The Lessons of Zelda
This year marked the 25th anniversary of The Legend of Zelda, my absolute favorite game series as a child. It feels weird to me that Zelda is now a veteran in the relatively young medium of video games, and children are still discovering it for the first time 25 years later. Here is my story of my time with Zelda, and what it taught me.
It was 1988 in a Wal-Mart in the middle of midwestern nowhere that I first saw it, and was hooked at the title screen (in my defense, it had a sword on it and I was six years old). Standing at the demo kiosk, I heard to the now classic theme music (click here to listen while you read) and could only wonder what adventure awaited when I pushed start. Little did I know how the series and I would grow together and the many lessons it would teach me along the way. I know we all remember this one, as it was in the first cave on the first screen.
“It is dangerous to go alone.”
We all like to feel like “I got this,” but the truth is we aren’t meant to take on life alone. When we do push out on our own without God, friends, or a player 2, we carry the entire burden on our shoulders. This isn’t just exhausting, but over time can drive us to inaction. Worse yet, when we succeed we have no one to share it with! Men are particularly prone to the “I got this” ailment, as asking for help can damage pride and falsely be seen as a sign of weakness.
When we find people who have the same goals as us, who we can be open and honest with, and who can hold us accountable we can progress much faster while having more fun (think Contra with 2 players). This power of support is regularly seen in brainstorming, mastermind groups, and team sports. Heed the wisdom of the old man in the cave – “It is dangerous to go alone,” in Zelda, and in life.
Full hearts = Full life
Well that seems obvious, right? Let’s go back to 1988 when I was standing in Wal-Mart trying to save Hyrule (man, this game had a sword that would shoot swords!). Zelda was the first game I played that represented life with hearts.
What struck me was that the more I explored and adventured – the more I pushed against my comfort zone and worked towards my purpose – the more heart I gained. Experiences and efforts were steadily making me stronger! Not content to play through without reaching full hearts, I sought out each piece even when it was painful to do so. Playing as Link, I wanted to realize my full potential. Such a simple concept that is anything but easy to live out. In fact, if we could take this simple game mechanic and apply it to our lives we could not only transform ourselves, but truly change the world. The lesson? We are more powerful when our hearts are full and set to purpose.
It is better to light one candle than to curse the darkness
Ever walk into one of the dungeons before you acquired the candle? It was maddening. Unseen enemies attacking compounded with the unknown layout of the room was enough to drive you crazy. If you had taken the time to read the instructions (which I didn’t) you would have known there is a candle that lights up dark rooms (again, clueless). This simple action turned the tide back into your favor and made vanquishing evil all the easier.
In today’s world, we are surrounded by a constant barrage of depressing/negative information more than any other time in history. Murder, rape, crisis, economy, tragedy. News channels are built on it, gossip thrives on it, and if it is all we are seeing it becomes too easy for us to buy into it as reality and we lose hope. Hope is what light brings, and since darkness is just the absence of light, a little light goes a long way. We all will face darkness, a time when we feel hope slipping away. It is in that time we remember to light our candle and see the darkness for what it really is, empty.
Mow some grass if you are short on money
If you’ve played Zelda you know exactly what I’m talking about. You need provisions, things like bombs and arrows, yet you are short on cash. What is a hero to do? Cut grass.
Link was not too proud to do some hard earnest work while he was on his quest to save the world. Sure, it may have been boring, repetitive, and time-consuming, but it got the job done (and someone had to do it). How often do we put aside our ego and just get the job done, no matter what it takes? It can be humiliating, but that means we just needed a healthy dose of humility to knock us off our high-horse and accomplish what we set out to do. We spike our own difficulty by fabricating rules for ourselves that get in our way. There is always work to be done, and we are never too good to get our hands dirty to see a quest to completion.
Always save the princess
This one goes without saying. Not only is it Link’s legacy, but there is nothing more gratifying than showing up big for your spouse/significant other. Giant spiders need killing? Check. Grass need cut? Check. Do they need you to be their hero? Check. The Legend of Zelda is more about this relationship through time that keeps us playing. Sure, we save the world, but we do it for her. Deep down, men want to save the princess and many women want to know that their men are willing to do so. We want our relationships to be the stuff legends are made of (this is in fact one of my goals, that my wife and I live the great love story of our time).
What else have you learned from the Legend of Zelda? If there was a Legend of (insert your name here), how would it play out? Leave your story in the comments!
About Cole Bradburn
I'm a writer and doctor in lifelong pursuit of health, happiness, and adventure. I currently live in Raleigh, NC with the love of my life and our amazing boys.