A Not-so-Valentine’s Story

photo (6)When I beat The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time for the first and only time on my translucent-teal Nintendo 64, I peed myself, just a little. I was ten.

As one of the two episodes of self-urination that I remember from my post-Japan childhood, it was the happier of the two. The other instance involved me not knowing English well enough to inform my second grade P.E. teacher that I needed to use the bathroom. I relieved myself in my cotton whitey-tighties under the sweltering Texas sun that day. It wasn’t just a little, either.


 Ocarina of Time is a role-playing videogame in which you, Link, save Princess Zelda from the hands of the evil King of Thieves Ganondorf by traveling through time using the magical powers of the Master Sword. Link doesn’t have parents, because if he did, they wouldn’t let their son run around swinging swords and fighting dragons, deities, and the undead unsupervised. I, unlike Link, had my dad who imposed a number of restrictions, implicit and explicit. Wielding swords and fighting dragons were implicitly forbidden; TVs and videogame systems in the house were explicitly so.


Thus, I spent my weekends at my grandparents’, sitting in front of the TV in the cool attic as my Nintendo 64 hummed away and Link ran around towns and dungeons shouting “hi-ya!” I was still learning English, and I had a difficult time understanding the text in the game, but it was easier than interacting with real people. In the game, the characters understood that I was out there to save their sorry butts from death and destruction without me having to say a thing. In real life, my grade-school teachers couldn’t understand whether I said, “I heard a squirrel” or “I heard a squeal.”


Dad thought video games were a waste of time. He wanted me to read, read, and read some more; I wanted to not piss myself in public and to whoop some Ganondorf ass. Dad required that I read a book for at least an hour a day during the week if I wanted to spend the weekend at my grandparents’ house. I begrudged this rule; nonetheless, I found books to read for an hour everyday even if I didn’t enjoy them. An unintended compromise occurred, however, when I found Ocarina of Time to be particularly difficult, especially because I couldn’t read the clues the videogame characters were giving to me, and bought the Nintendo’s Official Guidebook for Ocarina of Time ™.


Two books define that period of my childhood: There’s a Wocket in My Pocket and the walkthrough for Ocarina of Time. There’s a Wocket in My Pocket was the third Dr. Seuss book I read, right after Green Eggs and Ham and The Cat in the Hat. There’s a Wocket in My Pocket contains a nonsense line about “the Nureau in the bureau.” I stumbled on the pronunciation of “Nureau” and “bureau” so many countless times that my difficulties with those two words summed up the lunacy of English pronunciation and my attempt at learning the idiosyncrasies of the language.


The other book, I recollect more positively. My classmates had bibles, and I had Nintendo’s Official Guidebook for Ocarina of Time ™. I read it at school during recess, sitting alone on the dirt on the playground, while the other kids slid down slides and held hands with the boy or girl they liked. The edges of that guidebook became frayed, and its pages showed tears along the spine. The oil from where I traced the words with my fingers over and over smeared the low-quality paper and made the text progressively more difficult to read. My persistence paid off, however: after a week, I knew the weakness of Queen Goma, the game’s first boss, which was her eyes, and I memorized every location of the heart pieces to collect to increase Link’s maximum health. I may have had trouble pronouncing “bureau,” but I sure as hell could pronounce and explain “the corrupted Sacred Realm” and who had wet the bed to cause that mess.


Dad wasn’t keen on me reading a videogame guidebook or any book that he didn’t consider to be a real book. Dad had read his share of Dostoevsky, Twain, and Shakespeare; Nintendo’s official walkthrough was no Karamazov Brothers. His views extended even to the Japanese mangas my sister and I hoarded from Japan. He saw no educational value in what he viewed as picture books, and Nintendo’s Official Guidebook for Ocarina of Time ™ fell under that category.


“Here, read this. You’d like this,” he told me as I was staring at the Ocarina of Time guidebook one day. He handed me The Hobbit, a black, paperback edition with a picture of the red sun sitting behind the simply drawn mountains on the front. He figured that if I liked a videogame with a short protagonist who swung swords at dragons, I would like a book with a similar storyline. Dad never took formal reasoning in college, but he worked out that truth-functional table pretty well in his head.


