Playing Zelda as Zelda: Do we make what we are?

While I've been off writing about arcane aspects of game development, my awesome girlfriend, Kenna, has been busy hacking up the original Legend of Zelda so you can actually play *as Zelda*.  ( She also documents how she did it so other people can try some hacking themselves. )

There's a truly impressive ROM hacking community out there who keep bringing new life to these classics. What makes Kenna's particular hack special is, of course, the gender-bending...

While the breadth of stories in video games has increased dramatically over the years, there's still a huge slant towards the male perspective. ( If you haven't watched Damsel in Distress yet, I *highly* recommend it. No, really. I can wait. ) And this is despite large numbers of female gamers, which is estimated to be almost half of all gamers. This slant in perspective, I think, is due to two factors: the slant towards the male perspective in our broader culture, and the male-to-female ratio of people making games. It's this latter one I want to talk about for a second.

I've always thought it weird Zelda didn't have a bigger role in the game named after her, but I never would have thought about changing the game to give her an active role. Kenna did. And, then she made it happen. I think this is telling. It took a woman to bring a female hero to Hyrule.

There's a stark gender imbalance in the game development community, and I believe that alters the kinds of stories we get to see in our games.

The exact number of female programers I've worked with in a career spanning over fifteen years and a handful of triple-A video games? Three. That's right. Three. And one of them was an intern who went on to do other things. I'm sure I've worked with over a hundred programmers in my career, and three of them were women. From my personal experience, the most balanced male-female ratio has been in art, but -- in large part -- the doors to women in programming and design have remain closed.  According to Game Developer Magazine's annual survey, last year less than 3 percent of professional game developers are women.

I really don't want to get into why I think there's such a stark gender imbalance -- I'm a programmer not a sociologist, ( damn it )-- but I do think it's a thing worth noticing.

The only fixing it, I think, is to be proactive. There are more than enough women trying to get into game development, but we need to do more than open the doors. We need to invite them in. To repeat. It's not enough to just say we're willing to hire women, we actually have to do so. ( And, please, take down the semi-nude Cortana, and DOA volleyball posters, already. It's not helping. )

It's only by having more women making games that we will get more stories featuring women. Those stories are important. And they can only make the medium better.

There's something unique about games. They draw you in. They let you not simply read about or watch events, but experience them. So check out Kenna's video, but also try the patch she made. By playing as Zelda, you experience something new. It's right there when Zelda first picks up her sword. It's special. Let's have more of that.