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The real-world influence of Nintendo's newest hit 'Legend of Zelda' game


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Lisa Desjardins: The latest video game and Nintendo's critically acclaimed Legend of Zelda series has smashed sales records since its released several weeks ago. It even boasts a Guinness world record for the fastest selling Nintendo video game of all time. But the game's influence goes beyond its commercial success. Ali Rogin has more.

Ali Rogin: The Legend of Zelda video game has been around since 1987. It's one of Nintendo's most successful franchises created by the same man responsible for the Super Mario Brothers. Over the decades the game has evolved, becoming more vast, immersive and imaginative. Zelda is also one of the gaming world's most notable examples of gender fluidity, prompting gamers to think about and discuss gender and identity.

Our digital video producer Casey Kuhn has been immersing herself in this latest Zelda installment. And she joins me now. Casey, thank you so much for being here.

Casey Kuhn: Thank you for having me.

Ali Rogin: So for those who aren't familiar with the game, tell me what is The Legend of Zelda.

Casey Kuhn: So the Legend of Zelda is an action adventure game. But what does that really mean? Right? So you play as the main protagonist, Link. And Link goes through a series of adventures typically to save the Princess Zelda, hence the name, The Legend of Zelda, from sort of the forces of evil.

So you go through quests, you defeat bad guys, and you solve puzzles kind of all along this journey. These games have kind of been in different iterations. Over the years, this latest game Tears of the Kingdom is particularly notable. It's been a very large commercial success and critical success in the way that you can play the game.

Ali Rogin: And what makes this video game unique compared to a lot of the other games out there. I mean, as we said, it's been around since 1987. It's as old as I am. So what's unique about it?

Casey Kuhn: So the way Legend of Zelda has been built sort of over the years is to make it a really, like you said immersive game. The way that this game is created there are three worlds essentially stacked on top of each other. So there Is three different worlds to discover and learn about with planes and deserts and mountains and weather.

So it's a game that you can constantly kind of play and discover new things. But this game also has a physics setup that it's kind of hard to explain. But you can use like wooden boards to make giant machines that defeat your enemies. And you can basically do an infinite amount of this sort of play as you progress through the game.

Ali Rogin: And the main protagonist is this character called Link and the game's creators have said Link represents sort of this Peter Pan elfin character, but he can also be perceived as gender neutral. So tell me about the impact that Link has had among gamers and among the LGBTQ plus community.

Casey Kuhn: So the games developers actually did say in an interview that they didn't want Link to be perceived as either a boy or a girl. Now, of course, Link has he him pronouns in the game. So yes, he is a boy. But even the name Link is meant to represent a link between the player and the game.

So the idea is that Link is this sort of silent character, right, he never speaks in any of the games, actually. And you are meant to be this character. So you are projecting how you see yourself onto this character. And the way Link sort of avatar has evolved over the years is become much more customizable.

So you can get all these sorts of head dresses and tunics and things like that, and really create the character that you want to see. And that's really important to the LGBTQ plus gaming community. And for someone maybe who doesn't know what gender they want to represent themselves as that can be a journey as well for them. I've read several reports of people who have gone through that journey themselves playing. And I think that's why it is such an important part of the LGBTQ plus gaming community.

Ali Rogin: And there are also some other gender dynamics going on there. Tell me about some of the other representation that's notable about this game.

Casey Kuhn: In a lot of the games, you know, you basically kind of play through as just Link, right. But the characters that you meet along the way, for example, Zelda, she's a main character, of course, in Ocarina of Time, which is one of my favorite Zelda games, you meet a character named Sheikh, and it's a male represented character, sort of like a ninja type character that helps you defeat this certain quest.

Later, it turns out that was Princess Zelda the whole time. In the 2017 Breath of the Wild Game, there's a quest where Link has to dress up as one of these, they're called Garuda. It's an all-female tribe, and they don't let men in. So to get into the tribe to defeat this quest, he has to drop by dress up as a woman. And by pushing these sort of traditional gender roles, not boxing them in I think, is a really interesting aspect of the video game.

Ali Rogin: And the world in Tears of the Kingdom, as you mentioned, it's vast, you can do so many things. There's really no limits. Are there any crossover impacts in how gamers approach their real lives?

Casey Kuhn: Yes, so one of the gaming developers, Shigeru Miyamoto, who also created Super Mario Brothers, like you said, he was inspired by his childhood in Kyoto, Japan, exploring the forests to create this sort of game. And if you've played Zelda, or any game, I think you'll realize discovering new things is like the main part of the game, right? If you're discovering secret passageways, you're riding a horse, which is my personal favorite part.

But that sense of discovery, I think, is really important. And going back to the gender discussion, I think people that sort of discovery within the game can mirror the discovery you're sort of seeing in yourself the progression of this character.

For a lot of transgender people that I've read about seeing that, seeing Link's progression, you know, throughout the game mirrors how they feel in their transition -- to their transition. And that's not to say that Link is a trans character, but I think he is a very important avatar for people to see themselves in that discovery process.

Ali Rogin: And Casey, this game has become so popular that some people are taking time off work to play it. Now, you got to play it for work. And I wonder what else stood out to you in terms of the game's popularity and longevity?

Casey Kuhn: It was a blast to learn more about this game that I've played my whole life. I've played the original Zelda, and on the Nintendo Entertainment System, with my mom. And you know, what I was reporting on this story and tweeting about it or talking to my friends and colleagues about it, I heard a lot of people who play the new game with their kids, right, but also played the original game at the same time.

So they're kind of continuing this tradition of playing video games together. And I think that that is just one great example of I think the games continuing popularity, and let's be honest, it's just really fun.

Ali Rogin: And the fruits of your extensive research into this can be read and watched online on the PBS NewsHour website. Our very own Casey Kuhn, thank you so much for joining us.

Casey Kuhn: Thanks for having me.

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