The Hypocrisy of our Love of Sheik: A Character to be Seen and Not Heard Why can't Zelda be a princess AND a hero?

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The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, wasn’t a very popular game in my social group. The Scottish kids I grew up with were more interested in soccer, boy-girl pop groups, and Furbys. As such, I never really heard the name ‘Zelda’ being thrown around.

[SPOILERS For Breath of the Wild, Ocarina of Time, and The Wind Waker]

I started the game completely blank; there was no real place I could get spoilers for the game. Nor were there tips and tricks on how to get past certain bosses that confused the hell out of me. There was no Broadband, video game magazines were expensive, and my 5 channel TV didn’t really cover video game news. So I found out Sheik was princess Zelda all along in the most organic way possible; by playing the actual game.

Maybe that’s why if someone had come to me and said something along the lines of “Man, it was such a shock to find out Sheik was Zelda!” I’d have probably replied with, “Wait…wasn’t that supposed to be obvious?”

Because that’s exactly what I thought to myself when it was revealed.

Despite presumptuous male pronouns being thrown around, I was always very confused as to why people thought Sheik was a guy. The body shape, the hair, the flexibility, the fact that Impa also looked very feminine, all pointed to there being nothing stereotypically male going on with Sheik’s design or dialogue. It would take me a while to realize why this reveal was such a shock to a lot of people; because it’s not a woman’s place (let alone a princess’ place) to become a fighter.

Despite this obviously sexist attitude, Sheik has always been a cult icon for gamers. People still make fan art and unofficial merch for her, so it’s clear she’s still on our minds. She’s been featured in four out of five Super Smash Brothers games (yes I’m counting the DS game), as well as Hyrule Warriors, yet when it comes to official LOZ games, she’s only in one.

I’ve always wondered why this is, considering Zelda herself is in every single LOZ game. Why, is a title character only allowed to be her most kick-ass self, in one game?

Tetra is the exception of course, she went through the entirety of The Wind Waker as her own boss, going by her own rules. But even then, when she is announced to be Zelda, she not only gets suspiciously pale in skin tone, but her character changes abruptly; no more sass when she’s in that dress. She’s suddenly made next to useless in the final battle with Ganon. The King even tells her it’s too dangerous for her to fight… ignoring that she’s been a pirate for most of her life. Luckily we do see her return to her pirate self in the final scene of the game, but it still left a bad taste in my mouth and a question on my lips.

Why do we act like Zelda, Sheik, and Tetra are different characters?

I brought up this idea to a friend recently when we were discussing the idea that Sheik could return. “It just wouldn’t make much sense,” he said casually, then within the same breath he stated “I’m glad to see the Gerudo back in Breath of the Wild though, we haven’t seen them since Ocarina.”

But…that’s exactly the point I was making, only with Sheik.

I just didn’t understand why one made sense, when the other apparently didn’t. Though I understand a race of people and a singular character are very different. Fortunately, there is another character who made a return in Breath of the Wild who is a better comparison.

So…we have Impa, but no Sheik?

Not that I’m upset about the inclusion of Impa. It’s awesome actually, we really do need more old lady representation in games. Yet to include one Sheikah and deny the other makes very little sense to me.

Instead, we have Zelda as she’s been seen time and time again in these games; locked in a tower, oppressed by Ganon. To me this would have been the perfect time to put Zelda back into hero mode. It made sense to have her fighting alongside Link in her battle gear. Apparently, Nintendo instead needed her to be a damsel in distress one more time.

In BOTW, Zelda is literally trapped in a castle for 100 years fending off Ganon till her champion can arrive. A young boy not much stronger looking than her, but blah blah the chosen one blah blah we’ve seen this before and its still as sexist as the first few games nearly thirty years ago.

This boggles my mind considering how much of LOZ changed with BOTW. The game play was turned on its head in a great way. It’s finally an open world, it’s customizable, it’s different. But in terms of characterization LOZ is still stuck in the late 80s.

I wanted to hear more opinions on this, so I made an anonymous survey based on Sheik and her importance to the series.

