Op-Ed: Lady Layton Is Doing Diversity Right

How developer Level-5 is leading the video game industry by example.

By Robert Marrujo. Posted 08/02/2016 10:00 7 Comments     ShareThis

Professor Hershel Layton is a man. He was the star of developer Level-5’s series of titular Professor Layton games, joined by his able companion Luke on a variety of puzzle-based adventures. In Lady Layton, the upcoming sequel in the long-running series, there’s a new puzzle solver in the lead: Hershel’s daughter Katrielle Layton (that first name might change when/if the game is ever brought west). It’s a seemingly conscious decision by Level-5 to make the series more inclusive by making the star a woman rather than a man, and I’m all for it.

The reason I’m so gung-ho for this shift to a new star for the series is twofold. For one, there’s a distinct lack of female leads in the video game industry. Characters like Lara Croft, who’s known the world over and sells boatloads of games, is more of an exception than a standard. There have been definite inroads made with more and more female leads popping up in recent years, including notable characters like Princess Ida of Monument Valley and Faith of the Mirror’s Edge series. Still, when pointing to the blockbuster, marquee franchises of the video game industry, it’s a male-dominated list: Uncharted, Call of Duty, Super Mario, and so on. Lady Layton is taking a triple-A series in Professor Layton and attaching a new, female protagonist for fans to adopt. Granted, I don’t think a female or minority character should have to rent respectability and recognition by being shoehorned into a known franchise, but when something organic like the shift from Hershel to Katrielle can happen, I say go for it.

Princess Ida of Monument Valley (iOS/Android)

Frankly, it’s because of her pedigree that I’m so enthusiastic about the adventures of Katrielle. She isn’t a female version of Layton, she isn’t erasing Hershel from existence; she’s instead a natural progression of the storyline that was started way back on DS in 2008 in Professor Layton and the Curious Village. Diversification is a huge, huge talking point across popular media the world over. Whether it’s changing character genders in superhero movies in comic books, or simply adding a wider selection of skin tones to character creation in video games, people across the globe want to see more characters who look like them. The audience for mass media stopped being virtually exclusively white males a long time ago, and we’re finally starting to see that shift reflected in the movies, games, and TV shows that we consume.

I made it plain back when Linkle was announced for Hyrule Warriors Legends that I wasn’t a fan of the character. “It’s a female Link!” people shouted with glee. I never warmed up to her. Not because I’m opposed to a female lead in a Zelda game; the second Nintendo decides to make Zelda the star of her own series I’ll be ready and anxious to give it a shot. Sheik taking on Ganon? Sold. Impa versus Vaati? Take my money! Linkle, however, failed to impress me because she was little more than a half-hearted attempt at diversification. It was as though Nintendo had decided it was easier to gender-swap a widely known character in Link rather than embrace one of the many established and beloved female characters in the series who have been dying to share the spotlight for years, or even make an outright new one– which is ironic given how many great female characters old and new that Legends has! Linkle was a lazy stab at diversity. Linkle was a step backwards.

Lady Layton, on the other hand, is a wonderful way to appeal to a broader demographic of players without bastardizing what’s come before. It’s reminiscent of the moves that Marvel and DC Comics have been making with their publishing lines, introducing legacy characters of different genders and races, as well as promoting longstanding characters to more prominent roles, while maintaining the original versions who fans have come to love for decades now. I adore Peter Parker, but now there’s also the half-black, half-Puerto Rican Miles Morales sharing the role of Spider-Man in the Marvel Universe, allowing a wider variety of fans to identify with the web slinger than ever before. I get to have my cake and eat it, too. While I can acknowledge that Linkle wasn’t made to supplant Link in any way, the difference between her and Miles is that Miles was never passed off as Peter. He’s his own character, allowed to stand on his own two legs and establish his own identity.

Diversification in mass media should be all about promoting race and gender equality, and that’s exactly what Lady Layton is doing. Katrielle is doing the work of her father, carrying on his series with what I’m sure will be a new flavor and style that allows her to stand on her own. I hope to see more of this mix of new franchises starring females, like Monument Valley, and old series allowing someone new to share the spotlight. Frankly, it’s an almost perfect way of introducing a healthier spectrum of representation while also not alienating longtime fans. Level-5 is taking a risk attaching a female lead to one of its most important franchises, and it’s a risk that I wish more developers would take in the future.

