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Why Nintendo Needs More Female Protagonists

Features

The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild was met with a warm reception when it was announced at E3, but not every fan was happy with the choice of protagonist. For a while, rumours had been circulating that the next Legend of Zelda could have a female lead. Sadly, the mumblings weren’t true and producer Eiji Aonuma explained that giving Zelda the lead would have meant poor Link would be left at home, twiddling his thumbs.

Yep, even though the game is named after her, having Zelda in charge might mess up the “balance of the Triforce” (whatever that means), so she’s the one that has to stay at home.

Nintendo’s lack of female protagonists is a real problem – 52 percent of all gamers are female (and they don’t just play mobile games, either) and not catering to this audience could prove costly. While some may argue that women don’t always want to play as a female character, there’s a reason why the majority of protagonists in video games are male – the games are largely made by men, for men.

Sure, Nintendo does have some great female characters, including Samus, Bayonetta, and Zelda, but others like Princess Peach, Rosalina and Lucina have rarely or never been given a chance to be a leading, or even playable, character. Women are mostly given background or minor roles in Nintendo games.

metroid-other-m-samus

One Step Forward, Two Steps Back

Just like the rest of the industry, Nintendo has improved over the years. In many of its first-party games, gamers are given the choice of being female or male – an option that simply didn’t exist at the time of Pokemon Red and Blue. It’s listened to the feedback of its audience, and introduced playable female racers in Mario Kart, let Princess Peach take the lead instead of being kidnapped all the time and tried to introduce some new female characters. Despite this, it’s evident that Nintendo is living in the past.

Last year, Nintendo celebrated Women’s History Month by creating ‘We can do it!’ posters for a selection of its female characters. The characters it chose to feature were interesting, to say the least. Of course, Samus, Bayonetta and Rosalina all made an appearance, but so did Bombette and Toadette, who are essentially female versions of male characters (there’s a reason their names end with ‘ette’ – real creative, Nintendo).

How is any girl or woman supposed to look up to a pink bomb? It’s a pretty insulting and silly PR move, especially considering Princess Peach didn’t make the cut, presumably because she almost always plays the ‘damsel in distress’ character.

When you think about, the only female Nintendo characters anyone could look up to are Samus, Bayonetta, Zelda and Lucina. That’s it. And Bayonetta and Samus have been sexualised (yes, I’m referring to the ‘Zero Suit’).

toadette-captain-toad-treasure-tracker

Representation Matters

It all comes back to this: women and girls need to be represented in video games, especially if Nintendo is to attract a young audience. Girls under the age of 12 are going to want to play as girls – a few pink background characters isn’t going to be enough.

Another problem is the lack of non-white Nintendo characters. Almost everyone in the Nintendo universe is either European or Asian. The lack of diversity really is shocking and if the company continues down this road, it will end up distancing a large percentage of its potential audience.

While it’s good to see a female protagonist was considered for Breath of the Wild, the reason why it was discounted has left many female gamers feeling cold. Nintendo needs to consider its audience and continue asking the question: what if this character was female? Recycling old IPs and characters will only get the company so far – let’s hope the NX introduces us to some new, modern and exciting Nintendo characters. In the meantime, Princess Zelda is going to be the one twiddling her thumbs.

Laura is a freelance video game journalist that has an adoration for all things geeky. Her first Nintendo console was the grey Gameboy brick, which has evolved over the years into a 3DS XL. When she’s not at a desk writing, Laura is busy catching Pokemon and trying to keep the residents of her Animal Crossing town happy.

27 Comments

  1. I think it’s also important to note that, despite this being the 30th anniversary for the Metroid series, the event is currently unrecognized by Nintendo while the new “Metroid Prime” game does not include Samus as a playable character. So not only are they focusing on Link over Zelda, they’re focusing on LoZ over Metroid and almost completely erasing Samus from the franchise at the same time, removing one of the few female protagonists they could be using to help offset this issue. The erasure of a female-centric game series’ major anniversary and main protagonist in favor of a male-centric game’s anniversary and major new video game is just one more troubling symptom.

    While including Samus wouldn’t help with the issue of diversity, and would only be “recycling old IPs and characters,” I think it would at least be a step forward from where they seem to be now. Certainly giving more thought, recognition, and production money to the Metroid series might help to begin changing the current atmosphere at Nintendo.

    Reply
    • So you think that the fact that Nintendo doesn’t came up with a proper Metroid anniversary celebration it’s because Metroid has a female lead and Nintendo is misogynist, not the fact that they have no games for their main console that is struggling to sell and they want to focus on the new one that will be released next year.

