Out of the dumpster fire: games and well-being

I noticed a few similar headlines appearing in my news feed one day towards the end of November. A new report had apparently found a surprising discovery: time spent playing video games is positively associated with wellbeing.

I scrolled past at first and wasn’t going to give them a second glance. Gaming bloggers have become so used to seeing newspapers publish articles about studies like this, where the author disputes the findings and then questions the value of gaming. But one title ended up catching my eye because it mentioned the way the data had been collected for this latest report from Oxford Internet Institute at the University of Oxford, entitled Video game play is positively correlated with well-being.

Previous studies have relied upon asking participants to estimate how much time they spend playing and this can obviously be unreliable. For the latest research however, industry data on actual play time was provided by Nintendo and Electronic Arts (EA) for Animal Crossing: New Horizons and Plants vs. Zombies: Battle for Neighborville respectively. The companies then reached out to regular players to invite them to take part, and participants responded to a survey from the university.

I had the chance to see a session given by Professor Pete Etchells on the psychology of gaming addiction at the Rezzed event last year and remember him talking about data. Scientists are always playing catch-up because they don’t have any information on trends around what the nation is playing; and while the information held by publishers would be invaluable to researchers, they often don’t want to provide it in case the resulting investigations indicate that gaming is bad for us.

Perhaps times are changing then. The fact that big organisations like Nintendo and EA have willingly helped with the Oxford Internet Institute’s study could finally indicate acknowledgement of a need to understand more about our interactions with video games, and encourage other companies to be more open to providing useful data too. The findings here are valuable, not because of what they’ve shown in connection with well-being but because of the method used to arrive at their conclusion.

You see, it’s not really much of a surprise that video games can help improve our mental health. This is something we as gamers have been shouting about for years and we’ve all got our own story of how they’ve helped us through a tough time. We see them as something of worth rather than the ‘mindless entertainment’ view usually held by newspapers and non-gamers, and know that spending your weekend playing the latest release is just as worthwhile as watching a movie or reading a book.

The COVID-19 lockdown has highlighted the benefits of gaming with more people taking up the hobby since March. For some, it has been a way to fill the free hours brought on by being furloughed from work. For others, video games have provided a means to escape from everything going on in the world when a break is needed. And for a lot of us, playing online with friends and family has meant we’ve been able to feel as though they’re still spending time with those closest to us.

I asked my blogger-friends to tell me about their own experiences. Luke from Hundstrasse said that replaying two games he’d completed previously was comforting during the lockdown. Pix1001 from Shoot the Rookie said that although she felt her habits hadn’t changed, gaming has given her a certain sense of normalcy over the past several months. And Athena from AmbiGaming mentioned that watching streams has made her feel as though she’s playing with friends.

These aren’t the sort of stories frequently reported by the media though because they don’t bring in the clicks. Newspapers are usually more content to focus their content on loot boxes, and how they’re a form of gambling which is going to corrupt our children. Unscrupulous publishers who make money from unsuspecting parents when their unchecked kids make in-game purchases. And horrible games which contain too much violence and are surely going to lead to acts of aggression in real life.

But video games aren’t always the cause – playing could be more a symptom, and an interesting example was given by Professor Etchells during his talk. If your guardians had a more ‘relaxed’ parenting style, you may have been given access to titles that contained more violence as a child; but if you become aggressive later in life, it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s those games that were the origin of that behaviour. It could instead have something to do with the way you were brought up.

This is something also picked up on in the latest study too. Director of Research and lead-author Professor Andrew Przybylski said of his team’s report: “Our findings show video games aren’t necessarily bad for your health; there are other psychological factors which have a significant effect on a persons’ well-being. In fact, play can be an activity that relates positively to people’s mental health – and regulating video games could withhold those benefits from players.”

