There’s been a flurry of excitement among many fans over the announcement that Linkle, the female reimagining of Link who will be appearing in the upcoming Hyrule Warriors Legends on 3DS, might be considered for a future Legend of Zelda project. I don’t count myself as one of those fans.
As a Mexican-American, I grew up in the late ’80s and ’90s playing video games, reading comic books, and watching cartoons and movies that didn’t feature many characters who looked like me. I say many, because to insinuate that there was zero diversity in the mass media I consumed during my childhood would be inaccurate; Saban’s Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers is a good example of early attempts to represent a broader demographic on kids television, and Samus has been rocking the scene as the strongest woman in video games since I was in diapers. That said, there’s no denying that of all the hobbies and pastimes of my youth, gaming was the least inclusive of other ethnicities and genders in terms of representation.
It never bothered me, at least not in regard to my ability to connect with the material. Maybe it was because I grew up in the Bay Area, so if I wanted diversity all I had to do was stick my head out the front door, or maybe it was because my family didn’t raise me in a way that clung to my so-called ethnic heritage. Whatever the reason, I don’t look to characters in a game to represent me, or look like me; I play the games that I do because I want to be entertained, and the skin color or gender of the characters involved (if it’s a title that even has humans in it) is entirely inconsequential to me. I’ll admit, it’s a good thing when a developer makes pains to deliver a cast that’s diverse. I’ve even gone to bat more than once here on Nintendojo to laud the times when the industry has gotten diversity right, or to make arguments for how to do it better. I want to see more than just pale, male faces in my games, but the key is that it has to come naturally. Linkle, in my eyes, is the opposite of that.
The reason Linkle irks me is because ultimately she represents the dangerous notion that identity, be it gender or race, is fluid and meaningless when it comes to fictional characters. This is a point that I am in absolute opposition to, for several reasons. First off, fictional characters in almost every culture and society are of vast import to people. Stories, legends, many of the fantastical narratives that bind human beings across the globe are retold generation after generation, conveying invaluable wisdom and insight into life. In commercialized western culture, through a number of external forces, we’ve come to embrace serialized characters like Spider-Man and Luke Skywalker as our version of the classical myths of old. They might not be real, but their impact on our lives, for good or bad, is a real thing. If they weren’t, I doubt people would be making efforts to forcibly diversify them, to begin with.
I believe that the gravitas that we as people grant to the Peter Parkers and Harry Potters of the world makes their identities as valid as those of people of flesh and blood. In this effort to be inclusive (which has been especially pronounced in the U.S. of late), what’s been occurring as a result is a failure to recognize what that word actually means. I don’t consider it inclusive to take a character and declare that their gender or race is meaningless, particularly when the criteria for making these alterations is decidedly prejudiced. We’ve reached a point where it’s been unilaterally decided that if a character is white, male, or both, their identity is up for grabs. I can’t think of a single instance where, if the character was female and/or a minority, it would be acceptable to say the same thing.
While I freely admit that a character’s race or gender doesn’t impact my ability to connect to a game or any other form of entertainment or storytelling, that doesn’t mean those aspects of their identity aren’t important. Every ethnicity and each gender is on equal standing. As such, if one group is disrespected, even if that group is grossly disproportionately represented in mass media, then there can’t be true equality. Unfortunately, there are a number of misguided people reciting rhetoric, knowingly or not, that flies in the face of this. For instance, I once read a piece on the website Comic Book Resources where the writer claimed that Star Lord of Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy movie could have easily been made a different ethnicity because there was nothing that “intrinsically” tied him to being white. It was an absurdly ignorant point to make (besides the idea that his being white is somehow throwaway), because it unwittingly asserted that there are ethnic roles in this world that must be followed in order for a person to lay claim to being of a particular ethnicity. To put it more simply, the writer was basically saying, “well Star Lord doesn’t do enough white people things to establish him as a true white person!”
I don’t speak Spanish, I don’t watch soccer, and I don’t visit Mexico during the holidays. My family has never lived the way that Mexican-Americans are stereotypically perceived to, and it’s presented a number of challenges to me over the course of my life so far as my own personal identity goes. There’s this perception that people are supposed to act a certain way if they’re from ethnic group A, B, or C, or if they’re a man or a woman, but the reality is that there is no set criteria that’s supposed to be followed. For me, when a character like Linkle is bandied about as some great example of diversification, I balk because it comes across as insincere. Some fans have pointed out (including on this website) that Linkle feels like a political correctness ploy, and to a certain extent I agree. I see no reason to casually dismiss Link’s masculinity for a feel-good headline grabber when there are characters like Impa in the Zelda canon who are dying to be explored and further fleshed out. Frankly, it’s just as easy to argue that taking an established male character and making them female is a quiet surrender to the idea that women characters can’t be successful of their own accord, that they need to rent the respectability of their male counterparts in order to be viable.
That’s ridiculous, of course. Microsoft’s ReCore, which will feature a female lead, looks astounding and has had my interest piqued since E3 back in June. Rise of the Tomb Raider certainly was able to draw legions of devout fans to line up and purchase the game, despite the fact that Lara was never Larry Croft at any point in her existence. For women gamers, I can appreciate their excitement at the thought of playing a Zelda game with a woman lead, and I want them to be able to play more games with women as the stars, but I want to see it done right. Put Zelda at the fore and have her save Link, or even have Sheik in the lead (seriously, why the heck would I want to play a game as Linkle when I could be Sheik?!). Highlight and honor the women characters who are already here, and make new ones. But don’t swap character genders and tell me it’s progress. What it actually represents is laziness and ignorance, which is the whole reason we’re even still talking about a lack of diversity in the gaming industry after all these years, in the first place.