4 Ways I Realize I've Changed (Thanks To The New Zelda Game)
This is the toughest column I've ever had to write. Since The Legend Of Zelda: Breath Of The Wild came out, playing it is the only thing I want to do anymore. It's so entrenched in my brain that it's forced me to confront some things about myself I'd rather have kept chained in the dark cellar of my soul. Since I've been playing Zelda games for decades, it's no wonder all my revelations deal with the ways I interact with video games now as an adult versus the way I used to as a kid. I used to play video games because they were a fun escape. Now I do it because, well, that's where things get weird and complicated. It's all Breath Of The Wild's fault for making me realize ...
How Scared I Am Of Traveling To New Places
If you don't know, Breath Of The Wild is unlike any Zelda game before it. Except for maybe the first installment. And the second, a little. And large elements of every other game in the series. And Skyrim. It's basically just Skyrim with Link.
Dear god, the mods are coming true!
It's an enormous open-world game that would take hundreds of hours to fully explore. Just finding everything there is to do in one part of the map can take a dozen or so hours that I can't pack into my adult life but I do anyway.
I end up spending so much time in one part of the map that something as basic as moving on to a new place brings out the shuttered bubble boy I was as a kid.
When I Was A Kid
I grew up broke as shit. Our vacations were to places we could see on the horizon. I dreamed of exploring the world, but whenever I thought seriously about doing it the idea would fill my tummy with nervous farts. By my teenage years I was convinced that if I stepped foot outside my boundaries a bomb in my head would detonate. Games allowed me to travel. Sometimes I'd go to Russia in Goldeneye, or I'd journey into a robot's colon in Sonic Spinball.
Pretty sure my mom got me this one as a punishment.
I hated staying put as I watched all my friends vacationing in exotic locales, but not as much as I hated the thought of being anywhere that wasn't home.
As An Adult
In the past year alone I've been to three countries. I can afford to travel a little. But now I don't want to go anywhere. I like sitting on the couch with my wife doing nothing until nothing turns into sex. I want to play with my pets until the play turns to sex. All this liking of staying put manifests in how I play Breath Of The Wild.
Link, with hundreds of miles in his adventure left to go, decides to call it quits and open a discount liquor store.
While a dozen of my friends, who are playing at the same time, are merrily skipping from one land to the next, my anxiety about going to new places whispers in my ear that I should use a broadsword to cut every blade of grass I see just in case there's something cool hiding there. It's like if Bilbo had declined Gandalf's request to be the bearer of the One Ring so he could make some extra cash mowing lawns in the Shire. I'd rather spend my time fishing lakes with bombs than explore a far-off dungeon that has the gall to advance the story. I'd love to go to all those scary places, but someone has to keep these lawns mowed.
How Little I Need To Be Entertained
It's a sad thing to realize a set of jingling keys can dazzle your feeble brain. Breath Of The Wild presents a wide-open Hyrule filled with jingling keys. When I occasionally work up the nerve to dip a toe outside of my regional safe space, I don't make it too far before I wander down a rabbit hole of distraction that obliterates all memory of what I'd wanted to do. Open-world games are all about using a waypoint as a suggestion.
It drops you in the center of the map and says, "Good luck, idiot!"
But there's a deeper issue than distraction if I'm having more fun throwing rocks than slaying monsters with a fire sword.
When I Was A Kid
I didn't dick around. I had a damn video game to play. Between embarrassing myself during karate class, half-assing my homework, and watching Grease 1,000 times, my after-school hours were precious. When I played a game, I played to win. I didn't have the time or desire to luxuriate in the designer's code. I was those no-nonsense movie prostitutes who lay down the law before rolling up their sleeves and getting to work on that dick -- I was all business. I was quick and efficient. And then adulthood kicked in ...
As An Adult
Like I said, in Breath Of The Wild I pick up rocks and throw them. Sometimes I remember that the little leafy-headed Korok dudes hide under rocks, so the reward they bestow is a pleasant bonus. But it's also a little frustrating. When they pop up they delay the satisfaction of getting to throw a rock two feet, usually at other rocks lying on the ground, or down a mountain, or at fish in the water. Throwing rocks is fun. The fuck is wrong with me? I heard there's a dragon in the game but I can't confirm that. Too many rocks to throw. High-stakes Hyrulian adventure occurs when I try to kill a cow with a rock. I haven't done it yet, but throwing rocks at cows is about the journey, not the destination. It's its own reward.
It's all fun and games till the rocks fight back.
I easily give in to the distraction. The creators put so much work into the little details of the world that I feel I'm doing the game a disservice if I don't stop to cut down a tree then run around its base as it falls to see if I can make it under the falling trunk before getting smashed, or blowing up goats by floating a bomb attached to an Octo Balloon their way. This isn't just a video game. This is a Bored Mountain Kook simulator.
