Happy Monday everyone!
This post goes along with our Zelda Month theme for November along with NaNoWriMo that Rachel and I also participate in every year. This is more of a personal, introspective piece, so I hope you enjoy it.
The story line of video games is important to me. Like a good book, I need to be invested in what is going on in the game, the “why is this nonsense happening,” the plot. Don’t get me wrong, games without stories — like beat-em-ups or racing games — can be just as fun, but I definitely prefer games with a strong story.
It may just be the writer in me or it could be due to the gaming influences I’ve grown up with. My first clear memory of Mario was from Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars rather than Super Mario World. Mario RPG had a story and an interesting world and characters who all had their own agendas and personalities, even if they were a little cliche. Mario World had a bare-bones story, making you go from level to level to chase down Bowser and the princess, and did its primary job of being a platformer.
(Of course, the other reason why Mario World’s story is so-so to me could be because, when I was first introduced to it, I wondered why the princess would need saving. Sure, at the beginning of Mario RPG, I learned that Bowser tended to kidnap her a lot, but after we busted her out, she refused to be left behind and joined the party to fight. Why couldn’t she just escape herself in Mario World with her frying pan and psych bombs? But, I digress.)
The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time was another game that gave me a story line to adore. And, yes, most of the games in the rest of the franchise may have used the same general plot line — with the help of a woman with wisdom, a guy with courage goes to defeat a man with power — but they all have fantastic new adventures, and I’ve enjoyed most of them.
One that I did not particularly care for was Ocarina of Time’s sequel, Majora’s Mask. Despite the game’s following and all the praise it has gotten, I have never been able to bring myself to finish it. I have absolutely no desire to dive into that story myself.
Don’t get me wrong, Majora’s Mask was a game that I believe was done brilliantly. The themes of the plot — particularly loss, grief, and death — were heavy stuff that was pulled off masterfully. I appreciate what the game has brought to the table and how thought-provoking the game continues to be today.
But, unlike Ocarina of Time, Majora’s Mask was never a story I needed.
As a writer, one of the most overheard pieces of writing advice you hear is, “Write what you know.” Use your personal experiences, your feelings, your thoughts in your writing to evoke the same from your readers.
But that’s not why we write. We write to explore new worlds, to escape our current reality, to figure out our feelings, to maybe start following a different train of thought. Those are also the same reasons as to why I play video games.
Ocarina of Time came out in 1998 and Majora’s Mask in 2000. I’ll be honest, Ocarina of Time was a fun quest, one where I could play with the hero, but in 1998, I had no idea what I was doing. I just enjoyed meeting the characters, getting through a few dungeons and, on my uncle’s copy of the game, riding Epona around Hyrule Field on his (completed) save file. Majora’s Mask was darker, gloomier, and I didn’t care at all for the timed day mechanic as a kid.
The games came out on the Wii’s Virtual Console in 2007 and 2009, respectively, and I remember being excited for them. For the first time, I actually beat Ocarina of Time on my own, and the rush of accomplishment and pride was amazing. I was seventeen, in the second half of my junior year of high school, the time when everyone in my grade was panicking about SATs and college applications. While I did well in high school, I was firmly pretending that college was not a thing that existed. I ignored the impending deadlines, ignored the anxiety of trying to figure out a college major let alone a school, ignored the fact that my best friends were looking to go out of state.
I eventually made the decision not to even apply to any schools. Instead, I got a job while going to the local community college for an associates degree in information technology. When the SATs rolled around, my friends spent the night before with SAT prep books and practice tests. Me? I played video games with Rachel.
Ocarina of Time let me be in control during that tumultuous part of my life. I was with the hero, I was helping and saving people. I was allowed to explore the unknown, to figure out what I needed and wanted to do. I was able to get a horse. I was part of a story where I could make a difference.
I tried playing Majora’s Mask when it became available on the Virtual Console, and I beat a couple of the dungeons before being done. At that point in my life, I was nineteen and feeling left behind when comparing myself with my friends’ journeys. I was in the middle of switching my associate’s degree from IT to computer forensics to see if that would help keep me interested in school while still working retail. My passions for writing and gaming were getting more serious, but there was always those niggling questions of, “But what will you do for money? How will you do that for a living?”
Majora’s Mask echoed the chaos that I felt then. I was running out of time. I was missing friends from high school, friends that had promised with me to keep in touch, but then the friendships dissolved. I was part of too many stories that could be erased at any time, ones where my efforts wouldn’t matter and I’d find myself stuck at the beginning. Or, worse, a dead end.
It wasn’t the kind of story, the kind of game, that I needed back then.
Of course, my retail and computer skills have helped me tremendously with my current job. It’s not as creative as I would like it, but it has given me fantastic coworkers, an actual schedule, benefits, and pay that helps support both my bills and my gaming. While I’m not quite where I want to be yet, I can’t complain about where my life path has taken me. Ocarina’s story, to me, was about exploring and finding yourself and that’s what I’m still doing.
People should be told to write (or play) what you need more often. Stories have such a profound effect on readers, gamers, what-have-you, that I don’t believe people realize how much they need a story until they experience it. Ocarina of Time is one of my favorite stories from the Legend of Zelda franchise because it is what I needed at that time in my life. It’s taken me some time to fully realize it’s impact, but better late than never, right?
What video game story line do you feel has made an impact on your life?