essay

The chain of white Links

“Day 063” by Corvus Elrod

I don’t check Tumblr often enough, obviously. After giving up on my 52 Twine Stories project, for which I only achieved about half my goal, I have mostly abandoned the platform. This was maybe five or six months ago too and, since then, I visit maybe once a month now, scan through the various accounts and people I follow to check up on things, and then close it out. Since both the app and my phone had been updated weeks ago, in fact, I hadn’t even put in my credentials to login again until about an hour ago.

After looking through some links others had shared, most of which I had already seen by this point, I came across the above picture by Corvus Elrod. It’s part of a project, if I am to believe the hashtags used, to draw something every day for as long as possible. This particular one was labeled “Day 063” and depicts a darker-skinned person dressed in green garb that could easily be medieval in origins. Holding a bow and with a quiver on her back, this could be Robin Hood re-imagined. Or even one of many Western legendary characters associated with archery.

However, that’s not what I saw at first. I saw Link. You know, of The Legend of Zelda fame? This was a black Link! It was something I was immediately excited about for its implications of a subversive interpretation of racial stereotypes in video games. It’s a thread I’ve picked up recently for some research I’ve been doing into the Final Fantasy series and its treatment of race through magical and technical means. How the series encodes its messages not just through more obvious dialogue, but deep into its mechanics as well.

Yet, here was the very imagery I have been thinking about! A representation of how we have become complacent with “white” heroes in are games. We not only accept that the white person will be the leader, but also will “get the girl.” too. Looking through Nintendo’s back-catalog specifically, we see white heroes in the forms of Mario, Link, and even Samus. With the later two named not for their series, The Legend of Zelda and Metroid, but for what they “face” instead: once Link rescues Zelda or Samus eliminates the metroid threat, their games end.

Thinking about them, and in the face of Corvus’ picture, I can’t help but to think how strong a black Link would be. If, instead of race being played out through the Gerudo (nearly always problematic for its pairing of ‘evil’ with both darker skin and a tribe of women), it could be front and center in the character of Link himself — or even herself. Given the general skin colors of the characters in the games, this would be perfect for its on-going trope of Link being an orphan or otherwise displaced child. If Link would have to confront not only the magical forces of the world, but the racism of villagers too, it could be a powerful way of developing empathy in players.

Not to mention the undercurrents in games like A Link to the Past too. Imagine what a player would have to internalize if they were hunted for being a “criminal” in the world, as the game is now, but also as the only black character in the game. How much more would the look at how race plays into interpretation of people intentions work then? If they had to face past and present, as in Ocarina of Time, as someone truly displaced, both as being not fairy and of another race visually, how much stronger would that game be?