For a long time, ever since people first started commonly yelling about sexism online about video games, people have been hoping for a genderswapped version of the Legend of Zelda franchise. It’s common knowledge among fans that the era and the characters change between most games in the series, we are always looking at a different Link and a different Zelda. Thus, it wouldn’t be a big hit for Nintendo to change the genders, races or even personalities of the main characters throughout the series, which is why this series in particular has been getting a hard time over the fact that the main characters have stayed the same throughout the last 25 years or so. This added to the fact that The Legend of Zelda is a true classic, one of the biggest and most reckognizable franchises in the history of the industry, them trying to include more people and playing with these ideas would admittedly be hugely popular and make a lot of people happy.
This E3 was not any different, as excited fans were eagerly anticipating not only a new game in the series to be shown, but specifically the gender of the characters. Twitter was exploding over the hooded figure at the start of the trailer. Could it be Prince Zelda? Or perhaps the much hoped reveal of the female version of Link? Many fans even refused to believe that the revealed Link was male, analyzing the trailer frame by frame, trying to find breasts and other feminine features. Nintendo had to come and publicly confirm that Link was indeed, once again, a dude. But while Nintendo could swap the genders, the question still stands; Does it even matter?
I’m not belittling the value of female characters or the importance of gender equality in any artform, but I think the only thing the game would gain over having genderswapped characters is the satisfaction of those few people who would prefer a female Link over a male one. What I’m trying to say is that the gender of the characters never mattered in the entire franchise. Gender, sexism or anything like that was never a theme touched in the whole series. The only aspect of the game that would be different if the characters were genderswapped would be the character-models. I would rather fight for playable female characters in games where the characters are… Well… Characters. Games where it matters. Sure, Link, Zelda and the others are always given a personality, but I don’t think anybody is arguing that the series is some kind of effective character-study.
This doesn’t mean I’m against this idea these fans are trying to make happen. Because I don’t think the gender of the characters fundamentally matter or change anything within the game I would have the most ‘meh’ reaction to the news that Nintendo was planning to appease these vocal fans. I anticipate the worlds, locales, gameplay, atmosphere and music in Zelda. I would love for Nintendo to actually start tackling serious issues, themes and character psychology in their games and if that happened I would be very much for a genderswapped version of the game. But considering how the Zelda games are built, a genderswap now would basically just mean putting boobs on a character who didn’t have ones previously and that’s that. It wouldn’t ruin the game, but it would hardly make it better either.
So why doesn’t Nintendo do it? It doesn’t hurt, it doesn’t matter, they might as well please these loud annoying tweeters, right? I have an idea. Look, everyone. I freaking love Nintendo. They are one of my favourite companies in the whole wide world and they just simply make me happy. This doesn’t mean I can’t critize them for things they’re doing wrong. And this is one. Nintendo is really weird about innovation. On the other hand, they are always the strange company, making weird consoles and strange games, but on the other, the series’ they have established already have to follow very specific guidelines about how stuff works. Nintendo might innovate enough to make people play with a tablet, or to make a game about squid-people, but ask them to swap the gender of their second best known character in history and they won’t lift a finger.
It’s sad really. I’m not on the boat where people say that Nintendo never innovates with their franchises, but it never hurt anybody to do a little more. I love the varied worlds and gameplay hooks Nintendo keeps putting in their well established franchises, but really. Genderswapping The Legend of Zelda wouldn’t hurt. It won’t help much either, but you might as well shut some fans up. Though knowing Zelda fans, they’ll always be 50% obnoxious complainers that hate whatever the newest game in the series is. Nintendo probably knows how useless the efforts would ultimately be.