222: Dude Looks Like a Lady

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Dude Looks Like a Lady

It's easy to feel sorry for the videogame princess: While the hero is off slaying dragons, her job is to wait around looking pretty. But one digital damsel refuses to be a victim. Brendan Main takes a closer look at the character of Sheik from The Legend of Zelda.

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An interesting read. I haven't had the fortune of playing the Zelda games, but this article makes it look mighty attractive.

It's like they say that the mask makes the person. Every superhero in history changes almost completely when they put on their hood, mask, cloak, etc. Point illustrated here, with also an uncanny prediction for the then-future.

This was an enjoyable read as I'm a big LOZ fan but I must say I don't agree fully with it.
I know we all thought Shiek was a guy but thats because of the sterotypical princesses are helpless idea but LOZ games tend to ignore that. I know Zelda got kidnapped after she revieled herself but that's because she's wisdom and therefore not as powerful as Ganon but yet she still helped you before she got kidnapped. Also in WW, Zelda directly helps you defeat Gannon and seen from the cutscene in TP she also puts up a fight. These last two examples show Zelda in her princess form, not her Shiek/"male" form, so i must disagree with the idea that just because Zelda is more agressive than most princesses that she's suddenly transgender.

Also the line "What fun is a princess who saves herself?", it's not so much that you do it to save Zelda, you save Zelda to save Hyrule but if she could save herself you could then team up and destory Gannon...

Sorry about the length...

Sheik is a chick a kick ass chick but still female
it's also should be noticed that in TP she is devoid of pink and waering boots
Nintendo also created bad ass chick #1 Samus Aran

"Zelda-as-Sheik is free to wage a covert war against the forces of evil. During this time, it is Sheik, not Link, who is the hero of the tale."

I like that. Does that mean that we'll get to see a game that portrays Sheik's adventures whilst Link is asleep? I think that has great potential. At least it would reinvent the whole LoZ formula

Meh, there are plenty of gamer heros who are also women these days.

The problem is that Zelda is a refugee from the age of Gaming when you were supposed to play the stalwhart hero of the land, and rescue the damsel in distress, because you're a Hero. The same problem with Mario.

Remember all the exitement in the first Metroid game when we find out that 'ZOMG, Samus is a Girl!' Now a days, there's usually enough female support characters that nobody really gives a shit anymore.

Unless you're playing a JRPG, in which case it's better not to look too closely into the characters' sexes (they certainly don't, being pre-teens)

Worst piece of dull garbage I've read on the Escapist yet.

Critical Research Failure.

insanelich:
Worst piece of dull garbage I've read on the Escapist yet.

Critical Research Failure.

Explain.

While it was an interesting read, your looking too deeply for something that isn't there. (In OoT anyways) To Nintendo Shiek is simply Zelda in disguise. While I understand your overall point, I seriously doubt Nintendo set out to make Shiek some sort of transgender character just so they could have her fill the role she does in the game. I can imagine their line of thinking was more of "oh lets do this cool plot twist" then "lets send a message about transgenders, male, and female archetypes".

This was an interesting read but this kinda looking more deeply about Zelda being a transgender person.

To me, Shiek is Zelda in disguise. The same goes for the Wind Waker when she was Tetra.

Tharticus:
This was an interesting read but this kinda looking more deeply about Zelda being a transgender person.

To me, Shiek is Zelda in disguise. The same goes for the Wind Waker when she was Tetra.

I agree, i like how you pointed out the classic princess formula and showed how characters like shiek could reinvision it but, i really dont think Nintendo thought shiek's character would go farther than being a cool plot twist.

Pretty flowery prose. But it'd have been nice if you'd explored the issue of androgyny across a variety of games rather than confining the review to LOZ. You made some astute observations, but as it stand, they can't really apply much to anything else, since the whole "damsel in distress" archetype has become much more of a non-issue in recent years.

I'm not sure when they drew up Sheik they imagined Zelda as transgendered. I think the artists were either simply trying to hide the fact that it was Zelda, or maybe Sheik was originally supposed to be male and halfway through development they changed their minds and decided making Sheik into Zelda was better.

