It’s been 15 long years since The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time was released, and critics—many of whom grew up with the game—have had plenty of positive things to say about the game over the years. It’s a critical darling, and one that’s well-earned its legion of fans. One Salon writer, Jon Hochschartner, has taken the opportunity to, instead of adding his voice to the positive chorus, denigrate the game as “classist, sexist, and racist.” As a final flavoring of dissent, he even calls out the game’s effrontery to animal rights.
To start with, the writer cites Anita Sarkeesian’s tropes in the depiction of women in video games. Instead of formulating his own argument, he begins immediately by falling back on well-treaded ground, thus saying nothing we didn’t already know, in a way that does, arguably, a disservice to Sarkeesian’s arguments.
He defends his perspective by making a statement, apropos to nothing, about what fond memories he has of the game, in an attempt to distract from the fact that he paints the game, unfairly enough, as classist, sexist, and racist.
It’s one opinion, so who really cares? Like it or not, people are going to read the piece and point to it as emblematic of the upsurge of politically enlightened discourse about video games, as if it were one of the better pieces written on the subject. In reality, the article is shallow, pedantic, and serves as a distraction to real arguments—to say nothing of the fact that the status quo would like no more than for such an article to come along so they can say “Look, it’s political correctness gone mad!”
Foremost to my argument against his piece is that it needs stating that Ocarina of Time isn’t a terribly complex game. It was made for children and written in the same vein as any simplistic fantasy tale with no deeper meanings—at least none of which were intentional.
Attempts to call out the depiction of the Gerudo race as similar to Arabs and therefore paint the game as racist or even Islamophobic (fortunately, he does not go so far as to make this argument, but it is implied) fall flat due to the fact that the only similarities between the fictional race and the real world culture is that they both happen to be desert dwellers. The writer chooses not to inconvenience his argument by failing to mention that the Gerudo are a race of warrior women.
When trying to formulate a concise argument about the game’s alleged classism, the author has his foot firmly planted in his mouth. So the game is classist because it pokes fun at generational differences, having a character saying “kids these days sure are lazy!”? Okay. And blaming a rich family’s misfortune on individual greed instead of blaming the system and the concept of private property? These thoughts are so ill conceived, so badly constructed, and so poorly laid out, it is hard to follow what the author actually wants to say, besides flinging a few fancy buzzwords around.
By focusing on the greed of individuals, the game ignores how private property incentivizes and even mandates such behavior. And with this moralizing focus comes a belief that society’s economic ills are intractable because of humanity’s flawed nature.
Finally, the writer veers off the deep end when he brings up animal rights into the issue by painting the innocuous Lon Lon Ranch as a place of “violence and exploitation.” Really dude? They milk cows at the Lon Lon Ranch. It’s hardly the vision of factory farming that the author seeks to paint the place as. Temple Grandin would like to have a few words with the author.
From the perspective of domesticated animals, agriculture of the past was a gentler prospect than the modern, factory-farm system. But for non-humans the pre-industrial farm, as symbolized by Lon Lon Ranch, was still a place of exploitation and violence, where their lives, in general, would be significantly shorter and more circumscribed than those of their nearest, wild cousins.
If the Zelda games have a problem with animal rights, it’s the treatment of chickens, and the relentless slaughter of wild animals that should receive a big callout. Link is garbed as a hunter, and as all animal rights activists know, hunting is murder.
It’s surprising and disappointing in equal parts that a place like Salon, renown for publishing some rather decent articles (though perhaps not in recent times) stooped to publish a piece like this, which not only gives the cause a bad name, but also annoyed the fuck out of me as a reward for reading it.