When you think of the various characteristics that define Link as a hero in Legend of Zelda, what traits come to mind? Courage? Bravery? A willingness to sacrifice oneself for the greater good? A desire to help those in need?
On a visual level, what defines Link? A fondness of green clothing? A sword and shield? Blonde hair? Pointy ears?
And what about Link's role in various Legend of Zelda narratives? Link is strong, yet silent, doing what needs to be done for the sake of the story but never elaborating on it. Usually Link is tasked with defeating evil and saving the princess, helping various villagers and forest creatures along the way. Sometimes, during moments of boredom or desperation, Link resorts to cutting grass and smashing pots to make some easy money.
All of these things define who Link is as a character. What doesn't define Link is that he's a boy. Each and every characteristic listed above is not male exclusive. Girls and women can be brave. They can wear green tunics (as is evident by the plethora of female Link cosplayers). They can use a sword and shield. They can be strong and silent. And they can save the day, just like boys can. They can even save princesses (or princes, if they prefer).
Yet despite this, we've never seen a Legend of Zelda game in which Link isn't a boy. That might soon change if the latest rumor about the next entry in the franchise is to be believed, but even if it turns out to be false, the question still remains: why can't Link be a girl?
The answer to that question is, of course, that Link can be. There is nothing about the character of Link that prevents him from working equally as well as a female, despite what some passionate fans vehemently opposed to the idea believe.
But before we get to that, why did Nintendo make Link a boy in the first place? Why not make Link a girl to begin with, like they did with Samus in Metroid? It likely comes down to the time in which the franchise was born.
When Legend of Zelda was first made, boys made up the majority of the video game-playing crowd. In that regard, it makes sense to feature a boy playable character. Boys, traditionally, are the ones to rescue princesses, too. Add on the fact that Nintendo is no stranger to "save the damsel in distress" storylines, and it seems like it just made sense.
As for the why Link is still a boy in 2016 and has never been anything else (besides a wolf that one time), that's an even easier question to answer. The short answer is tradition. As the old saying goes, why fix what isn't broken? Nintendo is notoriously slow to change and adapt, so it's no surprise we haven't seen a female Link. The Big N does what the Big N does, and each new entry in its major franchises is deeply rooted in the nostalgia fans have for older entries. Despite a significant portion of Nintendo fans being female, to change Link's gender would be to thwart tradition and upend the status quo, something Nintendo isn't prone to doing outside of introducing radical new gaming hardware.
But that doesn't mean the company isn't listening. When the first footage for Legend of Zelda Wii U was shown, footage that depicted a non-traditional-looking Link wielding a bow, no doubt Nintendo paid close attention to the popular fan theories that pegged the character as a girl. Nintendo would eventually shoot down those rumors, but the idea didn't seem too out there judging from the comments of Zelda producer Eiji Aonuma. For a long time, Aonuma played coy on whether or not Link was male or female in the new game, content to let speculation run wild.
"This reaction from fans is something I would like to take into consideration as we proceed with development - although that doesn't mean we are going to change the main character to a girl," Aonuma said.
It wasn't that much later that Nintendo unleashed Linkle upon the world. It's hard not to believe that the positive reception to the idea of a female Link in Legend of Zelda Wii U is largely to thank for the character's creation.
Linkle, a sort of female version of Link that is playable in the Hyrule Warriors spin-off series, was met with largely positive reception, which Nintendo no doubt took notice of as well. It's also likely the company took notice of the vocal fans who, despite approving of Linkle, made clear that they would much rather have a female version of the real Link rather than a spin-off character sharing the character's affinity for green tunics. Concept art for Linkle even showed a female version of Link, complete with sword and shield.
Given recent events then, it certainly seems like the time is right for a female Link to take center stage. Yet more than a few fans continue to cry that to have a girl Link is to upend the basic tenets of the franchise. Or that a girl Link doesn't make any sense for the "story" of Legend of Zelda. These fans will passionately fight to keep things the same, coming up with any excuse to justify their beliefs.
The simple truth, however, is that there isn't one. There is not a single valid argument to be made for why Link can't be a girl, especially when it comes to the story of the franchise.
Link doesn't speak. It's one of the character's defining characteristics. As such, Link is a cipher for the player, a mostly blank slate for gamers so that they can step into the shoes of a hero. During the period in which fan speculation about a female protagonist in the new Legend of Zelda continued to spread like wildfire across the Web, Aonuma had this to say about Link's role in the franchise:
"The character's a hero, and represent the player in the game, so I leave that to the player to decide what the characteristics are of the player character, because it's supposed to represent him or herself."
Link has few relationships. He doesn't date girls. He doesn't flirt. Link is simply Link, the lone hero tasked with saving the world. Some may say that the relationship between a male Link and a female Zelda is the backbone of the franchise's narrative, but what relationship would that be exactly? Prisoner and savior? Princess and hero? Beyond Zelda constantly needing saving, the two barely interact. They don't get married once the credits roll. They don't have kids. Nothing about the relationship or interactions between these two eternally reincarnated characters has anything to do with gender.
Speaking of reincarnation, the fact that the vast majority of Zelda games star an entirely new version of Link makes the "story" argument against a female version of the character even more asinine. If a hero is reincarnated time and time again to save various versions of Hyrule across the generations, what is to say that one of those reincarnations can't be a girl?
Ideally, Nintendo would give players a choice in the matter, which is exactly what the latest Legend of Zelda Wii U rumor claims. As gender doesn't affect the character's personality or role in the story, it simply would give players the ability to take more ownership of their avatar. Nintendo has done it for years in their other role-playing games like Pokémon and Fire Emblem, making it high time for Legend of Zelda to join in. Give players the ability to choose between a boy or girl version of Link and everybody wins.
At the end of the day, that's what all this is about. For decades female fans of the franchise have played as the boy rescuing the girl. Can't girls rescue girls too? Or better yet, gender swap Link and Zelda entirely. Have Zelda be a prince and a female Link the hero. The gameplay and the story all stays the same, but the effect of showing that women can be just as great heroes as men would have a profound impact on more than a few gamers among Nintendo's all-ages audience.
There is no downside to the option of having a female Link. Those who want to continue playing as boy Link can. But those who have longed for a female version of their favorite hero would have their wishes granted as well. It remains to be seen if the new Legend of Zelda will give players this kind of choice or not. Time will tell, and soon, if there is any truth to the idea. If it is, it will be a reason to celebrate. If it isn't, the ability to play as a female version of Link will still be long overdue.