      Not everything has to do with politics and the Metroid series is not one of the most selled franchises of Nintendo to be focused on on a dying console. In fact i am surprised that they are going to release a Metroid game on the 3DS at all, even if it is a spin off,

      Reply
  2. Saying that 52% of ALL female gamers are female is misleading. What you actually mean to say is 52% of gamers within 4000 interviewed UK residents are female. That is hardly “all” gamers.

    Notice how this study has completely different results. They used 4000 American households.

    Neither study should ever be considered as fact for the entire gaming population. To say that they do makes is propaganda.

    For what it’s worth, female Link makes much more sense lore wise than Zelda and Link switching roles.

    Reply
  3. If the gender or ethnicity of a character matter enough to diminish your enjoyment of a video game, then I feel truly sorry for you.

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    • I know this is going to sound like a cliché SJW response, but I don’t think you’d feel that way if you actually had to experience not being represented in games. The message it sends is that European and Japanese men are the only people it’s worth telling a story about. You might think I’m reading into that too much. But ask yourself the question: why else is there such a difference in representation? Do you think it’s just a coincidence?

      I don’t think it’s reasonable so say “this specific game needs to have a protagonist with the identity i want it to have,” because ideally developers would make their protagonists woth good creative reasoning in mind. But it is reasonable to say something is wrong when across the board there are, for example, basically no black characters in Nintendo games. I actually think that relative to other developers, they do a pretty good job with gender (look at the number of female characters im smash 4), but race is a problem. It is alienating to be told that people who look like you don’t have stories worth telling.

      Reply
      • I think one problem is Nintendo doesnt publish many games where you could pick a race that young kids play.

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    • I enjoy a different perspective. It’s not a matter of enjoyment being diminished. A show of diversity in a title often makes it much much more interesting for me. It suggests to me the developers have more creative freedom and knowledge of different cultures and lifestyles which they can use to inspire them.

      I feel more confident in their ability to give us something with real depth. Something unusual, different and new. Too many games fall back on the same tired clichés. When creators dare to show us something new, I persomally find that exciting. Still, I appreciate we all want different things from video games. It’s nice to have choice.

      Reply
  4. In future please research something further, rather than irresponsibly falsy portraying fact to aid your own opinion. That is not journalism. Secondly, it’s unbelievable that this has to be pointed out to somebody on a gaming website, much less a Nintendo one, but Bayonetta is not a Nintendo character. She appeared in two games in a Nintendo console, but was not created by them, rather that accomplishment is down to platinum games. Secondly do you actually know how many woman actually work in game development today? Because if not I am happy to post you link, which might dispell the notion you have that most game makers are men, making games for men. In fact, in researching bayonetta, you should have come across Mira shimazaki, who was the lead artist on the game. Imagine that.

    Regarding Nintendo’s apartment lack of racially diverse characters. I would say that in 1985 a JAPANESE company created a couple of ITALIAN plumbers. It’s seems to me, that is a cultural departure from Nintendo no? I would also suggest, you would find it difficult to come across more racially diverse characters in Nintendo’s games for another reason: most of all their characters are NOT human. Not link or Zelda, toad or toadette. Incidentally, toadette is recognisable as the brave female in captain toad. The squid kids in splatoon, captain olimar, the Pikmin, fox McCloud, bowser, donkey Kong…guess what? Not human. Luckily for us gamers, Nintendo is more preoccupied with addressing the more important issues concerning video games, such as gameplay of all things. If all of Nintendo’s games characters were black, white, asisn, human, non human, female or male, no real video game fan would care as long as the games are great. It’s for that very reason I’m not ignorantly protesting outside Nintendo hq for them to make samus male so that I can “identify” with him, in order to enjoy the game more…god, it sounds even more ridiculous, when I see it written down. Nintendo owe explanations to nobody, they are allowed to make the games they want, if they happen to be female, male or whatever other characters, thats down to them. Stop bringing politics into video games. Oh and by the way princess peach was playable in the first ever instalment of Mario kart. I mean, really?

    Reply
    • Re: Link and Zelda, read up on your Tolkien eurocentrism. Elves are truly just substitutes for white people in fantasy.

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      • They are elves, not Europeans, but let’s say they were for argument’s sake. Then it would be a Japanese company creating a European character. Nintendo can do whatever they want and make the games they want and don’t need to think about representations if their players. But should you only enjoy games where a character needs to look like you in order to enjoy the experience then may I suggest Wii sports, Wii sports resort and miitomo. Goodness, people will try and find controversy all the live long day.

