Despite Nintendo's Stumbles, Breath Of The Wild's Fans Have Embraced Crossdressing Link

Breath of the Wild is light on plot, which makes any missteps stand out. One brief costume change illustrates how designers/can fail and how fandom is left picking up the pieces.

Here's the moment: looking for help in the desert, Link seeks to enter Gerudo Town to speak with their ruler. Gerudo Town is off limits to men. Hearing that a man did manage to sneak in, he seeks them out until he finds a woman named Vilia who turns out to be the individual who snuck into the city. They offer to make Link a set of Gerudo clothing and fawn over his new look as Link bashfully wears this new outfit.

Link stands in a cropped top and veil, blushing feverishly as Vilia complements his looks. As the wind picks up, it blows Vilia's veil off to reveal a full beard that Link responds to with visible shock.

This scene relies on tired tropes. Vilia is a fey dandy character, an expression of queerness as weak and wispy. The focus on Link's clothing is almost entirely on how "cute" he would be. There's a fetishizing quality at play, a reveling in the chance to objectify Link. Vilia becomes a punchline as her features are revealed. The bearded lady. The freak in the cage.

My feelings about this moment are complicated. It feels careless, presented without regard for the weight of things it implies about finding humour in the discovery about someone's gender. It calls to mind the occasional stares I get on the subway. Passing in the real world is full with anxiety. Every time you don't pass, your mind reels with potential outcomes.

Will someone laugh? Will they insult you? Will they assault you? This scenario feels like it was made without much thought for its implications. At least one other critic has broken down the moment's flaws in detail, calling out the carelessness. Such lack of consideration is a genuine problem as gamers become more diverse.

But I'm also not angry about this moment. I don't have a lasting resentment. It played like farce but I also find such farce easier to dismiss than transphobia that colours Grand Theft Auto or the abhorrent Kill the Faggot game that snuck onto Steam in 2015.

The moment passed and I was now left with the clothes and could use them however I wanted. One of the most radical things you can do when you are marginalized is to reassert and reaffirm the value of your own identity. The game afforded me that opportunity. Link could be fabulous, if I wanted. He could dress like a girl and still be the hero. I could walk up to the Master Sword and so long as I had journeyed enough, I could claim it. It didn't matter what I was wearing.

For some people, this will be little comfort. After all, we should not have to reclaim anything or fight to stress the importance of our identity. Least of all in a Zelda game. But for me, the ability to dress up provided a chance to be a less traditional hero, if only from time to time. Judging by community reaction, I'm not the only one who has found 'Gerudo Link' to be beautiful:

In creating this artwork, fans have twisted whatever negative connotations found in the game into something empowering and strong. In the game, the Gerudo outfit is a plot contrivance, the solution to a brief puzzle. At best, its heat resistant set bonus makes it a useful tool. On social media, it's a symbol of grace and exuberant queer expression.

Let's be clear: fans shouldn't have to make up for developers' shortcomings. Fans shouldn't have to twist and bend to take back an image and affirm their identity or to deal with gendered jokes during their time playing a game.. They shouldn't have to forge a path for greater inclusion themselves, shouldn't have to draw Link as a girl or Zelda on her own quest in a major game in the franchise.

But they can and they do. Breath of the Wild drops the ball with Vilia and Link's crossdressing. Thankfully, fans picked the ball right back up and ran it upcourt for a slam dunk.


Comments

    Spoilers.

      No, it's OK. Final Fantasy VII has been out for 20 years so Cloud's cross-dressing scene is fair game.

    I saw Vilia as someone doing something to sell their stuff, not that they are crossing dressing because of other reasons.

    Thankfully, fans picked the ball right back up and ran it upcourt for a slam dunk.

    So fans have picked the ball up with the Prince Sidon fanclub?

    Isn't this just what fans of something do, create fanart?

    A beautiful mix of rule 34/rule63 that will be im sure be fun for the whole family.

    And by whole family i mean me.

    Of course, they wanna ship fem link with just about anything (MS included).

    Also I don't know what it is exactly but something about this article bothers me. Like it's trying to make this thing about something that it isn't? I'm not sure exactly what I'm trying to get at, but it feels like there's a conflation between transgenderism and crossdressing when the two often have nothing to do with each other. Or something. I dunno. Maybe someone smarter than me can pinpoint it better, but there's something off about it.

      I think these kinds of quests/plotlines can sometimes be fairly funny. The main character's embarrassment/awkwardness and seeing the reactions from other characters is kind of amusing.

