We are now officially done with one-third of our summer, and I couldn’t be feeling more pressure with regards to the videogames that I’m currently playing. It’s not like the old days: Summer slammed into our soft impressionable minds like a freight train of liberation, and the possible configurations of doing everything but anything stretched on for subjective eternities. Videogames were a part of my everyday playscape, as it was for a lot of people, and while the leisure-ness of games also lent itself a little guilt during the school year, summer meant we were free to spent hours and hours—days if some of us wanted to—tackling a game (or two, or twenty) without fear of any harsh parental scoldings other than the occasional “go outside” mantra and, frankly, I was totally fine with that. It all fused together into a tapestry of seasonal freedom and I could shift activity gears seamlessly. The games would always be there, after all, and time was simply a measure of sunlight, not scheduled events.
It’s different now. This is something every gamer realizes when they reach their 20s: our calendars condense closer and closer together (“the circle is closing in,” I think the old saying goes) and free time becomes a commodity as precious as a gemstone. Nothing will bring those carefree days of childhood back. Coincidentally, the gaming industry seems aware of this as much as we do, and exploits our nostalgia to nefarious ends: “Retro” releases tantalize with the possibility of re-living our pre-pubescent periods, and franchise reboots claim to strip a game down to its core appeal, to its “roots,” brewing the feelings we once felt when we first laid eyes on them. The industry didn’t simply abandon our demographic when we aged out; it followed us because we are STILL the demographic, and are doing everything imaginable to persuade us to purchase new merchandise by disguising it as the old. And, for the most part, it’s working.
Yet old habits die hard, and I have a particular summer gaming tradition that I’m currently agonizing over, which is to play a Zelda game from front to back. I’ve been doing it on and off for the better part of twelve years, and while last season was Zelda barren as I tried to settle into a new full time job, this year I plan to ritualistically dive in head first, which is exactly where my conundrum lies. But first things first: why this particular tradition?
Zelda games, to me, exclusively have the summer vibe going on more than any other. One can indirectly channel the feelings that creator Shigeru Miyamoto must have experienced as a youth during his own adventures in the forests and caves around his hometown of Kyoto, the inspiration for the Hyrule universe. The essence of Zelda has remained resolutely intact all of these years, and no matter how ridiculous and off-center the series may spin (for example, Link shredding on a cog), one aspect of gameplay is delightfully ever-present: environmental exploration, the timeless techniques of turning over every rock, bombing every crack and poking through every bush while searching for all manner of hidden treasure, finding your way around more by memory and natural landmarks than by map. Of course, Zelda games do have maps—considering some of the trickier 3-D temples, it would be ridiculous if they didn’t—but do you honestly use them more than sight alone?
Another important and quintessentially summer-like staple of Zelda games is that more than half of Link’s time in Hyrule is spent outdoors, dwarfed by his natural surroundings and forcing the player to simply take a moment and assess their rightful place within that world. Every time you enter a town or dungeon or acreage of land that hasn’t been revealed before, a short panoramic cinema offers a quick geographic survey that both invites and overwhelms, a travelogue of epic proportions, the ultimate vacation. The inevitable warping takes much of the tedium out of travel, but at the start of these games, all that legwork is actually useful in getting a sense of the scope of the Zelda universe, a scope that, with the later 3-D iterations, spans time as well as space. The sheer pleasure of living in Hyrule for dozens of hours isn’t just from Link’s satisfying workout on that gentle Nintendo treadmill—starting as frail and all but written-off forest waif and ultimately arriving at nearly indestructible master swordsman—but from taking part in a narrative that encompasses an entire ecosystem, in which a reward can stem from merely watching that Hyrulian sun rise and set many, many times, a constant in a game constructed around a remarkable transformation. Link’s adventures encompass summer, to be sure, and not just any summer, but ones that we always remember as occurring long ago: fresh, exciting, and endless.
What’s vexing me isn’t the issue of whether or not to play through a Zelda game: considering the unusually cool and damp June that the East Coast has gone through, it’s high time for some sun and adrenaline. The question, rather, is WHICH game to play? I held off on finishing Twilight Princess because I purchased it with my Wii in January ’07 and, snowboarding section or not, it just didn’t feel right to be playing it in the winter. I wouldn’t mind revisiting Wind Waker again, and Majora’s Mask recently made its way onto Virtual Console (never mind that the game is a masterpiece of dread; that’s a topic for another article). Oh, and the handheld games! I can actually play those outside, in the open air, maybe sitting on a park bench or walking The Ramble. What a Mobius strip that would be! I have been meaning to play through Link’s Awakening again after being swaddled in fuzzy Game Boy memories this year. Or maybe Ocarina of Time? Or A Link to the Past? Or The Adventure of Link? Argh!
Now that there are only a little less than two months left, time is running out for my Summer Zelda playthrough, and I’m a little panicky. Maybe the only way to settle this is through a marathon series session. Hmmm. What do you think? And more importantly, what were your summer gaming traditions, and do you still observe them today?
Posted by Kurt Shulenberger on July 25th, 2009 :: Posts :: Tags : Game Boy, Gamecube, Hyrule, Link, NES, Shigeru Miyamoto, SNES, Wii, Zelda