Zelda Doesn't Need Saving

21 Feb 2012

Tevis Thomson, regarding The Legend of Zelda:

The point of a hero’s adventure (and Zelda is the hero’s adventure in gaming) is not to make you feel better about yourself. The point is to grow, to overcome, to in some way actually become better. If a legendary quest has no substantial challenge, if it asks nothing of you except that you jump through the hoops it so carefully lays out for you, then the very legend is unworthy of being told, and retold. Death and punishment for failure are not outdated old-school notions, too demanding for the new eggshell generation.

We played two different series, Tevis, that happened to share the same name, and little else. You are old school. You come from a background of games that could beat you. You revel in the challenge and celebrate your successes because they feel earned. I do not fault that even if I do not share in the sentiment, because our experiences were not the same.

Let me tell you about my journey through the Zelda series.

The Legend of Zelda was the first time I came to realize that heroes could be made instead of simply existing and here, in this game, there was a potential for heroism, but such an end was not guaranteed. It took drive; it took practice; and it took luck. Link was a boy unsure of his capability and thrust into a world that did not care about him. It existed regardless of his actions and would continue to do so if he did not survive. The world was made empty as if by an apocalypse, but there were still hints of the realm left behind that could be discovered and explored. From this, I learned that there are secrets and that they will open themselves to you if you seek them out. It is was in this game that I learned the values of curiosity and persistence.

Link’s Awakening showed me that my choices affect me first, but spread outward to the world at a startling pace. I remember finding out the difference between an act of trust and being forced to follow the only voice amidst darkness. I learned that actions have consequences and that bad reputations, once earned, are nigh impossible to change. Acts of violences, acts of cruelty are remembered long after the high of the moment has passed. Awakening also taught me the importance of dreams, both those that come with sleep and those we aim ourselves towards. It was here that I learned that the stories that we tell ourselves are as important as those that we experience.

Ocarina of Time taught me that friendship is a commitment connecting two people; that love is not an emotion, it is an effort; and that we can be bound, painfully and permanently, to our efforts. Within this game there was such a notion as fate, although it never clarified whether destiny is truly predestination or simply action compounded upon layers of mythology. I found out that there is no difference in value between grand deeds and simple ones for it will always be a worthy act to help those unable to help themselves.

Majora’s Mask helped me to understand that time is precious and there is never enough of it to do everything that you desire. Here I discovered that success is not measure of skill, but of preparation and of determination. I also discovered that evil exists in this world, although it is not only found at the throne of a cruel king—evil can be entered into unaware.

It is true that the point of a hero’s adventure is not to make you feel better about yourself. The point is to grow, to overcome, to in some way actually become better and through Link’s adventures, I have been made better. I have learned about the world and I have discovered myself. That is the purpose of narrative: we tell ourselves stories in order to live. That is as true of video games as it is of novels or poetry or television. Difficulty is a measure of those stories, yes, but just as it is true that there is no more inherent nobility in Moby Dick than in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn simply because the latter is more accessible than the former, there is no more greatness in a hard game over an easy one.

I play video games to experience them and to see the ways in which they can alter me. I always have. Video games, like any narrative form, are lessons from which I discover myself and the person that I wish to be. The legend of Zelda is the person who is left behind once the controller is set aside and the console is turned off. That is how they restructure our consciousness and captivate our very being.

Tevis, you love the Zelda and there is no denying that you are a fan—likely much more-so than I—but I would not, for all the rupees in Hyrule, trade my experience of that universe for yours.

(Via The Cut)