        Reply
  5. I didn’t know there were only 4000 gamers in the world. Really credible study right there.

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  6. We had Super Princess Peach, another would be great. Style Savvy has been good for young females. But i agree, Nintendo needs something maybe more appealing to a wider audience. An iconic female protagonist that doesnt require reading so girls at a really young age can enjoy.

    Reply
  7. Male, female. Who gives a f**k. Just enjoy what you play. So sick of this forced gender b******t. If the creators vision is a male then good luck. If you want more females being awsome watch mad max or force awakens.

    Reply
    • Clearly you care a great deal considering your comment. Hope the idea didn’t upset you too much.

      Reply
  8. You SJW’s ruin EVERYTHING!!!!

    LOZ has always been about Link, link is a dude and always has been. You feminazi’s weren’t complaining about Zelda being a playable character, you where complaining that Nintendo didn’t castrate Link and make him into a female… Now your engaging in revisionist history.

    Get a life losers and stop sucking the fun out of everything… Your becoming a blight in everything you interact with and the blow back will be severe.

    Reply
  9. People who force their views on others, by injecting their totally irrelevant political views into entertainment that is obviously not created for or marketed to them… Ruining the experience for the target audience… Should be fired.

    I will not come to this site again so long as this SJW is writing for it.

    Reply
    • Have you managed to remove the toothpicks from your eyelids, holding them open as you’re forced to read this article?

      What a weak minded person you must be if, simply by reading someone’s views or opinions, the views burrow into your brain and you are forced to accept them.

      Not everyone shares your opinions. Grow up and join the real world.

      Reply
  10. As a woman, I couldn’t care less what the main character’s gender is. The game needs to be good and engaging. That’s it.

    Also, pink Bomb-Ombs are awesome. Didn’t you play Mario 64?

    In addition, if you want to have a video game be a certain way, go make your own. People need to stop imposing their ideals on other people, ESPECIALLY those in other countries with different cultures. Let’s say a good video game came from… I don’t know, South America. As soon as it hits shelves in the US or UK, are you going to p*** all over them because there isn’t an option for a white character to “represent” yourself?

    This is probably the worst Nintendo Insider article I have ever read by far.

    Reply
    • These elections are for men only.

      If you don’t like it, go make your own elections.

      Having games that represent minorities doesn’t take away from games that cater to you or to the mainstream, so what is your issue?

      Reply
      • When did she say having games that represent minorities takes away from games that cater to her or the mainstream?

        She said it doesn’t matter. Which I agree with. Nintendo doesn’t need more females or races, they make games that should please you with gameplay.

        I’m not saying it’s a bad thing to have a good spread of each gender and race, I’m just standing by my statement of “It doesn’t, or shouldn’t, matter”.

        Reply
  11. Feminists don’t buy games, but they will crow all day about what gamers want. Male or female, if you play games you’re unlikely to notice or care what your character is, and the assertion without evidence of these troglodytes just underscores how little feminism has left to do in the 1st world.

    There are women being beaten to death for infidelity, honor killings, and impoverished women being denied access to birth control in any form. But let’s focus on slapping a pair of melons on a digital character. That’ll fix EVERYTHING.

    Reply
    • I am sorry your worldview is so small.

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  12. oh my god, WHO THE HELL CARES!! -peter griffin
    no but seriously, i think feminists should focus on actually trying to help women around the world. There are women who cant vote, there are women being STONED TO DEATH for stupid reasons, there are women that cant drive a car because it is illegal in that country, there are women that are being CASTRATED in the middle east and in Africa and list goes on. Feminists should try getting their priorities straightend out first and then we can talk about the need for more female protagonists in video games. I think western women tend to forget how much better they have than in other parts of the world.

    Reply
  13. First a mistake in this article lists Lucina as hardly ever non playable but she was in her debut game and has had playable guest appearances in a number since that debut. Second I agree, despite being a male I would like to see more female leads but I don’t think Nintendo isn’t trying. While they didn’t put the option in the latest Zelda, a number of Nintendo’s recent games do feature the option of choosing gender or characters of opposite gender. Right now they just need to work on showcasing them but presentation is a problem they have had for years regardless of gender.

    Reply
  14. Great article. It would be really nice to see Nintendo add some diversity to their main character protagonists. I wonder if they have it in them.

    Reply
  15. Stop to force your twisted worldviews on other cultures.

    Reply
    • Who? Me?

      Reply

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