Beyond Damsels & Villains in ‘A Tale of Two Rulers’

A Tale Of Two Rulers

[Editor’s Note: This piece was inspired by “We Could Be Heroes: Revisionist Gaming & Representation.” It’s recommended that you read it first!]

In March 2013, media critic Anita Sarkeesian launched the video webseries Tropes vs. Women in Video Games where she argues that games are subject to gendered biases. The Legend of Zelda is one of the gaming franchises Sarkeesian critiques in the first episode of Tropes vs. Women, as many of the Zelda titles contain classic examples of a trope that she refers to as “damseling.”

Damseling, in its purest form, is the process by which a woman is rendered inert and thereby positioned as an object that will motivate the player character—a man—to complete his quest. The point of the game is therefore to rescue the damsel in distress, who is subordinate to the hero and is not allowed to rescue herself, generally because she is, as Sarkeesian puts it, “Stranded in a hostile area, trapped, desperately ill, or suffering any number of terrible fates where she needs help to survive.”

In the Zelda series, Princess Zelda is frequently such a damsel, as she is variously kidnapped, imprisoned, placed into an enchanted sleep, crystalized, zombified, and turned to stone. The player’s job, as a young man named Link, is to acquire a weapon powerful enough to defeat the villainous Ganondorf and save Zelda, a narrative that forms the core of the eponymous “Legend of Zelda.”

What do players who are women make of Zelda’s role in this story? Is it necessary to take the plot elements of the series at face value, or are other interpretations possible? How do the games look from Zelda’s perspective?

And what about Ganondorf? What does it mean to be cast as the villain, unable to argue your own side of the story? Are the motivations of “the bad guys” ever so clear cut that we, as players, should feel justified in murdering them? Are there other ways to resolve the conflicts they represent?

Continue reading “Beyond Damsels & Villains in ‘A Tale of Two Rulers’”

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We Could Be Heroes: Revisionist Gaming & Representation

Mass Effect: Andromeda

I’ve been revising and reinterpreting video games for as long as I’ve been playing them. As a kid, I grew up with only a handful of computer games like Math Blaster, LEGO Island, and The Amazon Trail, which my brother and I played over and over and over again until we knew the games by heart and ran out of things to do and places to explore. And when that happened, we’d start making up our own stories to revitalize the gameplay.

LEGO Island in particular got an extensive backstory. The police were secretly evil and in cahoots with the Brickster, and Pepper and a couple other people were leading a rebellion of some kind—but I digress. We got what entertainment we could out of these games, and when they came up short, we stepped in and made up our own additions.

Fast-forward to college. I just played The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time and Portal for the first time, and now I’m completely hooked on video games and thirsting for more. But the gaming world is big and aggressive and overwhelming, and I have no idea how to find more games that I like. So I did what I always do when I’m trying to figure out where to start a new game—I began looking for protagonists like me. Specifically: women.

Seeing a key part of my identity made trying a new game less of a gamble, because I assumed that a game with a woman as the protagonist was probably made by people with at least the absolute baseline understanding that women are people, not objects, and have stories worth telling. (Alas, if only this were reliably true.) I discovered Tomb Raider, Mirror’s Edge, and Beyond Good and Evil.

I still clearly remember Googling “Can I play as a woman in Skyrim?” one day because the promo pictures only ever showed a man. “Yes,” Yahoo Answers helpfully informed me, “You can have boobs.” Um … thanks, Internet. You’re really making me feel welcome in the gaming community.

Continue reading “We Could Be Heroes: Revisionist Gaming & Representation”

Can We Live in a World Where Link’s Gender Doesn’t Matter?

The Legend of Zelda

All of us Nintendo players have shared that moment. A parent, an ignorant friend, or a well-meaning geriatric interrupts the smooth movement of our joysticks and the exacting strikes of our button-mashed attacks to ask about the hero in green. “So that’s Zelda?”

“No,” we manage in-between annoyance at their intrusion and surprise at their utter lack of basic knowledge. “That’s Link. Zelda’s a Princess.” Link’s a hero. Zelda’s a princess. Link’s a boy. Zelda’s a girl. These are as seemingly established in The Legend of Zelda universe as the quest for the Triforce or the need for wisdom and courage. Their roles are as elemental as the Goddesses.

