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Filed under: Editorial, Eiji Aonuma, Industry People, Shigeru Miyamoto

Link is a Character, Not an Avatar

Link i a chara

Surprise! This article is my opinion. It’s okay if you disagree.

3_handsAfter the reveal of The Breath of the Wild, several fans were shocked when it was announced that there would be no gender option, as previously rumored. Aonuma and Miyamoto spoke about the issue in several interviews and essentially said the same thing — that Link isn’t an avatar– he’s a character. Aonuma stated that the team briefly considered adding Zelda as the main character, while Miyamoto discussed a possible Sheik-led spinoff. In the end, Aonuma thought having Link as a girl would disrupt the balance of the Triforce. Both of them seemed to agree that if there was a gender option in The Legend of Zelda, it would need to be an entirely different character. I personally agree with both Aonuma and Miyamoto, and would like to briefly explain my thoughts on the matter.

Link to me, is comparable to Gordon Freeman and Mario. Both are silent (Gordon Freeman more than Mario) but both are still characters. Honestly, I can see a lot of the argument for adding a female option to Zelda, to apply even more so to Mario. Mario doesn’t really have an official story (therefore canon is less of an issue…) and Mario’s gender matters way less than Link’s…as he’s just an avatar rescuing the princess. Yet there isn’t a strong demand for a female Mario nor for Gordon Freeman.

Link is very different than ‘blank avatars’. Link has more characteristics than say Steve from Minecraft or even Laat Dovahkiin from Skyrim. Steve and Laat are fully customizable to the player. Steve is a blank slate. Players are dropped into the world and in the end it doesn’t really matter who Steve is and what its story is. This was done so players could create their own narrative. Laat does have their own story, but in the end it’s up to the player to decide what it is. They can even choose to have a family or not. In both cases, the player is given freedom to create their own story within the world. What kind of Steve and Laat are you? The choice is completely yours.  200 (1)

That choice hasn’t really existed in Zelda. Breath of the Wild is the first time players can really customize Link, and even then his basic features will be identical for everyone. Link will still shiver the same way in the pause screen if he’s cold. He will still wake up the same way. His appearance and the way he interacts with the world will probably play a huge role in the game. The game is not played in first person view. It’s very apparent that a lot of care went into portraying Link.

Some people have said, “Why can’t Link just be female? After all he just the reincarnation of the spirit of the hero!” This is also assuming that the Link in Breath of the Wild is a new Link, which we haven’t seen before. There are some theories that this a Link we’ve previously seen (See: Possible Timeline Placement) as Link wakes from a 100-year slumber.

Having a female Link was originally proposed in the original Hyrule Warriors. In the sequel, Hyrule Warriors: Legends, Linkle was added due to fan reception and demand. Some people have argued that Linkle could just stand in for Link, and I disagree with this notion entirely.


While discussing Hyrule Warriors, it’s also worth noting that there are several versions of Link, all emphasizing a different trait. There’s Young Link, who emphasizes how ‘young’ he is, while Toon Link seems to has an emphasizes on the cartoon style. In the end all three Links are still Link. If the developers simply wanted a female version of Link with Linkle then they failed as Linkle is much more developed character than that.

The main reason is because even in Hyrule Warriors: Legends, Linkle is NOT just a female Link. Yes, she has the spirit of courage in her, but she’s not same person as Link. She’s clumsy, good natured and helpful. The way she chooses to interact within the world of Hyrule Warriors: Legends is very different than the way Link does. Even though the story in Hyrule Warriors: Legends is somewhat limited I feel like I have a good sense of Linkle by playing her and her limited missions. Side note: she’s also one of my favorite characters to play as. She has her own backstory, motives and outlook on the world. Determined, optimistic, and clumsy are probably the three best words to describe Linkle. Kotaku, in an opinion piece, Linkle is More Than The Girl Version of Link discusses this further if you are interested in their opinion.