Old traditions die hard, but they do eventually die and I think we've progressed fairly well with the women roles in games to add more variety. To me, as long as the gameplay and story are decent, it doesn't matter who needs saving. I would equally enjoy a game where a super hero was captured and a Goonies style group of kids had to combine all of their kid ingenuity to save him or a typical man saves woman pulp if the game and story were well polished.

Bigeyez:
While it was an interesting read, your looking too deeply for something that isn't there. (In OoT anyways) To Nintendo Shiek is simply Zelda in disguise. While I understand your overall point, I seriously doubt Nintendo set out to make Shiek some sort of transgender character just so they could have her fill the role she does in the game. I can imagine their line of thinking was more of "oh lets do this cool plot twist" then "lets send a message about transgenders, male, and female archetypes".

I am pretty sure that you are right in that the developers probably didn't want to make any kind of profound message about "damsels" and their place in fiction. But I think that Mr. Bain here illustrats that in fact that is exactly what they ended up doing. This is the case in many forms of both old and modern fiction. The creator may or may not have had lofty ideas put into his or her work intentionally but they end up there anyway. They become a reflection of the creator and and through their creation we can see the currents of thought and character in them. This is also why art is important to any culture that wishes to thrive.

/Jakob

Great article. I always liked Sheik because, like you said, she's the type of character who did break from the mold.

Another character who was like that, by which I mean she was never the damsel in distress, was Nariko from Heavenly Sword.

Bigeyez:
While it was an interesting read, your looking too deeply for something that isn't there. (In OoT anyways) To Nintendo Shiek is simply Zelda in disguise. While I understand your overall point, I seriously doubt Nintendo set out to make Shiek some sort of transgender character just so they could have her fill the role she does in the game. I can imagine their line of thinking was more of "oh lets do this cool plot twist" then "lets send a message about transgenders, male, and female archetypes".

Well, regardless, the message is still sent. The simple fact of the matter is that Zelda can safely hide out as non-feminine Sheik, but she gets captured the moment she reveals herself to be her full feminine form.

I think it's always been an interesting proposition that Americans play games for a Japanese audience with their attitude and cultural perspective on gender roles and sexuality. For example, although there have been some progressive thinkers at Nintendo (for example, making Samus Aran female), there have still been some overtly sexist anti-feminist steps back (for example, the ability to play as Samus in a bikini).

I think it's funny that the article plays the "princess dresses differently to have a life outside of the confines of her palace!" plot as somehow making a point about gender issues. It's reading way too much into the material than is useful or even meaningful.

The deal with Zelda goes in the same direction of Samus' problem in that Zelda has to assume a different identity to actually do things that she may as well be able to do WITHOUT pretending to be a man/not herself. Samus' case was of course that the fact that people were surprised the guy in Metroid was actually a girl cemented the "Oh wow, girls don't really do that!" mentality. Otherwise, why even bother with the surprise to begin with? I mean nowadays it's a moot point considering everyone knows (and it gets milked for all the fan service possible, of course, just like you'd expect from a female game character.)

But then again, it seems to me the whole article is focusing on a particular franchise that has never been really that creative with gender roles to begin with. It would've been much more interesting to see more exposure to other games/characters and treatments of the same issues. However, I do think that the issues of gender are often nothing but caricatures whenever they're found in games. Yeah, maybe the topic can be alluded to or even show up directly, but doesn't mean it has any weight or consequence.

After all, for all the article talks about Sheik, she's nothing but Zelda's "cool sexy" mode now, much like Samus' zero suit nonsense. That is enough to signal how little point there is in trying to find any depth into that franchise or character when it comes to issues of gender and/or sexuality. Like I said before, even in OoT what they were doing was nothing new at all and actually an established plot with thousands of examples across all media.

If anything, we can use this article as an example that if people are overanalyzing something like this, trying to find the slightest hint of a mature topic to discuss it simply means that there's a general lack of maturity in the topics dealt with in the medium. This is of course nothing new and no surprise to anyone who sees the progression "to mainstream" of all these characters and franchises.

