Positive Representations of Video Game Heroines Part 1: Sheik

Nowadays female video game characters are often met with criticism; accusations of sexist portrayals of women or demands to remove all "big-boobed bimbos" from video games. There is definitely sexism and room for improvement in the industry, but in this article series I want to shine a light on the female characters that are so often ignored in the media maelstrom, characters who are, at least in my subjective opinion, positive examples of female video game characters. I want to show it's not all bad, and that strong women have kicked butt in video games for decades. There just needs to be more of them.

The rules of the game are:

  • One character per article
  • One character per franchise

What is a positive representation, then? I have made that call largely based on a mix of my subjective and objective observations, not fact by any measure. Without further ado, let me introduce our first heroine:

Sheik

 

When Link, the hero of the game franchise, the Legend of Zelda, first encounters Sheik in Ocarina of Time, she appears as a mysterious, even intimidating (albeit ultimately helpful) character. Initially Sheik appears to be male with her concealed face, broad, muscular shoulders, flat chest, and strong arms. She doesn't only provide helpful information, but also fights beside Link in more than one tussle with the bad guys, and she seems at least as capable as Link if not more so.

Who is Sheik, then? Well, she's no other than Princess Zelda in disguise. That's right: one of the original, quintessential damsels in distress has a badass male alter ego (which seems to be a theme with Zelda, since in Wind Waker she's crossdressing again as the pirate leader, Tetra). This has led me to believe that the kingdom of Hyrule is reminiscent of medieval Europe in this regard: way back when, if women wanted to fight, especially in wars, they usually had no other choice but to crossdress and pretend to be men.

It's unclear whether she uses magic to muscle up/change her sex when she turns into Sheik, but at least one spokesperson from Nintendo has said that Sheik is just Zelda in disguise. That doesn't quite explain how Sheik can have such a muscular figure while Zelda is slim and petite, but currently we have no definitive, official answer to that question.

That's not even everything that's exceptional about Sheik, however: she's one of the few characters who are possibly even more famous outside of their main franchise. Sheik is possibly even more well-known in the Smash Bros fighting games than she is in the franchise named after Zelda. The Smash community is hugely competitive; especially Smash Bros Melee and Smash Bros Wii U are very popular in the competitive gaming circles with a very active scene, frequent tournaments with money prizes etc. In a myriad of YouTube videos of the aforementioned tournaments, we can see a fair number of the top players using Sheik.

Why would that be, then? Simple: she's easily one of the strongest, if not the strongest character in the game. I'm not surprised to be honest; she's extremely fast, reasonably strong, she has a solid move set including a projectile attack that can easily sap her opponent's strength from afar, and in close quarters she's downright lethal. Not a surprise as such since Sheik is supposed to be a whopping 6'7/200 cm tall. Nintendo has never right out revealed her height, but they have given the heights of a few other characters from Smash, and of course some diligent gamers went and counted Sheik's height pixel by pixel and discovered her height by comparing the numbers to the characters with confirmed heights.

What else makes her a positive character? Well, a few things, if you ask me.

From the start, she's been a very strong character. Not only that, but due to her concealed features and androgynous appearance, there's very little about her to focus on except her mission, i.e. what she is doing instead of who or what she is. And what she is doing, is working side by side with Link to save Hyrule from the forces of evil in the Zelda games or wiping the floor and kicking in the faces of her fellow competitors in Smash.

Additionally, she was never about being a girl in specific or even impersonating a guy. There are very few things about her appearance that give us any hints about who she is. That, in and of itself, gives us one clue: her outfit, fighting style, as well as the wakizashi blade strapped on the back of her belt are reminiscent of ninjas from Feodal Japan, i.e. low-key, incognito assassins, warriors, experts in the arts of combat and killing... just like Sheik.

She's also the very definition of a hero: she dashes selflessly into danger without a moment's hesitation to protect not only her friends, but the people of the country she governs as Princess Zelda. To further boost the moral value of her heroics, her outfit conceals her identity, indicating she wants neither fame nor fortune when defending a village from a rampaging monster or saving Link's bony butt from danger yet again. Such chivalrous sacrifice is rare in fiction as so often in games and other visual media, the heroes and heroines go without helmets or hats even in combat zones so as to remain easily identifiable.

At any rate, even though Sheik isn't a playable character in the Zelda games besides Hyrule Warriors, she more than makes up for it in Smash where she's been a mainstay and a fan favorite ever since her first appearance in the game. Add to that her brand of modest heroism and deep wisdom in the Zelda games, and I believe we can safely say Sheik is a positive representation of a video game heroine.

Up next, we'll take a look at one of the most if not the most famous and iconic heroines in all of video game history: everyone's favorite pixelated bounty hunter, Samus Aran from the Metroid franchise!

'Til next time!