A lot of us had a hero we looked up to as children. Whether this hero was fictional or nonfictional was almost irrelevant; just having that role model to look up to can bring courage, integrity, and hope where it would otherwise not be found. It might be fair to say this is especially true for those of us who didn’t have a positive paternal figure in our lives to look up to as a hero, the ideal arrangement. In any case, while other girls tended to look up to the teen heartthrobs in movies or boy bands, I had Link.
February 21st is the birthday/anniversary of The Legend of Zelda series, and while I celebrated offline day-of with a steady stream of music from the games playing through the day, wearing a bit of green, and making a Zelda-themed care package for a friend, I wanted to share a bit more on how Link left a big impact on me as my childhood hero.
As evident from his name, especially as a “silent protagonist” (a character who doesn’t have much, if any, scripted dialogue), he acts as a “link” between the player and the world of Hyrule to add to the immersion experience. Because he doesn’t really talk, this allows players to imagine what’s going on in his head as he runs around saving the day (or, y’know, causing mischief). It’s a popular trend in books and movies, especially in the romance genre, to have a very bland main character for the reader/viewer to project him/herself into the story. However, Link, like most of Nintendo’s “classic” heroes who similarly talk very little, does have a base personality, one that’s usually brave, kind, humble, and helpful – which is to say, “heroic”.
This wasn’t my first impression of Link though; back in the late 80’s, Nintendo had a big media/merchandizing presence, and this included a TV show that came on after the Super Mario Bros. Super Show (yes, kids, that was a thing). Their interpretation of Link in that series was the typical, American 80’s teen hero: generally good-natured, sure, but also very snarky and disrespectful, especially when it comes to his co-star, Princess Zelda, whose personality was also adjusted for the audience to be very feisty, independent, I-can-take-care-of-myself princess. Back then, I didn’t think much of Link, instead looking up to the brave and beautiful Princess Zelda.
From then, while I watched my big brother played some Zelda games, I still didn’t really feel drawn to the series until the late 90’s when Ocarina of Time came out. Strange as it may be to say, this game changed my life.
Some of these changes came from gameplay elements, such as the reusing of empty bottles to hold very useful items, making me see the value of recycling, or the learning of magical songs on Link’s ocarina leading me to learn more about music. There are also lots of story-elements encouraging a love of nature, the discouragement of the abuse thereof. I used to explore construction sites and forests with my father and siblings to a point, going alone when my father stopped taking us, looking for magic and adventure. I grew to love all life, all peoples, no matter how strange they may be, as seen by the wonderful yet strange races in Hyrule, like the rocking-eating Gorons or water-dwelling Zoras. On that note, while some argued there’s an anti-Islam/Middle-Eastern agenda hiding in this game from the desert people, the Gerudos, being the race the evil king Ganondorf came from, the other Gerudo characters, especially Nabooru, counter that argument.
Even stranger to hear, I’m sure, there was even parts of this game, and subsequent games, that made me closer to my faith; Hyrule is a polytheistic world inspired by Japanese lore set in a medieval fantasy, but from the three-in-one Triforce to the cathedral-esque Temple of Time (complete with a Gregorian chant-inspired soundtrack in the background), it helped me understand and appreciate those things about God and the church that my abuse was corrupting my perception of. It even helped me better appreciate the saints, how their heroic examples are still valuable to me in my life, though their legends might be exaggerated, or just the fact that they’re in Heaven and I’m down here.
This is where we come to Link himself: he starts out as an orphan living in a magical forest, where he’s considered somewhat as an outcast by some of his peers for not having a guardian fairy, even when said fairy comes to accompany him on his journey. Around this point of my life, I felt very apart from my peers, between the worsening situation at home and just not fitting in. Needless to say, I could relate. As the story goes on, as I already mentioned in another post about how I empathized with Link’s role as the Hero of Time, going from present to future, childhood to adulthood, from the trauma I was going through. I felt like I had to be an adult, and a child, then an adult again, until I was a very confused being with adult abuses and manners in a child’s body, growing up into this often confused being with a child’s fears and thoughts in an adult’s body.
Still, though, in spite of all this, Link still goes around helping people, saving the world. He’s a hero to everyone, even if they aren’t very nice to him (though, sometimes, his helping them brings out the better side of them, what my doctor once called “the virtues that are latent within them and which have been silenced by insensitivity”). In about every sense, he’s a “knight-errand”, one who conveys love through heartfelt service. It’s largely because of his example that I tried to have that compassion for other people, trying to bring out the best in them.
All over my doodle diaries as a child, scattering here-and-there as I got older and grew interested in other things, were drawings of Link. There was a time when I even went to bed with the Ocarina of Time strategy guide under my pillow, a picture of grown Link aiming an arrow on the front cover. It was comforting, imagining the Hero of Time was with me, watching over me, before I went to sleep. He’d draw his sword and shield, or whatever other weapon he has in his (vast) arsenal, with that brave gleam in his eyes against the monsters that attacked my dreams. Since I was that scared little girl, I decided this was the kind of person I wanted to marry one day; someone calm, thoughtful, brave, and kind (and who knows, maybe I will).
It’s a strange thing – Link the child gave me a friend, and Link the adult gave me a hero, the sort of man I could look up to. I’m convinced that God speaks to us in a language that we can best understand individually. It might be something to laugh at for some that He decided to use a video game series to connect with me, though I don’t see why; if it works to better someone’s life, why complain? One friend shared how her hero was Luke Skywalker, while one YouTuber shared how Pokemon gave her hope, freedom, and community, even a livelihood. Whatever it is that helped you make it through life and gave you good examples to look up to when you had none, I hope it’s something that will always make you smile.