In that sense, expecting any games produced in that direction to deal with issues that require a certain level of intellectual maturity and cultural knowledge is hopeless. Maybe we'll see it as the culture in general becomes more accepting/open with the issues, but honestly I don't have all the time in the world to wait seeing that the real reason games are stuck so far behind is simply that artists/intellectuals/etc from other fields haven't really taken interest in the medium. I'm not talking about the gaming "industry," either, I'm talking about the medium in general. It can't mature if it's so completely isolated from the rest of the arts.

It's really an understatement to say that the medium as it is right now is in its infancy; I'd say it hasn't even technically been born. Not until it acknowledges the wealth of film/literature/music/etc around us in a meaningful and consequent way so that there is an exchange/flow of ideas will the medium attract people willing to take risks and make use the medium as a tool of expression. Only then, really, can we begin talking about the treatment of complex issues like gender identity or sexuality in games seriously, and not simply pretend that only because a game displays a set of breasts we have free pass into discussing sexuality in any depth while feeling intellectually smug that "our" medium is "mature," which I suspect is the general sentiment concerning efforts like this.

Further reading concerning the actual trope behind Sheik I mentioned at the start (and she's even mentioned there!) http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/RebelliousPrincess

Yep, that's all there really is to it.

piscian:

insanelich:
Worst piece of dull garbage I've read on the Escapist yet.

Critical Research Failure.

Explain.

"to be female is to be a captive", plus making gigantic leaps of speculation. Most likely putting more thought into it than Nintendo, seeing it's basically a rehash of the old damsel in distress.

DRTJR:
Sheik is a chick a kick ass chick but still female
it's also should be noticed that in TP she is devoid of pink and waering boots
Nintendo also created bad ass chick #1 Samus Aran

he got a point

You play Shiek in orcharina of time?

I'm confused, is that the case?

I wanna play Sheik.

<-----has little experience with nintendo games.

As for the article, great read.

I'm kinda the same, an effeminate kind of guy. lol

Because she doesn't wear a skirt and have long hair. (Which would encumber a rogue which is what she seems to be) she is automatically assumed to be gender confused or a transvestite? Seriously I thought we were pass gender stereotypes by this day in age. Boy was I wrong.

The Legend of Zelda series has taken further strides into the territory which Shiek pioneered (if you are going to ignore/are unaware of King/Queen Junon from the Sega's DragonForce)with the introduction of waifish tomboy Tetra and the dark imp Midna (this article itself is a massive spoiler, so you should have already known that this isn't the place for you if you want something in the LoZ series kept secret until you play the games!).

These characters are a good start, but that is all that they are. Not only are all of these princesses supporting cast to the standard pretty boy, they are left behind in term of progress for the 'Power Princess' role by the likes of Xena (Warrior Princess is right in her title, for Goddess' sake!), Princess Peach (in Super Princess Peach. 'Super'! Does it get better than that? Ask the Mario Brothers about it!)or even She-Ra, Princess of Power (back in the '80s!).

Why settle for gender neutral characters when videogames deal with sci-fi, fantasy or 'phantasy' (like Fantasy...IN SPACE!)themes all of the time? Why not shoot for a gender inclusive character? Hermaphrodites are way past due in games. Everyone can empathize with them...partially. Then again, that means that everyone is equally unable to empathize with them. Sounds perfect to me!

Even slice-of-life games would be a whole new experience with hermaphroditic characters in the lead.
Shopping trips at super stores for tampons,panties and athletic supporters; fatherhood if your character hooks up with a female and motherhood if same said charcter knows a male (possibly at the same time?); or even trying to find proper housing when enlisting into the military, enrolling in college or being incarcerated in prison; etctera, it would all be fair game.
Why should players have to choose male or female? I'd rather pick a third option!

Then again, if a simple semi-subversion of a single gender-related fictional convention still blows minds and gay characters are still threatning (or hot, depending upon the gender of the viewer/complainer at the moment), that could be too much to hope for, too soon.

Both game makers and gamers could use a heaping helping of imagination and a sense of adventure.

[Maybe I just say this because I didn't even notice or care that Mulan...I mean Sheik...was supposed to be shocking at the time. I guess that I'm too far outside of the mainstream in the USA for it to even register. I'll leave if that's a good thing or a bad thing for others to figure out.]

