Thursday, May 13, 2010

Ocarina of Time: A Treatise on Life, Love, and Saving the Princess

I decided to post this article up here because The Glamourous Grad Student seemed interested in it when I mentioned it on Twitter. This piece was an assignment for my Feature Writing class, so the style may be a little different than what you normally see here, but I hope you guys'll like it, whether you play games or not.

I was 18 when I first visited Hyrule. That makes it sound easier than it was, of course: having never played a video game before in my life, I had to fall off a lot of things first. My boyfriend walked me through the first dungeon, in which I got lost so many times that he did the courtesy of chucking my controller across the room for me. So it was rough going. Once I saw that legendary polygonal castle, though? I was hooked. I knew immediately that The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time was, like I had always heard, something quite special. Perhaps experiencing it for the first time as a near-adult played a role in the significance I found in the game. For me, it wasn’t so much a game as a… a guide to life. Allow me to explain.

First, though, let’s all take into account that there are certain aspects of the game that won’t fit your lifestyle-- a little disclaimer, if you will. Repetitive breaking and entering—and breaking once inside—for cash is probably not a great idea and will get you arrested, as will running around with an unconcealed weapon. I also wouldn’t entirely recommend exploring volcanoes or the bottoms of wells, dried up or not (you remember what happened to baby Jessica). A blue tunic won't keep you from drowning. And killing everything in sight? No, that isn’t so good, either. Perhaps that all goes without saying, but for legal reasons I should probably throw a disclaimer out there.

There’s a pretty good dose of diversity in Ocarina of Time. There are several different races—species, even, depending on what you consider human—in this video game world. There are Gorons, Zoras, Hylians, Kokiris, Gerudos, and Sheikah, all inhabiting the same planet and not doing too much to bother one another. They have distinct cultures and look markedly different from one another, even if it’s just a conspicuously pointy year. Since most of the races keep to themselves, the Zelda universe may not be much of a melting pot, but there’s something to be said for peaceful coexistence in this day and age of racial profiling and genocide. In the final cutscene, we even see all these groups partying it up together in celebration of the defeat of their common problem, the villain, Ganondorf.

Link actually grows up as a Hylian among Kokiris—that is to say, he’s a child that has been adopted into another culture. Though he is made fun of to a certain extent for not having a fairy like a real Kokiri, the village takes him in and protects him until he is apparently old enough to wield a sword and save the world (in case you’re curious, the ripe old age of 10). Joke’s on them when the “fairy boy” ends up being the Hero of Time, so we all learn a heartwarming lesson about accepting each other: you never know who could change your life.

On that same note of being kind to everyone no matter what, there’s the matter of Ganondorf. Ganondorf and his people, the Gerudo, seem to have gotten the short end of the kindness stick. Such a short end, in fact, that he’s taken to building giant castles with pipe organs in the very highest tower. I imagine it takes a lot of abuse to be driven to learn pipe organ. He has his reasons. We find out in a subsequent Zelda game, The Wind Waker, that the reason he’s so bent on world domination is the suffering of his people.

“When the sun rose into the sky,” Ganondorf said, “a burning wind punished my lands, searing the world. And when the moon climbed high into the dark of night, a frigid gale pierced our homes. No matter when it came, the wind carried the same thing… Death. But the winds that blew across the green fields of Hyrule brought something other than suffering and ruin. I coveted that wind, I suppose.

I would posit, perhaps, if the King of Hyrule had been a little more globally aware, he would have seen the need to help those suffering in the dessert. With a little more compassion and humanitarian aid, who knows what Ganondorf may have turned out like? A benevolent ruler? A philanthropist? An avid knitter? It almost goes without saying that an awareness of the world around us is important, and that we all must learn to take into account what others are going through. Horrible recession aside, America is in pretty good shape compared to a lot of other countries, and sharing the wealth with the less fortunate couldn’t hurt, especially if it means thwarting our doom. It’s a win-win.