I posed such questions as:
– “How do you feel about Sheik returning to the series?”
– “How would you express your feelings towards Sheik’s character out of 10?”
– “Do you think Sheik is underrated in the series and in the fandom?”
And other relevant questions such as who their favorite and least favorite characters were.

In terms of disliked characters, there was an unsurprisingly high rate of hatred towards Tingle, and love for Link, but things got messy with Sheik. Most of my results stank of Reddit-Trolls, though there were a lot of positive responses that I both agreed and disagreed with to an extent.

Despite an average rating of 8/10 for Sheik’s likability, a lot of the comments focused on how little sense her return would make.

For the sake of proving sexism is an issue here, I also added a gender question (which was optional), and unsurprisingly most of the responses were either male (40 percent), or used the gender option to troll me with such delightful japes as “Cuck” and “Delet balls.”

But let’s get to the quotes for a moment shall we:

“I don’t think it would make sense for her to appear in other games. Sheik isn’t really her own person but rather a persona of OOT’s Zelda and I can’t think of a way in which the two could appear in a game without feeling forced. I’m happy with her as she is now, appearing in Smash Bros and Hyrule Warriors and those kinds of games, or having references to her like in BoTW. I just hope Nintendo don’t start forgetting her.”

Though a positive comment on the whole, and someone who actually took my survey seriously (thank you!) I’m reminded of one of the most important factors in art: creative licence. I agree that Sheik is a persona of Zelda, simply a costume if you will, but creative licence allows the writers to take vague concepts like Sheik and turn it into something more fleshed out and new. It allows characters like Sheik to become more than a costume. To become an identity.

The word ‘forced’ here confused me; why does something automatically become “forced” when it comes to remaking an old concept and adding it to something new? The entire series is based on that concept after all. I mean how many times have we seen the same characters be brought back and revamped? The writers “force” the same three characters into new plots and it works out okay for most fans.

I’m not asking for the writers to mess up their time line, I know that certain games are connected while others were affected by a how OOT ended. But here’s the thing, you don’t have to mess with the time line considering Ganon, Link, and Zelda are in every single game (give or take spin-offs and prequels). The writers are clearly writing each game with the characters already in mind. So just as Link was told the story of previous heroes of time that came before him, wore the same outfit, and had the same powers, and just as Tetra and all the other descendants of Zelda were told the same…why can’t Zelda be told about how one of her descendants learned the way of the Sheikah? It makes complete sense in the canon for those games. All it is, is a new storyline, with an already established character.

“But its so over complicated!” You may say, and I don’t really disagree there. The reason why I’m making things so complicated is because whenever I suggest that Sheik could appear again, or that Zelda could be a playable character, I’m always met with a big “It doesn’t make sense.” So sometimes even though a concept should be (and secretly is) simple as hell, you need to spell it out for people.

Just the fact that the respondents mentioned Smash Bros and HW also proves that people do want to see Sheik. Actually quite a few of the respondents mentioned Smash Bros in their comments,

This makes sense considering Sheik has appeared way more in SB more than any official LOZ game, but it’s also part of the reason why I don’t understand the Sheik disdain.

Now, I know that Smash Bros isn’t story-based. It’s a fighting game first and foremost. The moves put forward by the player are more important than the lore of the characters, but they do add to the charm. Also, a lot of the characters chosen for Smash games are decided based on how much players enjoyed them in their own games. People were asking for years to get Sonic in there for crying out loud and he wasn’t even a Nintendo character. Someone had to have liked Sheik enough for her to be included back in the N64 days, before her moves were even coded into the game. And let’s face it, the low tier character Pacman in Smash 4 was not chosen for his skill set, but because he’s such an iconic retro character. So sometimes it is more about the aesthetic/likability of the characters lore than how well they’d play in tournament. Not that I agree with this type of character creation, but icon status certainly sells to non-tournament players.

Back to the survey, and back to one comment I wholeheartedly agree with. When asked if the respondent wanted to see Sheik again, someone answered: “Yes, because I feel the Sheikah have a lot more to offer and Sheik is the best way in.” Now THIS makes sense to me. Since Impa actually appears in BOTW, it wouldn’t be that unusual to see Zelda join her; escape the tower and grab some gear from the Sheikah archives in order to help fight the cause. This to me seems like such a simple concept that was overlooked by the writers yet again.

