Thoughts on Linkle and Half Measures
This article is mostly a reaction to an article posted on Kill Screen by Jess Joho titled “Nintendo still won’t make Link a girl, but they’ll put him in a dress and call him Linkle.” In the article Jess puts forth her opinions and reactions to Nintendo’s announcing Linkle, a new female character largely based on Link, as a playable character in the upcoming Hyrule Warriors Legends game.
I’ll admit that I don’t know a ton about the process that went into creating Linkle. Most of the information available about her comes from a Japanese-language art book for Hyrule Warriors. What I gather is that she was a character concept that Omega Force created but abandoned. However, it appears that the positive fan reaction to the concept art made them reconsider that decision and re-include her for the 3DS port.
Ms. Male Character
My only real point of disagreement with Jess Joho is that I don’t understand why she’d call Linkle a Ms. Male Character. Linkle is visually very similar to Link, sure, but she has a different armory, a different set of moves, and a different play style. From all of the 5 or 10 seconds we see of her, she has her own story involving different characters and perhaps different motivations.
If it weren’t for the name – if she were described as just being another person from Hyrule – you wouldn’t be able to make that leap. (Let’s be honest, by the way, this shouldn’t be the first time there was more than one person in all of Hyrule looking to take up the fight against Ganon. This hypothetical really should’ve happened by now.)
For the purposes of a game like Hyrule Warriors, it’s a good thing that she’s different – that specific game thrives on variety.
A Female Link
Here’s where Jess Joho’s article gets a little confusing for a few paragraphs if, like me, you miss the point at first. Although she clearly does not want a Ms. Male Character she does want a female Link.
It’s important to remember that one of the subtle ways in which a Ms. Male Character is different from gender swapping a character is that by creating a new character you don’t alter the original character. It’s a way to try to have your cake and eat it too.
One of the problems with that is that if there are two different characters, one will be considered the primary while the other is the alternate. Inevitably our culture assumes the female character to be the alternate.
This is fundamentally different from having gender representation be a selectable attribute for a single character. This, I believe, is the issue at which Joho’s stabbing.
I would point out, though, that there hasn’t actually been a real Zelda game released since fans started pushing for a female Link en masse after the E3 2015 Wii U reveal. Linkle’s inclusion in Hyrule Warriors Legends is a half-measure, but there’s still time to continue applying pressure for the next game.
Link’s Gender Doesn’t Matter
I’ve played a lot of Zelda games and while I’m sure I can still get schooled by a superfan I have at least seen enough to know that Link’s gender never seems to have any sort of impact on the games or the stories they tell.
There are always those moments where we, the players, could insert our own assumptions – but in the actual stories there are platonic friendships, familial relations, and spiritual bonds.
It’s way too easy to say “since Link’s gender doesn’t matter we don’t need to talk about it” and as much as I don’t want to hate on Eiji Aonuma, that’s how I interpreted his remarks on the subject.
It’s simple, though: if it doesn’t matter then the developers don’t have to fight back against the fans’ requests. Just make gender a user-selectable option, since it’s all the same to you.
What Would It Actually Take?
The only real argument against allowing players to select Link’s gender is the amount of work that would go into making the option. I want to explore this specifically because it’s such a short list.
Character Design: Done. Linkle looks fine – but Link is so androgynous (and wears such gender non-specific clothing) that you could really just alter his proportions.
Text System Alterations: Players are already allowed to choose their own names. Now they just need to be able to choose their own pronouns.
Voice Acting: A voice actress would need to be brought in to record Link’s assorted grunts and yells. Luckily there’s no dialog so this should be a very easy task.
Character Animation: Link’s motions aren’t inherently masculine. While the Japanese tendency is to have separate animations for male and female characters, I think Link’s utilitarian motions would obviate that need.
The other animation concern is with contact and sight lines. Link is often portrayed as being about the same height as Zelda – so a female Link is entirely natural at the same height. Her arms and legs would be the same length (for stepping on and reaching things). There should be no need for any adjustments there.
Story and Script: Since Link never really seems to be involved in any sort of romance, there’s probably very little in the next game that would need to change.
If you gender-swapped Ocarina of Time, for example, the only unintended implication is that Princess Ruto is bisexual which – hey – maybe that’s totally normal for imaginary fantasy fish people. If you really were desperate to avoid that implication, suggest that she can’t tell Hylian genders apart (after all, different species).
Just don’t lose focus – Zelda games are not about romance. They are about (really obviously) bravery and wisdom prevailing over raw unbridled power.
Will They Do It?
Perhaps I’m being too much of an optimist but I’m hoping that the fan theories from last year’s E3 coupled with the positive reception for Linkle will drive Nintendo to make this change in the next Zelda game.
What would they lose? I can’t think of anything at all. The most vocal of troglodyte sexist gamers have all but abandoned Nintendo platforms for being “too kiddy.”
What would they gain? A lot of good will and respect, specifically with women who play games (which we now know to be greater than 50% of the console market). They’d get a lot of good press, especially from the mainstream media who are generally uninterested in covering video games most of the time. They also can make and sell two amiibos and two plush dolls and two collectible statues and two posters, and so on and so on.
I’m hoping they’re just waiting to reveal this at the next E3 (though I seriously have nothing but my own optimistic speculation to go on). The only reason I have to believe this will happen is that it seems like such an obvious slam dunk.