You might assume that time spent in the mythical land of Hyrule is unlikely to cause anybody any undue distress, but according to some, that simply isn't the case. News and entertainment site Salon.com — which has a monthly unique readership of 15 million — has controversially branded The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time "sexist", "racist" and "classist".
Author Jon Hochschartner explains that he's a fan of the game, but then goes on to point out the various things the N64 classic does wrong. The supposed "crimes" make for depressing reading — mainly because we never thought anyone could read so much into a video game before:
This year marks the 15th anniversary of the release of "The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time.” Critics frequently laud the Nintendo 64 title as the greatest video game ever. And yet the ways it deals with class, race, gender and animal rights are all deeply problematic.
Hochschartner's analysis begins fairly meekly, picking up on the subject of class:
The relationship between the self-described “boss” of the carpenters and those he calls “my workers,” appears to be one of a guild member and apprentices or journeymen. The boss refers to himself as a master craftsman, and says the workers were hired by the royal family to improve the village. Karl Marx described this relationship as one of “oppressor and oppressed,” comparing it to that of “freeman and slave, patrician and plebeian, (and) lord and serf.”
“Ocarina” portrays the apprentices or journeymen as lazy and shiftless, and the boss as the only one willing to work. “Young men these days don’t have any ambition,” the boss says. “Do you know what I mean, kid? My workers are just running aimlessly around the village, and they’re not making any progress at all … Even my own son doesn’t have a job, and he just wanders around all day! They’re all worthless, I tell you!”
Hochschartner then picks up on the racial undertones which everyone else seems to have missed:
The racial, ethnic and religious traits of the “good characters” and the “bad characters” within the game also demonstrate a certain xenophobia. All of the good characters, such as the Hylians and Kokiri, are white. In contrast, all of the bad characters, such as the thieving Gerudo and their king, Ganondorf, have brown skin. The Gerudo live in the desert, and in case it wasn’t clear what real-life group of people they are based on, the original Gerudo symbol is strongly reminiscent of the Islamic star and crescent.
There's also the prickly topic of sexism to contend with:
The title’s perspective on sex is arguably summarized in an advertisement for “Ocarina,” which asks, “Willst thou get the girl? Or play like one?” The game utilizes a damsel-in-distress trope that suggests women are weak and in need of male protection. Just like in every other game in the series, Princess Zelda is incapacitated and in need of rescue from the central character, Link. The repeated use of this sexist cliché helps to, as Sarkeesian [Feminist Frequency blogger Anita Sarkeesian] says, “normalize extremely toxic, patronizing, and paternalistic attitudes.”
For a portion of the game’s plot, Zelda is represented as an imposing warrior. But, as Sarkeesian points out, she is only able to achieve this disguised as a man and she’s kidnapped within minutes of revealing her true identity.
He doesn't stop there, however — The Legend of Zelda is also apparently unfair to animals, too:
In the game, domestication is portrayed as a mutually beneficial, voluntary arrangement. The anthropomorphized cows of Hyrule speak to Link, literally saying, “Have some of my refreshing and nutritious milk!” Of course depicting a relationship as anything like symbiotic when one party kills and eats the other, as well as the latter’s children, would be laughable if it weren’t so appalling.
Is Hochschartner digging for stuff that simply doesn't exist, or does he have a point? The longer you analyse something, the more you tend to find — even if it's stuff that wasn't really intentional in the first place. Let us know what you think about this feature by leaving a comment below.