Monday, April 22, 2013

My Son, the Hero of Time

Man, we certainly don't need anymore Bobs, Joes, and Toms running around in this world, and that's why Ginger and I had decided very early on into her pregnancy that we wanted to give our son a unique name.  This was easy for girls, but we soon discovered how difficult this would be for a boy.  It's taken us months and months, but we've settled on Link.  This is not definite, because the baby's not due until the end of July, so we may find a name that we like better in the next three months, but I highly doubt that.  What could be better than Link?  George?  No, not George.  Adam?  Too biblical.  Bort?

I'm not sure who first suggested the name.  It may have been Ginger; it may have been me.  It might have even been one of my two daughters, as both of them are Legend of Zelda fans.  Both of them, however, prefer to spend their time in the game wandering around aimlessly, collecting rupees, and using chickens as makeshift hang-gliders.  When it comes time to actually enter a dungeon or temple and fight the weirdass assortment of Ganon's evil minions, the controller is typically passed into my hands.

When Ginger mentioned that she'd been thinking about the name Link and wasn't so sure about it anymore, I assured her that all of my friends loved it.  "Yeah, but all of your friends are nerds." was her response.  It's definitely a true assessment, though not an entirely fair one.  If loving a video game series that you grew up with makes you nerdy, most people around my age would automatically be given a membership card to some kind of nerd association.  My generation is the first that grew up with the Nintendo Entertainment System as a primary (if not the primary) source of entertainment in our homes. It makes sense; the word entertainment is right there in the name.  It's a system!  For entertainment!  And if you're a nerd like me, I'll bet the mention of the name Link set your nerd-senses tingling.  I didn't even have to mention Legend of Zelda, you had already associated the name to the series.  You're already thinking about reading this blog later so you can play Ocarina of Time now.  I'm not going to discourage you, the blog will still be here later.

I have to admit, as a youngster I wasn't too into the series.  It wasn't until I played Ocarina of Time for the N64 as a teenager that I developed a full-on Zelda addiction, subsequently returning to the earlier games that I had only dabbled with as a child.  A lot of my friends were fans from the beginning, however, and thus the theme song from the games has always been one of my favorite songs.  I'm not saying it's one of my favorite video game songs; it's one of my favorite songs.  Period.  Exclamation point!  The song is frequently in my head, even more often than Ozzy Osbourne's "Crazy Train", which isn't one of my favorites but is stuck in my brain a lot for some reason.

Anyway, I'm already five paragraphs in and I haven't even touched on the real point that I'm going for with this blog entry.  Aside from the fact that it looks like my son has his mom's ears (and therefore ears similar to the characters in the Zelda series), I think that the boy can learn some valuable life lessons based on the adventures of his namesake.  Yeah, your mom was wrong.  Video games don't rot your brain!  You can learn from them!

For starters, Link is a very stoic character.  For the most part, he's completely silent, except in the awful cartoon in which he was cursed with the horrible catchphrase "Well, excuuuuuuuuse me, Princess!"  That's certainly no "Sit on it!" as far as catchphrases are concerned.  We'll just ignore the cartoon, as most fans do, and think of Link as the quiet hero that he is.  I don't expect my son to be so quiet, as he'll most likely be a chatterbox like his sisters, but I think video game Link should be admired for his ability to listen.  To get anywhere in the games you have to talk to a lot of people, and you have to remember what they tell you because a lot of it will become important as your adventure progresses.  In our world of ever-decreasing attention spans and social-media-fueled self-obsession, a lesson in being a good listener is a valuable lesson indeed.

Another of Link's admirable traits is his problem-solving (critical thinking) skills.  Sure, you get to equip the hero with lots of cool weapons like swords, bombs, and bow-and-arrows, but the game isn't all about slashing, blowing up, and shooting your enemies.  A big part of the challenge of the various series entries has always been solving puzzles in order to advance through the levels.  So many times you'll find yourself in a room in which you have to slide around boxes, raise or lower water levels, or reflect the sun onto the correct spots in order to uncover hidden keys or gadgets (and be rewarded with the awesome sound that plays when you uncover such objects).  It is part of my own philosophy to not view every hurtle in life as a problem to be complained about, but rather to view each of life's challenges as a puzzle that's waiting to be solved.  Link has the same philosophy, obviously, and this philosophy will be taught to my son.

One thing I love about Link is that he's not a sexist jackass like a lot of other "heroes" that populate the pop culture landscape.  Sure, a male hero rescuing a princess is pretty typical.  Link, although he seems to have trouble getting out of bed when the adventure begins, is always willing to rise to the occasion and fight his way to Princess Zelda's rescue.  But he's also fine with working alongside her when he needs to.  In Ocarina of Time (as in the original game, if my memory serves me correctly) she offers to lead him out of Ganon's castle as the whole thing is collapsing and exploding and shit.  Perhaps a macho manly man would insist that he knows how to get out of the castle himself, since he just fought his way through it, but Link gladly accepts her help, and it pays off, because she makes force fields around them to avoid getting crushed by large hunks of rubble.  Princess Toadstool can't do that.  And when she actually helps Mario and Luigi, it turns out to just have been a wacky dream that Mario had.  "A woman helping?  Atsa funny!"

Here's another good life lesson:  Do not harass chickens!  Eventually they will get pissed off and attack you, and their chicken buddies may also join in, pecking at you until you flee from the village in terror.

Most importantly, Link is a character that possess great courage and determination.  He never backs down, even when facing a multiple-headed dragon-thing, or when he finds himself going toe-to-toe with a terrifying spider-monster-or-whatever that drops down on him from the ceiling and uses her own babies as weaponry.  Courage and determination, however, aren't enough to complete the journey.  Link teaches us that you have to learn all of the skills to back up your bold disposition.  Link doesn't rush in to fight Ganon once he's equipped with a dagger and a crappy wooden shield that you lose whenever there's fire.  He takes time to collect and master more advanced weaponry, build up his endurance, and learn some nifty magical attacks.  Also, he picks up lots of cool boots and tunics!  Only once he is well-prepared, and looking stylish in his blue tunic and hover-boots, does Link launch his final assault.

And I'm not sure if I'm the only one who always finds Ganondorf (Ganon in his faux-human form) to be much more difficult than the actual final boss, Ganon, but that's another lesson right there.  The bigger and scarier they are, the harder they fall after you blast them with your light arrows and then hack the shit out of them with your master sword.  That's how that expression goes, right?

I'm not expecting my son to be the hero of time (despite the title of this article), a master swordsman, or even to look good in a tunic, but I do have the reasonable expectation that he will be a nerd like the rest of the family.  And how lucky for me that I have a way to spend time with my kids while doing something that we all enjoy and can learn from.  Despite what your mom said, video games like The Legend of Zelda improve hand-eye coordination, problem-solving abilities, and memory skills.  We just have to remember to sometimes put the controllers down and make our own adventures outside.

*As a special treat for fans of Zelda, awesome tunes, and the violin, here's a great video that I recently watched.  The artist is Lindsay Stirling, who my cousin, David, claims will one day be his wife, though I'm relatively sure they haven't met yet.

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