When Navi awoke Link from his nightmare, of the evil man in dark clothing, Link awoke me from mine. I was thirteen, and he was maybe younger. We started our journeys together. Then, he jumped ahead of me, into a future I didn’t yet understand. He mastered his new landscape. I am still trying.
In 1998, an American child such as myself didn’t – in a larger sense – have to fear for their future. The budget was balanced, the American Dream was assured, and the small battles were pretty much the big ones, too. So when my nubile mind wasn’t swirling around the possible meanings of “oral sex” or why the dead president’s head on the twenty-dollar bill got so much larger, I lost myself utterly in the massive quest of The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time. He was a kid who was destined for greatness; I was a kid who liked to read and daydream. We were one and the same.
Then a strange thing happened. I fell deeper into my English classes during the day, while my tunic’d counterpart gathered spiritual stones in the evening, and before I knew it Link gained entrance into the sanctum of the Temple of Time. And there lay that eternal symbol of the strength of good: the Master Sword. By the time he realized he had pulled it out from its stone sheath, he looked at himself and saw that seven years had passed. I, on the other hand, was exactly the same age I was when I pressed “B”.
And it felt awful.
Nothing was as it was before. The formerly bustling Hyrule Castle Town was torn to shreds and overridden with zombies that sent Link and me both into mutual paralysis. The bubbly youths I had encountered just days ago were suddenly grown, and in varying degrees of utter peril. Link was completely alone, and had no choice but to take the advice of a shrouded stranger. Adulthood was how I expected, in a sense: the world was many times more massive, and secrets and side quests abound. I just didn’t expect it to be so confusing, so full of hurt.
Link’s soul was sealed for seven years when he unleashed the Master Sword. His descent into the Dark World was abrupt. There was no Master Sword in my world; my descent had to be gradual.
Fourteen years have passed since I put down “Ocarina of Time”, and I look upon my landscape with a familiar mix of largeness and pain. My childhood quest to become a writer has led me into significant college debt, and the prospects of doing what I love for a living are anything but assured. Zombies of anxiety have frozen me in my tracks on a regular basis. The souls I shared my childhood with – who put themselves in Link’s boots just as I did – are witness to an epic financial downturn, increasing political extremism, and the burdensome philosophical vagaries of a globalized world. Even if we find a shrouded stranger to provide us with direction, vision, Change We Can Believe In, that only serves as a roadsign down a path we each must navigate alone.
Link looked upon disaster, unsheathed his sword, and got to hacking right away. It took me a while longer. I had to learn to trust my instruments, believe that the skills that had built in me through childhood would translate into the more ruthless landscape of adulthood. I had to find my Seven Sages, my cabinet of confidants who would read me and urge me onward. But I find myself now galloping through some field, towards some town, with some purpose in tow. I have been flung into the second half of my quest, pen in hand, rigorous and determined. The only thing that’s vague is what I will encounter, and why.
This is because life does not deal in the absolutes that video games often do. I have no sequence of levels to plot my course, I have no shadowy Gerudo to fix my destiny to . . . nothing to defeat that would bring absolution to the strifes of my situation, my age. What I do have, though, is the enduring image of the game’s eponymous instrument. The Ocarina of Time turned music into magic: Traveling over long distances became a non-issue; roadblocks seemingly impossible to traverse could melt away with the right sequence of notes.
I have followed Link’s lead for these fourteen years, tried to find melodies of language to transport me further along, towards impossible goals, towards saving the world in my own small ways. His soul now frozen in time for good, I invoke the hero of my youth. I play a small tune in his name, so that our journeys can realign for one last moment.
About the Author:
Drew is the guy who comes over and demands you play Mario Tennis with him. He is also a playwright, couch-surfing traveler, and sometime Internet-writer for such conglomerates as MTV Networks and Village Voice Media.
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