To quote Professor Etchells’ talk: “I think video games do have an effect on us. Everything has an effect on us… but by focusing on video games, are we missing more important factors?”. The problem is the lack of available data, something mentioned by Professor Przybylski in his interview with The Guardian. He added: “You have really respected, important bodies, like the WHO and the NHS, allocating attention and resources to something that there’s literally no good data on… For them to turn around and be like, ‘Hey, this thing that 95% of teenagers do? Yeah, that’s addictive, no, we don’t have any data’ – that makes no sense.”

Maybe this latest study will change things and more companies like Nintendo and EA will be willing to share information for the benefit of further research. Perhaps then more news outlets will then start reporting on the positivity of video games and the findings of reports based on valuable data. As Professor Przybylski said: “This is about bringing games into the fold of psychology research that’s not a dumpster fire. This lets us explain and understand games as a leisure activity.”

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Banjo-Kazooie: Nintendo and nostalgia

Over the past six months I’ve taken part in game-swaps with other bloggers. Possibly the best thing about them is the chance to broaden my gaming horizons: I’ve played a game I’ve never heard of before, a series I’ve never touched and a title with a mechanic I don’t usually like.

The latest game-swap has been with Nathan from Gaming Omnivore and we decided to go for genres we’re not skilled in. He was looking for a point-and-click and wanted something with a horror storyline; and out of the several options I proposed, he decided to go for Gabriel Knight: Sins of the Fathers. It may not be the scariest game but you can’t beat Tim Curry playing a sleazy protagonist. I can only apologise to Nathan for some of those puzzles though – nobody said that 90s adventures were logical.

In return, he asked my other-half and I to play Banjo-Kazooie. This was a very good choice for us in terms of the brief for two reasons. Firstly, neither of us are particularly great at platformers (check out our previous GameBlast streams to see us playing Crash Bandicoot N. Sane Trilogy and you’ll see what I mean). Secondly, it was also a sneaky way for him to get me to play a Nintendo game on stream (I still need to finish the post about why I dislike the company that I mentioned back in August). Well played, sir.

Rare’s release was just what we expected from a 3D-platformer published in 1998: big polygons, bright colours, caricatured characters and platforms where it’s impossible to tell how far you need to jump. It has a similarly cartoonish storyline to match. A bear and a bird – Banjo and Kazooie from the game’s title – must try to stop the plans of the evil witch Gruntilda, who has kidnapped Banjo’s younger sister Tooty with the intention of putting her in a machine and stealing her beauty.

They’re aided by Bottles, a mole who teaches them new moves, along with a shaman called Mumbo Jumbo who can turn the protagonists into other forms including a walrus and a pumpkin. The heroes travel to each of the nine levels through a central overworld known as Gruntilda’s Lair using collectibles to unlock doors. A certain number of Musical Notes will grant you access to a new section of the overworld, while jigsaw pieces known as ‘Jiggies’ will complete puzzles to get you through to a new level.

Each is made up of challenges involving standard platforming, helping non-player characters (NPCs) and defeating a range of enemies. Find Bottles’ hole within a level and you’ll learn a new ability to help you on your way. For some of these, you’ll need to seek out additional items such as Red Feathers for flying or the Turbo Trainers for speed boosts in timed puzzles. There are also the Jinjos to look out for, five small creatures in each level that will grant you a Jiggy if you locate all of them.

Banjo-Kazooie, Banjo, Kazooie, bird, bear, video game

The main reasons I don’t play platformers often is because I tend to suck at them and continuously seeing your character die isn’t an enjoyable experience. 2D versions aren’t too bad – for example, I managed to complete LIMBO for #MaybeinMarch last year – but I’m normally useless when it comes to 3D games. There’s something about the camera angles which means I don’t seem to be able to judge distances very well and falling off ledges ends up being a frequent occurrence.

Although you’re generally able to move the camera in Banjo-Kazooie, it usually ends up wandering back to its original position and is even fixed in one place in some cases. And let’s not forget about the inverted controls: when completing the underwater swimming sections, down on the controller moves the protagonists upwards and vice-versa. Although I played very small parts on stream, I’m very glad Pete was in charge for this game-swap because he did far better than I ever could.