But forget BOTW for a moment, it’s done, it’s been out for a while and it’s still a great game. Let’s talk about the next possible LOZ game.

Change is Good

BOTW tested the waters for change, and it worked. LOZ turned from a linear platformer with the same plot into a full blown RPG of sorts, and most fans are loving it.  This tells us that the fans do embrace change, but god forbid that change utilizes a bigger focus on the development of female characters.

So let’s keep that change train a’rolling and think about switching up the characterization a bit. Damsel Zelda is overplayed. We know that, not only because it’s 2017 already, but because Tetra was so memorable as a character. She was original and such a helpful side character to Link (well, in pirate form and for a moment or two with her Zelda bow anyway).

Recreate that, go back into the lore and have Zelda learn about her descendant Sheik, that’s it. That’s all they need to do. And if you want to completely wipe the slate clean, forget the lore, make Zelda help herself for a change, make her the new Link. Let her save Link, let her keep her dress or give her a new style. Hand her the sword, give her wings; literally anything will work because creative licence is always an option so long as you keep the game play and the tone of the game enjoyable.

“A stealth game featuring shiek would be siiiiiick [Sic].” Said another respondent, and there’s another game right there, a playable Sheik stealth game would really wow LOZ fans who also happen to love Metal Gear Solid and Assassins Creed.

“Yeah please she had a harp and deku nuts, but not the type of nuts that need stored in a flesh sack. Sherrill had a phat booty that wouldn’t quit and the game reminds of it constantly. So many tasty angles mmmmmm [Sic].” Wait, wrong quote.

“I would love to see a spin off with her as the focus. Breath of the Wild does have a Sheikah costume that allows Link to appear similar to Sheik (and may even have a Sheik costume through Amiibo usage) but that feels like inadequate fan service. I think Sheik should be an enduring alter ego for Zelda, but I can see why they haven’t used her again. The hidden identity aspect is gone.”

This was one of my favorite quotes from someone who could see it both ways. It made me realize people generally see Sheik as a symbol for Zelda’s hidden talents. To see Sheik again would be like seeing Spider-Man back in his disguise even though his identity had already been revealed to the public. But why does it need to be a disguise? Why can’t her ninja-esque get-up be a uniform, a nod to the cultural side of the Sheikah tribe?

This is what annoys me, the lack of creative licence and inability to re-vamp old concepts into something new. Something the franchise has proved they are able to do. Why NOT make Zelda the hero and just use the same costume? Would it be such a huge effort to think of a story that suited this concept, or vice versa? Why does society always consider an idea “shoehorned” or “forced” into the story when it involves diversity? Can’t we just accept the idea that, “hey, this is a story that would really suit Zelda as a playable character?”

It’s a story writing concept that the majority of writers use: Character first > Theme > Setting > Plot, etc. This is why plot-first stories often have very dry and stoic characters, because in that case they ARE shoehorned in. But when you have your fleshed out character already written, you can find suitable plots, settings, and themes that make sense to that character.

Speaking of diversity…

One of the coolest responses I got from the survey, on why the participants liked/disliked her character, touched on gender identity:

“As someone who struggles with their gender identity a character who can change between a beautiful princess and a handsome ninja resonates with me.”

This is one of the reasons why I’m not just fighting for a playable or less stereotypical Zelda, but for Sheik. The character has the potential to be a walking metaphor for non-binary folk. Sheik doesn’t just have to be a princess who wears masculine clothes, she could be gender fluid if we want her to be.

Going back to the idea of sexism, I got a lot of people saying that Sheik became uninteresting or “complete” when her identity as Zelda was revealed.

“[I’m] Indifferent [to her] because the character is merely a plot device. At first she is mysterious, but she is revealed later to be zelda. Liked her character when there was a reason to question her past/motives etc but becomes insignificant immediately after the reveal.”

