I was around 6 years old.
There were four of us in the neighborhood who had our own NES. We would sometimes borrow games from each other. One of the other boys, a few years older than myself, was always kind to me — as evidenced by letting me borrow his golden Legend of Zelda cartridge.
I remember him trying to explain to me the importance of the save file. “That’s my man,” he said, pointing at the screen after we had powered the game on in my living room. “You don’t mess with my man.”
You have to realize, he did not say “my man” the way you would if it was a romantic sense, no. This was a serious matter of personal property, and I was to understand this by way of thrusting his index finger toward the small image of Link in a light-blue tunic.
Of course, I had no idea what he meant or what he was talking about. I managed to delete his file. Worse, I barely played the game at all. I did not quite ‘get’ it.
He was merciful upon my life, but certainly not happy with me.
Game-borrowing diminished significantly after that incident.
“Ho, brave lad, on your quest to wake the dreamer!”
Growing up, we had some fun Christmas traditions in my household. One of them was that every year my grandmother got myself and my sister an ornament. We got to open it well before Christmas, of course, so that it could be put on the tree.
Fun fact: The particular packaging for the Christmas ornament I received one year was just about exactly the same size as a new Game Boy game in the box. I know this because of what happened when I received, in the mail, two wrapped presents from my grandmother. One of them, we knew, was the ornament. The other, I did not yet know.
Thus, a dilemma: Nearly identical (seriously) in size, weight, even how they felt in the hand — how could I tell which one was the ornament, that I was allowed to open and put on the tree?
Well, I couldn’t: I just picked one, opened it… and discovered that my grandmother had gifted me The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening for Christmas.
My mother did not let me play it. It was rewrapped, and placed back under the tree, taunting me for all the days to come.
Once I was able to explore Koholint Island, Awakening became the first Zelda game I completed. Multiple times. On Super Game Boy and Game Boy Pocket, it became one of my all-time favorites, and remains so to this day.
To understand what Ocarina of Time means to me, you have to understand a couple of other things about my gaming history.
Although it was probably fairly typical for millions of American adolescents, I played… so much video games. I mean, hours and hours and hours for weeks and weeks on end of video games. In hindsight, I am so ashamed of all the lost time, all the lost potential, the sheer monumental mass of days bled away in front of the television.
The NES was my primary machine of choice. Even after we got the SNES, its predecessor got plenty of play. Those two consoles and their 2D experiences had years, and years, and years to cultivate a deep, obnoxious fondness for Nintendo gaming within me. Playing Nintendo games was a source of happiness, relaxation, and simple fun. I grew to enjoy the characters, the lore, the little details that were lovingly crafted into these experiences for me.
But where my history with Nintendo begins to differ from some others is with the advent of the Nintendo 64. For millions of gamers, their introduction to 3D Nintendo gaming was in the form of Super Mario 64. I have read some of these memories, these players whose eyes widened and jaws dropped at the possibilities they could only begin to realize in the third dimension, the overwhelming magic of what those sorts of settings and challenges could do to enrich games from that point forward.
Not me. I did not have this epiphany. Well, not with Super Mario 64.
It was a while before I had a 64 of my own. And when I did, I did not have Super Mario 64. Sure, I loved the Mario games and their lineage, and titles like Yoshi’s Island and Super Mario RPG got a lot of love from me.
But my first 3D adventure was The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time.
My goodness. What a revelation.
Has it aged perfectly? Nah. But it is a great video game, and had a compelling impact on me, a teenage boy who was at the exact point of readiness for a bigger, richer quest like that one.
By the time Majora’s Mask began appearing in the pages of Nintendo Power, I was able to understand what hype really was, and how glorious it could feel to have your dreams become reality. As cheesy as it sounds, it’s true: Majora’s Mask was, for me personally, the culmination of already believing Ocarina of Time was something special and wanting more, hardly daring to imagine that I could like the sequel even better.
Here I sit, looking back with a smile at the fervent leap I took into Termina.
Majora’s Mask is my favorite Legend of Zelda entry.
I am 31 years old, now.
I am married. I have been for over five years, in fact. I have mortgage payments. My wife and I have a two-year-old daughter, and a son that is due in a matter of weeks. I have a steady day job.
My hair is turning gray, especially at the temples. I play basketball one evening a week, but sometimes experience joint pain and aches and soreness that I never did when I played a decade ago. I watch my diet a little; much more than I ever used to, at least.
I am old enough to look at the world and feel like it is foreign to me, like I am no longer in touch with its ways and its trends, much less its morals and its fascinations.
I teach the Westminster Catechism to high schoolers at my church. Some of the most significant stress in my life arises from bookkeeping issues at work. Last week, I wondered how often I would use a belt sander if I bought one. I don’t read as much as I would like, but I am slowly-but-surely getting through Dune. I should call my grandmother. It was only this year that I finally unfriended an ex-girlfriend on Facebook. My wife and I had a conversation about medical bills at the dinner table, just earlier tonight. I recently wrote a note on a tablet of paper we keep on the fridge for needed purchases, since I am almost out of my generic daily vitamin supplement.
My mind is still sharp. My heart still has a tenderness to it.
So it is with clarity that I can still recall, vividly and distinctly, the joy of plunging into a new Legend of Zelda video game, utterly immersing myself into its universe and letting my soul move, if but slightly, with its rhythms.
I am excited about The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild for the new Nintendo Switch system. From what I have read and seen, it seems fantastic, and like something I will greatly enjoy.
I don’t really have time for games like this anymore, though. And I have no business making it a priority, amid everything else that I have going on, and in my household altogether.
I am going to enjoy it, and thoroughly. I am going to persist in the belief that fun is a value, and that my life has room for it, and this has worth. I am going to stay up irresponsibly late at night, multiple times a week, just to partake in the wonder of the Wild. I will smile, and laugh, and feel. It’ll be great.
For my inner child, this may be his last stand.
I hope he survives.