What I’m Backing
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Ars Technica published this interesting article today describing a father who, for his preschool-aged daughter, hacked into The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker disc to gender-swap all the pronouns associated with Link, the male main character. I thought this was a great show of devotion to his daughter, and displayed a real understanding that young girls not only would like to see other girls in games, but also that there are so few available.
For technically-interested parties, he did this by opening up the game’s disc image in a hex editor, searching for the dialogue, and carefully changing each male-slanted phrase to a female one. It was a tedious task, I’m sure, especially considering that the number of characters in the file had to remain exactly the same – and clearly “she” contains one more character than “he”, “hers” one more than “his”, etc. This project took him weeks to complete.
While his daughter Maya probably isn’t old enough to understand what her father’s doing for her – not yet, anyway – I know exactly what she’s experiencing. As a child I always projected myself onto my book’s main character (still often do, in fact), and whenever something particularly exciting was going on to the boy in the story, I always wished it could be a girl instead.
I remember one story in particular, a cassette tape I listened to at night (yes, a cassette tape): I don’t remember the title, but I remember it was the story of a boy who joins the crew of a sailing ship in hopes of reconnecting with the sailor he believes is his father. There are storms, adventures, and emotional connections with people, and I remember thinking to myself, “I wonder how badly I’d damage the tape if I recorded over each reference to ‘boy’ as ‘girl’.” I wanted to be that character so badly, and was disappointed the role wasn’t being given to me.
And what’s funny is that I actually had that same experience, that feeling of disappointment, just last month! I wrote a bit about how excited I was about the game Dishonored, and while I definitely was, I also found myself privately disappointed that the main character wasn’t a female. I mean, there’s literally no reason the story couldn’t accommodate a woman in the main role as opposed to a man. The game creators spoke in interviews about how they removed most-to-all of the main character’s lines so the players could better project themselves onto him, and I found myself thinking, “Yeah…except that he’s still a dude.” As a woman I would have loved to play a female body guard and assassin, but the option just wasn’t offered.
That’s not to say I didn’t listen to that cassette tape until it fell apart or didn’t buy Dishonored and play it all the way through to its conclusion – I did on both counts – but that girls sometimes get the short end of the stick, especially when it comes to gaming.
Mike Hoye, the father in question, had this to say about girls in games to Ars:
…I think Maya deserves to have the game address her as herself. She’s not an NPC, and Dad’s favorite pastime shouldn’t treat girls like second-class citizens.”
And in an interview with GeekFeminism.org, he mentions this, which I found particularly poignant:
Changing something, especially something as basic as the nature of the characters, feels like it should be a pretty big deal.
But at the same time, it seems like I’m just solving a problem that’s stubbornly refused to solve itself. That option should always have been there.
He continues to say that he just wants his daughter to feel like she can do anything she puts her mind to it; he doesn’t want what he sees as the “pervasive” nature of gender roles to be forced up on his daughter, and I whole-heartedly agree.
If you have time you should really read the interview GeekFeminism.org did with Hoye, as it’s a really interesting read and not too long; he talks about how he wants his daughter to feel she’s capable of anything, and how he and his wife try to steer her away from media content that insists she be helpless or a prop.
Cheers for this gentleman – let’s all agree that this is a great step in helping people understand how women and girls can be better represented in games…and how seriously, that’s not a big deal to accomplish.