The Legend of Zelda: the cure for obsessions and broken hearts

This post is part of a series exploring the history of The Legend of Zelda and its major entries. Be sure to check out the hub article on NekoJonez’s Gaming Blog for links to all the great retrospectives written by other bloggers, and to find out more about what makes this Nintendo franchise such a classic.

Image above courtesy of Pieter-Jan Casteels.


A couple of years ago, it seemed as if Minecraft had completely taken over my young stepson’s world. He talked about it non-stop for the entire time he was with us every weekend. He woke us up at 05:30 each day just so we could play it together (despite being told to go back to bed). He explained that we were exploring ‘Minecraft world’ whenever we went out to the park for the day; and all of his imaginary games involved enemies that looked suspiciously like creepers who blew up when hit with a sword.

You could say it was a childhood obsession but we noticed Ethan’s behaviour changing. After picking up the controller he’d start to get tetchy: he stopped taking on our suggestions for things to build because they were ‘silly’ and did the opposite of whatever we proposed when he asked what armour or weapon he should take on his adventures. This title about ‘creativity’ seemed to bring about a more aggressive side in my stepson that we weren’t expecting – but luckily, a green-suited hero on a sure-footed steed came to the rescue in our hour of need.

Ethan has always had a fascination with castles, knights and all things noble for as long as I’ve known him. It therefore wasn’t much of a surprise when he chose a Link Amiibo to go with the Wii U he received for Christmas that year. Other than a short amount of time spent with The Legend of Zelda on his dad’s old Game Boy he’d never had any contact with the character, but the sword in his hand and shield on his back convinced him that this was a mighty, powerful warrior worthy of spending his pocket-money on.

His slightly distorted view of Link may have been based on his imagination rather than the developer’s intended design but he came to like him so much that other characters featured in Mario Kart 8 stopped getting a turn on the track. It was therefore a sign when I heard Nintendo were making The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time available on their Virtual Console in 2015, and we decided to download the game as a surprise before we picked him up one Friday evening.

We were a little worried it might be too difficult for him or that the retro-style would put him off playing but my other-half and I both had such fond memories of the title that we thought it was worth a shot. I first experienced it back in the late 1990s after a boyfriend had cruelly broken my teenage heart and my brother invited me to play it with him to take my mind off things, and it worked: we spent hours in his bedroom just running around the fields of Hyrule and fishing in Lake Hylia. It was the first time we hadn’t had a sibling argument in years and I didn’t give that boyfriend a second thought.

It turned out that Ethan loved Ocarina of Time just as much as we had when we were younger. We raced on Epona while trying to get to Lon Lon Ranch before the skeletal Syalchildren came out at night. We became entangled in the Lost Wood on several occasions and drew maps on scraps of paper to help. We turned day-into-night and night-into-day more times than I can remember so we could learn the Ocarina notes. We befriended Kokiri and Gorans, found lost puppies, made staggering leaps of faith – and yelled at Navi to keep quiet whenever she nagged us to listen.

It’s proof you don’t need fancy high-resolution graphics, endless open-worlds or complicated gameplay to make an amazing title. An awesome video game will stand the test of time regardless of technological advances and this one still holds up since its release almost 20 years ago. Yes, the graphics may now look dated and yes, Navi can be really bloody annoying when she wants to be, but many people the world over still refer to it as one of the best titles ever made and you can almost guarantee its place in any new ‘top games’ list.

Its legacy is pretty clear to any gamer. As one of the first 3D action-adventure games, it introduced many aspects that would become staples of the genre in future years – just look at the lock-on Z-targeting and the context-sensitive actions as good examples. This is a game held in such high esteem that it’s sometimes easy to forget how ground-breaking its mechanics were, and how accomplished they remain all these years later.

Ocarina of Time also seemed to have a great effect on my stepson: he stopped being all about bashing everything in sight and filling Nether fortresses full of chickens (although that was pretty funny), and became more about saving the world. I think it was the actions-and-consequences element of the storyline that did it. If we didn’t help the citizens of Hyrule – even if it was only finding their lost puppies, reorganising their crates or selling them masks – the evil Ganondorf would triumph, and that was something Ethan didn’t want to let happen.

Rezzed, video games, gaming, expo, Ethan

Link may not have turned out to be the ‘mighty warrior’ of his imagination but he now sees him as more than just the Master Sword and Hylian Shield. He’s also getting to have his own experience of playing and it’s sweet to think that perhaps he’ll end up showing Ocarina of Time to his own children one day. Those familiar notes will sound on the Ocarina, he’ll remember the battle for the Triforce, and he’ll be transported straight back to the beautiful land of Hyrule.

Insomnia61: merchandise, money and mistakes

One of my stepson’s dreams came true when visiting Insomnia 61 at the end of August, where he had the opportunity to see one of his favourite YouTubers in real-life. He has been watching DanTDM’s channel (previously ‘The Diamond Minecart’) for over a year now and it’s the first place he, and 16-million other subscribers, go to for regular Minecraft content.

