Since I was young, I’ve loved good video games. The qualifier “good” is important as there are a lot of garbage ones out there.
One perennial favourite series is The Legend of Zelda. Many of my favourite experiences in gaming have come from Zelda – including playing and puzzling through the original “self titled” NES game and Link to the Past with some of my best friends as a kid, exploring Ocarina of Time and Majora’s Mask with my brothers as a young teenager and again through Wind Waker in my late teens and Twilight Princess as a young adult.
Recently I’ve been slowly playing through Skyward Sword with my kids (ages 5 and 3). Well, I play and they watch. Typically we’ll do this for an hour on a weekend every now and then so we’ve been working through it at a snail’s pace. They’re enjoying it a lot (it’s essentially their introduction to video games… well, that and Mario Kart!). It’s been fun to see them find humour in my failures (dot dot dot) and to see them solve some spatial and causality puzzles without parental prompting!
Anyhow, the reason I’m writing a post about it is that last weekend we were goofing around and, quite accidentally, had a “moment” while playing.
When I say “a moment,” I’m thinking of those rare times in gaming where something brilliant but totally unexpected happens that breaks through your expectations and transcends the usual experience of “playing a game.” Most of the time when you’ve got a controller in your hands, you’ve got a pretty good idea of what to expect, especially when playing a game in an established series which follows a lot of loose but predictable patterns.
Before I share the moment we had last weekend, I’ll share another previous moment.
While playing The Wind Waker shortly after its release, I was on the starting island of the game during the opening story arc that establishes the setting, the characters, and the objective of the game. This part of the game is always linear, predictable, and (for anyone who’s experienced) something you rush through to get to the meat of the game. It’s easy.
The starting area in this case was an island with a couple of tall… I wouldn’t call them mountains, more like plateaus. Flat-topped circular cliffs with ramping pathways to climb them.
So I’m up on top of one of these with what is essentially an oversized truffle pig (though not in name) – I’ve brought it up there (by carrying it, see below) to dig up some money or a quest item or something.
Things are going fine, big mister pig is digging up treasures for me, and then (in this calm, peaceful and serene setting) my finger slips and taps the attack button.
I can still see it in my mind – my sword swings, it hits my (somewhat bulky but loveable) truffle pig, and my pig seems somewhat offended. I figure no big deal, turn away to look at something out at sea and, in a completely unexpected moment, my trusty piggy furiously hurls himself at me and knocks me off the (very high) cliff into the ocean, except I don’t land in the ocean, I land on a rock in the ocean and die (CRATER!).
In the space of three seconds I was simultaneously surprised, shocked, flabbergasted, confused, amused, and elated. No prior experience (aside from angry chickens in Kakariko Village in Ocarina of Time) could have helped me anticipate this outcome, and although enemy AI was quite decent in Wind Waker, piggy AI wasn’t something I even considered. Regardless, the end result was a fit of laughs and one of the gaming moments I’ll always remember.
This past weekend, while playing Skyward Sword with the kiddoes, we had another moment. While “resting” (as the kids call it) in the game’s home village, we were wandering around catching bugs and just trying silly things. There’s a pumpkin patch and the kids wanted me to smash all the pumpkins so I started swinging. With most of the patch decimated, my hand slipped a bit and did the “stab” gesture with my Wii Remote so my character also stabbed. Stabbed a pumpkin. It didn’t explode (as I expected, as all the others had when slashed). Instead, it got stuck halfway down the blade of my sword. Something like this (yes, someone else was clearly as amused as we were):
Not only was that hilarious (the kids were basically rolling on the floor with the giggles), but then when I swung the sword the pumpkin went flying off right into a nearby slime baddie, killing it. Cue more giggles and requests to stab another pumpkin.
They’ve definitely concluded that games are for fun and funnies.
As enjoyable as games can be when played for their intended purpose (Zelda is typically about beating bad guys and solving lots of puzzles), sometimes the most exciting thing about them is their ability to surprise you with some completely unexpected quirks and curveballs.
It’s hard to know how “intended” these experiences were. Did one of the developers decide one day “hey, it’d be fun to make the big piggy become murderously furious if the players accidentally strike it” or “we should totally let them stab pumpkins and launch them”? Who knows! Whether intentional or not, they make me smile anytime they come to mind.
Regardless, as memorable as the actual games may be (the ending of Wind Waker is still a high water mark to me for emotional payload), it’s often these silly moments that stick long after the adventure is complete.
It’s a few days later and the kids still giggle if I mention pumpkins and swords together. 🙂