Assembling the Triforce: Theorizing Power, Culture, and The Legend of Zelda


This paper critically explores the player-and-videogame assemblage through a cultural critique of representation in The Legend of Zelda to develop a theoretical understanding of the various forces of power brought to the couch. The player-and-videogame assemblage was proposed by Brendan Keogh to theorize video games as a collective experience between game, technology, and player. Through the player-and-videogame assemblage, video games come to be understood explicitly as an embodied and interactive performance that differentiates games from other forms of mass-market media. This paper focuses on the psychic and cultural dimensions that the player contributes to the assemblage based on identity representation and fan cultures. Furthermore, by treating the video game as a material object of production, a developer-and-videogame assemblage forms corresponding to the role of market and production that allow the player-and-videogame assemblage to exist in the first place.

The video game as a “fixed” material object links player and developer in an optional relationship; each has the power to ignore or include the other within the gaming practice. However, this relationship is not conducted on equal footing as the reality of neoliberal capitalism subordinate the player to the role of the consumer. Developers and corporate backers as producers of capital can enact a trickle-down experience of exploitative actions, manipulating the player into offering up their hard-earned capital in exchange for entertainment. While there is a tenuous allowance for fan-based interference of capitalist hegemony as part of convergence culture/media mix, these labors are always mediated by the threat of legal action by the intellectual property holder and wider cultural legibility.

This structure of subordination extends down to the player-and-videogame assemblage where immersion privileges identities more easily interpolated into the gaming experience. As a result, the power of visual and narrative inclusion is held by the developer rather than the player. Players have the opportunity to play the game, play with the game, and play with narrative and presentation outside the game, as theorized by various scholars in queer theory, game studies, and fandom studies. However, these forms of play occur on the boundaries of cultural awareness rather in the center where a game is produced and advertised. As a result, the player is forced to do the labor of adapting to make any claim to cultural literacy.

While queer theory, aesthetics, and sensibilities often suggest the value of the critical positioning of counterpoints in culture, and the queer appreciation of Zelda is well documented, this paper seeks to tread further than simply queering a narrative or reception. Using queer theoretical approaches in affect studies and phenomenology, it examines gaming as a political action rather than value-free entertainment, where ideologies clash, absorb, and interpolate player subjectivities. The ability to immerse oneself in Zelda’s Hyrule is to answer the hailing of the code that is programmed, designed, and controlled by a corporation. At the end of the day, the corporation, represented by developers, balances the scales in favor of capital, not the players.