I think that’s a question that we all ask ourselves a lot, and one in particular that I receive quite frequently from people who hear what I’d like to do as a career. Writing about video games, and especially writing about them analytically, is still a fairly new field in the grand scheme of things. It would’ve been a lot easier for me to run a blog about memoirs, or running a blog all about BTS’s comeback, but I believe that games aren’t given the credit they’re due. There’s a lot that I want to explain, so that everyone is able to try and understand why this is so important; both culturally and to me personally.
Why Do You Care About Video Games?
I have always been an avid fan of pop culture, even when I was very young. Granted I wasn’t watching trash films at the age of six, but I was fully aware of Sailor Moon and Seven Brides for Seven Brothers at that time.
My sister used to tease me by saying I was like Sailor Moon due to always being late. I still take it as a compliment.
Video games were also in that category. Growing up in the valley, there weren’t really any kids my age around my sister and me. Sure, we had childhood friends from church, but we only saw them maybe twice a week for an hour. For most of my childhood, I remember it being just us, and when we lost cable for the next several years, games became our main source of entertainment.
Back then we only had a top-loading NES to share and since Katie was the oldest it remained in her room. This was a decision she soon came to regret as she would wake up in the middle of the night to find me in the floor playing North vs. South (a decision I came to regret when we got a PlayStation One and I would wake up with her in my bed playing it). I think that’s why I kept playing them for so long as a kid, the games were fun, but they also allowed me to create fond memories with someone very important to me, a fact that still rings true today.
In fact, the first video game I ever remember playing was the original The Legend of Zelda for NES, and it remains my favorite to this day. One of the few good memories I have of my mother is of all of us spending the day sitting in my sister’s room, going through the game screen by screen so we could draw a map of the overworld on graph paper. Nowadays I could just pull a map up on my phone, but back then it was very impractical (and expensive) to run to the family computer in the living room and wait for AOL to connect just to figure out where the third castle was. So we marked them all down ourselves, gave the areas silly names since we didn’t have a booklet to tell us the official ones, and had a pleasant day together in general.
Perhaps this memory is why I started to feel so strongly about the Zelda games, but the franchise is what launched me into caring about the cultural impact of games in general.
Why Do You Write About Video Games?
I probably love The Legend of Zelda franchise way too much. I’ve played every game, can rant about lore for hours, and even tattooed the Triforce on my left arm. As an adult I started collecting Zelda-related things. I own all the North American versions of the games and am working to now secure all the Japanese versions. I have art books, books on lore, comics from the series, and all of the amiibos. I’ve probably sunk more money into this than anything else I’ve ever done, but the series means that much to me.
I have a list somewhere of what I paid for everything that I personally bought, but I like to pretend that list doesn’t exist.
Princess Zelda is an iconic figure in Nintendo’s branding, and a character that I admire in particular, but she hasn’t been treated very well for most of the series. Zelda tends to get kidnapped, or imprisoned, in almost every single game within the franchise (off the top of my head, the only two I can think of where she doesn’t would be Majora’s Mask and Link’s Awakening/Link’s Awakening DX and that’s because Zelda is only referred to in passing, or in flashbacks. She’s not actually in the games).
Many diehard Zelda fans take offense at this fact, and not in the “Wow, that sucks. Nintendo should change that.” kind of way. They get defensive, rant about how that’s inaccurate because Zelda isn’t weak and those people are idiots for believing that bad trope; most importantly, they bring up the times where Nintendo did some things right, only to screw it all up.
In The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, Zelda aids our hero Link by dressing up as a Sheika named Sheik for seven years, waiting for Link to show up so she could pass on important songs and information he would need to defeat Ganon. This is such a cool concept that Nintendo came up with and it really shows the strength and conviction that Zelda possesses. The problem is that as soon as Sheik reveals themselves to be Princess Zelda, she is immediately encased in a crystal and disappears into Ganon’s castle as his prisoner.
This same problem shows up again in The Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker, another fan favorite. In the beginning of the game, we end up helping out a very intense pirate captain named Tetra who then allows Link to come with her and her crew to chase down the bird that tried to kidnap her. Tetra is a pretty badass character and she helps out quite a bit in the beginning of the game. Eventually, Tetra and Link find out that Link’s boat is actually the spirit of the ancient king of Hyrule and Tetra is really Princess Zelda (even though she had no knowledge of it herself). While it was an interesting twist, the issue was that once Tetra is revealed to be Zelda, she’s no longer allowed to travel with you. She has to stay put at Hyrule Castle instead. Not only that, but once Link returns after regaining the Master Sword’s power, Tetra/Zelda is then kidnapped by Ganondorf.
Zelda is not a weak character by any means and I wholeheartedly believe that despite the frequent kidnappings. Canonically, Zelda is proficient with a rapier and a bow, a master of magic, and controls her abilities as a Triforce holder better than anyone else. She can physically defend herself, is very diplomatic, and is quite wise for her age as she is continuously chosen as the one who holds the Triforce of Wisdom. In later games, we even find out that Zelda is the reincarnation of Hylia, a goddess of Hyrule. She’s a powerful character that has done some pretty amazing things, but was always kidnapped for the sake of being something for Link to rescue. These are criticisms that have been around and have been written about for a long time. Ocarina has been out for nearly twenty years now, and Wind Waker for about fifteen years, and these complaints are well ingrained into discussions about Nintendo and the Zelda franchise.
So why is writing about criticisms of game characters important if nothing has changed for twenty years?
It’s because Breath of the Wild happened.
While Princess Zelda is still imprisoned in The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, it’s an improvement for the series in regards to Zelda and her character. Even though they’re an optional quest (pretty much everything in this game is optional except for the Sheika Slate and the paraglider), Link can go to locations in Hyrule to recover memories of his life before he woke up in the Shrine of Resurrection. If the player chooses to recover these memories, they’ll get to see much more depth to Zelda than she’s ever received in previous installments. This Zelda is into science and the ancient technology that the kingdom has been unearthing, and not only that, but she has no idea how to access her holy powers (something no incarnation of Zelda has ever had issues with). Through these memories we see her struggle with the pressure of needing to access the powers to fulfill her duty as a Princess with the threat of Calamity Ganon looming over the kingdom, yet not being able to do so no matter how much she practices and prays to the Goddesses. By collecting all of the memories, we’re even able to see how the power finally awakens to her (the game has been out for less than a year, so being intentionally vague for spoilers) and that Calamity Ganon never kidnapped this version of Princess Zelda. She willingly imprisoned herself for a hundred years to try and contain Calamity Ganon to Hyrule Castle, waiting for Link to awaken and do his part of the job so she could seal him away.
It’s not perfect by any means. This version still has flaws, but through these criticisms of the games, Nintendo came up with a much better treatment of Zelda for Breath of the Wild. That’s why analyzing and writing about games is important, both culturally and to me personally. This Zelda is a step in the right direction and is the result of a much larger cultural shift caused by breaking down these works to look at what they’re saying. We need to criticize the things we love if we ever want them to become better, and the developers responding to criticisms by making better games is a good thing for everyone, especially as it shows the potential to shift current attitudes surrounding video game communities.