Why Nintendo Needs More Female Protagonists

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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.

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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’).

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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 Varley
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.