I do want to make it clear I’m not against adding a female lead. I’m against erasing Link’s identity as a character, and making him a total blank slate. If they wanted to add a female main lead, then I think they should create a new character and fully integrate them into the world.

giphy (9)

One common misconception is the origin of Link’s name. Some people believe that it was suppose to connect the player to the world. In fact, Link was chosen as the name because according to Miyamoto, “The game was to be set in both the past and the future and as the main character would travel between both and be the link between them, they called him Link.” This notion was later reaffirmed in the Hyrule Historia, “We named the protagonist Link because he connects people together. He was suppose to spread the scattered energy of the world through the ages“.

A common argument why Link should have a female option is because people claim Link is a blank state, and gender doesn’t matter. I disagree with this. Link has felt like a character that has history and is an active part of his world ever since A Link to the Past. Link isn’t a blank slate, he is a vessel in which the player enters the world. Even though Link is silent, the characters within Zelda react to the hero and what he does. There’s a lot of dialogue reacting to how Link looks and plays. They really played this up in Majora’s Mask due to mask transformation, but it occurs in other Zelda games too. The following is a quote from Twilight Princess.

Well, what have we here, hm? That’s quite an outfit you have on, old boy.
That timeless design… You’re sporting the legendary hero LOOK, aren’t you?
Tell me, where did you buy it? Wait… Please don’t tell me you made it
Oh, dear, I’d love to wear something like that!

Pray tell, if you were to ever tire of that thing, would you part with it?
Mister HERO! …Heh heh.

The world doesn’t just interact with Link. He is fully realized in the world. These are best exemplified in the post Majora’s Mask Zelda games…but do exist in the earlier ones  too. Wind Waker features an extensive backstory for our hero, with Link starting his journey to rescue his little sister. Link leaving Onset Islands was one of the most moving parts of the game for me. Playing it, I could feel Link’s sadness leaving his home as he waves goodbye. In Majora’s Mask you can feel Link’s determination to get his ocarina back from Skull Kid, and his distraught when being turned into a Deku. If Link was just an avatar, he wouldn’t be reacting to events like this. A major Photo05plot point of Link’s Awakening is Link and Marin’s relationship.

Having a pre-established character gives the Zelda developers more tools to work with within the context of the story. Since Link has ties to his home and other characters, it can create motivation to push the story forward. Saria and Link’s friendship is a key part of Ocarina of Time, and I personally can’t imagine the game without it. Creating a blank avatar-type character would erase some of Link’s connection to characters, or create less meaningful relations. Arguably, the reason a lot of people enjoy Saria and Link’s relationship is because of the romantic implications of it. Giving players the choice to be female could prevent those kinds of relationships forming, especially if they aren’t explicitly stated.

Another line of thought is that since Link is reincarnated, why can’t he just be reincarnated as a girl? Aonuma disputed this today as he stated that having Link as a girl would disrupt the balance of the triforce. Proposed by Nintendokusou, the lore of the Triforce is based on the Divine Trinity, which has its roots in a male, female and an ambiguous gender character (which would be Ganon most of the time).


(Provided by Nibroc)

(Created by Nibroc!)

In the Breath of the Wild, Calamity Ganon is referred to with non-specific gender pronouns in the introduction. Ganondorf definitely has a gender (he was the first born male in the Gerudo tribe) but Ganon might not. It’s also worth noting that in the original Legend of Zelda manual, the only character who was given a gender pronoun in Japanese was Link.    



Lastly, Link is the face of the Zelda series. Making him ambiguous would make Link less recognizable. This lowers the value of Link as a character in a time where Nintendo is focusing on protecting and cultivating their IPs. Link was designed the way he was because Nintendo wanted him to be recognizable. In 2011, Guinness Book of World Records voted Link as the #2 top video game character.

Adding gender options would diminish Link’s impact as a character. People know Link. Yes, it’s a different incarnation of Link in a lot the games but he still has same basic features across the games. Light colored hair, human (Hylian), blue eyes and a medium build. Sometimes he’s younger, sometimes he has a ponytail or a scarf. But at the end of the day, he still looks like Link and doesn’t look all that different over the span of the series. Looking at the various designs of Link, it’s very apparent these basic features were kept intact. Even though Link reincarnates, I don’t think it would be wise for Nintendo to throw away the basic features of Link. It’s why we as fans can imagine Lonk. We know what Link isn’t supposed to look like.

Anyway, that was my thoughts on Link and gender options. Feel free to sound off in the comments, but please keep it civil.    