He admitted finding the title hard at the start because it felt rather clunky being a 1990s platformer. But he’s now at the point where he’s really got the hang of it and has even managed to collect all Jiggies, Musical Notes and Jinjos in some of the levels. The swimming parts are still a pain in the butt and it’s proving far too easy to overshoot items when underwater or run out of air while trying to pick them up. But one or two more sessions (at the time of writing) and I reckon we’ll have another game-swap behind us.

I wouldn’t have been so positive if you’d have asked for my opinion during Furnace Fun though. This final level takes the format of a quiz show where players must answer questions about what they’ve seen, heard and discovered about Gruntilda during Banjo-Kazooie. It’s harder than it sounds: some of the screenshots shown during visual tests are so abstract they’re almost impossible to recognise, and we couldn’t hear the audio tests well due to our speaker-volume being turned down low to prevent feedback on stream.

Banjo-Kazooie, video game, path, lava, fire, quiz, Gruntilda

Consider also that if you answer incorrectly, you don’t get to move forward and one of your Honeycomb health-pots will be taken away. Lose all of them and you’ll find yourself being taken right back to the beginning of the level to try all over again from scratch. I have to say a big thank you to The_Ghost_Owl, The Gaming Diaries, Frostilyte from Frostilyte Writes and Nathan for helping us by adding the answers in chat and cheering us on when we finally managed to reach the end.

Speaking of the people who joined us in chat for the streams, it was lovely seeing so many of them share their past experiences with Banjo-Kazooie. It appeared Pete and I were definitely in the minority of those people who hadn’t played it as a child on the Nintendo 64 or in fact ever picked it up before. Ellen from Ace Asunder revealed that it’s in her top-three games of all-time; and Frostilyte had plenty to say, particularly when it came to the engine room in Rusty Bucket Bay.

That nostalgia is an incredibly powerful thing. Most people recall social contexts and good relationships when they’re asked to describe a nostalgic memory; so they might reminisce about a certain title, but the chances are that they’re actually thinking about a time they bonded with loved-ones or shared their hobby with friends. Because my other-half and I don’t have these memories, Banjo-Kazooie didn’t have the same impact and instead ended up being simply an acceptable platformer.

I’m not sure we’ll ever feel more about entries in the genre. It’s The Secret of Monkey Island that brings back fond recollections for me because I received it as a gift for Christmas as a kid and it was the first game I’d ever really played for myself; and Pete always brings up Zork on the Commodore 64, a release which both intrigued and frustrated him. I think we’re therefore always going to be drawn to narrative games and feel more for them, because they feature in our earliest gaming experiences.

That’s not to say this current experience hasn’t been worthwhile though – far from it. As I’ve written previously and mentioned again at the start of this post, perhaps the best thing about game-swaps is that they’ve encouraged me to try titles and genres I wouldn’t normally play. So I’ve got to say a huge thank you to Nathan for proposing Banjo-Kazoozie as well as telling him ‘well done’: you did it. You actually managed to get us to play a Nintendo game on Twitch, damn you.

I’m still plugging away at Final Fantasy XIII at the time of writing but now having reached the penultimate chapter, it won’t be long before we’re able to start our next swap. I know that Frostilyte wants to see Pete play a visual novel, a genre he’s really not a fan of; will he manage to convince him?

Versatile Blogger: video games and chocolate

Later Levels was kindly nominated for a Versatile Blogger Award by Austin from Reaper Interactive late last month. If you’d like to follow someone who provides a mix of gaming news combined with honest opinions and blogging advice, get yourself over to his site.

As is the case with a lot of these blogging awards, nominees are required to divulge facts about themselves that have never before been revealed. Several past response posts have meant it’s getting difficult to figure out what to share and I’m sure you’re already sick of hearing about me! I’m going to give this response a shot though, and hopefully you’ll find something in the following gaming- and blogging-related facts that you didn’t already know.

