A Case for Prince Zelda
I made a Prince Zelda costume this year. I think it’s pretty sweet and I am going to talk about how I made parts of it in other posts, but I first wanted to talk about the why of it.
The Zelda series of games is about as iconic as game series get. There are, at time of writing, eighteen games, with at least one on the horizon. One would imagine that they would have trouble keeping the series fresh with so many titles, but they get around that in a particularly clever way: they don’t try.
A primary conceit of the game is that it is the same fated story playing out again and again across time. Somebody named Link overcomes a series of challenges involving boomerangs and explosives, and finally defeats some iteration of Ganondorf who is doing something cartoonishly evil. Also, there is a Princess named Zelda that guides, assists or motivates Link, but ultimately needs the fated hero to do the heavy lifting.
It’s a clever way to keep making the same successful game, using the same formula and largely the same gameplay. It also gives opportunity for playing out “what if” scenarios: What if Link were a kid? What if Zelda were secretly ninja? What if she was a pirate queen and the world was flooded?
What if she was a man?
That last one hasn’t yet been explored, but I hope that it will be.
The Zelda series has been pretty popular across age and gender in most of its incarnations. I think there are a few reasons for that:
For one, the gameplay is more about puzzle solving and exploration than brutal violence and mad skillz. I would say that most iterations of Zelda are games to be played rather than beaten, which makes them accessible to a broad audience.
The other is that Link is fairly androgynous. He has always been an explicitly male character, however, he is young, slim, and wears a loose tunic and tight leggings. He is frequently referred to by name or a title like “Destined Hero,” rather than by pronoun. He could easily be a young woman, which allows a broad range of players to insert themselves into his role.
I’m curious about how the narrative changes, though, if Link were a woman. The same story can be told, of course. A woman is fully capable of dressing in green, collecting the hook-shot, bomb, boomerang, bow and Master Sword, and using them to defeat Ganon. A dedicated father has already proven it by hacking Windwaker for the benefit of his daughter.
You could take any Zelda game, swap the models and pronouns and make a perfectly serviceable game. However, it would be obvious to pretty much everyone that is what had happened. Inverting the roles doesn’t necessarily subvert the tropes. While it highlights the different expectations we might have for gender roles in epic fantasy, it doesn’t explore them.
Instead, given the existing history of Hyrule, consider what it would mean for the next Link to be a woman, and Zelda to be a prince.
The world knows about the heroes of legend, the warriors in green that have defended Hyrule again and again. Link would have to contend with not only the expectations of those around her, but her own. She would know that she isn’t the destined warrior.
What would call her to action? Would she ever believe that she is the warrior in green? Who would accept her as a warrior and who would push back?
Zelda is whole different question. Princess Zelda is almost as bad as Peach for getting kidnapped. It is her role in the story to be captured by Ganon. She is varyingly capable of eluding this capture, but it is ultimately inevitable. Her job is to tell Link that he’s a hero, then get captured and wait for rescue.
How does that look when Zelda is a Prince? Would the story be different? What do the differences tell us about our society? How would he deal with the threats to Hyrule? How would he respond to the woman in green?
I really hope that this does get explored in a game. There is no good reason for it not to be and it would be a great way to shake up the series while continuing to not change it at all.
These are the things that I thought about while I made a costume. However, in the end, it was all a big excuse to wear a lavender tailcoat. More on that next week.
Prince Zelda and Lady Link at Dragon Con – Photo by Russ Creech