Tingle, map-seller in The Legend of Zelda Majora's Mask, is a man in his mid-30s who wears a green fairy suit. Presumed by some—incorrectly, it turns out—to be gay, he is one of Nintendo's most unusual characters. I recently asked Nintendo's top Zelda creator what Tingle's origins were.
"I guess the heart of the character there is a little bit of a gag kind of feeling to it," longtime Zelda producer Eiji Aonuma told me through a translator during a New York-Kyoto telephone interview last week. We were talking about Tingle's debut in Majora's Mask back in 2000. The game has just been remade for the 3DS.
"The way the design of the character started is that we needed to think about how the character—the player—would get access to maps in this game. Of course, you could go with a situation where, as soon as he sees an area, you just open up your map and it fills in for you, but we wanted to do something a little bit different.
"So, we thought, what if you had to buy maps? Then suddenly we needed a character that you would be buying maps from. We ultimately ended up with a character here that had a little bit of humor to him that [came from] thinking of...'What sort of person would sell a map?' And, well, we decided it would be the kind of person who makes a map. And the way that he makes a map is by floating through the air so that he can see the contours of the land and draw them.
"But as soon as we got that far in the process, we realized anybody that would fly through the air making a map has got to be a really weird person. So at that point we decided, okay, we'll go with this and make him a really weird guy."
The Zelda Wiki notes that Tingle is more popular outside of America than in it. In 2004, IGN's GameCube site launched a "Die, Tingle, Die! Die!" campaign, dubbing the character far too annoying for the Zelda series. Tingle would star in his own game, the silly Zelda parody adventure Freshly Picked Tingle's Rosy Rupeeland, but that game never came to America—even though it was translated into English for its European release. (I played it, was fascinated by it and dubbed it the meanest game Nintendo ever made). In 2006, GayGamer named Tingle as the gayest character in video games.
He has shown up in several Zelda games since then and was most recently released as part of a downloadable character pack for the Wii U Zelda spin-off game Hyrule Warriors.
This is what Tingle says when you shoot him out of the air in Majora's Mask. So, yeah, as Aonuma said, he seems different and is pretty much portrayed as a man-child.
I asked about Tingle dressing up as a fairy and where all that came from.
Aonuma continued: "So when we made the character, we had this notion that one of the ways he might be a little bit weird is that he had this notion that he never wanted to grow up. And so I think, to that extent the clothes do fit this image of him. And the whole thing comes together as a very Peter Pan kind of visual. You know, if you think about it, it's this guy in his 30s in a green suit and is flying and never wants to grow up, it all sort of comes together around that."
All well and good, but I had to ask: Is he gay?
Aonuma: "He's not gay. He's just an odd person."
For more from my conversation with Aonuma, check out this story, which delves into how Zelda dungeons are made and how Majora's Mask was designed for adults.