To this I ask, why? If you were interested in her past and motives, wouldn’t the reveal make this more significant? Zelda became Sheik in order to fight Ganon who had been oppressing her and the kingdom. She had real stake in the war she was fighting. Why is the mystery more intriguing than the truth? Mystery is fun, I admit. A crime drama is at its most exiting when you’re trying to connect all of the dots and just can’t find the answer to the dramatic clues…but when you find out who the killer is, does that adrenaline suddenly leave you? If it’s a well written mystery story then it really shouldn’t. I mean heck, there’s a reason why there have been so many remakes of And Then There Were None, so why is Sheik’s mystery any different?

“She is a cuck.” was another response. Well hello Reddit!

“I like her mystery, courage, but most of all her devotion to her cause,” said another. This is what my point boils down to; her motivation drives her character. She may be a mystery for most of the game, but she needn’t stay a mystery, or vanish once the twist has hit the players.

For everyone saying that Sheik doesn’t have much of a character, that may be true in terms of dialogue and how many scenes she was given, but Sheik to me is more of a symbol of Zelda’s drive to end Ganon’s reign of terror. I just want to see that drive come back in such a visual way, and I don’t know why that’s too much to ask.

Okay but done well this time…

The way I look at Sheik isn’t really as her own character, I don’t really want a game called The Legend of Sheik. What I really want is a game called The True Legend of Zelda, which revolves around Princess Zelda using her Sheikah skills to do everything Link has been doing for centuries. I’m just surprised that such a well loved character, one that most people thought was a dude before the twist occurred, can be so easily dismissed when a fan dares to say they want to see her again.

You Can’t Force a Good Thing

I refuse to believe that writing her into a new game is shoehorning. If you write a good plot that needs good characters, then it’s not forcing anything, it’s just creating something new out of something old. Just the fact that people were so excited to see old characters such as the Gerudo, Ganon, the King, and of course Link, shows that you can never have too much of an iconic thing. The only thing holding it back, is fear of change, and a mountain of misogyny.

I’ve discovered that we do love Sheik most of the time, but as a nostalgic twist in our childhoods, and for her Forward Tilt. We essentially want her image, but not her story. I just think that if we finally give her a brand new story all of her own, fans will love her again just like they did when they were first glued to their N64. Back when they believed in magic and the power of heroes.

[Image via x, x, x]


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Stephanie Watson is a feminist freelance journalist and editor. She is mostly found curled up in her room working on a novel she started ten years ago, playing Fallout for the millionth time, or binge watching beauty YouTube videos. You can find more of her work at Fembot, HelloGiggles,, and Ravishly or watch her tweet via @Stephie__Watson.

  • Jahu

    Shockingly, Reddit doesn’t seem to think much of the article so far. It’s been downvoted to zero on all three of the subs it’s been linked on.

    • Reddit’s usually so open to people being critical of Nintendo, or of feminist related videogame content, hehe

  • Michelle Fishburne

    Okay, this really bothers me. Not what the author is actually talking about, but what she’s doing in the process.

    Has it ever occurred to you that Sheik/Zelda *might* be nonbinary?

    I’m a nonbinary person myself. People are always assuming they understand my gender better than I do. People try to suss out my real gender and that it has to be a binary, static thing. I can’t be both male and female. I can’t change which one I identify as. If I don’t get upset when people use the “wrong” pronouns, that must be what I’m 100% okay with it forever and can never change or even feel disappointed when I try to present masculine but get called “she” or feminine and get called “he.”

    Throughout this whole article, the author assumes that Sheik is just a disguise that Zelda puts on temporarily, when every indication is that when she is Sheik, he identifies *as* Sheik as much as Bruce Wayne identifies as Batman. But because Sheik and Zelda are the same person, only one of the identities can be valid. So Sheik is constantly misgendered as “she” because the author has decided that, against every line of dialogue, Sheik’s masculinity is fake.

    • Interesting take Michelle! I’m definitely curious to see Stephanie’s take on it.

      • Robin Michele Fishburne

        Speaking of gender, thanks for reminding me I needed to change my name. I signed up for this account before realizing I’m bigender, lol. So…case in point. Same person, different name and identity.

        • My good deed for the day is done hehehe, cheers Robin!