Friday, 2 February 2018

Why Is Dark Skin So Rare in Zelda Games?

So let me preface this by stating that the Legend of Zelda series is in fact one of my all-time favourite video game series well.. ever. My earliest gaming memories involve me running around and exploring the Kokiri Forest whilst not being much older than Young Link himself. However, looking back at the series as an adult you begin to notice and question some things like… why is everyone white? And before you all come steamrolling in like “BUT THE GERUDO!!11!1!” give me a chance to finish.

Like, who are the Gerudo really? The Gerudo are a race whom live entirely in the desert isolated from the towns, cities and the other races of Hyrule. They are known throughout Hyrule as a band of thieves who only venture out to either steal or get *ahem* involved with Hylian men because they are overwhelming a race of only women. An exception to this being that every hundred years a male Gerudo is born who will be revered and undisputedly go on to rule as king. That being said there is only one known male Gerudo king in Zelda lore, Ganondorf. Way to go Nintendo! The first time women of colour get some representation in the Zelda franchise and we’re solely responsible for birthing the reincarnation of evil and in some timelines, consequently destroying the realm entirely.

So let us fast-forward to now, leaving the next few Gerudo appearances as pirates and literal monsters behind us, and look at the latest instalment in the series The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. Here the Gerudo are treated much more respectfully as a whole in this game, not only that but if you look REALLY hard you can find some other melanin-blessed inhabitants about the place. But let’s finish up on the Gerudo for now. In BotW they have managed to finally rid themselves of their negative stereotypes and are much more welcoming to Hylians and all the other races of Hyrule for that matter. You do however still do need to strictly be a female to enter their city. In their city you can find a number of helpful items to trade with the various inhabitants as well as a secret black market for the illegal trade of male Gerudo attire as the shopkeeper decides to ignore the fact of you actually being a man. Speaking of attire, Gerudo women can be found in other areas of Hyrule still sporting their traditional attire which is sexualised in a way you don’t see with Hylian women. Speaking for myself I’m not sure whether there is anything behind this or if this is just the result of Nintendo not really bothering for including much variety amongst their NPCs.

I won’t go into too much detail as they are all best described here but there are a number of brown-skinned NPCs to find along your journey. If you explore the south-eastern corner of Hyrule you may stumble across the quaint Lurelin village inhabited by a cute albeit small group of inhabitants with beautifully sun-kissed skin. What you won’t find there is much of a purpose for its general existence but as a means of representation it’s enough for me. It would be nice however to not have to go on these excursions just to see people who look like me in my favourite games. Hyrule doesn’t share the same world history that we do so what reason do we have for these towns lacking so much diversity?

From what little I do know of Japanese culture I don’t believe that Japan has an agenda against black people or anything like that. But instead I believe that over the years the people at Nintendo have designed and developed games using the same mindsets that have subconscious biases ingrained by society as result of our collective history over the last few centuries or so. Another thing to keep in mind when exploring possible reasons behind these things is the fact that the Japanese populace is 98.5% native Japanese. If the environment of those making the design decisions isn’t inherently diverse it’s not a huge surprise to see that reflected in their work.

Looking at the new approach to the Gerudo and the lovely little Lurelin Village we can see that in the same way they’ve stepped forward with their gameplay that they’re making baby steps towards better representations of their diverse audiences. With a new Zelda game now under development now is the perfect time to make our presence as gamers and the importance of our representation known.