Evaluation Of The Legend Of Zelda Hypertextual Literature
“I am buried here. You can resurrect me, but only piecemeal. If you want to see the whole, you will have to sew me together yourself.” This excerpt from Shelly Jackson’s Patchwork Girl accurately summarizes an emerging genre of storytelling, the videogame. Unlike traditional narratives, video games are breaking grounds as a form of storytelling where a story must be put together through play interaction, and only through this interaction does the player develop through the plot. The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time is an innovative video game, commonly listed in the top 10 video games of all time by consumers. Due to the sudden emergence of this new form of storytelling, there are still boundaries to define, and we will begin by looking at, specifically, how The Legend of Zelda is a game by definition; second, how this game is a story; third, what the narrative is that is being told through game play; and finally, how there is a necessary relationship between the story of The Legend of Zelda and the medium in which it is told. By comparing and contrasting The Legend of Zelda with Shelley Jackson’s Patchwork Girl, a more distinct difference between hypertext and a game may be deduced.
So what exactly makes The Legend of Zelda a game? Can we consider Patchwork Girl to be a game? According to Aarseth in “Genre Trouble Narrativism and the Art or Simulation,” a game consists of three main components– 1) rules, 2) a material/semiotic system (a game world), and 3) game play (the events resulting from application of the rules to the game world) (47-48). In The Legend of Zelda, the rules are defined by what the player can do. For instance, there are certain buttons on the controller that allow the character to do certain functions, such as jump or slash with his sword. The player cannot make the game character do something that was not programmed into the game, such as, say, flying. Second, there is a game world which consists of places such as Hyrule Field, Goron City, Ganon’s Castle, Zora’s River, and Gerudo Valley among others. When actions occur by applying the rules to the game world, a reaction is created. Something in the world is affected, whether it means a switch was triggered or game time was lost. It is reasonable to assume that it is a game. Can we assume that hypertexts such as Patchwork Girl are games also? It does have its rules – you can view lexia by clicking certain links in a certain order. What it does not have is a material/semiotic system or game world. This collection of lexia is basically just that. There are only text and images that are joined together by hyperlinks. There is no world. Sure, it could be argued that the world is a 2-D white background world containing text. However, this is not comparable to anything in reality as we know it and thus it is not a valid world. We have already gone over the game world in Zelda, what about the game world in digital monopoly? We can say the game world is comprised of neighborhoods in which the players can buy and build houses. In pong, the game world is a pong table. In Pac man, the game world is a maze. In Patchwork Girl…. there is no game world. Thus, there can be no game play due to the lack of an interactive game-world that in some form resembles a world in which we know from reality. Pathwork Girl lacks 2 of the 3 requirements of a game.
Now that we have deduced that The Legend of Zelda is a game, how is it a story? Henry Jenkins gives a compelling account as to how spatiality creates stories: “spatial stories can evoke pre-existing narrative associations; they can provide a staging ground where narrative events are enacted; they may embed narrative information within their mise-en-scene; or they provide resources for emergent narratives” (123). The Legend of Zelda is full of environmental spatiality. For instance, the Gerudo Valley setting gives off an impression of a Middle Eastern dessert. From graphics of sand storms and sounds of violent winds to the adobe huts of the inhabitants, there is always a reminder or reinforcement of this desert theme. In this reinforcement, a story is told by drawing upon stories that have been told before; that of the Middle Eastern deserts. Stories connected to the deserts that many people are familiar with include Aladdin or A Thousand and One Arabian Nights. In studying Patchwork Girl we find some differences. In one segment of Patchwork Girl, all lexia are composed of quotes from other works. However this form of referencing other works is different from the spatiality referencing in the fact that the reference is explicit. There are so many brief quotes from so many different texts that they do not continuously remind us specifically of one environment as in Zelda. These brief quotes, however, do tell a story that is manipulated by the author’s arrangement of the quotes and not by the reader’s freedom of interpretation. The important thing to keep in mind is that games tell stories by using consistent visual cues to remind us of other stories, and that hypertext tells stories by using lexia and manipulating the composition. Murray provides another insight on the nature of storytelling. According to Murray’s “From Game-Story to Cyberdrama”, video games are excellent form of story telling because the stories are being told in “a medium that includes still images, moving images, text, audio, three-dimensional, navigable space – more of the building blocks of storytelling than any single medium has ever offered us” (Murray 2). By a modest degree, hypertext may allow for the same medium forms. Murray continues to argue that all games are stories, even abstract games such as checkers or Tetris. Despite the different levels and degrees of story-telling that games and hypertext offer, they have at least one common structure – the contest or conflict in plot between the protagonist and antagonist. In Tetris, for instance, the conflict is between the opponents. In a novel or hypertext, the conflict is often between the main character and the character providing the conflict. Although games and hypertext utilize different tools and methods of conveying stories, as evidenced by Jenkins and Murray, the end products of these two forms are very similar.
