Nintendo and Wasted Opportunity

by Christopher David Lawton

zelda-breath-of-the-wildLike most Nintendo fans, I watched the live Treehouse stream yesterday with equal parts joy and excitement to finally see some of the gameworld in the upcoming Legend of Zelda, awesomely named “Breath of the Wild.” I love me some Zelda, and I got goosebumps as I watched the stream and saw Link interacting with his world in new and fresh ways. Needless to say, I am a Legend of Zelda fan from way back, and “Breath of the Wild” looks to be something radical and unique, the breath (of the wild) of fresh air the series has needed for so long.

I am excited to play this game, is what I’m trying to say.

But that excitement was tempered quite quickly, however, when producer Eiji Aonuma spoke with Kotaku about why the game would not feature a gender-swapped Link, something that was rumored in the months leading up to this year’s E3. I’m not going to take Nintendo to task for not including the female-option for Link, though I probably should. It’s not just a wasted opportunity, it’s a defiance of an inclusive culture that all video game companies should strive for. Nintendo has no excuse for this now since they already gave us “Linkle,” a female Link counterpart, in Hyrule Warriors. I’m not going to take Nintendo to task for making the game they wanted to make, because ultimately, they are free to make their game however they wish.

I will, however, take Nintendo to task for the God-awful reason they left the option out of the game.

According to Aonuma, they considered it, but ultimately decided against it. The reason? Aonuma told Kotaku, “You know there’s the idea of the Triforce in the Zelda games we make. The Triforce is made up of Princess Zelda, Ganon and Link. Princess Zelda is obviously female. If we made Link a female we thought that would mess with the balance of the Triforce. That’s why we decided not to do it.” Aonuma also told Gamespot that Nintendo had considered making a game with Princess Zelda as the lead character, but decided against it, because if Zelda is the main character, “what is Link going to do?”

At first glance, these responses feel almost laughable. I mean, they’re silly statements, and Aonuma clearly needs a better publicist. Balance of the Triforce? The Triforce is a fantasy concept created by you. You can do whatever the heck you want with it, and it will make sense, because as a storyteller, it is your job to make it make sense. And if Zelda is the main character, what would Link do? Any number of things. In fact, here are a few ideas for future Legend of Zelda games. You can totally use them, Nintendo. I don’t even need credit.

  • Prince Link gets kidnapped by Ganon, and Zelda, the blacksmith’s daughter, has to rescue him.
  • Princess Zelda feels the call for adventure, and she just goes and does it. Who cares what Link does?
  • Link gets stuck waiting for his Octorok steak at a restaurant, so Zelda saves the world this time.

There, I just thought of three ideas, and I don’t even work for Nintendo. Nintendo, you’re welcome.

link1While this is all fun, and I personally find the idea of Link stuck at a restaurant hilarious, it’s important to note that underneath the silliness, Aonuma’s words reveal a very troubling perspective within the higher ups in the Mushroom Kingdom. Remarks like these further cement the idea of the male hero as the default. Aonuma can’t imagine a Legend of Zelda game in which Link does nothing, because he can’t imagine a game in which the male Link is not the hero. You could argue that this is simply because most Legend of Zelda games feature Link as the hero, but again, this isn’t set in stone. This is fiction, this is fantasy. As the creators, Nintendo can literally do whatever they want within the narrative, they can tell whatever story they desire. The concept of the default male hero is so ingrained within video game culture, however, that Aonuma — and, according to him, the staff that worked on the game — couldn’t figure out what a game could possibly look like that didn’t adhere to that standard, so they gave up on the idea, and in doing so, further pushed an antiquated ideal of male default.

This is all troubling from a company that gave us Samus Aran, quite possibly the most famous video game heroine in history. Though, considering her last real outing, Other M, maybe it isn’t so surprising.

Here’s why this troubles me as much as it does: yes, there are people fighting against this issue in the video game industry. You can look at many different video game developers, both indie and not, and find games that attempt to de-center this idea of the default male hero. But, small companies can only do so much. True change is only going to happen when the juggernauts of the industry join the fight, when the big names take a stand and say, “this has to end.” Nintendo had an amazing opportunity to do this, and they squandered it. They could have truly thought outside themselves and done something to really make a splash on one of the most famous franchises in video game history.

They didn’t, though. Instead, they shrugged their shoulders, and nothing changed.

So, if you were one of the people worried about a female Link in the new Legend of Zelda, you can rest assured: Nintendo’s got your back. Of course, if you’re one of the people who heard the rumors and thought it was way cool… well, maybe not this time. Don’t worry, though. Main story Legend of Zelda games come out every two years. So, maybe in 2019?

But, seriously, Nintendo, get Aonuma a new publicist. That dude really, really needs it.