The Adventurer’s Lament
As a general rule, I try not to write too much about video games in this space.
It’s not because I think you, dear Metro readers, aren’t interested. Honestly, it’s mostly because I already write a weekly game-centric column for StreetPulse (look for it in the purple news racks) and I don’t want to repeat myself.
But there are some occasions that require me to break this rule.
I speak, of course, of The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. It needs no further introduction or explanation. If you know, you know.
It’s been widely heralded as the greatest Zelda game of all time, and possibly even an all-time great. As for me, I liked it very much, but I didn’t love it — mostly because I find its controls and menus to be unintuitive and needlessly frustrating to navigate.
This is an extremely controversial opinion to have. Metro‘s own Nicholas Smith informed me that “we’re not friends anymore” once I shared my thoughts with him.
I was trying to explain to him what I didn’t like about the game, but he didn’t see how that could affect my appreciation of the whole.
“That is a very small part or unimportant part of the experience, I mean, with regard to the philosophy of the game’s content and design,” he says.
“It’s a game that’s like, what do you want to do? Every other open-world game is like, here’s a checklist of things to do and a bunch of side quest markers. Breath of the Wild is like, there’s a mountain over there. Do you want to go there? What’s over there? Your guess is as good as mine.”
Nick’s absolutely right that the game captures this wonderful sense of self-directed exploration and satisfaction. I couldn’t swim across a raging river, but I reasoned I could freeze the water and leapfrog over. Not exactly a difficult conundrum, but I was pleased to have figured it out without the game holding my hand.
It’s not the only way it could be done. But it was my way.
In those moments, I truly feel like a budding young adventurer, finding my way through the wilderness.
But I have many more moments when I’m fumbling to switch weapons mid-combat (after a spear dis-integrates in my hands) or I flip two menu screens too fast when I’m trying to check my inventory. It’s all dumb, little things, but every time something like that occurs, I have a flash of annoyance where I remember that it is all just a game.
The immersion wavers for just one second too long, and the beautiful spell Nintendo has woven disappears. When a game’s design is this good, the little mistakes amplify and become unforgivable.
It seems silly that such an art form could be so easily judged and misconstrued based on a single person’s experience — so fragile when critiqued. And yet, it’s so powerful that when things are working, I can forget that I am sitting on my couch, not so near to adventure as I would like.