Because The Legend of Zelda is a story, a distinctive narrative is exposed through the game medium. Although there are few lexia in this game, most of the narrative is gained in a similar system to watching a movie. The lexia that are present occur in dialogue boxes when speaking to other characters in the game, and from these lexia, the plot is enriched further and clues are given away as to the exposition of the plot. The narrative is told through third person, and Link, a young boy, is the protagonist. The story begins with a video clip of young Link having a dream of being in front of Hyrule Castle on a stormy night. He sees a young girl being carried away on horseback by a stranger. As he dreams, the Great Deku Tree, guardian of the forest where Link lives, speaks to Navi, a fairy. Navi is told that Link is destined to save Hyrule and that she must guide him. Navi wakes from his dream, and from this point, the player gains control of Link and begins game play. Link must find several items and actually age with time before he can fight the final boss, Ganondorf. After Link then conquers Ganondorf the game ends with a video. Link is sent back into his past when he was a child. He sneaks into Hyrule Castle to see the young princess, Zelda, and the game ends when they make eye contact, the frame fades into auburn, and the credits being playing. This scene sets up the beginning of The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask, the next chapter of the tale.
Despite the mini-games and side tasks within the game play, there is one centralized plot that must be followed in order for the end to be achieved. Jenkins refers to this as an embedded narrative where “narrative comprehension is an active process by which viewers assemble and make hypothesis about likely narrative developments on the basis of information drawn from textual cues and clues” (126). In the case of The Legend of Zelda, after the initial video sequence at the very beginning of the game, the embedded narrative begins to take flight. The player is in control of Link and they must navigate a whole world to unravel clues and make predictions as to what is around the corner, literally. Monsters are lurking everywhere and several wrong predictions may result in game over. In the process, the player discovers new, additional worlds along with more opportunities to find clues. Clues are not limited to just games, however. Patchwork Girl, allows its readers to make conjectures as to what will happen next in the plot. A series of Lexia may tell a story, especially with the case of Pathwork Girl, hence the title of one of one of its sections, “a story.” In the story section of Patchwork Girl, the story begins with the “I am” lexia which introduces us to the main character. From this point forward, we follow this character along her voyage to America through a third person point of view. Both, game and hypertext convey narratives as evidenced by the examples of The Legend of Zelda and Patchwork Girl.
As an interactive story-game, the medium in which The Legend of Zelda is presented is absolutely necessary for this narrative experience to be the same. Without the player interaction to cause the unraveling and development of the plot, the story would not be the same. The expansive virtual world in which the player must explore for clues provides an immediate experience. Without the combination of the compelling soundtrack, detailed graphics, realistic movements, and intricate interaction of these elements, the story would appear hypertextually dull and non-immersive. The computer provides the necessary medium to facilitate this “new” form of story telling allowing the player to “be there.” Murray hits the nail on the head when he wrote:
The computer is procedural, participatory, encyclopedic, and spatial. This means it can embody rules and execute them; it allows us to manipulate its objects; it can contain more information in more forms than any previous medium; and it can create a world that we can navigate and even inhabit as well as observe. All of these characteristics are appealing for gaming; all of these characteristics are appealing for storytelling. (Murray 8-9)
The computer is the perfect story telling medium for this point in the history of the narrative form development.
By examining what a game is, the elements of a story, the narrative being told, and the necessary relationship of video games and the computer medium, a clear understanding is gained of how videogames and hypertexts are “new” technological mediums for storytelling. The boundaries are still uncertain, and genres of videos have not been fully created due to the only recent emergence of the computer as compared to the age old book form. “In the end, it does not matter what we call such new artifacts as The Sims, FaÃ§ade, or “Kabul Kaboom”: dollhouses, stories, cyberdramas, participatory dramas, interactive cartoons, or even games. The important thing is that we keep producing them” (Murray 10). Through additional and continuous development of the game form alongside the progression of the computer medium, these two subjects will consistently compliment each other to create new successful vehicles for conveying narratives.
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New Media as Story, Performance, and Game. Cambridge, MA: MIT
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Jackson, Shelly. Patchwork Girl. Eastgate Systems, 1995.
Jenkins, Henry. “Game Design as Narrative Architecture.” First Person: New Media as
Story, Performance, and Game. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2004: 118-
Miyamoto, Shingeru, and Takashi Tezuka. The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time.
Nintendo EAD. Nintendo, 1998.
Murray, Janet. “From Game-Story to Cyberdrama.” First Person: New Media as
Story, Performance, and Game. Cambrdige, MA: MIT Press, 2004: 2-11.