One of my first memories of playing video games was sitting on the carpet with my friends while we took turns playing Super Mario Cart. I remember the ease with which I made turns, hopped over puddles, and the ways we laughed whenever we ran into the moles that appeared in a couple of the levels. It was a fun, social activity. It set the foundation for the way I still view video games today, as an activity best done with friends. As I grew, and my friends all moved away or disappeared as such things do, I found myself less and less able to find people to play with other than my siblings. That was always fun, but my older brother wasn’t very interested in playing because he always won and my younger sisters weren’t as interested when I initially needed people.
Around that time, the N64 came out. I wanted one so badly, so I could play the new Mario game I got to try when we visited some of my dad’s friends, but no amount of begging or pleading would sway my parents. It was just not in the cards for us. Long after I’d given up, though I of course still asked frequently as a matter of course, we got the limited edition, see-through green edition that came with the expansion pack and Donkey Kong 64. I was so excited that I woke up at five in the morning or earlier every day during winter break to play it. Donkey Kong 64 was one of my first experiences with a game that was meant to be played by a single player and it was way more fun than I expected. Then, I don’t remember when it happened or who gave it to us, but I got my hands on a copy of The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, and my world changed.
I honestly hadn’t expected much going into it. My first Legend of Zelda game was A Link to the Past, because we borrowed it from a friend for a while. My older brother enjoyed it, but I couldn’t quite figure it out. I was five or six while I was trying to play it and I just couldn’t figure out where to go next at one point, so I didn’t get very far into it before we had to give it back. When we got Ocarina of Time, I was excited by a new single-player game of course, but I was a little skeptical that it’d be nearly as fun as Donkey Kong had been. I let my brother take the first turn and I immediately fell in love as I watched him play. There was just something about seeing a child who looked like he was my age fight against evil and go on these adventures before ultimately growing up to continue them. Most of the thematic elements of the game went right over my head, but I had so much fun wandering around the world, searching for heart pieces and Gold Skulltulas before ultimately trying to look up guides online, that I didn’t care about anything else.\
A year later, not that long after my brother and I had gotten tired of finishing Ocarina of Time, we got a Nintendo Power magazine telling us all about the new Legend of Zelda game that was going to come out, Majora’s Mask. I demanded the game immediately, which didn’t get me very far, of course. I had to save and beg and wheedle and convince my parents to get it for the family since no one person could have a game console (there were four of us kids at that point and we used any power we had to get one-up on each other). I don’t remember the day we finally got it, but I remember how excited I was and then how frustrated I was when I couldn’t get through the first part of the game. At that point, due to how much we played video games and how many of us wanted to play, there was a strict thirty-minute restriction on how long your turn with the N64 could be. If you’ve played Majora’s Mask, you know that thirty minutes is barely enough time to get through the first part of the game even when you know what you’re doing and that there’s no way to save the game until you’ve finished. Needless to say, it took a lot of tries to figure everything out so I could actually finish the first part. My brother cheated by getting up in the middle of the night when no one would call him on playing for longer than thirty minutes but, joke’s on him, I beat the game before him using that method.
This game was different from Ocarina of Time, though. I’m not sure if it was because of how much I’d grown in the year between starting Ocarina of Time and playing Majora’s Mask or if it was because the themes of the game more closely matched the issues I was struggling with at the time, but I finally starting to realize what was going on behind the missions and adventures. I saw all these crazy characters who were struggling to deal with the things that happened in their life and they went from being hilarious or weird caricatures to being sad but truthful depictions of the way we struggled to cope in a world were we ultimately have no say in how things turn out. The big moment for me was watching the Zora hero, Mikau, tell his story and then die. I didn’t really understand what was going on and what the game meant back then, but it has stuck with me for over a decade as something that opened my eyes to the fact that lots of people feel powerless and want someone to help them.
I mean, even the hero can’t accomplish everything he wants. He has the power to help other people, to fix some of their problems or at least act in their stead when it is too late for them, but even he can’t find the person he’s been searching for throughout the entire game. It’s a lot like the stories we tell ourselves as we try our best to live our lives. It can be really easy to step in for someone else, to help them fix a problem that feels insurmountable to them but that we have the tools to address, but we often find ourselves unable to help ourselves in the same we. We struggle and fight our way through whatever comes up, but can’t always guarantee that the struggle is going to be anything but an obstacle to overcome. Winning doesn’t guarantee that we’ll get the prize we seek. Or any prize at all, for that matter.
As a ten-year-old kid, I couldn’t have put this into words, but I understood it. I felt it deep inside my heart and recognized it in this game that was a rush job slapped together using old assets by a team of people who had a vision and a plan and not much else. It reach into my soul and let me know I wasn’t the only one who felt this way or had experienced these feelings. It was a revelation and the reason Majora’s Mask is always going to be my favorite Legend of Zelda game. Even with Breath of the Wild’s amazing open world and the hundreds of hours of joy it has brought me, Majora’s Mask will always be the nearest and dearest to my heart because it taught me about depression and how to handle it before I even knew that’s what I had. It set the stage for a lot of the most important mental developments in my life and is more a part of who I am as a person than anything but “stories” as a whole. I’m glad I got to experience it when I did and I’m glad I can go back to visit it and find it the same after all these years so I can measure how I’ve grown and changed.