Meet Super Dad. His name is Mike Hoye. By day he is a tech entrepreneur in Toronto. By night (and, well, sometimes during the day too) he is a video game-hacking Super Dad who transforms famed game heroes into game heroines ... all for the sake of his young daughter.
Hoye has been playing the beloved video game "Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker" with his daughter Maya. She is three-and-half years old (or as she likes to say, "fweee"). And "Wind Waker" is currently her favorite game.
But if you're not familiar with the "Legend of Zelda" games or "Wind Waker," then know this: The protagonist in this grand action-adventure is Link. And Link is a boy. Except when he isn't — which is when he's in Hoye's house.
You see, Hoye has hacked the famed Nintendo game and given Link ... well ... a sex change.
"What inspired me to actually do it was when Maya started to identify the kid on the screen as herself, and started putting herself in that role," he explained during a chat via email.
Hoye has been playing video games for most of his life. But these days gaming is something he and his daughter can do together. Though the controllers are still a bit big for Maya's hands, "She's been sitting next to me and telling me where to go exploring next since she was about two years old," Hoye says.
For Maya, "Wind Waker" is "a gorgeous playable cartoon on the big screen," he explains. In the game, Link sets out on a grand adventure to save his little sister who has been kidnapped. And as the game unfolds, much of the story and the dialog plays out as text on the screen.
When Hoye started playing "Wind Waker" with his daughter — knowing how much Maya loves to imagine herself as the hero — he feminized all the references to Link as he read the text to her. But trying to read a boy as a girl on the fly was no easy task. And so Super Dad got an idea: He would hack the game and modify its code so that Link is automatically referred to as a girl.
Now, as the text unfolds in the game "he" has become "she." "My lad" is now "milady." And as you can see from the screenshot above, "boy" has become "girl."
"I'm not having my daughter growing up thinking girls don’t get to be the hero and rescue their little brothers," Hoye explains on his blog here, where he has described exactly how he changed the game and offered his patch for free so other Super Parents can change "Wind Waker" if they like.
Hoye says it took "about three solid days of work, spread an hour or two at a time over the last few weeks" to change Link to a girl for his own girl. And yes, Maya is only just now learning to read and so perhaps she can't yet fully appreciate what a wonderful gift her father has given her.
But here's the thing, what Hoye has done is address, in his own small way, a much larger issue in gaming: the lack of strong female characters, not to mention the sometimes appalling treatment of women gamers. (For more on that, see InGame editor Todd Kenreck's video below).
"That women get treated terribly by every part of the gaming industry — as protagonists, in games' storylines, in gamer culture in general — is beyond debate, and completely inexcusable," he says. "I wanted to change this game for my own reasons, to make my daughter happy. But there's a much larger point to be addressed here, and I think we're at a watershed moment in the community where this sort of behavior is getting called out for what it is."
Indeed, as a long-time gamer, he says having a daughter of his own has made him look at his favorite hobby (and many other things) differently.
"It changes the way you look at the whole world," he says. "But yes, I feel like I need to pay special attention to the things she and I do together. Dad's favorite pastimes, whatever they are, shouldn't treat women like second-class citizens."
With his own daughter entering the world of gaming, I asked Hoye how he'd like to see the gaming industry and the culture that surrounds it change. In response, he pointed to BioWare's decision to let those who play the "Mass Effect" games play as either a male or female version of the Commander Shepherd protagonist — a powerful character who is treated no differently whether played as a man or a woman.
"In the most general sense, I'd like gamers to have the choice to be whoever they want, and to have that choice treated with respect, whatever it is," he says.
Winda Benedetti writes about video games for NBC News. You can follow her tweets about games and other things on Twitter here @WindaBenedetti and you can follow her on Google+. Meanwhile, be sure to check out the IN-GAME FACEBOOK PAGE to discuss the day's gaming news and reviews.