The Unlikeliest Gamer, aka me

This is a long overdue tribute to the Legend of Zelda series for helping to bring unexpected healing, hope, and joy to my soul over the past two years.

I was taught – by the lovely combination of my moralistic singaporean education and conservative church upbringing – that video games were dangerous. Addictive. A waste of time, an idol of the heart. Gaming will make you red-eyed and sleep-deprived and relationally-stunted and, of course, violent and cruel. You will get into trouble with strangers online. You will lose control and not be able to stop. I was wary of boys who gamed (which was many of them, especially in my field of study)…lucky for my husband, he never talked much about how formative video games had been for him when we were dating, or I might have tragically judged him 😛

In 2019, I started getting serious about weeding out beliefs & values that no longer made sense for me to hold on to as an adult. Some of these core beliefs had to do with heavy-type stuff, like my theology, sexuality, politics, cultural identity, and body image. And some of these beliefs were a little more frivolous, but no less important. For example, I gave myself permission to have really, really, really long hair. I’d been raised to believe that short hair was, I don’t know, more sensible and chaste and somehow good, but my hair is now down to my belly button, and I love it. Another example – I started using the dishwasher for the first time in my life, which is antithetical to the industriously-wash-everything-by-hand complex I’d somehow internalized. Stuff like that.

Skyward Sword & Twilight Princess

So when my husband brought home the family Wii, along with two Legend of Zelda games (Skyward Sword & Twilight Princess), I was curious.

I started out by watching him play Skyward Sword. He would encourage me to play, but I was too nervous. I remember trying to walk Link up a plank and being terrified of falling off. I didn’t have any controller muscle memory from my childhood to fall back on, and so everything felt awkward and clumsy. Monsters scared the crap out of me, and I would actually scream whenever a Bokoblin or a Deku Baba showed up on the screen.

But I rapidly – really rapidly – fell in love with the puzzles, the logic, the art, the terrible dialog, the music, and the act of doing something for FUN. I wanted my own file, and ended up playing through the whole game twice. I remained terrified of combat, though, and would beg and beg for K to fight bosses for me and just let me do the puzzles, side quests, and dungeons. And of course collecting and hoarding crap. He always refused, and I gradually had to overcome my terror – and my illogical fear of failure. I woke up with a sore right arm many times during those months. The feeling of triumph when I beat a boss for the first time…priceless.

So I was done with Skyward Sword and ready to move on to my next Zelda game. To be honest, Twilight Princess was too scary for me. Midna is so freaking creepy. So I just enjoyed watching K play and had to look away whenever he transformed into Wolf Link. To my delight, being able to share Zelda together as a couple felt like a way for us to level up in our relationship. I would look up guides for him and we would play through the game as a team. It felt so refreshing to be able to share a world with him that was outside of meal-planning, chores, organizing our social calendar, and hashing out our feelings/differences. Luckily for us, it wasn’t long before we got our hands on not one, but TWO Nintendo Switches, along with the hottest new Zelda game…aka Breath of the Wild, thanks to our very generous friends. So K and I could both play at the same time lol.

Breath of the Wild

What can I say? This game was a pretty big shock after SS & TP – just look at the art. It occupied me for nearly a year. Sometimes a scene would make me cry. I’m not going to attempt to explain the game, but playing BotW was without a doubt the most spiritually engaging experience I’d had in years. I felt real grief that I’d waited so long to discover this world. The musical score became one of my primary calming mechanisms – to the extent that I talked about it frequently in therapy. The shrines, logic puzzles, and the very complicated physics problems were like candy for the nerd in me who wasn’t getting much of a kick out of helping kids with elementary school math at my job. Some of the puzzles were pretty tough – especially the Divine Beasts.

We eventually gave in and bought the expansion pack, hehe.

Did the hundreds of hours I spent playing BotW make me a better person? I want to say that they did. I worked through my fear of failure and risk-taking. I was moved to tears by the art, humanity, and of course the engineering genius that went into the making of this game. My husband, sister-in-law and I routinely spent delicious evenings yelling at the tops of our voices at whomever happened to be playing. “USE STASIS YOU DUMMY” “YOU SHOULD EAT THE MIGHTY BANANAS” “YOU PRESSED TOO EARLY TO PARRY ATTACK” “GET OFF THE HORSE” “THAT’S NOT THE BEST PLACE TO FARM THE SHARD OF FAROSH’S FANG” “WHY DON’T YOU EVER HAVE ANY MONEY” etc. etc. It definitely helped to let off some steam during the tension and misery of lockdown 😉

The game, vast and sprawling as it is, did not last forever. The day came for me to beat Ganon (pretty anticlimactic imo) and eventually I got tired of hunting koroks and upgrading my gear. Thankfully, there were still plenty of games in the Zelda series to tap into (or get back into, for K).

Ocarina of Time

We purchased an N64 USB controller from Walmart (for less than $10!), downloaded an emulator and our next gaming adventure, The Ocarina of Time. OoT was released in 1998, and was an entirely different experience from BotW (2017) or SS (2011). Here is me as young Link, chilling in Kakariko Graveyard in my Firesuit.

Even though I was anticipating a less sophisticated experience, OoT was a true delight to play. I was determined to use as little of the online guides as possible, which made it extra rewarding. I inherited some vicarious nostalgia from K and all of his friends, for whom OoT triggered some serious ~feelings~ and memories of, you know, simpler times. OoT took me to the very start of 2021, and I officially beat Ganon on January 2nd of this year. All by myself and on my first try.

Majora’s Mask & Wind Waker

Which brings me to the present. K is playing (and recently beat) Majora’s Mask, and it was probably the most existential and profound game of the lot – really underrated. I am playing Wind Waker (and loving the Irish themes!!). I’m incredibly proud of myself for learning four different controllers (Wii, Switch, N64, GameCube) in spite of the initial clumsiness. I learned that it is okay and non-consequential to die – and die several times over – in a video game. My reflexes are much sharper, I’m able to calm myself down and focus during combat, and I want to say that I don’t scream as much when I am startled by something. I have bonded in an entirely new and wonderful way with my husband and my SIL. We even connected with two of our favorite elementary school kiddos over Zelda – whenever we see them, it’s all we talk about.

(Also…totally decorated our living room with these BotW travel posters)

The biggest gift that these Zelda games have given me is something to look forward to when it felt like everything just…sucked. Sounds small, but I believe that these games have worked a miracle in the midst of my depression and anxiety over the past couple of years. I remember one time my period was a few days late, and I thought I might finally be pregnant. When I started bleeding – aka not pregnant – I decided to lie in bed with a heating pad on my belly and play Zelda. Of course it didn’t take the sting away, but it was a relaxing and enjoyable activity that felt accessible to me. When you’re depressed and don’t have the energy to do anything, having something you look forward to is no small feat. In fact, it’s priceless, and you should keep doing it (within reason) until it’s no longer helpful or enjoyable.

Here’s to years & years of playing through Zelda games and prioritizing fun (and unlearning old biases). TBH one of the things that makes us most excited to be parents is looking forward to playing Zelda with our kids, heh. Here’s also to hoping that Nintendo gets its act together and finally decides to release BotW 2…