Exploring the uncharted territory of the gay videogame experience. Here, I explore the female/LGBT presence in videogame culture, media and industry.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

(Sort of) Self-Rescuing Princess Part 2

There is some debate among the fanbase about whether or not Zelda actually transforms herself into a man through magical means, or if she simply dresses as a man in an attempt to “pass” as a man. The Nintendo company and Shigeru Miyamoto cannot seem to make up their minds about the subject either. In Ocarina of Time, Sheik is always referred to as “he,” and is shown to have decidedly masculine features; tall, broad shoulders, narrow hips and well-defined muscles. There is still a feminine quality about him, but this could be the Japanese tradition of “bishonen,” a stylized way of depicting men in art, or it could be a clue to Sheik’s true identity. This suggests that Zelda has, in fact, truly transformed herself into a man. But in concept are released by Nintendo for later Zelda games, Sheik is shown to have softer, more feminine features; less-defined muscle structure, wider hips and a rounder face. This contradicts the idea of a magical transformation by suggesting that Zelda merely dressed as a man well enough to fool Gannondorf.

In his article, “Dude Looks Like a Lady,” Brandan Main claims that Zelda had other reasons for turning into Sheik besides protecting her kingdom. He says that Sheik “[combines] expressly male and female bodily ideals to land somewhere in between. Sheik is both, and neither. S/he is trans” (Main). If Sheik really is a transgender male, this would explain Nintendo’s inconsistency in its depiction of the character. While the idea of being transgender may be accepted by Japanese culture, it does not necessarily sit well with the international audience. After all, the character Birdo from Super Mario Brothers 2 was a male-to-female transgender in the Japanese version of the game, but that was changed once the game was brought to America. The idea that Zelda is only truly free from the cycle of kidnap and rescue when she is a man reinforces the claim that she is powerless to save herself because she is female.

An interesting fact that arises in the Zelda/Sheik dichotomy is that Princess Zelda is named after F. Scott Fitzgerald’s wife, who was known to be schizophrenic. Could it be that Miyamoto and the writers of Ocarina of Time were making an allusion to the Princess’ namesake? If they were, it was a clever try. But the Princess seems to suffer from Dissociative Identity Disorder rather than Schizophrenia. Both personalities are quite aware of one another, and the switch between them is triggered by trauma and safety, respectively. Gannondorf’s initial attack on Zelda’s castle could have provided sufficient emotional trauma to fracture the Princess’ personality, prompting the formation of Sheik. This male personality is powerful enough to protect himself and fight Gannondorf, whereas Zelda (being female) is not. If this theory proves true, it supports the claim that Zelda does not physically change into a man, but rather is dressing to pass as a man.

Zelda found yet another escape from her gender based oppression in a series of games released on the Phillips CD-I system. Phillips and Nintendo had been collaborating on the development of a CD bases system to compete with the Sega Saturn and Sony Playstation. When negotiations failed and Nintendo released the cartridge based N64, Phillips was given license to finish the three Legend of Zelda games that had been in development. The games are known by fans as the “Unholy Triforce” because of terrible writing and broken gameplay.

As poorly executed as the games are, two of them empower Princess Zelda in ways that she had never been in anything released by Nintendo. In both The Legend of Zelda: The Wand of Gamelon and Zelda’s Adventure, Princess Zelda is the only playable character. Her mission in both games is to rescue Link from Gannondorf. In The Wand of Gamelon, she sets out on her adventure in much of the same fashion as Link does in every Nintendo title. She is given a sword, shield and several magical items to use on her journey. She must fight, kill her enemies, and survive the ordeal. The expectations of her exactly the same as those of Link. Zelda is presented as his equal.

Her proficiency with weapons and magic items is equal to Link, as are her puzzle solving skills. She is never shown to have any reservations about using lethal force in order to defend herself and save Link. This is quite a change from any of the Nintendo iteration of Princess Zelda. Being the only heir to a kingdom under the constant threat of invasion, it is well within reason to believe that Zelda would have been train in combat and military tactics. But if this is so, why wouldn’t she use these skills to defend herself from Gannondorf in the Nintendo games? It seems necessary to apply the theory of multiple, parallel realities. The stark contrast in the behavior exhibited by Zelda, coupled with Miyamoto’s refusal to include the CD-I games in the official Zelda timeline suggest that the CD-I game characters exist on a different plan of reality. The alternate universe is free from this world’s tradition of favoring male dominated societies and the stigma associated with male vulnerability. The ability to play as Princess Zelda may also have been a progressive idea on Phillips’ part. With the rise in videogame popularity, it could be that Phillips wanted to tap into the burgeoning female gamer market by providing a well-known character for girls to identify with. Unfortunately, the sub-par quality of the games, along with the unpopularity of the CD-I system have relegated the effort and experience to obscurity.

1 comment:

  1. I came across this post randomly on Google, and found it very interesting. I read the previous post, too, and your point (both here and there) that "By returning Zelda to her role as Damsel in Distress immediately after her transformation, Nintendo is sending the message that Zelda is not simply a helpless female, but she is helpless because she is female." is painfully true, come to think of it. Thanks for writing this post!

    (Yes, I know this is an ancient post, but Google has no time-outs that I know of. *shrug*) -Beast of the Sea

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