Unfortunately for myself and my other-half, this means his voice is regularly heard throughout our house and we don’t really understand the fascination. He doesn’t appear to be a particularly good gamer (although that isn’t entirely important); his videos are poorly edited; and the jokes that pepper the gameplay aren’t funny. Some may say there are far worse things for a ten-year old to watch and point out DanTDM’s reputation for being one of the ‘safer’ YouTubers for kids.

That didn’t stop me feeling uncomfortable however as we queued up for his hour-long show at the event, and wondering whether the parents around us knew exactly what their sons and daughters were watching online. Minecraft seemed as though it would be a suitable game for the majority of the young audience at Insomnia 61; but what about titles such as Who’s Your Daddy? and The Escapists, which have featured on DanTDM’s channel since 2016?

Insomnia, video games, DanTDM

I didn’t know the father and excited little girl in the seats in front of me but something told me he wouldn’t consider a game where you can play as a baby who’s determined to take its own life as appropriate for his six-year old daughter. I didn’t think a title consisting of prisoners trying to escape jail while avoiding violence and sexually-suggestive comments from cellmates and guards would be high on his suitability-scale either.

As the show begun and it became apparent neither DanTDM himself nor his interviewer was going to mention these games, I found myself first understanding why they’d made that decision. After all, no parent was going to cough up for the merchandise plugged throughout the hour if they felt this person was showing their children things they shouldn’t see. Instead, we listened to them tell us about the tickets for his tour, his DVD, his book, and his exclusive Insomnia t-shirts and stationery – and just how awesome it all was.

Then as DanTDM started taking questions from the audience, I realised why he has been looking to expand his content outside of Minecraft for the past year. The five- to ten-year olds surrounding him would soon grow up and he’d no longer be relevant; so what better way to capitalise on your limited celebrity shelf-life than expanding your repertoire (and merchandise) as widely and as quickly as possible?

But were games such as Who’s Your Daddy? and The Escapists really the right way to go when his audience is so young? Celebrities make comments about how they never signed up to be role-models but unfortunately it’s not that simple: fame comes with side-effects both good and bad, and excuses aren’t adequate dismissals of responsibility. Children may be drawn to his channel for Minecraft videos but could very easily find other content.

Of course it’s down to the parents to monitor their online activity but, as they grabbed the hands of their kids and pulled them towards the exit, I looked around and wondered how closely they did this. Adults should make a point of knowing what their children are playing but PEGI ratings are often misunderstood or ignored; so it was with dismay that I realised the vetting of YouTube videos probably wouldn’t be much different.

As we managed to battle our way outside the hall I counted myself lucky. I had a stepson who understands that not everything online is suitable; who’s willing to talk to us about what he should and shouldn’t be playing; and who’s aware that not all of DanTDM’s content is suitable despite how much he adores him. I wondered to myself how long this would continue with his teenage years fast approaching, but realised the only thing to do was continue trying to be the best step-parent I could.

Insomnia, video games, DanTDM

There was however the benefit of Ethan now seeing DanTDM as a ‘real person’. Instead of the heavily-edited and exaggerated celebrity in his videos who achieves everything first time, he was a gamer who makes mistakes like the rest of us and died several times while playing a level of Crash Bandicoot N. Sane Trilogy live on stage. Maybe now my stepson would start to realise there’s no need for him to be a ‘perfect gamer’ and to simply enjoy video games for what they are.

And with that, we forgot about DanTDM and his merchandise for a while. The rest of Insomnia 61 was waiting for us.


YouTube and ‘perfect gamer’ pressure

For his tenth birthday, my stepson Ethan asked for a Switch or Xbox he could keep in his bedroom. We decided against it for two reasons: first, he already has a Wii and PS Vita that get overlooked in favour of playing on the PlayStation 4 in the living room. And second, because every console he has ever owned for himself has ended up being a Minecraft-only machine.

Instead, Pete came up with the idea of surprising him with a tablet. It wasn’t something Ethan had asked for but we thought it would go down well as a present; not only would it allow him to play games and watch his Minecraft videos on YouTube, but it could potentially be useful in terms of schoolwork. My stepson was over-the-moon when he unwrapped his gift and has hardly been seen without the device since.

The biggest positive brought about by this present is that Ethan no longer wakes us at 07:00 on a weekend, bored of being alone in his room and wanting to turn on the PlayStation. Lie-ins are very much needed after 04:30 alarms every day of the week so we’re extremely grateful! However, there are also negatives – like how he now prefers to watch someone else play a game in a video rather than playing it himself.

GEEK, expo, convention, video games, Nintendo DS, Mario Kart, Ethan

This worries my other-half and I as parents. Maybe we just don’t understand because we’re not ‘down with the cool kids’ any longer but it feels as though it’s encouraging laziness and impatience. In a recent conversation, we discussed whether this was the same as our own parents being concerned we were watching too much television and not going outside enough in the 90s; and perhaps that’s correct, but it doesn’t stop us worrying about Ethan any less.

We’re therefore trying to pull his head out of his tablet and get him doing other things every time he’s with us, whether it’s climbing a tree in the nearby forest with Pete (while I laugh) or making a cake in the kitchen with me (while the pair of them eat the mix before it’s baked). Although he always asks if he can go back to his room afterwards, you can tell my stepson enjoys these interactions and the affection that goes along with them.

