A Zelda Retrospective

How race has been dealt with in previous games: Ocarina of Time, Majora’s Mask, and Twilight Princess.

The Many Incarnations of Link

Right, it occurs to me now that I’m thinking about it, that I may not have been entirely fair in my last post about the portrayal of race in The Legend of Zelda. After all the franchise has a 25 year-long history for a reason, so therefore it only makes sense to take a closer look at other games in the series. That said, given that there are 31 game sand associated spinoffs, I’m going to focus on the games I’ve actually PLAYED. Otherwise my entire blog would be about this series and to be honest, there are other games I’d like to talk about.

Let’s start with the first game I played:

That’s a bit of a lie actually, what I should state is: this is the first game my Mom played. That’s right, my mother is a gamer. Partially out of parental responsibility but mostly out of enjoyment, my mom purchased this game after running up our Rogers Video bill so high she decided it was probably cheaper to buy. Thus began a family bonding experience that lives in my memory to this very day. The lack of voice acting and on-screen text forced my brother and I not only to learn to read, but read at a higher level and the puzzles involved were a fun way for us to bond. Whoever says video games don’t promote family bonding, I can prove you wrong. Take that statistics!

But we’re discussing race in this game, not fond childhood memories so without further ado let me introduce you to the sentient races of Hyrule: In order of Appearance

Immortal Children of the Forest: Kokiri
The Rock people of Death Mountain: Gorons
The Water Tribe: Zoras
The Shadowy Protectors of the Court and Masters of the Dead: The Sheikah

The Desert Thieves: Gerudo

These six races, including Hylians which are the stand in for human in this game, make up the sentient people of Hyrule. And for the most part, I feel Nintendo respects that. All six races have their own cultures and history reflected in their unique visual style. There doesn’t seem to be much racial clashing until the villain Ganondorf invades Hyrule and starts a war. Ganondorf is one of the Gerudo people, and is interesting because the Gerudo are an all female tribe of thieves that live out in the desert with their own hierarchy and civilization which is reminiscent of the mythological Amazons. The difference is, once every 100 years a male Gerudo is born and is immediately crowned king, therefore gaining ultimate power over Gerudo society. This is more of a class issue than a case of race issue. What is a race issue is while all races are welcome in Hyrule and co-exist rather peacefully the Gerudo were banished to the desert for vaguely defined reasons and are therefore treated as pariahs in Hyrule.

Secondly the major plot twist for this game, and I’m not calling it a spoiler because the game’s been out for more than a decade now and just saw a re-release on the 3DS, is that lInk is actually a Hylian and not one of the Immortal Kokiri children of the Forest. In a curious case of reverse racism, your character is initially treated as an outcast in his own home because you lack a fairy companion which marks you as different from the other Kokiri. Thus Link is the devalued one for being human rather than the other way around. You eventually get a fairy, but it’s later revealed that Kokiri never grow up (and since you clearly have) Link must leave his forest home forever and try to join Hylian society.

The direct sequel that depicts this (for the failure it is):

So, this is an odd one. I like to say it tries to undo all the assumptions the previous game gives the player but that’s only true to a point. That point is this: It turns out several monster races are actually sentient in the paralell world of Termina that Link travels too. Go figure. Leading this semi-horrific realization that the monsters you’ve been slaughtering without thought have minds are the Deku Scrubs: it turns out not only are they sentient, they have a monarchy. I wish I was kidding.

Also included in this lineup are Stalchildren, undead skeleton monsters who try to slaughter you without remorse if you are in an open area a night, but pick up the right mask and suddenly you can talk to them! Brings into question who the monster really is. Also included in this game is the option of turning into other races.

Link as a Deku Scrub

This is really neat actually. By calming dead spirits Link can turn them into masks and take on the forms they had in life. This means you can literally put yourself in another persons shoes and experience life through their eyes. Not only that, but each form has it’s own unique powers, abilities and weaknesses, proving that some races actually are better suited for certain tasks than others. This game mechanic highlights the other denizens of Termina in a positive format.

Finally lets take a look at this one:

So, here’s another game with another viewpoint on the race issue. This game introduces into the racial canon the Twili:

Denizens of the Twilight Realm

Their  back story: The Twili are the descendants of a race of people who lived in Hyrule but were banished to a different plane of existence for the practice of vaguely defined black magic. Very vaguely defined. This seems to be a story trope of the Zelda series, not actually explaining the evil any given Link is battling. After Ganondorf (or his spirit anyway) breaks into the twilight realm the story’s villain Zant decides his people have been repressed long enough for a mistake made hundreds of years ago,crowns himself King and declares war on Hyrule having conveniently developed the power to travel between dimensions.

The problem is this: the Twili like the Twilight realm. Thus Link is actually drawn into a civil war he really has no business in all while trying to keep the races segregated from each other. Yes. Twilight Princess actually promotes segregation. Now, the game does explain that the Twili have acclimatised to the Twilight realm and therefore can’t survive in Hyrule anymore but still. At the end of the game their ruling Princess decides that the two races can never have contact with each other and destroys the only connection between the worlds.

Really?

Enforced racial segregation is going a bit far guys, narrative driven or not.

The interesting thing about these three games is they all treat racial difference in entirely different ways. Ocarina of Time states that everyone basically gets along, Majora’s Mask explores that pysches of previously devalued races and even highlights them and Twilight Princess endorses enforced racial segragation. The only connecting fact between all these games is Link and Zelda are Hylians.

Hmmm, it’s something to think about for this one:

How will race ended up being shown in this one?
-Danni
Imported from “What is the Measure of Non-Human”
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