When I first thought of writing this article, I wanted it to be about videogames and their importance in the modern world: their nature as a premier narrative vehicle, the billions of dollars of annual revenue, and the way gaming functions as a nexus between entertainment, art, marketing, and traditional STEM disciplines.
It seemed like a passion project, as if I was trying too hard to push my own narrative. Then "The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom" (TOTK) goes and sells 10 million copies in its first three days. It was an incredible feat; to put it in context, at the height of his fame, Michael Jackson's album "Dangerous" sold 5 million copies in a week. It was more than a landmark; it was a cultural shift and a sign of the times.
Having been born in 1985, the year the original NES was released, I took this as a sign that this was indeed the story I wanted to tell: a millennial's love letter to the industry that played the most crucial role in his artistic bildung, having as a backdrop the record-shattering release of the latest instalment of a series he followed since its inception and watched grow into the cultural phenomenon it currently is.
Let's start by getting some elephants out of the room. I am painfully aware of the many issues ailing the industry, made only worse by the ever-increasing popularity of video games. The labour rights of the developers are often pushed to the side, and this is so common in this particular industry that it has a moniker: crunch culture, the practice of requiring that developers "crunch" (work long, often unpaid hours) to meet unrealistic deadlines.
We must also remain cautious about the exploitation of monetization systems like in-game purchases and skin gambling. The immense popularity of "free-to-play" games, especially those designed for smartphones and targeting casual gamers, has unfortunately normalized the prevalence of predatory and exploitative practices within the industry. When applied to ecosystems involving experienced players, these monetization systems can effectively create a "pay-to-win" scenario. In such cases, players who heavily invest in in-app purchases find themselves in an entirely different league compared to those who solely engage with the game as "free-to-play" users.
But despite these and other problems, I remain an avid consumer of video games, and honestly, I don't see why that would change. I have too deep an emotional connection to the art form. And yes, I do consider it a form of artistic expression, although it can also come as merely a product or service. But the same thing can be said of novels, movies, TV shows, music albums, and just about any sort of "art" you can think of.
And my emotional connection to the Legend of Zelda franchise runs deep. I can still remember purchasing the original Zelda with my grandmother, even though that one never fully entranced me.
That would change with the dawn of the Super Nintendo era. The third instalment of the series, "A Link to the Past," was the first video game to set me on an inalterable course to becoming bilingual. We often hear that to learn a new language is to be welcomed into a new world. Well, this game made that saying a reality: I was in a new and fantastic world, and I needed to learn a new language to perfection if I was to properly navigate this amazing adventure.
Its spiritual successor, "Link's awakening," was one of my favourite Gameboy games and transformed those dull moments in every child's experience of a road trip into cherished memories. I haven't picked up the remake for the Switch, but based on the original, I can definitely recommend it.
As I became an adolescent and began to mature, the series was right there by my side, and "The Ocarina of Time" even introduces a mechanic where you're able to shift between a child Link and a young adult Link, which is fitting if you consider how most teenagers find themselves lost between those two worlds.
I played a few instalments after this one; my younger brothers and cousins insisted I play "The Wind Waker" on their GameCube, but there were some years of inevitable estrangement from the series as I distanced myself from the Nintendo brand owing to the feeling that I was "no longer a kid." Silly, but understandable at least.
I reconnected with the series not as a player but as a journalist, sort of by accident, as I ended up representing Portugal's largest newspaper in a round table about the series when "Skyward Sword" was released. The series was celebrating its 25th birthday, and the canonical timeline had just been introduced.
It took "Breath of the Wild" and the massive appeal of the Switch as a console to bring me back into the fold, be it as it pertains to Nintendo or Zelda; after all, the two brands are as indivisible to me (and many others) as Nintendo and Mario.
In an age where the market was already oversaturated with open-world video games, Zelda could still give a masterclass in game design and release one of the most unanimously acclaimed video games of all time, whose popularity is still going strong 6 years after its release, being only overshadowed by its sequel, the recently released "Tears of the Kingdom."
Link himself is a character about whom I could write extensively. We share the neuro-divergence of being left-handed (at least in his early incarnations), but more than that, he stands in my mind where other archetypes would have stood in previous generations: He is my Disney prince, out to help (not save) the princess, who most of the time happens to be a highly competent warrior. He is my Robin Hood and my Peter Pan, the boy in green who lives in the woods and refuses to grow up but whose values are unassailable.
And as I near my 40th birthday, it's incredible for the child in me to see that we were right all along; we were right there when it began, and now, in a mere 3 days, we stand and get counted, 10 million strong. I would feel silly if I were writing about economics and cheering on what is, in essence, consumerism. But this is a matter of 21st-century culture, of the new ways we find to tell the oldest stories of the human condition through ever-evolving means of technologically assisted communication, as video games tend to be when they are done properly, as every instalment of The Legend of Zelda usually is.