Over in the newly intersecting worlds of comic books and daytime talk shows, Marvel made a splash with the announcement that the next Thor will be a woman. Hidden amidst the expected reactions – applause, indifference, misguided and depressing fanboy rage – the Guardian’s Keith Stuart argued that gaming is ripe for a similar shakeup. I think he’s right. So in the spirit of Thor, here are five male video game characters that would benefit from a change of gender.
Link – The Legend of Zelda
Already the subject of much speculation following the reveal of the next Zelda at E3, Link is far and away the most obvious candidate for a reset, and with good reason. Link’s character design has always been slightly androgynous so it wouldn’t take more than a few artistic touch-ups to make him (or her) more feminine.
For Nintendo, it would be minimal effort for a monumental effect. Even if the gameplay remains identical, the change would force players to recontextualize their relationships with Zelda and the people of Hyrule.
The shift would also have incredible symbolic import. Archetypal figures like Link are vessels for ideals, existing as myths that represent the best that we can aspire to. Those legends should not be the exclusive purview of men. A female Link would demonstrate that virtues like courage and resourcefulness belong equally to women, an especially vital lesson for Nintendo’s younger demographic.
Master Chief – Halo
Yes, a female Master Chief would essentially be Samus Aran. Like Nintendo’s original NES sprite, Microsoft’s Spartan has few distinguishing features beyond his power armor.
But Master Chief is a reminder that timing is important. Sure, the reveal in Metroid was surprising, but gaming was a much younger medium with no established franchises and far fewer expectations. Samus wasn’t as shocking because she wasn’t placed in opposition to any tangible trend.
In 2014 – thanks in large part to the original Halo – male-dominated military shooters are the medium’s ascendant genre, the entrenched standard against which all other commercial releases are measured. Going back to ground zero and changing the gender of the proto space marine would send shockwaves through the industry, redefining the acceptable range of fictional soldiers for a new generation of gamers.
Conker – Conker’s Bad Fur Day
It’s a post-Bridesmaids world. Tammy notwithstanding, Melissa McCarthy is one of Hollywood’s most bankable comedians and the appetite and audience for female-driven gross-out humor is bigger ever before. Unfortunately – as with so much else – gaming has been slow to catch up with the rest of popular culture.
Stuart identified the medium’s comedic shortcomings and suggested Duchess Nukem as a possible remedy. It’s a decent thought, but given the Duke’s considerable baggage, I think there’s a better candidate.
Conker has been in hibernation ever since Conker’s Bad Fur Day recalibrated the age rating of the N64. We’re long overdue for a revival. It was once earth shattering to see and hear a cuddly Nintendo mascot engage in such vulgar antics and the routine hasn’t been adequately replicated since.
A new Conker game still has that unparalleled potential to shock and entertain, and a gender swap would only amplify the transgressive power, putting a feminine spin on a traditionally masculine genre. Since Nintendo would never volunteer Peach for anything so scatological, we’ll settle for a foul-mouthed squirrel who’s already made several trips to the gutter.
Kratos – God of War
As a square-jawed barbarian flaunting his shirtless virility, Kratos is the most overtly masculine character on the list. He’s stronger, angrier, hornier, crazier, and inexplicably more desirable than everyone on Olympus. His violence justifies itself, fostering a pathological sense of entitlement that permits Kratos to do whatever he wants, gods and consequences be damned.
In other words, Kratos is the supreme male power fantasy. So what happens to God of War when the protagonist is no longer a man?
Besides, Kratos has already killed everyone in the Pantheon, so it’s also a matter of necessity. If Sony wants to keep churning out God of War games, it needs to do something to make the character relevant again now that his lone motivating goal has been achieved. A gendered reboot would do the trick, giving audiences a fresh take on the tired revenge narrative.
Joel – The Last of Us
In a way Joel’s female counterpart already exists. Tess, his partner in the early stages of The Last of Us, is of a similar temperament and is equally skilled at survival. His inclusion here indicates not that we need to see a female version of Joel as much as it is an acknowledgement that characters like Tess should have more opportunities to take the spotlight.
The Last of Us explores a father-daughter relationship and the pairing is ultimately intrinsic to the plot. But there’s a similar, slightly different game that could be made with a different set of characters, and I’d love to experience that story too. How does The Last of Us play out if Tess becomes Ellie’s primary caretaker?
Casting a woman as the lead would introduce new sets of interpersonal dynamics – mother-daughter, mother-son, etc. – that are seldom explored in video games. If developers address those pairings with the same nuance that Naughty Dog brought to The Last of Us, then gaming will give us a lot to look forward to in the years to come.