For me, video games have always been about much more than just entertainment. They’ve taught me life lessons, helped me escape into other worlds, and filled emotional places in my life that would have otherwise remained vacant. One of the more poignant voids in my life has always been the absence of a father.My father died when I was 3 years old. Unfortunately, I have very few clear memories of him. That’s what happens when someone is taken from you when you’re so young.
I was lucky enough to have an amazing mother and other fantastic people in my life. However, growing up without a father still had a major influence on me. The bond between a mother and son can only go so far; I yearned to relate to someone of my own gender. I was searching for someone to fill the absence of my father.
That’s when I found The Legend of Zelda. Link, the main protagonist of the series, was much like me. He too was growing up without a father (or mother, for that matter) and had to find his own way in a cruel and difficult world. By playing Zelda, I could escape into the game world and focus on saving the princess, rather than wishing for a more traditional family. Fishing at a lake in The Legend of Zelda reminded me of one of the few memories I have of fishing with my father.
My connection to Link as a character goes much deeper than just surface-level analogies, though. When you first start the game, you can name your character. I could name myself David, Link, or anything else I wanted—and everyone in the game would call me by that name. Since your character doesn’t actually speak, you’re able to put yourself in his boots on an even more intimate level. This meant that my thoughts were his thoughts and my actions were his actions; this was my version of the main character and my adventure to complete.
Over time, the Zelda games became a central part of my identity—an extension of myself. I would collect clothing, toys, and other types of memorabilia just to feel more connected to that world and its inhabitants. When visiting friends, I would talk with them about the Zelda games. We would reflect on the epic quests we had completed nights before. They became topics for bonding, not just mindless distractions on the television.
Moreover, Zelda games always have characters that ask for your help, which builds compassion for others and teaches you the value of cooperation. But more than anything else, Zelda taught me about responsibility. In Majora’s Mask, you’re forced not only to relive the same three days over and over again, but you also see the repercussions that your actions have on the world. Befriending one person may result in making an enemy out of another. Not helping someone now could result in trouble for you and those you care about later. Considering the outcome of situations with critical-thinking skills was something I learned first by playing The Legend of Zelda.
The Legend of Zelda was also my source for life’s most important lessons. In one particular Zelda game, a forest is used as a metaphor for childhood. All of the characters remain trapped in that region, unable to leave and unable to grow into adults. This showed me that while I may be surrounded by familiar faces in a comfortable environment, in order to make progress and actually grow up I’d have to leave home at some point. I had to go out into the world, discover things for myself, make mistakes, and gain life experiences.
Now, as I sit in my California apartment in my mid-20s, engaged to a wonderful woman, and listening to Zelda music, I realize how far I have come in such a short period of time. My version of that forest was the state of Texas. It was my home for many years. It took a lot of courage, determination, and effort to finally leave and start a new life—something Link knows about all too well.
Just as I progress through unfamiliar challenges as an adult in my life, Link grows up in Ocarina of Time as well. He becomes a man who has to face the horrors of a life in which evil has won. As a direct result of his actions, an evil man has taken over the land. In this way, Ocarina of Time is not only a game about growth, development, and overcoming your fears, but about rectifying your mistakes. While it was Link’s fault for letting his kingdom fall to evil, he also has the ability to fix it.
Similarly, while most of my difficulties and challenges in life are of my own doing, I, and I alone, have the ability to fix them. Link taught me to never give up and to continue fighting for what I believe in. He taught me about responsibility and the consequences of my actions. The Legend of Zelda taught me what my father never had a chance to: it taught me how to be a good person.