Not) Default: Exploring the Gender Disparity

the-legend-of-zelda-wii-u
Nintendo trolled everyone at E3 by cheekily pointing out: “No one said that was Link.” They clarified shortly after that it is indeed Link, and he is male.

Last summer, right before E3 2014, a lot of rumors started circulating on the internet that the new Legend of Zelda game for the Wii U was going to introduce a huge change that would shake up the entire series. If the comments online were anything to go by, I was not the only person whose immediate reaction to this news was to scream at the top of my lungs: “FEMALE PROTAGONIST!” We were all wrong, of course. When the game’s promo trailer was released at E3, the “big change” turned out to be that the new Zelda game would be open-world as opposed to the more linear, controlled design used almost exclusively in the rest of the series. However, Link’s new, somewhat androgynous design emboldened many of the vocal “FemLink” fans to press the question: Why couldn’t we have a Legend of Zelda game where Link was female, or where Zelda was the main playable character?

Of course, that’s such a crazy idea it couldn’t possibly work, and those who dared to voice it online were quickly shouted down by those who disagreed. “You can’t change a character that already exists!” was a frequent complaint—this, despite the fact that Link and Zelda have gone through no fewer than six major character redesigns apiece, and the series has a timeline so convoluted it’s now a multi-branched tree with three different parallel universes. The retort that really bothered me, though, was the stock response: “What would be the point of making Link female?” What would be the point? We have talked over and over again about the point of gender representation in popular media. Right now I want to ask a slightly different question: What was the point in making the hero of The Legend of Zelda male in the first place? Why are we treating “male” as the default?

Male-as-default is not a phenomena restricted to games with a recognizable male hero as the face of the franchise, or to games released as part of a mainstream series. It’s widespread even in games with a selection of male and female characters, in games with one single protagonist whose gender is selected by the player, and in games where the player’s gender is not immediately specified and is largely unimportant.

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Gameplay Re-Write: Defending the Art of Fanfiction

WoW, World of WarcraftI love reading about as much as I do gaming, perhaps even more. I mean, for the longest time books were my only friends, and sad as that is, I was okay with that. Stories fill a vital part of the human soul as evidenced by how big the storytelling business is, with movies, books, and games—just to name a few. One of the things I have found interesting about this interest in narrative is the fact that some games have started to publish books based on them. To my knowledge, there are four Mass Effect books and there are World of Warcraft novels. I am sure there are more out there. Games that involve a degree of storytelling and narrative structure make it easy to create stories off them because everything you need is right there. However, one of the more fun ways stories come out of games is through fanfiction.

Fanfiction, which is unauthorized fiction based on something, is a way for fans to further engage with the stories or games they love. It enables them to expand the universe, continue to interact with the characters, and perhaps to fix whatever issues people have with the plot or other aspects. It creates a nice blank canvas where you can write in alternate universes, or stay canon and see where you can take things. That is one of the reasons I write fanfiction—so I can let my imagination take off with characters I am familiar with because, in a lot of ways, I am not done with these characters. I want more, but the games just don’t give it.

There are a number of sites on the ‘net that have fiction. There are LiveJournal communities dedicated to certain games or pairings, Archive of Our Own is growing in popularity as of late, and if you head on over to Fanfiction.net you can see just how many stories there are in the games section. It’s pretty mind-boggling. There are hundreds of different games represented on the site. It tracks any game that has at least one story uploaded. To give you an idea of what is popular, the top five games in terms of numbers of stories are: Pokémon, Kingdom Hearts, Final Fantasy VII, Sonic the Hedgehog, and Legend of Zelda. Mass Effect is sixth and Dragon Age seventh, and there are many more.

Continue reading “Gameplay Re-Write: Defending the Art of Fanfiction”

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