7 Responses to “Op-Ed: Lady Layton Is Doing Diversity Right”

  • 745 points
    OG75 says...

    Great write-up Robert. I agree with everything except for the unhealthy obsession with Linkle.

    Linkle is to Zelda as Miles Morales is to the Spider Man Universe. Going anywhere beyond that is simple wishful thinking or confirmation bias. I could write paragraph after paragraph on the differences between Coke and Pepsi, but at the end of the day, it’s all just mass marketed sugar water.

    One might be more enjoyable to you, but to imply that Miles had his own story and Linkle didn’t is either misinformed or disingenuous. Everyone has a right to their own opinions and preferences, but not their own facts.

    A true step backward would be a game featuring Sheik: A “female” that’s only powerful when she disguises herself as a man. Or any of the other walking sets of boobs that Hyrule Warriors Legends introduced to us.

    My niece got enjoyment out of Hyrule Warriors Legends thanks to the inclusion of Linkle. She doesn’t think it “bastardized” the Zelda series. Neither do I. In fact, she didn’t overthink it at all. Instead, she enjoyed the game more due to its inclusion of a female protagonist. It’s a very simple concept that many companies are doing (Including Level 5 with their Yokai series as well.) Lady Layton is another great step, even an evolution of the same trajectory. However these are all wise business moves based on gender demographics. We are all benefiting from these trends, including fans of Hyrule Warriors Legends.

  • 1379 points
    xeacons says...

    Agreed. Linkle didn’t bring ENOUGH diversity to LOZ. She’s not just a female Link; she was supposed to bring her own edge to the game, but that can little be seen a game like HW that has little plot (and she’s a silent protagonist).

    Lady Layton clearly has her own personality, unique from her father’s, which will add worlds to the storyline, not just because she’s a woman, but because she’s a unique individual, and an intelligent one.

    When Lara Croft was first introduce, her creator, Toby Gard, wanted to encourage the fact that she was intelligent, but Core Design just wanted to market her sexuality. Female protagonists soon became cliched for their over-pronounced looks while male gamers, even those that respected women’s intelligence, were denounced for “drooling over them.” I’m hoping things have changed.

  • 1294 points
    Robert Marrujo says...

    Hmmm… I still disagree. Miles was never portrayed as anything but his own character. He wasn’t the half black/half Puerto Rican Peter Parker, he was always Miles Morales with his own separate (though still entwined) backstory. Linkle is, on the other hand, Link but female. It’s as ridiculous as making a male Samus named Sam, to me. Diverse characters need to stand on the merits of their own back stories and personalities. Piggybacking off of established characters is, again to me, lazy and insincere. It also sets the dangerous precedent that a minority or female character can’t be viable of their own merit, that they need to rent the respectability of an established name, brand, character, etc.

  • 1294 points
    Robert Marrujo says...

    My other qualm with Linkle-izing a character is that the practice doesn’t work in reverse. If Marvel had decided to make Black Panther a white South African in the movies, the world would have exploded with outrage, and rightly so. Yet somehow it’s ok to do the opposite, and I don’t see why. Our identities, how we identify as as people, is important no matter the gender or skin color, and for me that carries over into our fictional characters. If these characters were just throwaway and interchangeable, they’d never resonate with us he way that they do. Because of this, I’ll always et behind a Lady Layton and not a Linkle.

  • 1294 points
    Robert Marrujo says...

    Btw, I know I might have seemed to have contradicted myself a bit by talking about renting respectability and then praising Lady Layton, but cases like hers are different to me because she’s a natural, organic growth of the franchise. They didn’t just slap a wig on Professor Layton and say, “now he is a she!” And no, that is not a slam on gender reassignment! We’re sticking to fictional characters here, lol.

  • 745 points
    OG75 says...

    Much respect to you and your writing Robert. My appreciation for you consistently churning out quality content for Nintendojo!

    You bring up some great points about the process not working in reverse (Black Panther/South African example.) Great point and definitely food for thought.

    Thank you.

  • 1294 points
    Robert Marrujo says...

    Hey, I love the discourse OG! It’s a thrill when I see us, the writers AND the readers, talking about stuff like this. Gaming has so much to offer besides just the base experience, you know? It’s why I love it so much; it can lead to talks like this. That said… keep it up! And all you other folks reading should, too!

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