Breath of the Wild – Questions and Concerns

I’ve been playing Breath of the Wild slowly, only about one or two hours a night, and I’ve been focusing on working my way through the shrines. There may still be parts of the story that I’m missing, but so far I’ve seen a number of things in the game that make me go “Hey, this is 2017, why are we still doing this?”

For one thing, there are multiple queer-coded characters whose gender presentation seems to function primarily as a target for humor. I’m not saying that we shouldn’t poke fun at the gender binary, and I’m certainly not saying that over-the-top gay camp silliness isn’t wonderful, but it would be nice if there were more normalized queerness to go along with the jokes.

It’s also really cool that people of all races and genders are in love with Link, and it’s cool that Link is totally okay with this, but the insistence of the game designers that he is male still rubs me the wrong way. For some reason it’s okay to queerbait a shark boyfriend (fish pun totally intended) with boy Link, but heaven forbid that Mipha or Princess Zelda becomes romantically attracted to girl Link. Ditto for Link dressing up as a Gerudo – couldn’t it have worked just as easily for female Link to have needed to wear special clothing?

I’m also fascinated by the gender politics of Gerudo society. If there are male Gerudo, why don’t we see more of them? It’s fun to joke about how a homosocial society finds heteronormativity strange, but I think that it would have been super interesting to see how that plays out for the male minority.

And speaking of the male minority, I definitely want to know what happened with Ganondorf. Was he the reason the Gerudo ditched the whole “the one male born in a hundred years becomes king” tradition? It’s kind of a bummer that, while the Hylians have a long history that affects their actions and worldview, the Gerudo seem ahistorical. If the Hylians have been able to transmit information about Ganon from generation to generation, why would the Gerudo have forgotten about Ganondorf? Since they have their own language, don’t they have their own books? Why is their history given less weight than the history of the Hylians?

Before the game came out, I was beyond excited that the Gerudo were making another appearance. After all, it’s 2017, and Nintendo has demonstrated greater sensitivity to global diversity (in terms of race, ethnicity, gender, sexuality, disability, and so on) for the past several years. The amount of time and care the Breath of the Wild development team was putting into the game made me optimistic that they were devoting significant attention to rectifying the boring and ugly tropes formerly allowed to pass because of technical limitations and the relative lack of conversation surrounding the Zelda series. The more I actually play the game, however, the more I’m becoming frustrated with various aspects of the worldbuilding and storytelling.

Specifically, Breath of the Wild could have been much more sensitive regarding its portrayal of transgender issues, and I don’t think it would have hurt the game if there had been some solid LGBT+ representation. Also, it’s more than a little disturbing that the theme of gendered otherness is conflated with racial otherness, and if I never have to see another Orientalist stereotype of a harem outfit presented unironically for the viewer/player’s pleasure then I can die happy.

It’s a bit weird to see “legitimate” and generally fairly progressive venues like The New Yorker hail Breath of the Wild as being “a perfect game.” I can’t help but wonder if perhaps it’s not being unduly rewarded for reflecting the interests of “serious” (typically white male) gamers while the vocal demands made by a number of groups overwhelmingly marginalized in mainstream gaming journalism were ignored, even when they were repeatedly made directly to the developers in interviews. Journalists have basically been like, “Breath of the Wild is everything that the sort of people who read and write for ‘serious’ gaming publications like Edge magazine think a good game should be,” all the while amplifying the voices of a small and very specific group of gamers. Meanwhile, it’s apparently not worth discussing that the story and visual imagery of Breath of the Wild actively reinforce stereotypes that harm real people.

I am head over heels in love with Breath of the Wild, and I really appreciate how the game gives the player a sense of moving through a huge open world. I just really wish the story elements were as expansive and as carefully considered as the gameplay.

( Header image by Nicole Busse on Tumblr )

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