I’m not a Nintendo fan

The Legend of Zelda, A Link to the Past, video game, Link, dungeon, chestAs with many gamers of a similar age, Nintendo has featured throughout my gaming history. My first console was a NES; I spent hours watching my brother play The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time on his N64; and my other-half and I and I bought my stepson a Wii U for our first Christmas together. But unlike a lot of other gamers in my generation, I’m not a Nintendo fan. The reasons why are long and varied, and probably best saved for a separate post – I’ve had this discussion with others in the past and it tends to go on for quite some time!

I can’t play Final Fantasy

Final Fantasy, Final Fantasy XIII, video game, female, Lightning Farron, pink hairAlthough I’ve watched friends play various Final Fantasy games in the past, I’ve only ever picked up one myself (X) and quit halfway through. I’m aware how much others adore the series and I’m sure I’d enjoy its stories, but turn-based combat just doesn’t click with me: it feels counter-intuitive and unrealistic. This likely says a lot about my lack of patience and strategic thinking. What’s weird though is that I seem to get tagged in an awful lot of Final Fantasy conversations on Twitter, when I’m probably the worst person to include!

I totally suck at social media

social media, Twitter, Snapchat, Instagram, Facebook, icons, screenSpeaking of Twitter, I’ll admit that it’s not just Final Fantasy discussions where I suck: it’s this and all forms of social media. I can be quite a private person (which kind of contradicts the whole blogging thing) and so don’t share much on my personal channels; and when it comes to the channels for Later Levels, I get anxious and struggle to keep up whenever I’m involved in a conversation with more than a few people. It’s something I’m trying to improve upon but I think it’s safe to say I’ve never going to be one of those ‘influencers’.

The Stream Deck is my new favourite toy

Elgato, Stream Deck
Several weeks before our 24-hour stream for GameBlast19 last month, my other-half surprised me with an Elgato Stream Deck. I didn’t want to seem ungrateful but I did have to question why exactly we needed one as it seemed a bit ‘excessive’ for our needs. Pete simply smiled and told me to try it out and now I’m in love with the thing. It just makes everything so much easier, particularly starting and ending a stream, and we managed all of our marathon from this piece of equipment. It was pricey but well worth it.

I’m starting to dabble with code

BBC BASIC, coding, monitor, keyboard, handsA lot of gaming bloggers say they’d love to make a video game. While I’m no different, it’s not the story, art or audio I’m interested in: it’s the code behind it that makes it all work. I’ve enjoyed working with functions and variables ever since teaching myself BBC BASIC as a young kid on my dad’s Commodore 64 and I’ve now started to pick that back up again by learning how to code properly. I don’t see it leading to a real career change, but there are a couple of projects I’m working on with other bloggers where it could come in handy.

I’m not sure about Rezzed this year

In the past Rezzed was always my favourite gaming event of the year and I haven’t missed one since I started attending in 2013. But while the excitement is still there and our tickets are already booked, I’m feeling unsure about the 2019 event next month. A lot of the titles announced so far are either not to my taste or are repeats from previous years (Gang Beasts yet again, seriously?); and there doesn’t seem to be much going on in the developer session area either. I guess we’ll see. If you’re going to be there yourself, please do give me a shout!

An ideal day would consist of gaming and cooking

A New Way of Cooking With Chocolate, book, Hotel ChocolatWe have one weekend a month where my stepson doesn’t stay with us and on those rare occasions where we haven’t got any plans for the day, we’ll often spend it gaming and cooking. I’ll usually come up with a menu and then fit making this around several video games. Last weekend I purchased A New Way of Cooking With Chocolate from Hotel Chocolat and can’t wait to try the Parkin Spiced Beef with Cocoa Red Wine Gravy accompanied by White Chocolate Mash while working my way through an adventure or two.

So there you have it: seven gaming- and blogging-related facts about me which hopefully you haven’t heard about before. Thanks once again to Austin for the Versatile Blogger Award – and inspiring posts about Nintendo and Final Fantasy in the near future.

Lost control: weird gaming accessories

Last week I shared a guide to provide inspiration for buying Christmas presents for the gamer in your life. The big day is now only a couple of weeks away and we all want to give our loved-ones thoughtful gifts they’ll treasure forever, and that will potentially be the subject of blog posts about festive gaming memories in years to come.

