Transition is hard, no matter what. Even the happiest of changes come with their own set of challenges. And, what then for the transitions-against-your-will? The changes that take place without your consent? The ones that blindside you, break your heart, and challenge your core identity?
I won’t go too far into the details (because we’re all here for The Legend of Zelda, right?), but I will just say that I was going through some transition. And, to give a little bit of background, I spent the summer traveling amongst friends, relatives, and locations far and wide in an effort to reclaim my long-lost groove.
Which is how I found myself back at my parents’ house in Virginia, reconnecting our religiously-cared-for Nintendo 64 game console with a frenetic need to play my absolute favorite childhood game, The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time.
I felt drawn to it again as a distraction, of course. Who could feel too entirely forlorn about a day of unrequited job searching while you’re battling the weird, giant jellyfish inside Lord Jabu-Jabu’s belly? (Heads up, here is where things start getting really nerdy.)
But, there was something deeper about my connection with the game, as well. Something that touched on adventure, problem solving, and growth.
The game has some wonderful, relatable themes. The story is remarkably deep and highlights some issues I felt were, yet again, pertinent to my life. Maybe they always had been, and I was just more emotional this time around. Or maybe I was reverting back to my 12-year-old mindset.
Either way, as I restarted an old game file, starting in with the Kokiri Forest and the Deku Tree, while playing through the game, this time as a grown ass adult woman, I was struck by the wonderful storytelling The Ocarina of Time has to offer. I suppose it’s such a big deal game for a reason.
On the small scale (because the game starts small and builds incredibly well), I loved finding ways to relate to Link. He’s so confused but ultimately competent. While spending all of my/his money attempting to beat the archery game in Kakariko Village, I realized that Link is basically a broke, millennial vagrant like me – which was pretty validating for me, to be completely honest.
I, too, was a wandering, jobless bohemian seeking adventure and the greater good while selfishly stopping to pick up chickens and fly distances that were too far to jump. (Okay, maybe that last part is just him.) I only wish I could throw rocks and shake trees to find money like I/Link can in Hyrule.
On a larger scale, I was impressed with the ideas embedded within the game. There were the obvious metaphors, like fighting Dark Link in the Water Temple (“Conquer yourself,” Navi advises you, unhelpful but annoyingly poignant, as is her status quo).
But then, there are deeper issues addressed, as well, like redemption from mistakes. Zelda and Link are both jointly culpable for just how bad things get in Hyrule. As a kid, I kind of glossed over this aspect, not liking the idea of blame. I also thought Zelda was being a little hard on herself and Link. How were they supposed to know Ganandorf (the game’s big bad) was just using them to open the Door of Time? But, playing it through this time, the outlying factors didn’t seem to matter. Zelda was right, their actions led to further mayhem.
Ganandorf gains the power he does in the second portion of the game through Zelda’s and Link’s mishandling of power themselves. At a perceived low point in my life, professionally and emotionally, I could relate. I have to admit it was helpful to play through a storyline that validates life (and success) after mistakes.
I played The Ocarina of Time pretty consistently throughout the entirety of my stay in Virginia. I will confess, embarrassingly, that at around 5 p.m. every day I would take up my station, a beer within reach, and re-enter Hyrule, picking up where I had left off the day before. Sisters, brothers-in-law, parents all came and went through the family living room as I played. It was kind of like that standard movie scene in which everything speeds up around a character to show the insane passage of time and that character’s stuck-ed-ness. I joked that I would have my life together by the time I beat the game. It was kind of sad, really, by conventional standards. But, by my own, it was also kind of awesome. Still kind of sad, too.
Then, the unthinkable happened: I did, in fact, get my life together in time with my playing and finishing the game. By the time I finished off Ganandorf (taking me three deaths. I had completely forgotten about the fact that he turns into a dragon, making you beat him twice, the jerk.), I felt oddly rejuvenated. A sense of myself, my passions, my goals had returned from a place so withdrawn, so deeply hidden inside myself, even I hadn’t been allowed access for quite some time. And, due to a set of very well-timed events (surprising and unbelievable as life often is), by the time I finished the game, I also had a plan for moving forward with my life. The end of my summer sabbatical was in sight and wrapping up quite nicely.
Now, I am in no way claiming that a videogame cured me of my listlessness. My borderline depression came and went as it pleased, regardless of my activities, and still often finds me today. But, I will say that The Ocarina of Time, at that particular moment in my life, contributed to my rediscovery of a sense of joy I had lost somewhere along the side of the road and allowed me to let go of a faulty sense that there was an expected path that I needed to follow, a place in life I needed to be by now. I could legitimately say that no one else I knew was making a life event out of playing through the entirety of a '90s videogame, much less finding meaning in it. I could feel sad about that or I could embrace it.
So, I embraced it hard. I found a wonderful relief in this free-roaming, free-thinking game, from the Forest Temple (and finally finding the bow and arrow) to the notorious (at least in our household) Shadow Temple that was definitely not as terrifying as it had been back in 1999, but was still completely challenging (all that Lens of Truth use: How many times did I have to go searching for portable ways to refill my magic meter?).
It felt strange at times to find such solace in a nearly twenty-year-old videogame on a sentimental, but mostly obsolete, game console, but, hey, what can you do? You have to go about life the best that you can, forging your own paths, taking detours or different routes as you need to along the way. You find different challenges and battles in different corners of your world, but it all adds up to the adventure, peace, and love you put into it. I love that Navi’s direction, as annoying as it is, is only ever a suggestion.