This was why we got him to play a video game with us last weekend, rather than watching somebody else do it on YouTube. We haven’t had much opportunity to game as a family recently due to house renovations and so he was kind of excited by the idea as he squeezed himself between Pete and I on the sofa. He asked if we could put on The Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker and for the first hour or so, everything was awesome.

But the game’s difficulty increased and Ethan started to become frustrated. There was a certain section he was having difficulty getting past and we could see his anger starting to rise, his cheeks becoming redder and his button presses getting harder. His temper got to the point where we had to pull the controller away from him and tell him he needed to take a breather to calm down – we had to do something to get him to stop for a moment.

The tears were beginning to well up in his eyes as shook his head and repeatedly told us he ‘just couldn’t do it’. When we asked him why he expected to be able to do everything within the game on the first try, he said: “I’ve watched other people play it on YouTube and they always manage to do it.”

Bloody YouTube.

Minecraft videos are never going to be one of my favourite things to watch, but every so often I make an effort to sit with Ethan while he shows me one and explains what’s happening. Not only does it let him see that we’re interested in the things he likes and what he’s up to, but it allows us to understand what he’s actually watching without making him feel as if he’s being monitored.

DanTDM, boy, manchild

What my stepson doesn’t realise though is just how heavily edited these videos are. I’m not a professional editor in any way but even I can see just how many continuity mistakes there are. There’s one particular YouTuber he’s been watching while staying with his mum and stepdad during the summer holidays and he’s absolutely awful: I can only imagine how many times he fails during a game based on the number of terrible jump-cuts within his footage.

Maybe I’m overreacting but it seems that videos like this – ones which show how ‘leet’ the star is and hide their mistakes – are putting pressure on young kids like my stepson to complete a game without any failures. They turn gaming from a hobby into something which is only fun if you’re succeeding. It then becomes easier to watch someone else complete a title rather than attempt it yourself, and that totally sucks.

I know adults understand these videos are edited and don’t want to watch one where the player’s character dies 20 times in a row. But children don’t get that, and covering up mistakes gives the perception they’re a bad thing when they do happen. Rather than situations to be learned and benefited from, your character falling off a ledge or dying at the hands of a boss evolves into things to be ashamed of and frustrated by.

Rezzed, video games, gaming, expo, Ethan

We explained to Ethan that video games are difficult, he should expect to fail numerous times, and it’s highly unlikely he’ll ever finish one without a single character death – but that’s what makes them fun. The majority are designed to challenge the player and that’s what keeps us coming back for more. The videos he watches are fully edited to make their star look good and are nothing more than promotional material.

“And besides,” said Pete, “who’s the better gamer, huh? You, who learns from your mistakes and will get through this section any minute now – or this YouTube dude who’s stupid enough to cover up his mistakes really badly?”

Gamely Giving: Ethan’s Mini Marathon

Earlier this year, myself and the rest of the Gamely Giving team participated in a 72-hour stream to raise funds and awareness for the amazing SpecialEffect. This was the longest gaming marathon we’ve ever completed together and it was certainly an eye-opener. Not everything went according to plan and we definitely learnt a few new, tough lessons.

That’s not to say we didn’t enjoy ourselves immensely however whilst also doing our bit for GameBlast17: we managed to raise £832.90, with over £100,000 being donated to the organisation in total during the event. It’s a great achievement for our team despite being a little way off of our £1,000 target but that doesn’t mean we’re sitting back and taking it easy.

Starting at 07:00 GMT tomorrow, I’ll be taking part in Ethan’s Mini Marathon with a group of friends and bloggers in honour of the charity once again. Anyone who has visited Later Levels previously may already have heard of them but for those who haven’t, it’s a fantastic UK-based organisation that helps people with physical disabilities to play video games. They do this using equipment such as modified controllers and eye-control technology, all free-of-charge.

Join us on our Twitch channel from 07:00 GMT until 23:00 GMT tomorrow to witness the following batch of gorgeous gaming delights:

Great games Our event is being hosted by ten-year old Ethan, and under his direction each of our streamers has chosen a family-friendly game so you can watch along with your children. More details and times can be found in our stream schedule.

Big explosions Ethan is a huge fan of Minecraft and has come up with his own unique way of supporting the charity: for every £1 donated, he’ll place a block of TNT on the tower set up in his online world along with a sign showing the supporter’s name. He’ll then light it towards the end of the marathon and see how much destruction it causes – BOOM!

Plenty of feels Everything we’re doing tomorrow is for SpecialEffect and all money raised will go directly to the organisation to enable them to continue their wonderful work. Donations can be made via our JustGiving page or by texting ‘GGGB99 £5’ to 70070, and we’re so grateful for every penny given. Big hugs to those people who have already sponsored us – you’re amazing.

It’s time to reach that £1,000 target! Join us over on the Gamely Giving Twitch channel from 07:00 GMT tomorrow and send us a tweet to give us some encouragement. We really appreciate your support!