What we don’t want to do is to give them a present that will cause them to say a half-hearted ‘Wow!’ before it’s shoved into the back of a cupboard and sits there gathering dust. You’ve therefore got to feel sorry for the people who gave the items in the list below to their partners and children – and possibly even more sorry for the partners and children themselves. Here are the some of the weirdest and worst gaming accessories.

1984: Atari Mindlink

The promise: “An exciting and unusual new way to operate Atari home computers… the state of the art for the stage of your mind.”

I know what you’re thinking but no, this wasn’t a controller that allowed you to play video games using only the power of your mind. It was simply a wired headband that enabled the player to control their onscreen character using eyebrow twitches. During product testing however, volunteers reported massive headaches from furrowing their brows in exactly the right way – and that was when the device actually worked. This stopped the Mindlink from ever being officially released (so I probably shouldn’t have included it in this post but I thought it was funny).

1985: R.O.B.

The promise: “R.O.B, the extraordinary video robot (batteries not included). He helps you tackle even the toughest challenge.”

Following the video game crash in 1983, Nintendo wanted to rebuild faith in the industry and went about it with their Robotic Operating Buddy (R.O.B.). Unfortunately though their attempts to give everyone their own Johnny 5 were unsuccessful. The little guy only worked consistently with certain CRT televisions due to receiving instructions via light flashes; he could only be used with two games; and he couldn’t do much apart from picking up blocks and flailing his arms. The fun kind of stopped there.

1989: Power Glove

The promise: “The Power Glove for your NES. Now you and the games are one.”

Another item from Nintendo now and one most readers are likely to have already heard of because ‘it’s so bad’. The Power Glove took a some setting up before use, with sensors that needed to be attached to your television and game-specific codes that had to be input using the buttons on the arm – and after all that it didn’t event work properly. It’s therefore no wonder the device had a short lifespan: it was discontinued about a year after release and not even The Wizard could save it.

1989: Roll & Rocker

The promise: “You become the directional control pad!”

Who on earth thought it would be a good idea to put a platform on top of a ball, get gamers to step on top of it and have them rock around the unit in order to move the D-pad for a NES? LJN Toys, that’s who – the same company that published titles for the console which were largely slated by critics. It seems like an injury and a lawsuit waiting to happen rather than a great way to control a video game; imagine playing Super Mario with the device and you’ll understand why nobody bought it.

1989: LaserScope

The promise: “Take yourself out of a tough situation… The amazing voice activated firing system for Nintendo.”

The Konami LaserScope was designed for use with Laser Invasion on the NES and consisted of a light-gun on a headset equipped with a microphone. It was supposed to allow gamers to look through its crosshairs and shout ‘Fire!’ to activate the trigger, but all it did was make the wearer look incredibly stupid. The technology was so bad that not only you could say anything in-game to shoot the gun but background noises would make it fire also, meaning that there was no way in hell you were ever going to be able to conserve your ammo.

1993: Sega Activator

The promise: “Some kids won’t see the advantage of Activator. Then it will hit them.”

The idea here was to make the player feel part of the game and have your character onscreen replicate your actions in real-life. The reality was however that you had to move in one of eight directions while standing in the middle of a plastic octagon on the floor. Here’s an example: if you wanted to do a special attack in Street Fighter you had to punch to the left and right simultaneously while also kicking backwards. An Activator player’s only hope was to flail their limbs wildly and hope for the best – before switching to a normal controller.

1994: Aura Interactor

The promise: “Enter the virtual reality world of the Interactor, where all the action jumps of the screen and into your gut.”

The Interactor isn’t actually as useless as some of the items on this list. It was a big plastic backpack you’d put on and then plug into the audio feed of your console, so sounds below a certain frequency would be converted into vibrations you could then feel while playing a video game. The problem was however with its configuration: having the power on maximum would vibrate far too much while turning the filter high took away the game’s music. And as the device heated up pretty quickly, you’d soon find yourself in a puddle of your own sweat. Eww.

