Around the time that I turned 5-years old, my father came home with a giant, unmarked cardboard box, which he promptly carried downstairs into our rec room, encouraging my brother and I to follow. He set it down next to the TV and said “have fun”. We had no idea what to expect before opening it, but once we did, our lives were forever changed.
For the next, who knows how many hours (days?), we sifted through this giant mystery box and pulled out title after title, and cartridge after cartridge of what was, at the time, a little known thing called The Nintendo Entertainment System. Now, you need to understand that, for kids in the 80’s, this thing was like nothing ever heard of or seen before. To have one in your possession was a ticket to nirvana, and the envy of every child within a 40 kilometre radius. It was a magical grey box which, after learning just the right intricacies of how to blow into the cartridge, press down the loading mechanism with the most delicate and graceful of touches, and gingerly press the power button, held within it the power to excite like no other toy before it. We were kings as we played through each title with more excitement than the one that came before it. Mario, Joust, Bubble Bobble, Contra, hit after hit, after hit. Nothing that anyone could have conceived could have brought more elation and wonder as we watched the colours and images dance across the screen at our will. Nothing, that is, until sometime around 1988, which is when I first met Zelda.
The Legend of Zelda was a game that separated itself from all the others because it wasn’t just a linear, left to right, go here, do this, prescribed game with a flagpole at the end. Zelda was different in that, as the player, I was in control of where I could roam, and could generally choose what I wanted to explore. It provided me with the feeling that I was the one on an adventure to seek treasure, conquer the impossible and, ultimately defeat the big bad. Perhaps the most enjoyable part about Zelda for me, however, was the puzzles. A seemingly endless array of levers, tools and hidden passageways that could be discovered both in succession and parallel to one another. It got my brain thinking and engaging in really cool ways that, at the time, I didn’t know it could, and this validated my imagination and creative longing to enjoy a world where simply ‘trying things out’ could lead to new and exciting discovering and ultimately reward feeling inside.
That was 35 years ago, and while technology has changed, the game still resonates with me. There have been multiple releases and new versions of the Zelda and Link adventures, and I’ve been nerdishly on board with every single one of them. I don’t play video games often, but I make time for a new Zelda release in my life, carving out a day or two purely dedicated to solving the newest and innovative ways in which the designers built their sandbox. So when the latest adventure dropped just last week, I indeed booked the day off and committed myself to 24-hours of adventuring and puzzle solving. I was not disappointed.
You may be wondering why I am dedicating an entry to a game and subject that’s over three decades old, and the truth to that is: as I am playing through this most recent entry, I am remembering all of the ones that came before it, all the way back to that basement on Randall Crescent in Milton, Ontario, where I was first introduced. I am thinking to how the things we experience while young, innocent and wide-eyed, shape us into the people we are destined to be. Would I be a vastly different person had I never popped in that golden cartridge and grabbed the controller with perseverance? Maybe, maybe not. But I will say with confidence that I don’t believe I’d have the same penchant for puzzles, mysteries and exploring the unknown. I see the potential for treasure and surprise around just about any corner, and I am able to conquer most of my fears knowing that I can be stronger as a result of piecing things together to create a larger story.
Zelda was my gateway into a world of lateral thinking, and I’ve been addicted to it ever since. I love coming up with new ways to use familiar letters, numbers, patters, and symbols to create something unique and fresh. For me this is not just about trying to leave someone confounded by a problem (though I will admit that is sometimes a bit sadistically amusing to do so), rather it’s more that, as people we are all different; wired with multiple ways of thinking, learning, observing and behaving and I love the exploration of these differences. I like to think that, by leveraging the ability to look at the world from multiple perspectives, I get to connect with people I otherwise wouldn’t have the opportunity to. Puzzles and mysteries expand my brain, my abilities to think differently and appreciate the new and unknown. And this, my friends, is a paragraph designed with the sole purpose to justify to my lovely wife the reasons behind the $100 I just dropped on video game…
And with that: let’s be clear of what I really have to be thankful for here, which very much boils down to having an amazingly supportive, patient and understanding partner who, knowing what this game means to the wonder and spark inside me, allows space and time for me to indulge without judgement. I am a parent and a partner with responsibilities, and I put those things first the vast majority of the time; but for me to be fully successful in those endeavours, it does require a bit of ‘me’ time to recharge. Sitting on the couch watching TV doesn’t always do it for me, but throwing myself into the land of Hyrule for a few hours, certainly does the trick. So: thank you, my love. I appreciate you.
Speaking of recharging…it’s time for me to top up my hearts and get back to business.
Enjoy your long weekend, everyone!