In a previous post I briefly (ha) discussed Zelda: Ocarina of Time’s Fire Temple music and the so-called controversy surrounding its original music, which resembles Muslim prayer. I wanted to return to the subject, sort of, but this time to talk about the issue of race in the game. Part of the reason for coming back to it now is because I read a thoroughly stupid and ridiculous article posted at Salon.com about a month ago on this topic. I refuse to link to it here as a matter of principle because it is unadulterated click-baiting dirge. Seek it out if you dare – the article is titled ‘”The Legend of Zelda” is Classist, Sexist and Racist’. I warn you now that as well as “uncovering” the “hidden” classism, sexism and racism it also “reveals” the “truth” about Ocarina of Time’s “anti-animal” agenda. Pure bollocks. You have been warned. Still, it’s made me want to come back to the matter of race in Ocarina of Time, only partly because the Salon article handles the issue about as deftly as a small parakeet might handle the job of a school bus driver, which is to say not altogether well.
Let me just say quickly as a disclaimer that all of these points that follow are all based on subtext. Certainly they don’t in any sense (for me at least) ruin or spoil the game. And I refuse to do what the Salon article does, which is throw out these controversial words – racist, sexist, classist – seemingly at random. It’s not helpful as far as discussion goes, since it unfairly implies that if you enjoy Ocarina of Time it makes you, the player racist, sexist and so on, which is just stupid. Also, as much as I am being critical of Ocarina of Time here, clearly I recognise that there is a need for the story to have a good guy and a bad guy. Ultimately my feeling is that the makers probably drew on stereotypes that are in some sense unavoidable when trying to create this kind of story, a quest narrative of good versus evil. I’m just interested in the ways certain tropes of evil tend to be circulated and reused over others, and in this case I’m talking about how evil is associated with race.
During my most recent playthrough of Ocarina of Time I registered much more clearly the racialised features of the game’s own fantasy “races”. Many of these stereotypical features are on the surface, and are easily identifiable, even to myself as a child playing the game for the first time. The connections between Gorons and Africa are clear for example: besides the obvious dark skin, the Goron chief, Darunia – unique as a tribal chief among the kings of Hyrule – is fixated on music and dancing, with emphasis on the drum beat, and he also initiates Link by becoming his “brother”. The Gorons are really interesting to think about, but for length reasons here I’m going to discuss just the Gerudos.
Another reason for leaving the Gorons out of the discussion is that the Gerudos are the most villainous race in the game. Evil as many of them are, there are good Gerudos like Nabooru, who turns out to be the Spirit Sage. In Ocarina of Time, where Link’s task is to assist and ultimately unite all of Hyrule’s many races and clans, how and why are the Gerudos singled out as the most resistant and therefore most complex group of all? Continue reading