Boy and girl and fairy save world from legion of Men with big eyebrows simple.....

plus on the battlefeild it matters not whether you are man or woman so long as you can fight
therefore sex was irrelevant

If princess was able to free herself then she wouldn't be imprisoned in the first place. Zelda games suppose to be placed in times when there was no such thing as "sexizm" and it was OK to have sex with 13 years old girl :)

DRTJR:
Sheik is a chick a kick ass chick but still female
it's also should be noticed that in TP she is devoid of pink and waering boots
Nintendo also created bad ass chick #1 Samus Aran

I'd also like to point out that Nintendo wasn't the only gaming company to make the lead character a female either. In the game Faria the main character was a female, who oddly enough, had to rescue a princess from a dungeon. Of course, you don't actually find this out until AFTER you rescue the princess. Not that more than 3 or 4 people in the world have actually played the game.

insanelich:

piscian:

insanelich:
Worst piece of dull garbage I've read on the Escapist yet.

Critical Research Failure.

Explain.

"to be female is to be a captive", plus making gigantic leaps of speculation. Most likely putting more thought into it than Nintendo, seeing it's basically a rehash of the old damsel in distress.

Name the "huge leaps of speculation", please. And they're talking about the archetype of the "damsel in distress", and how most female characters in gaming are weak and passive. They're not insulting women, they're just pointing out a pretty obvious clichè.

Harbinger_:
Because she doesn't wear a skirt and have long hair. (Which would encumber a rogue which is what she seems to be) she is automatically assumed to be gender confused or a transvestite? Seriously I thought we were pass gender stereotypes by this day in age. Boy was I wrong.

the point isn't that she's gender-confused. the point is that she consciously adopted a more masculine identity in order to defy gender roles. Zelda/Sheik is no more gender-confused than Joan D'Arc was.

bobknowsall:

insanelich:

piscian:

insanelich:
Worst piece of dull garbage I've read on the Escapist yet.

Critical Research Failure.

Explain.

"to be female is to be a captive", plus making gigantic leaps of speculation. Most likely putting more thought into it than Nintendo, seeing it's basically a rehash of the old damsel in distress.

Name the "huge leaps of speculation", please. And they're talking about the archetype of the "damsel in distress", and how most female characters in gaming are weak and passive. They're not insulting women, they're just pointing out a pretty obvious clichè.

Assuming Nintendo meant anything by it other than just giving Zelda a disguise.

Also, "they're"?

And yes, it's a cliché, but not all female characters in gaming are weak and passive - and somehow it doesn't seem to repeat other than with females that actually there's a valid reason to capture.

Also, saying Zelda/Sheik is gender-confused OR intentionally defying gender roles is silly and has very little supporting it. It's a disguise, it's supposed to make you hard to recognize.

cobra_ky:

Harbinger_:
Because she doesn't wear a skirt and have long hair. (Which would encumber a rogue which is what she seems to be) she is automatically assumed to be gender confused or a transvestite? Seriously I thought we were pass gender stereotypes by this day in age. Boy was I wrong.

the point isn't that she's gender-confused. the point is that she consciously adopted a more masculine identity in order to defy gender roles. Zelda/Sheik is no more gender-confused than Joan D'Arc was.

In what way is cutting your hair, taking the fight to the enemy and wearing clothes that you won't easily trip over more masculine? I'm fairly certain there was also nothing in the game that said she was trying to defy gender roles. She wasn't a suffragette she was forced into exile and to fend for herself.

This was interesting, but I really think that it read too much into it. Sheik was a guy in Ocarina of Time simply to make it less obvious that it was Zelda, so she could hide.

Newo:

Also the line "What fun is a princess who saves herself?", it's not so much that you do it to save Zelda, you save Zelda to save Hyrule but if she could save herself you could then team up and destory Gannon...

I agree, you are supposed to be the hero of the land, not the hero of the princess. But Zelda represents the land in the same way as King Arthur did. And we no longer ascribe to the old princess stereotypes. We aren't dealing with issues of hemophilia or having to prove a maiden's purity to insure a false heir isn't born. There is still grace expected from them and noblesse oblige, but modern day princesses take up social causes and get involved with the people, as Princess Di did with AIDS patients.

