Why Ganondorf Was Wrong in ‘The Wind Waker’

The Wind Waker

Perhaps the most interesting thing about The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker is that, as the player, it’s not your job to prevent the end the world. Rather, your goal is to ensure an apocalypse that has already occurred is not reversed. In an ironic role-reversal, it’s the villain of the game, Ganondorf, who wants to save the world by correcting a cataclysmic ecological disaster. He is not wrong to do so. Why, then, is he the villain?

The Wind Waker encourages the player to understand that the natural world must be allowed to transform itself at its own pace without drastic human intervention. Ganondorf is not wrong for wanting to save the world, but the deeper message of The Wind Waker is that the world does not, in fact, need to be saved.

The Wind Waker has a backstory that is surprisingly dark and complicated for a game with such cute graphics. It’s difficult to explain how the apocalypse that proceeds the game happened, but suffice it to say that, because of an environmental apocalypse, the once-flourishing land of Hyrule lies beneath a seemingly endless body of water referred to only as “the Great Sea.” No one remembers the ancient kingdom, and people live on small islands rising from the waves.

Link’s journey begins on one such island, appropriately named Outset Island. A giant bird suddenly appears and kidnaps his sister Aryll, so he hitches a ride with a passing gang of pirates who deliver him to another island called “the Forsaken Fortress,” which is rumored to serve as the base of operations of someone searching for girls with pointed ears — a marker of the ethnic heritage of the royal Hylian race.

The master of the Forsaken Fortress is Ganondorf, and he is in fact searching for the descendent of Princess Zelda. Before Hyrule was flooded, the Hylian kings and queens guarded a magical artifact called the Triforce, which was said to have the power to grant the wishes of anyone who touched it. Knowing that Zelda’s descendent will be able to lead him to the Triforce, Ganondorf scours the Great Sea for her, hoping to use the Triforce to make the waters of the Great Sea vanish. Link’s sister turns out to not be Zelda’s descendent, but this has nothing to do with the boy’s desire to rescue her, and so his quest begins.

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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?

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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.

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The Room Where It Happens: The Temple of Time From ‘The Legend of Zelda’

The Legend of Zelda

[Editor’s NoteBritish spellings have been preserved upon request.]

There’s no denying that The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time is one of the most enduring games ever created. Even if you haven’t played it, you probably recognise its characters, locations, and music. But, as in many games, there is one area that encapsulates the whole experience for me—a place where everything came together, a place that I think of immediately when the game comes to mind, and a place that serves as a microcosm of what makes the game great. Examining those areas or levels is the intention of this series: “The Room Where It Happens.”

Even though I played Ocarina of Time long after it originally came out, I didn’t know anything about it. When my sister and I played together, I would use the controller and she would tell me where to go and what to do, and we slowly giggled our way through this Hyrule adventure during the course of one summer.

Following the opening, player character Link is tasked with collecting three spiritual stones. This is a hefty quest, requiring one to beat three dungeons complete with puzzles and boss fights. Since we also spent plenty of time just exploring the world and were generally playing in short bursts with lots of time away from the game, this felt like a long undertaking.

When we finally had three glittering gems to show for it, I was pleased, but also disappointed. We had succeeded; the stones would open the Temple of Time, allowing the power of the mystical Triforce kept within to defeat the evil in the world of Hyrule. Great! But my sister and I wouldn’t have anything to play together anymore.

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