1998: Game Boy Camera and Printer

The promise: “With the Game Boy Camera, you can turn pho-tography in to fun-tography!”

The Game Boy Camera was great if you loved taking grainy, heavily-pixelated, black-and-white photographs of family members and friends. The Printer then allowed you to print all those terrible pictures using six AA batteries, reams of thermal paper and money to throw away. The thing I hate most about these devices however was the Camera advert; whoever thought it was a good idea to use bullying, group hugs, pubescent leching and extreme goatees to market products got it so wrong.

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Office politics: a follow-up

Last year I wrote about the personalities in my workplace with regard to video games. I myself identified as ‘the secret gamer’: someone who doesn’t discuss their hobby due to the attitudes of management above them and the need have to constantly justify their part in it.

Since that time however things have changed somewhat and even ‘the sexist gamer’ has mellowed, now accepting that women play too (but obviously ‘more casually than men’). It means that occasionally I’ll participate in a conversation although more often than not, I’m content to just sit and listen. It’s liberating to have recently found out that my new boss is a gamer herself too; she knows her stuff when it comes to the best practice framework we make use of at work, and the fact she plays video games herself just makes me respect her even more.

There’s also the fact that my team moved into a new office a couple of months ago so we could be closer to another group we work with frequently. As luck would have it, I ended up being placed opposite ‘the inclusive gamer’: someone who has a healthy attitude to gaming and those that play, and who’s open to trying new types of releases. We’ve had a few discussions now about indie games and although he hasn’t heard of many I’ve played, he has tried Celeste and Hollow Knight and has started branching him out of his triple-A comfort zone.

He attributes this change mainly to getting a Switch shortly after it was released in March 2017. Not only has the console raised his awareness of titles from smaller developers due to its eShop, he now has more opportunity to play; his commute into work is a couple of hours each way and having the portability of the Switch means he can use that time to get stuck into a game. Like many of us, it’s not always possible for him to sink hundreds of hours into a release so Nintendo’s machine is fitting in nicely with his adult lifestyle.

A colleague from the other team we’re now based with overheard us chatting about this subject and came over to join in with the conversation. He agreed with the inclusive gamer: the Switch allowed him to play while his other-half ‘watches her crime-dramas’, and he’s enjoying it so much that he hasn’t logged into his Steam account for over a year now. This then prompted 30-minutes of him explaining to me exactly why I needed this console in my life and how I was missing out by not having a Switch.

His arguments:

  • Argument one: you can play video games and not hog the television, so you can sit with family while they watch whatever it is they want to watch.
  • Argument two: you can take the Switch on your commute or to other places, so you don’t always need to be at home if you want to pick up a title.
  • Argument three: the console makes indie titles more accessible through its eShop, and you find out about games you might not otherwise have heard of.

  • And my responses:

  • Response one: playing video games don’t mean hogging the television in my house. More often than not, my other-half and I can found playing something together.
  • Response two: I don’t like playing titles on my commute. I use that time for blogging and getting Later Levels in order, so I’ve got more spare time at home for games.
  • Response three: I find out about indie titles through other blogs, gaming websites, expos and word-of-mouth. I don’t really need a Switch to put them front and centre for me.

  • He’s adamant he’s going to manage to convince me to buy the console before Christmas but I doubt he’ll succeed. It’s mainly down to the way video games are viewed in my family; they’re our preferred form of entertainment, and we’d much rather play something or watch a stream than gather around a television show. I’ve come to realise I’m incredibly lucky to have a partner who shares my love for the hobby and who wants to participate in it together.

    But it’s also good to have colleagues with whom you can discuss games – even if they do try and talk you into getting a console you don’t want or need. As written by Fitzy over on Game Time recently: “There are people I can talk to comfortably and that alone makes my job so much more enjoyable. It’s still work at the end of the day but now I have people to talk to whilst we share that misery. Yay!”

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    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.