      We understand that the character in question isn't trans - they're not being made fun of because of or wrestling with insecurities about their gender identity. Nor is it that they're being made fun of/uncomfortable with being a dude who likes to crossdress (but isn't trans). The actual core of the humor is coming from somewhere much more light-hearted than that.

      That said, I can also see that from the perspective of a trans person or somebody struggling with gender identity, it might be a deeply uncomfortable scenario to encounter in game all the same due to the outward similarities with their real-life challenges.

      With that in mind... the core of the joke is basically the same if you have the character wear a goofy hat or clothing that's incongruous with their character in some way other than gender. Considering the current climate it might be better to do that instead if you don't intend to have your joke interpreted as a comment about gender.

      I get similar feelings, took me a while to realise why.
      (Not saying it's why you do too, just throwing it in there as something I've thought about a bit)

      As stupid as this sounds, I realised that by already being accepting of people, it was hard to make a big deal out of something that clearly was huge for them.
      It's like a friends kid painting a picture that goes up on the fridge, yes I'm going to compliment it in person, no I actually won't be making a big deal when they post it on face book.
      It doesn't mean I don't like the kid or support them, I just have limited time I can invest beyond the normal and I don't have kids of my own to relish the feeling.
      (The articles can sometimes feel like getting an angry message asking why you didn't compliment the painting post)

      But of course in the real world not everyone is accepting, some people see the worst of humanity that some of us don't see.
      I know I've never had to deal with the real life equivalents of this issue.

      Live and let live!!

      Last edited 15/03/17 9:44 pm

      Yep you are right when you point out that the thing lies in the difference between transgenderism and crossdressing. I think that the point at which the article went over the line a bit, was with this quote Let's be clear: fans shouldn't have to make up for developers' shortcomings. Fans shouldn't have to twist and bend to take back an image and affirm their identity or to deal with gendered jokes during their time playing a game.
      Read more at https://www.kotaku.com.au/2017/03/despite-nintendos-stumblesbreath-of-the-wilds-fans-have-embraced-crossdressing-link/#xP0dygDspkHjERet.99
      which implies that Nintendo (or anybody else creating something like it) owes its transgender fans a responsibility to make a lighthearted crossdressing scene into a fully-blown statement of transgender identity soulsearch. it is not so. Nintendo only owes its fans the responsibility to be tasteful and respectful and that scene is clearly not crossing those lines.

      Yeah, I get what you're trying to say and I think I'm understanding.
      We don't know if this character, the one who gives link the cloths, is a transexual, or a fabulous drag queen.
      For some reason, the author has something against jokes, which is a little stupid. I feel it should be okay to joke, it's like, how I deal with situations and a how a lot of others do too. Having a laugh is okay, it doesn't need to be serious all the time because that's absolutely ridiculous to take yourself so seriously. It doesn't really take away from the message, really this scene is rather open, and anyone can interpret any way they wish. If you get offended, it's not on Nintendo to bend to your will.
      Anyway, when I came out of that scene I actually felt really good for that character. Whether they are trans or cross dressing, they are happy. And I'm happy for them.
      People will make a huge fuss about anything really, I just don't get how the author can't see how glorious the whole situation is by itself.
      The fans didn't pick up nintendos slack, they built off it.
      They gave you the option of looking so fine for the rest of the game. You also have the option of getting a second set of cute cloths in in the village! XD ah!
      Seriously though, like people need to chill. The scene doesn't represent everybody in the trans community, and we shouldnt expect it to. Everyone's different. So happens this lovely character feels comfortable enough not to shave. I think that's great!

    Not everything has to be a statement, this was simply a plot device and should be treated as such, i remember my sisters friends dressing me up once in my preteens, it meant nothing just like this mission. The more concerning part is why after becoming the hero and saving the city that you cant come and go dressed in what you want.

      I think the whole reason that men aren't allowed into Gerudo Town is because they'd be pinned down and pretty much be snu snu'd to death by these women who never get to see men. It makes sense that he'd still have to crossdress for his safety.

    I figured I was already cross dressing when I was wearing the Shiekah outfit lol.

    Haven't played the game myself but this scene just sounds really weird even if you divorce it from a modern perspective on gender identity issues.

    If what Link hears is that a man snuck into the town once, and after he finds this person they offer to make him a set of clothes that'll help him sneak in... why would he then be shocked to discover they have a beard? It just doesn't make sense as a reaction narratively - Link should understand, based on the information he has so far, that this person is male and snuck in by wearing clothes that blended in with the townsfolk.

      I think it would be along the lines of whilst Link suspects that this individual is the man in question, he has no proof. When the wind blows the veil off it reveals a feature so out of place that it shocks Link, potentially along the thought process of; "Why didn't you shave?"

