“The Legend of Zelda” is classist, sexist and racist

A friend posted this article on Facebook recently, and I am compelled to rebut it. Partly because I am a huge fan of the franchise – those are almost the only games I play, and referencing that game is how I met my boyfriend – but mostly, I am so compelled because that article misrepresents many aspects of the game (and, again, this is almost the only game where I would know that).

“Ocarina” portrays the apprentices or journeymen as lazy and shiftless, and the boss as the only one willing to work. “Young men these days don’t have any ambition,” the boss says. “Do you know what I mean, kid? My workers are just running aimlessly around the village, and they’re not making any progress at all … Even my own son doesn’t have a job, and he just wanders around all day! They’re all worthless, I tell you!”

Yes… and after some fetch quests, the carpenters actually get to work and the son is redeemed. I don’t see how that shows anything problematic.

“Folks around here tell of a fabulously rich family that once lived in one of the houses in this village,” an elderly character in Kakariko confides. “But they say that the entire family was cursed due to their greed! Who knows what might happen to those who are consumed by greed.”

By focusing on the greed of individuals, the game ignores how private property incentivizes and even mandates such behavior. And with this moralizing focus comes a belief that society’s economic ills are intractable because of humanity’s flawed nature.

I’d like to remind my reader that this is a world where cutting the grass causes money to appear. Also, there are no true economic ills portrayed in the game, at least nothing comparable to the real world, where we have vast divisions between the wealthy and the rest of us, rampant homelessness, and need for a welfare system. Again, money appears magically pretty much everywhere, so there is no reason to assume poverty is a thing in this world.

The racial, ethnic and religious traits of the “good characters” and the “bad characters” within the game also demonstrate a certain xenophobia. All of the good characters, such as the Hylians and Kokiri, are white. In contrast, all of the bad characters, such as the thieving Gerudo and their king, Ganondorf, have brown skin. The Gerudo live in the desert, and in case it wasn’t clear what real-life group of people they are based on, the original Gerudo symbol is strongly reminiscent of the Islamic star and crescent.

Um, bullshit? The Gerudo aren’t even portrayed as bad characters, as evidenced by the fact that shooting them with an arrow merely knocks them out – Link is utterly incapable of harming them. Also, one of the Gerudo ends up being one of the sages who helps Link to defeat Ganondorf. Furthermore, the hero of the game is made an honorary member of the society. A much stronger argument could be made that the game encourages thievery!

The title’s perspective on sex is arguably summarized in an advertisement for “Ocarina,” which asks, “Willst thou get the girl? Or play like one?” The game utilizes a damsel-in-distress trope that suggests women are weak and in need of male protection. Just like in every other game in the series, Princess Zelda is incapacitated and in need of rescue from the central character, Link. The repeated use of this sexist cliché helps to, as Sarkeesian says, “normalize extremely toxic, patronizing, and paternalistic attitudes.”

Ok, I have to admit, that advertisement is pretty sexist. I also notice, after just a minute of looking into it, that this add ran in 1998 and was quickly changed to “Willst thou soar? Or willst thou suck?” At that time, I’m fairly certain that females as a target demographic for video games was new, if not entirely unheard of. It is still a bad advertisement, but at least they realized the mistake and corrected it.

For a portion of the game’s plot, Zelda is represented as an imposing warrior. But, as Sarkeesian points out, she is only able to achieve this disguised as a man and she’s kidnapped within minutes of revealing her true identity.

I suppose this is fair. However, the reason she is kidnapped has less to do with her being female than her being the third piece of the Tri-force. If the character had been male, Sarkeesian would probably complain that there are no female characters in important roles.

One could also choose to interpret Zelda having to dress as a man to accomplish anything as a commentary that says women can do things but are only accepted as useful when they change themselves to be more like men, which is quite pro-feminist, I think.

Sure, Link is also at times injured or captured. At one point, for instance, he’s locked in a Gerudo jail cell. But, as Sarkeesian says, Link, and male protagonists in general, usually get themselves out of the situation. And that ability to overcome obstacles is integral to their development as heroic characters.

Link is almost the only character in the game who does anything tangible the entire game. That is necessary for him to be the character played by the user. Would it really be a game if you had to sit in a jail cell waiting for someone to rescue you, or if you didn’t have anything to do because the characters rescued themselves? No!

Female protagonists, at least when the focus of a story, tend to rescue themselves, too. It’s not a male thing; it is a hero thing. Saying it is sexist is stupid.

Link also rescues other female characters who arguably fall into damsel trope, such as Saria, a friend from his Kokiri childhood, and Ruto, princess of the aquatic Zoras.

Four male carpenters were also jailed, and need Link to rescue them. From the women. If needing rescued is a sign of sexism, this game is an equal opportunity offender.

I notice that the article entirely fails to mention that Saria, Ruto, and many of the other characters Link rescues are said to help him to defeat Ganondorf. What they actually do is unclear, but the game insists they are helping.

From the perspective of domesticated animals, agriculture of the past was a gentler prospect than the modern, factory-farm system.

I agree with that.

But for non-humans the pre-industrial farm, as symbolized by Lon Lon Ranch, was still a place of exploitation and violence, where their lives, in general, would be significantly shorter and more circumscribed than those of their nearest, wild cousins.

That’s just false. Compare the average lifespan of a dog (10-13 years) to that of a wolf (a mere 6-8 years). (Also note that wolves live longer in captivity.) Horses, of more particular interest to this case, have gone from living 6 to 20 years in the wild only through human intervention. They still live longer in captivity (25-30 years). Further, the horses are asked to do very little, according to the content of the game.

But in the game, domestication is portrayed as a mutually beneficial, voluntary arrangement. The anthropomorphized cows of Hyrule speak to Link, literally saying, “Have some of my refreshing and nutritious milk!” Of course depicting a relationship as anything like symbiotic when one party kills and eats the other, as well as the latter’s children, would be laughable if it weren’t so appalling.

Domestication largely is a mutually beneficial arrangement, as I’ve demonstrated to some extent just now through a few minutes of googling. Nobody anywhere in the game is shown eating meat, and dairy cows are not used for beef, so I have no idea where the rest of the paragraph is coming from.

“Ocarina” is a fantastic piece of art we can enjoy while being aware that, like so much other art, it has a lot of problems.

This article has demonstrated exactly 0 problems with the game as a piece of art. The only legitimate, clear problem shown in the article is a piece of advertising done for the game 16 years ago. If you really wanted to show problems with the game, why not talk about how all of the girls want Link’s babies or the way the great fairies are dressed? Or how the females in the game, most notably Navi and Ruto, are incredibly annoying?

I’m definitely not saying there are no problems to be found in Ocarina of Time, as much as I love the game (and all its clones, like Wind Waker and Twilight Princess). What I am saying is that this article misrepresents the game to meet an agenda, and I disapprove of that behavior. Articles like this make me think those GamerGate people might have a point when they complain about the ethics in game journalism.

But GamerGate is a topic for another time, if I write about it at all.

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