Contemplating Link’s adventure illuminates our own journeys through time.
Yesterday, I reopened my 3DS to find that I was just beginning the Deku Tree dungeon of The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time. While I have really only beaten the original game a few times, I know the Deku Tree like the back of my hand. I can’t really boast though, since I know it well because I was so afraid to fight the dungeon’s final boss when I was a kid. I would grind through Kokiri Villiage and the entire dungeon, then freeze up outside Queen Gohma. Replaying the dungeon, talking to every available NPC, and exploring every corner of the Lost Woods, all seemed much more appealing than facing this veiled nightmare. So when I reopened my 3DS, I accessed the small part of my brain devoted to the Deku Tree and walked a well-worn path into my own childhood.
Finishing the Deku Tree is a large step toward one of the most important parts of the game: transforming into Adult Link. In this new play through, the transformation from “child Link” to “adult Link” has new significance to me — possibly because I am an adult now. Revisiting this era of Hyrule has me contemplating my childhood and the impact that Ocarina of Time had on it.
The average age of video gamers is somewhere between 25 and 35. As robust as the video game industry is in 2016, it cannot owe its broad success among age groups solely to high production quality and the effort of modern developers. Many adult gamers owe their lifelong interest in video games to a handful of titles that dominated their young, impressionable minds.
The timeline of games starts earlier than 1972 and Pong’s release, and goes on through today. My mom and uncle had an Atari and most of its library when they were young. Throughout most of the industry’s history, one could choose from an eclectic range of games for themselves or their children. The options for that combination of first titles is vast.
Indeed, Link has impacted more than my childhood. He’s structured the way I consider and play video games. That section of brain devoted to the Deku Tree is one of the roots of my entire gaming worldview. Considering the amount of Zelda fans in the world, I contend there are others with similar experiences.
I started really enjoying video games around the year 1999. I was 5, really into 007 Golden Eye and Zelda, and had subconsciously sworn to patiently wait for Nintendo’s answer to Sony’s PS2. This was the setting for my life when I finally killed Gohma and rejoiced with my little sister, who had patiently observed my cowardice. Imagine our surprise when after literally dozens of hours procrastinating in Kokiri Forrest and the other aspects of childhood, I found that Link could grow up.
Link awakens in the Temple of Time to find that in addition to his new Master Sword he has new adult clothes and an adult body. His spirit was sealed for seven years to prepare him to fight Ganon. There was no Dragon Ball Z-style hyperbolic time chamber where he would train to kick ass without a targeting system. Just “sealed.”
What are the implications here for Link’s mental maturity? Is “adult” link really just child link who can use a bow? Whatever break in the developmental process there may be, Link’s situation highlights our own: Childhood and adulthood are closely related in the world of video games.
Try to imagine what your life would be like if you got a Sega Genesis instead of the SNES? Or if you are my age, a Playstation instead of an N64? You might be doing more than choosing your coolest graphic tees differently.
Open world games driven by powerful stories like Zelda hold the highest place in my game chronology. You may have grown up with Doom if you were a few years older than me, and your parents were as cool as hell (pun intended). As a result, you may find yourself subconsciously comparing that to every first-person-shooter experience since. My uncle grew up in arcades and still asks me about high scores even when the game I’m playing doesn’t use scores.
And those early titles can affect more than what we think about video games. My contact with Ocarina of Time at that formative time instilled some pretty strong values that I still hold today. Ganondorf’s piece of the Triforce still has me questioning power and defaulting it into the “evil” category of my brain.
Even seemingly peripheral factors in childhood video gaming experience — like when, where, and how you played — can leave a lifelong impact. I played a lot of games alone in my room, and still choose to today. Many of my friends have always considered video gaming a social experience and hardly log in if they cannot party up. I have almost always had a separate gaming chair like I did when I was seven.
I write all of this because going back to play through this adventure on 3DS is a powerful experience. Some of the scenes in combination with the music get me choked up for reasons I cannot explain. It could be simple nostalgia, or I could be accessing part of the core of my being. That sounds dramatic, but those who place video games on a high artistic echelon know it can be true.
The industry has capitalized on that deep nostalgia which permeates our gaming experiences. A large chunk of publishing is dedicated to remakes of old games, ports to new systems, and long-running series; all have easy access to our deep nostalgia.
Pokemon premiered in the USA in 1998, and we still feel something unexplainable in the new games when we get to pick out our starter (a feature that Game Freak is sure to continue using). The longer a series survives the more likely they are to have a “classic” difficulty that we choose with eyes squinting, mouth smiling, and head nodding.
Even within games like Ocarina of Time, nostalgia plays a major factor. I remember walking through Hyrule Castle Town with fear and confusion, and then reflecting on the “good ol’ days” seven in-game-years ago.
Finding new experiences in video games can be fun and rewarding, but finding old experiences in video games can be emotionally exhilarating. Accessing the wonder we found as kids illuminates some of the core aspects of our gaming worldviews. Like the same Link destroyed Gohma and Ganon, in many ways we are still the same gamers we were when we picked up that first paddle.