Link is quite the informed guy, actually. He isn’t afraid of facing the hardships of the world around him. While the villagers of Kakariko live their lives blissfully unaware for the first portion of the game, Link knows better. He journeys across the country to find out just what’s going on, to fix it, even if the story isn’t pretty and he’ll ultimately be told he needs to venture somewhere scary and dark to confront a monster. One of the items in the game, in fact, is a Lens of Truth, which gives Link the power to determine what is real and just imaginary by looking through it. Though the game can technically be played without it—best left to experts only, I assure you—it’s certainly useful to be able to see false walls, floors, and invisible footholds during your journey through the Shadow Temple. In Ocarina of Time, the truth is necessary. It cannot be avoided. Without out it, there is only failure and falling into a bottomless pit. Sometimes people like to avoid the truth, especially when it might not be what they would like it to be. The bravery to face it is heroic.

Link comes across plenty of items during his travels. The Zelda series is practically known for its reliance on items and the way in which they are used. For instance, the item you get in a dungeon will always be necessary to defeat the boss of said dungeon. Some items aren’t totally necessary, like the Biggoron sword you can acquire through a lengthy trade quest. Some seem to be unnecessary at first glance, but are actually more important than one would think. I’m speaking, of course, of the glass bottle. It’s a run-of-the-mill empty bottle. Sometimes they have something in them at first, a purpose, and other times you’ll find them empty. So why keep them? Because the trivial can be useful.

“Empty bottles are probably the most useful items in The Legend of Zelda games,” according to an article at It’s true. Once a bottle is empty, it is your lifeline. Fill your collection of bottles with Lon Lon Milk and fairies and you’ll be unstoppable. And remember, the empty bottles are the only vessel to hold these life-giving substances. But the bottles have another use many Zelda fans may not even be aware of: a reflector in the final boss battle against Ganondorf. While you can use your Master Sword, it’s also possible to pull out your trusty bottle for, essentially, the game of volleyball that comprises the first part of the last fight. So lesson learned: think before recycling.

Another essential for battle is the very princess you’re trying to save. Sure, she spends the majority of the game trapped in a giant rupee, but you can’t beat the game without her. As the castle crumbles around Link, he seems to be struck with a terrible sense of direction and can’t find his way out. Zelda leads the way, opening doors with the help of magic, allowing Link to get out just in the nick of time. Then, during the last part of the final battle, Zelda is able to hold Ganon back in order for Link to deliver the final blow. She’s also an asset because it turns out she is the only one who can summon the sages to seal the evil king away for good. Though the typical adventure hero is a guy, Zelda is the game’s saving grace. Without her, Link simply cannot win. They say “behind every great man there is a great woman,” and it rings true here. Never underestimate the ladies.

And one last thing: sure, Link runs all around the country kicking ass and taking names, but isn’t without a certain spiritual growth. Our Hero of Time starts out with only a little bit of heart—only three—but collects a new one with every dungeon he conquers. As he begins to master his power and develop his courage, he becomes a man with more and more capacity to face adversity, thanks to these hearts. He can collect pieces of heart from side quests and in secret places, but he can never reach the full 20 available without venturing forth and facing the fearful sorts of situations we can only imagine in a video game. And despite that fact that Link is surrounded by so much sadness and hardship, his heart will keep just keep growing until he’s restored Hyrule to its former glory. And you can’t be a true hero without a lot of heart.

What life lessons have you learned from a game?


Laells said...

I'm not much of a constructive critique when it comes to writing, but I hope you got an A++++++++++ on that.

I freaking loved that game! It was definitely a good read.

I unfortunately didn't learn many life lessons from games. I know that if you ever encounter fireball-spitting plants you should probably duck. Fortunately, I've never had that encounter.

I used to love this game called Clayfighters and I thought of a few inventive ways to terrorize/beat up my brothers while playing that one.

Liiiike... maybe I couldn't turn into a giant hammer and smash my opponent like the slime character but the blow up baseball bat that my annoying little brother was playing with might just do the trick...

In my defense, I had 6 younger brothers until I was 9 years old and there's only so much Barbie-destroying that one can handle until one must do something about it.

Awwholic said...

Hey, fellow nail biter here.. WOW! I love this article but not as much as I love Zelda. I actually did not know about the whole Ganon tennis game with a bottle, wish I did - there were so many times where I'd try to make that fight worthwhile. Even have it saved on my file as the second before the final boss, so I can keep revisiting and playing the game again and again.

Oh, LoZ. You should listen to the soundtrack, it is so breathtaking, it makes me weep just hearing it sometimes.


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