I was eight when Ocarina of Time came out. After playing at a friend’s house, my mother let us (my two brothers and I) rent it from Blockbuster as a special treat for doing well at piano lessons. While we grew up with computers and the internet before other kids, consoles were something we did not own or have any games for until far after our friends. Even then, they were borrowed games that we always had to return.

My parents divorced when I was young, and I spent half my adolescence at my mother’s house and half at my father’s. That meant borrowed games and a Nintendo 64 at one place and a PlayStation (later PS2), a fully upgraded computer, and seemingly endless PC games at the other. It also meant that I played games with my brothers and our friends on the 64, but lived a solitary gamer’s life at the other house, each of us on our own machines.

Nintendo games have always been a shared experience for me.

Continue reading “Can We Live in a World Where Link’s Gender Doesn’t Matter?”

Recognition Matters: Why Linkle Is Still Important & Valid

Linkle

I’m happy right now. In my first article for FemHype, I nerded out about how awesome having a girl Link would be, and as of November 12th’s Nintendo Direct, we know that she’s gonna be in Hyrule Warriors Legends … sort of. Linkle is officially recognized as a separate character, existing alongside the original Link. In fact, some criticize the inclusion of Linkle as an example of the terribly named “Ms. Male Character” trope and not the actual spirit of the hero reborn as a girl. For the unfamiliar, according to Zelda lore, Link isn’t always assumed to be the same exact character from game to game, but different incarnations of the hero.

It’s pretty obvious that Linkle is meant to be girl Link in the real-world context the game exists in, not to mention the Timey Wimey plot of Hyrule Warriors would certainly make the simultaneous existence of multiple Links possible. Young Link is already in the Hyrule Warriors DLC, and Toon Link is joining the party along with Linkle in Hyrule Warriors Legends. 

I admit, I wish Linkle had been called Link, since it would fit in super nicely with my personal interpretation of Zelda’s main character, but overall, my response to that criticism is a shrug. Right now, I want to focus on the positives. A few months ago, we didn’t have Linkle except in the form of concept art for a character dropped from the original Hyrule Warriors, and we didn’t have Link wearing the Legendary Dress and Cheer Outfit in Triforce Heroes. I couldn’t have imagined we’d be this close to actually canonical girl Link this soon, so I’m celebrating.

Continue reading “Recognition Matters: Why Linkle Is Still Important & Valid”

‘Tri Force Heroes’ & Trans Girl Link: The Necessity of Visibility

The Legend of Zelda

Did you know there’s this thing where people question the legitimacy of a trans person’s gender? (And I’m not talking about people who insist everyone is the gender they’re assigned at birth.) I didn’t know until I came out as trans. It’s like another layer of transphobia, one that was harder for me to detect because it can came from self-identified allies, fellow trans individuals, and even from within myself. It’s a myth perpetuated by a simplistic and damaging definition of transgender identities. According to this misunderstanding, trans women have the characteristics of heteronormative cis women and have interests in things that are considered feminine. This is one of the main obstacles I have had to struggle with since coming to understand myself as trans, and it is part of the reason I did not come to that realization until my mid-20s. 

For a long time, I thought maybe I was a girl, but, on the other hand, I loved video games. They were my favorite pastime and they were a “boy thing,” so I probably wasn’t a girl after all. If you’re a cis woman that’s enthusiastic about video games, you might be labeled as a ‘tomboy’ or ‘one of the guys’ since video games, despite our best efforts, are still largely considered a boy zone. If you’re a trans woman and you have that same enthusiasm—and you’re already pressured to fit the feminine mold of a trans girl—it will feel like the ‘tomboy’ label and the ‘trans woman’ identity cancel each other out, so you’re just a boy. 

We know that video games are not exclusively for boys, but the idea that they are a boys-only area is still prevalent. Reminders are important for us to claim the truth that they are for us—especially for kids who are just discovering gaming and will soon discover exclusionary entitlement in games culture if they haven’t already. Positive representation of girl characters in video games are a good symbolic reminder for us.

Continue reading “‘Tri Force Heroes’ & Trans Girl Link: The Necessity of Visibility”

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