      But that's just my guess.

      It makes sense since Vilia looks very feminine and sexy, but then when Link finally sees his face Vilia has a big manly beard. That's where the shock comes from.

      I can add some context.

      The player is blatantly aware, Link is an idiot with the personality of a brick that can yell, YAA!
      Seriously though, it's obvious, but Link follows a different path to reach it.

      -You hear a man might have snuck in, the mission giver has been waiting to see how, you learn he has to travel between the city and the trading oasis.
      -You go to the oasis and ask about suspicious men, no leads, they think all men are suspicious
      -You ask about suspicious merchants and get nothing until somebody mentions they saw a trader in full traditional garb, which was rare these days.
      -You track the suspicious trader to a roof and meet Vilia.

      So yes, it's clear to everyone that Vilia was a man, but Link does have an element of stupidity in just following leads.

      Although, if we wanna talk about weird, you literally wake up with no memory and everyone pointing out the giant shadow dragon you have to kill with your tree branch and pot lid.
      Despite this, Links response is a stone faced affirmative.
      (Might be the stupid thing again)
      Yet when it's revealed the man selling you woman's clothes is a man, that's when Link gets surprised.....while your wearing said clothes.
      That is pretty weird.

      Not even a little bit. The offended police are on patrol.
      The set up is link hears of a man who managed to get into the women only city. Asking around he finds a "strange vai" on the roof of the inn in the desert oasis. It is a sleight woman with stark red hair and fetching eyes. You are given the choice to say "you are beautiful" and "you are a man?" Respectively. You get chastised for choosing the man option, obviously she's a woman. If you say she's pretty, she sets you up in a vai outfit specifically to hide your maleness. Link is obviously uncomfortable at this prospect.
      The offense is in a 3 second scene at the ending. The wind kicks up and reveals the beard of the "strange vai" She quips that you must mind the wind as Link groans. My interpretation was that Link was surprised by the reveal, why would one go through so much trouble and neglect the one male defining feature?
      That's it. That's the entire "misstep" joke. a cross dresser missing step 0 in cross dressing: have a clean shaven face.

    See, I've been playing a lot of BotW since it came out and, whilst not normally something I concern myself with, I had actually caught myself musing at how this game's iteration of Link is decidedly asexual.
    I'm not sure the game goes to any great lengths to call Link a "he" in this game, often simply referring to him as "the champion" or just Link.
    I found his visual design to be surprisingly gender Neutral, equally at home and bad-ass looking in both masculine and feminine outfits.
    Way back when this game was first debuted, people everywhere were convinced Link was female based on his looks from the trailer, and his design hasn't changed at all. I think he is, in this game in particular, designed to be gender neutral and even though I don't normally care for that, I found it sincerely refreshing.

    When it came to this particular quest, I admittedly never really took Villia as being a trans character, from all accounts leading to the encounter I had built an impression that this was a guy who was doing this purely to circumvent the local law in Gerudo city to make a profit.
    The fact he acts the way he does and openly denies you if ask him if he's male came across like someone committed to their role more than anything else.

    Last edited 15/03/17 9:46 pm

    Ok wasn't it that long ago that we were slapping on Nintendo for removing features like this from games?

    I'm not saying the depiction is great for everyone, but at least Nintendo took a clumsy step in the right direction right?
    Not to mention the question of how a family friendly company handles something like that in a broader sense, I mean animals turn in to steaks in a puff of smoke and people expect complex themes of gender identity?

    Don't get me wrong, very important issues, but perhaps this is not the hill to send all your troops up?

    I saw it completely differently. The dude was dressed as a woman to get into the town. He keeps up that persona with Link for whatever reason until he accidentally gets revealed by the wind. Also a plot device to embarrass Link which was pretty funny.

    Why are men banned from the town? Talk about misandry.

      Because the first male was Ganon, and he ruined it for everyone else.

        I thought the lore said that a male was born every hundred years and he became king. Which does make me wonder what's happened in the century that's gone down here... (haven't reached the Gerudo yet).

      I just assumed that it's for mens safety. I have a feeling that these women, who some have never even seen a man, would be craving the D and pretty much make the guys slaves.

    Okay, but in the same game, Nintendo has also given us Prince Sidon, and I'm like 99.999% sure he is transgender. (He's the only red male Zora, and he has white scales.) I was extremely excited about him.

    I get that there is a lot of joking and stereotyping in this and many other Nintendo games, but the fact that they give us any representation at all, even if it is silly, makes me happy.

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