Gender Swapping Heroes

This is another one of those hot button issues that’s making its rounds today. Again, leave it to Twitter to make me aware of another bit of outrage that the gaming community is up in arms about. I don’t make it a habit of talking about every single big deal on the Internet, but I have some thoughts on this particular issue. Be warned that this is a touchy subject, but you all should know me well enough by now that I don’t shy away from controversial topics. It’s political, it’s got some feminist angles, and there are most definitely two sides to the story. Let’s try to remember that I’m just one person full of opinions, and that doesn’t make me right or wrong, it just makes me a member of society and a person who thinks about big picture issues, even when they pertain to something as insignificant as gaming. With that said, let’s get into it, shall we?

Every year it’s the same story. Some game developer says or does something at a gaming conference, when all of the media is paying attention, and things get reported. Once the denizens of the Internet get their hands on the story, it’s game over. This time the developer in the fire is Nintendo, and the subject at hand is the fact that there won’t be a female version of Link in the new Legend of Zelda game. Here’s a link to a story that I saw on Twitter, where this conversation first developed and the issue was first brought to my attention. Read it here. I’ll wait.


I get part of the issue. Women want representation. So-called Minorities want representation. LGBT groups want representation. There is nothing wrong with wanting representation, to having someone you can relate to in the games that you play. A hero to look up to, no matter who you happen to be. I also have no problem recognizing that there are plenty of White Male “CIS” characters, and I am totally on board with a level playing field. That said, I do think that the gender swapping of iconic characters is wrong. Here’s why.

Remember Anita Sarkeesian? Yeah, you know who I’m talking about. If you don’t, a cursory google search will give you all the information you need. She has this little YouTube channel called “Feminist Frequency” and on it, she critiques video game design while looking through a feminist lens. At this point in time I wouldn’t call myself a fan of Sarkeesian, mainly because she has let the spotlight go to her head and I do believe that she’s more in this for the money than the actual betterment of society. However, she has played an important role in my life. Believe it or not, there was a time when I was a little less open-minded and a little more nonchalant about being an asshole towards anyone who was different than me. Between several blogging friends, Sarkeesian’s work, and some of my own research and desire to be a decent fucking human being, I feel like I’ve come a long way towards being a nicer and more tolerant person. But let’s get back on point.

Sarkeesian created a video nearly three years ago called “Ms. Male Character,” in which the main point was that creating a character that was a tweaked version of the male character is detrimental to the “new” character. The most prominent example was that of Ms. Pac-Man, which was simply Pac-Man with a bow affixed to his head. I’m paraphrasing here, and there was much more to that video, so I suggest you head over and watch it with the link provided above.

Let’s take a moment to think about this. Wouldn’t a female version of Link then, be exactly the same sort of concept? You’re merely changing the gender of the character, while the game remains the same? During the discussion on Twitter, points were made about how Link was always “gender-neutral” or that Link isn’t a character but rather a “postition,” so gender doesn’t even matter. I would argue though, that the original Legend of Zelda game was merely a version of the oldest trope in the book – the “damsel in distress,” and that Link is clearly a male in that instance. He felt pretty male in all of the games I played, but that could just be me projecting. Either way, it’s not just about Link here. If we zero in on the minute details of this one particular story, we’re ignoring the big picture, and that’s where Twitter conversations tend to derail. Hence, blog post.

We can look at more real life situations too; take for instance the recent Ghostbusters movie. In the original movies and even a cartoon show, all of the ghostbusters were male, and in the new movie, they have changed them all into females. For me, this wasn’t that big of a deal because I’m not a fan of Ghostbusters. On that same token, I’m not a fan of Zelda games or Nintendo in general either, so that has little affect on my mood either. Still, these examples correlate because you’re taking iconic, classic characters with lore and a fanbase and then turning them into Ms. Pac-Man. Ghostbusters with a bow affixed to their heads. You see where I’m going with this.

There… I fixed it.

Correct me if I’m wrong, but it seems like people are arguing for and against the same thing. I think the larger point here, is that there are games being created, games coming out in the not so distant future featuring awesome female leads. Horizon: Zero Dawn is one of them; one look at that gameplay trailer and I was floored. Not only was this a strong and capable woman, but she was dressed sensibly and fought like a bad ass to boot. I’m not complaining that it’s a female lead, I’m embracing it. Wouldn’t you prefer developers who are taking risks and creating new and wonderful things over developers who affix bows to the heads of their male characters? I’m not a woman, but I imagine that’s what I would want.