I struggled reading The Hobbit, and on many evenings Dad took the time to read it to me out loud and explain what was going on. Bilbo wasn’t quite as funny as the dwarves were because he wasn’t breaking into song every other chapter, Gollum was not a golem, and Thorin’s untimely death shook my little body. I ended up loving the book, even if it never stopped me from reading the Ocarina of Time walkthrough for what was about the twenty-third time. If anything, The Hobbit reminded me that there was unfinished business at hand; Bilbo’s adventure may have ended, but Link’s had been stuck on the Forest Temple for quite some time now.


The Forest Temple isn’t a difficult dungeon; the dungeon before it, the inside of Lord Jabu Jabu, is more infuriating. The floating, blue jellyfish found in Lord Jabu Jabu can’t be killed efficiently without acquiring the boomerang, one of the treasures you find halfway into the dungeon. Naturally, Link spent the first half getting stung to death and I spent it throwing my controller across the room. The Forest Temple didn’t have a swarm of an annoying enemy like that, but it had the first videogame enemy that gave me a nightmare: the Wallmaster.


The game developers of Ocarina of Time probably knew the kind of trauma the Wallmaster would give to ten-year olds playing the game alone late at night in the dark. The Wallmaster is a monster that looks like a hand; it creeps up on Link in the dungeon, letting its presence know by the creepy music that accompanies its attack and its shadow that appears beneath Link. The first time it came down from the ceiling to grab Link and haul him away to the dungeon’s entrance, followed by Link’s scream, my mouth dried up and I dropped my controller. The clamminess of my hands could’ve solved a country’s drought problem. I turned off the game system, turned on all the lights in the room, looked up to make sure there were no Wallmasters on the ceiling, and spent the next two hours in bed, too paranoid to fall asleep. I left the game cartridge lodged inside the Nintendo 64, and I didn’t start it back up again until my dad and I had finished The Hobbit.


I returned to the Forest Temple after Bilbo Baggins had started his trek back to the Shire. Again, the Wallmaster’s music began to play, and the familiar shadow appeared underneath Link. This time, Link rolled out of the way right before the Wallmaster came down to pounce. I swung Link’s Master Sword several times at my exposed foe, and it lay dead after three swings of the blade. There were frightening dungeons and scary monsters after the Wallmaster of the Forest Temple, but they no longer forced me to run away from the game for more than a day.


By the time I reached the end of Ocarina of Time, I understood the dialogue, which gave me a connection to Link and his quest. It wasn’t just him that was saving Princess Zeld; I believed I should be properly compensated for the trials and tribulations of the adventure as well. I wanted in on what I assumed was the wedding of Zelda and Link and the acknowledgment that would be bestowed upon Link as the hero and king of Hyrule Kingdom. As the final blow from the Master Sword felled Ganondorf’s final beast form and the game cut to the ending scene, I peed myself from the excitement— a combination of “I did it!” and “I’m a hero!”


The final cut-scene didn’t go as expected. Princess Zelda closes the Door of Time and sends Link back in time as a child with the knowledge of Ganondorf’s evil plot and Hyrule’s fate were he to carry it out successfully, effectively ending any sort of romantic recognition the Hero of Time had earned. We weren’t meant to be, Zelda implies in her speech. I cried during the credits. It was early morning and my grandma called from downstairs to ask if I wanted blueberry pancakes for breakfast.


My dad picked me up from my grandparents’ house that Sunday afternoon. He asked me if I had a good time, and I told him I did. Not sharing my enthusiasm for videogames, Dad wouldn’t have understood if I had told him I had reached the mountaintop of gaming and come back down, transformed. Instead, I asked him if we could go out and buy the Lord of the Rings trilogy. His face lit up, and he told me that, of course we could.


We picked up all three books at Barnes & Noble on the way home. I plopped down on the couch after we returned home and started on The Fellowship of the Ring. While Link’s adventure ended, another began. I read the first sentence out loud:


“When Mr. Bilbo Baggins of Bag End announced that he would shortly be celebrating his eleventy-first birthday with a party of special magnificence, there was much talk and excitement in Hobbiton.”


Dad, hearing me from the dining room, tiptoed into the living room where I sat and plopped down next to me on the couch. As I read, I saw in my periphery a trace of my dad’s smile. From the window, the pitter-patter of the afternoon rain could be heard.


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