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June 8, 2011 / jwaxo

The Legend of Zelda (Repeated Experiences)

[Insert joke about the guy in green not being named Zelda]

So with video games almost-recently being officially declared “art” by the US government, we can finally start officially comparing them to books, movies, TV shows, or even paintings. There’s an awful lot of beauty out there in the video game world that lots of people haven’t seen, and they need to have it found. Do it.

Oh, wait? A whole blog post? How about this:

I know a few people who don’t like reading books over again. I have to wonder what the point of owning their books is, really. You can lend them out, I guess. They look good on your shelf. But why not pick them up again in a few years/months and read them over? You almost always find something you missed before, probably get excited at the same points, laugh at the same antics, etcetera. It’s the same as watching a movie over again: there’s none of the suspense as the first time, unless you’ve managed to completely forget the plot, but the enjoyment you get out of the characters and storyline is still there for you to experience over and over again. It probably won’t be the same experience as the first time, but who’s to say it won’t be even better? You’ll notice more, possibly notice foreshadowing and call-aheads to things you weren’t aware of before, and appreciate the art a little more.

Now, I’m not saying this is what I was thinking back in the days when we played Zelda over and over and over again. But it’s getting there.

My mom says that the word Zelda is nearly synonymous with “fighting” for her.

The difference between replaying games and rereading a good book is that, for games, most of the point is in the gameplay. The first time through, sure, you’re interested in why Snake is being lead around by the nose through this complex and what Metal Gear even is, but you’re also having fun smacking guards and hiding in boxes. Once you’ve figured entirely out what’s going on, that doesn’t make the smacking and the boxes go away.

That’s probably why we played Zelda so much. It was really such a groundbreaking game, I’m actually sometimes surprised we didn’t play it more.

Picture, if you will, a landscape of adventure games, all of them focused on one object: moving forward. In 1942 your plane constantly flies upward. In Super Mario Bros you constantly ran to the right. All of the arcade games we played, all of the NES games, all focused on just moving in one direction, toward some goal, possibly trying to get as many points as we can on the way. Then The Legend of Zelda plops into our laps and we didn’t quite know what to think of it. All we knew was that there was our little green guy (potentially named Zelda) and he got this sword thrust at him and he could move north, south, east, or west. And that was it. There were temples. There were other items. There were fairies. And there were many, many little bad guys for us to swing that sword at.

Quite dangerous. Thanks for not offering to accompany me, red-robed old guy.

I know that we must have beaten it, some day. When I finally booted Zelda up on my Wii, anxious to finally beat that age-old game, I realized that everything in it was familiar, up to-and-including the final dungeon and fight with the big green pig himself, Ganon. But all I remember is starting the game, over and over again, sometimes using the secret name to activate the “Second Quest” where everything was harder, sometimes not.

It was always dangerous to go alone. We always took “that”.

But, if we beat it, why did we play it over and over again? Because the game itself was fun. It was fun to time those swings just right to kill those Octaroks. It was fun trying to find the secret walls, bombing every single square we could find to seek out hidden rooms. We never memorized every secret in the game (and there were a stupid amount of them), so it was always new and exciting when we stumbled upon one.

This is really a running theme throughout my life. If you talk to me, there’s something I’m working through again. It might be a book (just reread The Ear, the Eye and the Arm, which probably got me into sci-fi), a TV series (Hey, Arnold! is on Netflix!), or, most likely, some kind of game (of which there are too many for me to list here). There’s something magical about experiencing these mediums more than once, and the magic is only tenfold with video games.

A lot of it is mysteriously linked to this substance known as “nostalgia”. As you might guess, I am fairly inexperienced with it. I only look at things with clear lenses.

Note: replaying is even better when you’re helping someone else experience it for the first time. They just might not appreciate it.

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