Just like James Bond, The Legend of Zelda is one of those timeless series that can be iterated on ad infinitum. Minus Skyfall, in the James Bond universe, every movie prior dealt with a different James Bond. Many theorize that James Bond is nothing more than a pseudonym given to various double-o-sevens throughout the years. As one retires or goes rogue, another steps up to take the mantle. It’s the same for The Legend of Zelda series. Link’s a character that, for the most part, is a different Link in the subsequent game. In every game he’s the descendant of the hero from years past, and it’s his bloodline that’s made to protect Hyrule.
One thing that always bothered me about Link, and even James Bond, is that no-matter how far in the future we go, the main character generally looks the same. In the case of James Bond, it’s always a prim and proper white man. For Link, it’s generally a blonde, or dishwater blonde hair, with blue eyes, and pointy ears. I have no problem with the character design, but it does bring up the issue: why can’t Link be black?
If Link is supposed to be a descendant of – or follow some similar lineage to – Skyward Sword‘s Link, are we supposed to believe that his parents have never strayed away from their race? I think it’s a little silly that with the deluge of Zelda games, the most daring cosmetic makeover we have seen was a pierced ear and some darker hair. I think it would be healthy for the series, as well as for gaming, to see a darker Link. It was done with Spider-Man in the ultimate universe, who’s now played by a half-Hispanic half-black lead. It would show that games are willing to also be a part of the social discussion on race and culture and present that gamers aren’t frothing at the teeth for the same character design in every game.
What I found most disturbing was Tetra from The Wind Waker. Here you have a strong female pirate, commanding an all-male crew, and venturing out to sea. But later in the game it’s revealed that she is the heir to the Hyrulean throne. We then see her skin color change to a fair and pristine white, and with that, Ganondorf comes along and swipes her away. It just irked me the wrong way that the only way she could be seen as royal was with a new shade of skin. Is it so wrong to see Zelda with dark skin while wearing her full Hyrulean garb?
People may argue that a black Link may not be as marketable as one with light skin and blue eyes, and to an extent, I see where that argument may hold true. But let’s also look at the plethora of successful games that feature nontraditional protagonists. Look to Grand Theft Auto: in San Andreas players were given the role of CJ, a black man, and in the sequel, Niko Bellick was Eastern European. These games were popular not only because of their name, but also because it gave players a different avenue to view a foreign culture. This is referred to as Cultural Voyeurism: when the player finds great joy or interest in playing someone other than a character that looks like themselves. For example, in fighting games, I usually play as female characters, maybe because I like the idea that a smaller, more limber character can go toe-to-toe with big muscly men.
Game publishers shouldn’t be so quick to judge players as one-dimensional white kids that are hell bent on fulfilling their male adolescent fantasies. Many gamers aren’t white, and most gamers enjoy playing characters that look different from themselves.
Understand that I’m attributing American views of race towards a Japanese developed game. The Japanese, for the most part, have been an insulated country and have not had the racial discussion that America has had over the past 300 years. Japan’s now starting to go through that discussion as more immigrants move to the country. Since America’s essentially a land of immigrants that imported slaves, race has been the forefront of our cultural discussion and identity. I am in no way demanding that Nintendo change their ways or they will be deemed as a racially insensitive company by the NAACP, but I do feel that we, as gamers, should start this discussion.