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  1. Ughh… It’s Gordon Freeman, not Gordan Freeman. Gordan isn’t even a name!

    NeatNit on June 24 |
    • Actually, a simple Google search of “Gordan” will immediately tell you that it is indeed a real name 😉

      John Jekyllson on June 24 |
      • I was simply spouting random statements that I made up on the spot and asserted them as the absolute truth; There is no room for reason in this discussion!

        NeatNit on July 14 |
  2. I guess I fall somewhere in between the “Link as an avatar” and “Link as a character” camps. Across the Zelda series as a whole I don’t see Link as a definitive character. There are a few connecting threads between Links, they all carry the spirit of the hero and certain aspects of their design are shared across all or at least most iterations. However, I see each Link as their own person. I think the single most important thing that makes Link Link, speaking in terms of the series as a whole, is that he is the main character, the character the player controls, and the eyes through which we see the world. Because of this, I actually see having a main Zelda game without a Link as the lead as more of a blow to his identity than making him a girl (I’m all for non-Link leads in spin-offs though).

    That said, while I believe Link to be more of a concept than a character across the series as a whole, looking at each game individually Link is very much a character. Wind Waker Link has a pretty clearly defined personality, and even less expressive Links like Twilight Princess Link still typically have defined relationships with the world and the characters in it. Because of this, I don’t see the idea of gender option working in this series. In addition to the reasons already mentioned in the article, Zelda games will often allude to previous Links, through legends, depictions in art, and even occasionally actual appearances like Ocarina of Time’s Link as the Hero’s Shade in Twilight Princess or Link to the Past’s Link as Gramps in Link Between Worlds. These appearance and references wouldn’t work if the Link they were referencing didn’t have a set gender, the devs would be forced to canonize one gender over the other which kinda defeats the purpose of having the option there to begin with.

    So, while the idea of getting female Link via a gender option doesn’t work for me, getting female Link as THE sole Link for a particular game is something I see no problem with. I don’t see it as “making Link a girl” like some others seem to. You aren’t retroactively changing the gender of any existing Link, you’re simply having a woman inherit the heroes spirit for the course of a game. I don’t see it as equitable to changing Mario’s gender. Even with Mario’s limited characterization and loose canon he’s still clearly meant to be the same person across all games. Each Link on the other hand is their own person with their own goals, interpersonal relationships, and legacy.

    Aonuma’s “balance of the Triforce” quote seems a flimsy excuse at best, even ignoring that nothing in the games themselves seems to allude to it being a rule. So Link is male, Zelda is female, and Ganon is ambiguous? What about Wind Waker were Ganon only appears as the clearly male Ganondorf? Or Ocarina of Time or Twilight Princess for that matter, where Ganondorf has a much bigger role than Ganon? What about games that don’t feature Zelda or Ganon at all, in which the Triforce may not even be a significant plot element? What about the possibility of the Trifoce of Wisdom having a male holder?

    It really seem like Aonuma is grasping for an excuse to not do something he simply doesn’t want to do. For the record it’s perfectly fine if female Link is just something he doesn’t want in the series, I’m not arguing it’s something that needs to happen, nor that Aunoma is wrong for being against it. I’m just making the argument that, the way I see it, female Link wouldn’t contradict anything about Link’s character or the series lore.

    So addressing the other point against female Link, the change in appearance. Link already looks very androgynous, in recent games especially. The fact some honestly though Breath of Wild Link was female when he was first shown really speaks to this. You could pretty easily make a female Link that looks closer to Breath of the Wild Link than Toon Link does. Linkle is a pretty drastic change from how Link is typically depicted, but a female Link wouldn’t have to be so extreme. Zelda and Ganondorf tend to have much more noticeable changes in appearance than Link between games, however I don’t see this as hurting their recognisability or iconic status.

    Ultimately, if Link can be a child in some games and an adult in others, I don’t think Link being a woman from time to time is that much more of a stretch. Do I personally want it to happen? Yea, I think it might be kind of refreshing. I think we can stand to have a bit more variety in our Links for the sake of more varied stories and world interaction. I also think an older, more grizzled Link could be a fun change of pace. Maybe even a non-Hylian Link, for a game that could really delve into the culture of another Zelda race. Of course if none of that happens that perfectly fine too. Zelda games will continue to be excellent regardless of Link’s gender and I plan to enjoy them regardless of what direction they take with his character.