Stories like "The Stepsister Scheme" cheerfully turns convention on its ear and has the princess rescuing the prince. Even the game Jade Empire has a princess running about and you don't feel redundant working with her. What fun is it? Plenty-as long as rescuing the princess is second to saving the world.

When the game first came out, I was, what, 10 years old? 11? Tops, 12? I was open to a lot of ideas, since my mind was still easily impressionable. Seeing Sheik though, I instantly knew it was Zelda. Whether or not it was a man or a woman under those bandages/rags did not make him/her any less of an interesting character.

Sheik was a ninja in my eyes, thats all that mattered to me. S/he was cool. However, Sheik wasn't the girl I once knew, the one I was striving to save...S/he was the one saving me it seemed. Her skills, from what I could tell, far surpassed mine as Link. This was why when Zelda got captured by Ganon, that it wasn't a matter of "We can't have a transgender character." but more of a, "We need the princess, we need Wisdom, not another symbol of Courage." Link was being replaced by Sheik in my eyes, thats why, whatever magick was in play, had to be reversed in order for the story to continue.

At the end of it all though, I feel as if Sheik was more of a symbol of Hope/Courage for the people (whomever was left to see this symbol) in Hyrule, while Link was on his hiatus. Whether or not Sheik was a guy or a girl made no difference to the players, or the people of Hyrule. What they needed to see was that there wasn't only one hero to save the world. There wasn't only one person that could stand up against the Evil in the land. You weren't the be all end all hero for once. You were still, only human after all, and Sheik was the same, you both showed each other your mortality.

Thats how I feel about it at least.

If you wanted to talk about transexualism in games, you should have talked about Poison, Ebisumaru/Dr. Yang or Dr. Morpheus Duvall, not Zelda. If anything Zelda was "transgressing" her own role in ocarna of time.

Bigeyez:
While it was an interesting read, your looking too deeply for something that isn't there. (In OoT anyways) To Nintendo Shiek is simply Zelda in disguise. While I understand your overall point, I seriously doubt Nintendo set out to make Shiek some sort of transgender character just so they could have her fill the role she does in the game. I can imagine their line of thinking was more of "oh lets do this cool plot twist" then "lets send a message about transgenders, male, and female archetypes".

I agree. The fact that the Smash versions of Sheik are more feminine in appearance only serves to underscore "that's a girl." Maybe it's because the cat's out of the bag, but I somehow doubt Nintendo want to sell trans to their mainstream audience.

insanelich:

bobknowsall:

insanelich:

piscian:

insanelich:
Worst piece of dull garbage I've read on the Escapist yet.

Critical Research Failure.

Explain.

"to be female is to be a captive", plus making gigantic leaps of speculation. Most likely putting more thought into it than Nintendo, seeing it's basically a rehash of the old damsel in distress.

Name the "huge leaps of speculation", please. And they're talking about the archetype of the "damsel in distress", and how most female characters in gaming are weak and passive. They're not insulting women, they're just pointing out a pretty obvious clichè.

Assuming Nintendo meant anything by it other than just giving Zelda a disguise.

Also, "they're"?

And yes, it's a cliché, but not all female characters in gaming are weak and passive - and somehow it doesn't seem to repeat other than with females that actually there's a valid reason to capture.

Also, saying Zelda/Sheik is gender-confused OR intentionally defying gender roles is silly and has very little supporting it. It's a disguise, it's supposed to make you hard to recognize.

They might well have meant there to be a subtext. Games might not be very intellectually stimulating, but that doesn't mean their writers and developers are oblivious to metaphor and subtext.

Yes, "they're". It's a contraction of the words "they" and "are", used in this context to mean "the writer is". It's grammatically sound.

I never said that all female characters are weak and passive, just the vast majority of them (Which you'll find to be somewhat true). I don't know, some female characters I've seen have their previously strong and decisive image derailed for some cheap pathos when the baddie captures them.

The fact that Sheik is referred to as male does show some defiance of gender roles, otherwise they would have just referred to her as a dude, surely? And the cross-dressing doesn't mean she's gender-confused (There are plenty of examples of fictional cross-dressing that have nothing to do with gender confusion. I'm sure TV Tropes has a few examples, and since you frequent it already they shouldn't be hard to find).

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