The Legend of Zelda: Linking the Past to the Future (or How Video Games Make You a Better Dad)

Written by J. Weston Smith

This is the first of a series of a writings reflecting on living, becoming a dad, and The Legend of Zelda, and how they all fit (loosely) together. Without giving too much away, I humbly submit...

Part I: "The Miniature Garden."

I don't get too excited about things anymore. Not like I use to, anyway. In 2000, I had a whole lot of things to be excited about. I was thirteen and puberty was opening new doors for me - doors which framed a paradise of awkward admonitions of "liking" someone, the sweaty palmed writing of letters which, if they ever reached their desired target, would have been read by half the class to be recited again in future black mailings and various lunch room shake downs, and the long, scenic path leading through to the discovery of my own rapidly changing geography. In three more years I would be driving. Surely by then I would know what to do with all of this hence forbidden knowledge. Insert buzzer sound here, and subtract points for lack of personal foresight. Three years from then I would be doing the same thing I was doing in 2000, and that was counting my days until the release of the newest Legend of Zelda.

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In 2000, it was Majora's Mask. I pre-ordered the game back when everybody was calling itZelda: Gaiden. Hawking every chance I could to slip into the drug store magazine aisle, I would pour through every issue of every gaming magazine looking for new screen shots, or new information. My thoughts and imagination swirled like a hurricane night and day, especially during math class. What was it going to be about? What was the strange symbol at the bottom of the screen? Why is Death Mountain pink? Is that even Death Mountain? Are we even in Hyrule, home of Princess Zelda and the Hylians, and is Ganon once again releasing evil into its good and fertile ways? Or is this something new?

Majora's Mask didn't take us back to Hyrule, but the world it offered was just as lush and as full of secret wonder. What I discovered playing that game at the tail end of 2000 was this: that no matter where a Zelda game sent me to, I was there. I mean, really there, all of the time, day and night, and the Nintendo didn't even have to be on! I felt the worry of Termina's people as the falling Moon loomed overhead threatening to completely obliterate every hope of redemption each and every one of them realized they needed right as death promisingly shadowed over them. Before that, I felt Link's loss when he woke up to find that seven years of his life had been taken away from him in an instant, and the uncertainty of the changes those lost years brought him, or rather what they brought me. I remembered all these characters each night before I closed my eyes to sleep similar to the way you remember all of your loved ones and the pains they suffer and the joys they share, and the prayers, literal or figurative as they may be, that come from thinking of those things when all else becomes quiet in your world.

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But I don't get too excited about things like that anymore. I'm much older, and imagination has lost a little of its luster. But with that being said, I'm very excited about 2015. Majora's Mask is being re-released, remastered, touched-up and now in the third-dimension. On top of that, the year also promises a new Legend of Zelda for the Wii U, and come April, the Cobb Energy Center in Atlanta will showcase a performance from the Symphony of the Goddess tour, a concert dedicated to Zelda music. It would appear that a large part of me still lives in Hyrule.

Oh, yes. And one other thing is happening in 2015. I'm going to become a father.

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"You acquired The Positive Pregnancy Test! Feel the power surging through your loins! Gives you the ability to wear whatever you want in public and act like Al Bundy."

Me! A dad! The single biggest thing I've ever done in my life! Fostering new life with my wonderful spouse, yet again a new door is opening, and this time I am being thrust through like it or not! But rest assured, I like it. And I think I'm ready. And if I'm not ready, I'll figure it out as I go, collecting the tools along the way to tackle each new task as it comes along.

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Hmm... Collecting tools... This sounds familiar... I've done this before, maybe in another life. Yes! That's exactly where I've done this before! In Hyrule! See where this is going?

Shigeru Miyamoto, the father of the Legend of Zelda series, has been often quoted as describing Zelda as a "miniature garden." Game developer Chiam Gingold dissects the possible implications of this comparison much more elegantly than I could ever hope to in his dissertation Miniature Gardens & Magic Crayons: Games, Spaces, and Worlds, but to paraphrase some of those ideas, what he essentially means is this: By looking at a miniature garden, you're engaging in living in two different worlds simultaneously. You're in the macro and the micro. In the macro, you're safely sitting at your desk looking down at the model garden. In the micro, you are inside the living, breathing garden among the swaying bamboo, listening to the coy splashing in the pond, experiencing. That experience translates across dimensions to the life above. You take away with you the new knowledge of that garden and add it to your daily experiences. You may even find out something new about yourself durning this process, as an equal and opposite flow of real world experiences from your macro life, that's your boring real life, passes down to the fantastic life of garden-living.

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So down below in Hyrule, I am Link exploring the twisted paths of sunken dungeons, solving problems for entire civilizations in a bind, making sweet music. Up above, I'm a 27 year old waiter about to become a dad, with no musical experience whatsoever. But what about the knowledge being transferred? What can my experience adventuring, collecting relics, and poking at bad guys with a sword teach me about being a dad, and what can being a dad teach me about being a good hero and a better gamer?

Over the next nine months, I will playing through each title in the Zelda series in order of release exploring that very question, documenting along the way exciting Zelda events of the year culminating in the release of The Legend of Zelda for the Wii u. Paralleling that much in the way the Dark World parallels the Light, though this is a terrible analogy to be made for sure, will be the story of my transformation into fatherhood, the stubborn resistances to some changes, the willful embracing of others, and the trials of communicating efficiently with doctors who do not play video games. This, of course, will culminate in the birth of my child.

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My small Zelda shrine. This will surely be packed away to make room for a crib, to one day be uncovered to be molested by crayons and sticky fingers and eventually sold on Ebay for college tuition or bail bonds.

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It's hard for me to really describe how excited I am to become a father. But let me try for a moment, again bringing up the "miniature garden" analogy. Pop - that's what I call my dad, and what I will be called by my child - would always tell me that his favorite thing about being a father was that he was able to live out his childhood again through my siblings and I. I know it will be the same for me. Above I will be experiencing life as a father, joyfully watching them grow while offering whatever help I can. Below, I will be experiencing the wonder and the terribleness of discovery, the comfort of security and the fear of nighttime, the joy of play and the loneliness of being misunderstood. I'll sprout pimples again, discover the opposite sex, write once more those letters to classroom crushes, and again they will come back to haunt me. I'll learn to drive, and then someday I will leave home again. I'm excited to be going to Hyrule once more. I'm even more excited to be returning to the past.

Please join me as I attempt to document the next year, Zelda title by Zelda title. I don't know if I can get through all of them. Some I haven't played before, some I could never beat when I did. Also, my time as a gamer is thinning as time goes by. In less than nine months I will be a father. Until then, I will be linking my past with my future. I welcome each and all of you to do the same with me.