Please Help, This Game Made Me Have An Opinion About Video Game Horses
One of the most annoying subspecies of human that thrives in niche cultures is the person with an intense opinion on meaningless topics. In my many years of playing video games I've been gathering the strength to become that exact monster. Breath Of The Wild awoke the slumbering fuckface within when it made me realize I've been slowly formulating a hardline opinion on the subject of the best horses in video games.
As is usually the case for Zelda games, Breath Of The Wild is highly erotic.
I've filled enough notebook pages with my stance to fill three clickbaity slideshows on a garbage-ass gaming site with a name that's an inelegant mashing of the word "game" and an arbitrarily chosen second word.
When I Was A Kid
If you ever meet a child with a hardcore opinion on which video game horses are better than others, kill that child. If they're that insufferable at such a young age, there's no telling what kind of unstoppable mega-douche they'll become in their teens and twenties. They cannot be allowed to grow up and start a video game YouTube channel where they'll infect the minds of the world's children by the millions with their esoteric douche arguments. You need to cut that shit off early. Throw them at a rock. Float a bomb toward them. However you do it, just make sure the job gets done.
As An Adult
I don't want to be this person, this cretin who has the ability to heatedly debate digital equine supremacy if need be. But let me be clear: need never be.
Link, put down the gun.
I don't know what to do with this opinion, so I'm going to use the rest of this entry to dump a truncated version of a much larger body of text I scribbled at 3 a.m. in an illegible flurry of horsey douche rage.
The best horses are the ones in Red Dead Redemption. I always feel like I have a firm control over them. They feel like an extension of me. The horse from The Witcher 3, Roach, comes a close second, also offering a firm control, but is a tiny bit more floaty. Skyrim's horses are a blast and are fearless, but tend to be more trouble than they're worth. Breath Of The Wild's horses are too stiff and unresponsive, regardless of temperament and star rating. I'd rather walk hundreds of miles of Hyrule's vast expanses. Every horse I try to take with me up a mountain outright refuses. So I end up leaving it behind after five minutes because I climbed up a mountain, got distracted by a fox, chased it shooting arrows for a minute, then forgot about my horse. So fuck them hoes. They don't want me to rock hard all across the 'rule. Fuck'em with an Endura Carrot and spur them to death.
I'm gonna need, like, thirty more spurs on my spur meter to kill this one.
To contrast this, here's my actual, non-joke opinion of real horses:
I Don't Care For The Story In Open-World Games, And It's My Fault
Open-world games offer a more naturalistic take on narrative than any other entertainment medium. Stories aren't always a straight shot from beginning to end, like nearly every Zelda game before Breath Of The Wild. Sometimes a story is an old guy going on a dementia adventure trying to make it to the bathroom from the living room. He meanders around, going on smaller adventures along the way, pissing in closets and on guest bedroom floors as he goes, before eventually making it to the toilet with an empty bladder.
Yes, a certain type of video game is exactly like the heartbreaking mental deterioration of an aging loved one.
Most serialized TV shows are the same way. Right now we're in the era of the long meandering story. The Marvel Cinematic Universe is telling one massive tale that wanders a little from its overall point with each individual movie. Game Of Thrones deviates from the plot all the time to show tits and bush before course-correcting to the plot about siblings fucking each other. When a story broadens its scope beyond a single two-hour movie or one 300-page book, narrative focus is the first thing thrown out. Video games weren't the first medium to embrace meandering plots, but they have the most fun with it.
When I Was A Kid
I stuck to a video game's narrative so much you'd think games actually told compelling stories. Side quests were shunned and collectables gathered dust while I gleefully raced passed the developer's suggestion that I waste my time with the 800 McGuffins they've sprinkled throughout the world to pad length, which is like saying you got a penis enlargement when all you did was tape a kielbasa to the tip of your dick. It wasn't out of video game snobbery; I just didn't care about anything else but the always-shitty story. No book or movie character stopped the flow of their narrative dead in its tracks so they could check an air vent for a glowing star. Speaking of which, fuck the stars in Super Mario 64 .
As An Adult
I couldn't tell you the plot of the Elder Scrolls games, any of the Saints Rows, or even one entry in the Grand Theft Auto series. I've grown so empathetic of the effort game creators put into the creation of their worlds that not getting lost in the details is an insult to their artistry. In doing so, I lose grip on the main quest's plot threads. As I write this, I've put 55 hours into Breath Of The Wild. The inciting incident (the part of a story that gets the narrative ball rolling) happened 50 hours ago. I haven't a fucking clue what it was, meaning I haven't a fucking clue what this game is about. Is it another Ganon thing? I don't remember, is he a person or a giant pig monster this time?
Alright, Nintendo. You win. I never would have guessed Smoke Pig.
Open-world games hand ultimate control of narrative flow over to the player. So this is entirely my fault. Some of the dozen people I know playing at the same time as me bought the game days after I did and have already beaten the game or are close to it. The game's story has more meaning and relevance to them. They're hitting the plot points one after another, not letting the story's emotion dangle for too long. Meanwhile, as the world is ending, I used a leaf to blow apples through two rocks I set up as goal posts.
Hyrule is fucked.
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