Link is centre-frame running in an endless circle on a hot disc surrounded by fire. He is wearing cutoff shorts, a bikini top, arm wraps, and a tiara, accentuating his androgynous features; and has a gigantic iron mallet on his back.

Confidence game

If you’ve followed the blog a while, you may have caught intermittent reference to the fact that I play a video game every now and again — which in my head translates to “maybe once every 18 months” — and when I play, I play deep. I am not a particularly strong gamer, so it takes me a long time to learn controls and game mechanics; plus I’m kinda puzzle-dumb, so working my way through quest story points can sometimes take months. (This is part of the reason I only tackle one every 18 months. They take a lot of work for me, and I am very reluctant to get embroiled in a new state of near-constant failure.)

I love games that keep their side-quests in enumerated checklists, and am less enamoured of the ones where I have to keep a running tally in my head of my next steps and off-mission objectives. Stuff like finding all four fairy springs, or sourcing a diamond to pay that one guy who can rebuild that one sacred bow I broke. Or, as became the driving question of the last month of my playing The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild

“…what am I going to wear?”

Open-world gaming seems to invite or absolutely refute this kind of costume customization, depending on where you stand on how to “properly” play a game. By this I mean, I’m sure there’s a correct set of duds to wear to Hyrule Castle to fight Calamity Ganon, in that each variant item of bottoms, tops, and headgear has different stats for defence, attack, stealth, and so forth; and some pieces have none at all, which will become relevant below. In this reading, costume customization is essentially moot: you’re bagging loot en route to a big bad and the object of the game is to get the loot that gives you the best shot at winning. You’re not wearing it to look pretty… are you?

It wasn’t until Link was trying to sneak his way into women-only Gerudo Town, which necessitated the purchase of a “girl” costume made up of harem pants, a crop top, and veil, that I became interested in the costuming options in Breath of the Wild. Until then, I thought the costume options were kinda underwhelming; nothing like the resplendent colour-coded armour and plumage of, say, Horizon: Forbidden West, which was the video game obsession of my previous 18-month cycle, and in which you could not just collect varying arrays of costume choices, but dye them multitudes of additional colours, and even change your war paint. Holy shit.

Anyway. All this to say, in spite of all the preceding armour and helmet and loot choices seeming pretty samey, as soon as androgynous lil’ “boy”-gendered Link stepped into his girly clothes to get into Gerudo Town, I not only had something like my fifty-third queer sexual awakening, but I also realized: I want to dress like this all the time.

Not just in the game, although in the game it was certainly true too. I went back to Gerudo Town a lot. I probably visited Gerudo Town more than I visited every other environment in Hyrule combined. I went there to sleep, just cuz. (You don’t ever actually have to sleep, in BotW.) I got spa treatments there. (The way the ladies giggled when they, with the screen demurely darkened, discovered my penis as I disrobed!) I bought all of my arrows there, every single time I needed arrows, being called a “strange little vai (*girl)” by the arrow lady perhaps four hundred times, simply because I was a vai who bought so many god damned arrows.

Fuck yes I’m a strange little vai. Can that be my gender identity going forward, please? Strange Little Vai coming at ya.

The “girl” costume that gets you into Gerudo Town has no stat-buff attributes whatsoever. Getting attacked in it (and yes, I discovered this) is like going to a knife fight in pyjamas. The thing about the outfit is that it unlocked something so specific for me — in that it both made Link obscenely fuckable, and also, more like the real me that I had unknowingly longed to see in the game — that I frequently forgot to take the girl-clothes off, once I’d left the safety of the town. I’d be wandering through the desert and I’d get rolled by two bats and a Bokoblin — hardly nth-level combatants — and wonder why I was lying there bleeding out into the twilit sands, before I realized I was still wearing the pyjamas.

So, I started to modify, while trying to keep to the core principle of the thing, which was that my Link dresses like a girl. A tough girl, but, a girl. Armoured pants, bare midriff, keep the arm wraps (for Rey, scavenger of my heart), and finding nothing wrong with having my face visible as long as something was tying my sweaty, hair-coloured hair back, framing my beautiful features.

I arrived at the ne plus ultra version of this look in scorching Goron City, up on Death Mountain, a volcano environment so delightful it nearly took Gerudo’s place as my “home” in the game. Dressed bitchily in chunky black fireproof pants, with a gigantic drillshaft twice my size slung across my back (for breaking rocks and getting gems, natch), and topped with a delicate silver tiara, I served so much cunt.

Screenshot from The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild of the androgynous hero character, Link, dressed in a crop top and rubber pants, with an extremely large drill-headed weapon on his back. The background is beautiful mountains beyond a Japanese-styled village.

I freed the Divine Beasts. I found all of the Captured Memories. I finished my whole list of side-quests and dug up so many Korok Seeds that I nearly — nearly — had enough weapon slots in my inventory to accessorize all of my core looks successfully. (Was I going to need that drillshaft over my shoulder during the final fight? Fuck you. Yes. And the glowing lightsabre-chainsaw, too.) And I gathered as many Heart Containers and Full Recovery-Plus meals as I possibly could, because I realized at some point in the last days of this campaign that I was going to go battle my way through the exorbitant, delectable map of Hyrule Castle and fight Calamity Ganon without armour.

(Ok, not no armour. I wore the Guardian-proof pants.)

Because fuck it: I’d rather die a thousand times a soft androgynous babyqueer with a bare midriff than go up there cased in old metal.

Flight, verticality, the superhuman leaps that only happen in games or dreams, these are the things I love best as I work my way through these open-worlds. As I monkey-climbed my way around that castle — leaping up its exterior facing rock; or sailing off fast-moving mine carts in the castle’s belly; or exploding out of its waterfalls like Aquaman, falling in bullet-time to put two Ancient Arrows through the eye of whatever Guardian was laser-targeting me as I fell — my bare muscles working, my body supernally graceful, I slipped into a euphoric state of hereness, nowness, me-ness like I’ve rarely felt in all my life.

Dressed like an absolute slut. This, I think, is who I am.

Slipping the meat-prison and investing fully in these flights of the mind is becoming more and more (and maybe, “too”) central in whatever space it is I’m living in now. Over in Dungeons & Dragons, my trans gnome bard was Resurrected in the form of an amethyst dragonborn with great, spectral wings, and promptly ascended into a perfected version of himself, slew a Dark Lord, and took over a country. In my drafted novel, the girl-spirit whose name is Enneaka is being mulled over and worked on and helped to find shape by one of the people I trust most in the world, so that we can package her up and get her printed and out to you, her queer readers. In the Mummy-esque spec adventure script I’m developing, the key relationship is a big sister / kid sister bond between a ripped scavenger of the wasteland and the girl-identifying clone of an old man.

In the novel-in-progress, my protagonist Kya carries a drillshaft now, and her hair-coloured hair is tied back, framing her face. Don’t ask me why.

Link framed against an orange sky left of frame, and blood-red Ganon energy on the right. Link is wearing a bikini top, arm wraps, and orange earrings.

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