    Mettaur on June 24 |
    • I agree with this comment completely, well said. A gender option wouldn’t work but having a solely female playable Link for at least 1 game wouldn’t be out of the ordinary considering how vared male Link’s appearances have been throughout the series.

      Beyond representation for women and all that jazz, maybe as a guy myself I wanna fawn over how cute a canionically female Link would look. Would that be so wrong? I don’t think so.

      EdgeTheLucas on June 24 |
    • Yep… Pretty much this. It’s clear that while in each game there’s a Link, each Link is an individual, not a mirror of the one that came before him which gives the character some sense of depth and outlook into each one and their motivations, despite the end goal being similar and the conventions in doing so are all a part of the Triforce and its balance.

      So a female Link later on wouldn’t be a bad thing to do, just as long as it isn’t an ‘option’ and it’s her game. Of course, they would also have to make more than one with female Link, it goes without saying otherwise complaints will occur that they only did it for one game.

      KL-Cobalt on June 25 |
    • Except Link has been male for over 30 years. Just because Link from Wind Waker has a slightly different personality than say Twillight Princess doesn’t really mean he is a blank slate character, just means they are variations of the same link.

      What do they have in common? Laziness, love of adventure, courage, swordsmen, wears tunics, generally decent to animals, hylians, blue eyes, generally awkward around women.

      I mean you could make an argument that Paper Mario and Mario have different personalities, ones much more braver and fierce and the other is go lucky silly!

      Ganon on January 29 |
      • @Ganon, I agree with you with everything except you saying that Link is lazy; I wouldn’t say that at all. I think the term you were looking for is “not a morning person.” Link oversleeps in almost every game but once he’s up, he’s certainly not lazy. How could he be with all those dungeons and sidequests he completes? Lol

        hikarijake on March 6 |
  3. It might be worth noting that in the BoTW trailer, the female voice says “Link” specifically now, meaning naming him anything else is likely gone too, to further solidify his name and identity, in a way.

    xkan on June 24 |
  4. Thank you PushDustin, couldn’t have said it better myself.
    I also really don’t get when people say it’ll open Zelda to a new demographic. If the only thing keeping you from playing a video game series is a gender, that’s pretty dumb. Zelda’s gameplay and formula doesn’t need a female Link, hell, Hyrule Warriors showed of how many female characters Zelda has.

    aguchamp33 on June 25 |
  5. It wouldn’t hurt to give us a Link who can speak, and stay faithful to any characterization he would normally have while mute. Mario practically has dialog as it is. Just not complete sentences or any explanation of why he does what he does (but Pit is allowed to talk the whole nine yards). Let’s compare two pieces of dialog:

    Sonic: What you see is what you get, just a guy who loves adventure!
    Mario: It’s a me, Mario! Wahoo!

    Now which line gives us more information about what the character stands for?

    Klonoa speaks (not as much as Huepow), but he doesn’t have polarizing attitude like Sonic, or several Naughty Dog and Insomniac characters. Hell, Samus speaks more than Link, but her character isn’t ruined (unless you count Other M).

    AMan FromDeclan on June 30 |
  6. Personally, I’ve never once paid much thought to Link’s gender in a game, and I was pretty much all in on the ‘blank slate’ train of thought. You have brought up a lot of good points here, though. Link’s appearance may change drastically between games, but he is still Link, and there’s a set of defined characteristics to ‘Link’. I don’t think Mario is as good of a comparison, because Mario always appears almost exactly the same in all his games. In the two cases I can think of off the top of my head (Mario And Luigi: Partners in Time, and the Paper Mario series), they’re not ‘Mario’, they’re different versions of Mario (Baby Mario and Paper Mario respectively. The fact that both ‘Mario’ and ‘Paper Mario’ show up together in Paper Jam is proof enough of this). I do think a female Link could work in some game eventually, though I also just wouldn’t mind a game where you could play as Zelda.

    Spiral on July 1 |