In spite of the torrent of news headlines circulating in today’s world, an alternative community is buzzing over what may undoubtedly be the biggest event of their year:
Of course, I’m talking about the video-gaming community and its celebration over the latest release in the long-standing fantasy series, The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom.
There’s a chance that you haven’t heard of this series—but the chances are much higher that either you, your children, or your grandchildren have played at least one game at some point. The premise is simple: In a vast fantasy realm, you play as a hero named Link, who is tasked with saving the kingdom’s princess, Zelda, from evil forces. The story formula may have changed little over its existence, but that has neither minimized the series’ staying power nor its spread of influence. In an industry that reached a global market value of 220.79 billion dollars in 2022 (making it the most profitable medium in entertainment), Nintendo’s franchise has practically set the standard for every other video game—and has continued to do so over its 37-year-old existence.
Most recently, in 2017, The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild shattered expectations of what freedom and exploration look like in a game by giving players complete agency in determining how they wanted to explore a massive, open world. Offering very few parameters in narrative and structure, players were given the tools that they needed to overcome obstacles as they saw fit, letting their creativity and imagination lead the way.
As the conversation about whether or not video games should be considered an art form continues, their presence in popular culture only continues to grow. And Zelda has been there since the beginning, inventing and reinventing the wheel thrice over. On Friday, Nintendo attempted to do it again.
A promise for adventure
So far, it looks like Tears of the Kingdom is making good on its potential. As early reviews begin to pour in, the game has already accumulated a score of 96/100 on the review aggregate Metacritic, based on 88 critical reviews (though this number will fluctuate a little as more and more reviews go in). Even news sites with a far-reach like The Washington Post have weighed in on the game: “Tears of the Kingdom is a miracle of engineering and elegant artifice,” writes its critic. “What’s more compelling is the game’s nod to the collective story of how human imagination pushes us through our toughest challenges, and sometimes sends us soaring to heights unseen.” This seems to be in keeping with the series’ greatest strength: allowing players’ imagination to be the driving force in its gameplay.
This indeed appears to be what Nintendo intended for the game, who is keen on emphasizing the game’s potential for adventure. A recent ad was uploaded to the company’s Youtube channel titled: “Rediscover your sense of adventure with The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom.” The ad depicts a middle-aged man stuck in the doldrums of his working-class lifestyle, unable to see past his reflection in the window on his commute to work. At night, he notices the game on his coffee table (presumably left by his child) and gives it a spin. The audience sees him experimenting within the game, approaching a puzzle with various ideas until he triumphantly discovers a solution. The following day, he takes the game with him on his commute and succeeds in facing down several enemy monsters. Afterward, he looks out the window and is able to see past himself towards the beautiful scenery and people that he passes. He gazes in wonder at the world that lies within his reach.
The implication is evident: The Legend of Zelda, like the best of fantasy should, aims to restore a sense of wonder to the world for its players. It is that drive that has allowed the series to endure for as long as it has.
Only half the story
There is a purity to Nintendo’s intent. And to be sure, art should enable us to see God’s world in the way that it was intended to be. That which inspires a sense of awe, wonder, and curiosity towards the world should be celebrated.
And yet, as I enjoy pouring hours over this latest installment, I know that The Legend of Zelda, and all other works of art, can only offer a fraction of what they promise.
What is a more powerful, and substantial force of change is a relationship with our Creator.
Because we live in a sinful world, and are ourselves marred by the consequences of sin, we tend to see life through the context of such sin. If we are habitually fearful, we see the world as an ever-constant threat; if we are habitually angry, we may see life from a combative point of view; when we despair, the world becomes a hopeless place with little room for joy or excitement.
This is why so many of us inadvertently take an idolatrous approach to forms of art, whether they be movies, video games, television, books, or music: they briefly enable us to step out of one perspective and see the world through another. But art is not substantial. What is needed is something more robust and encompassing of our hearts and minds.
The restorative work of Christ
This can only be a relationship with God, through Jesus Christ. “You have searched me and known me,” we are told in Psalm 139. “You know when I sit down and when I rise up; you discern my thoughts from afar. You search out my path and my lying down and are acquainted with all my ways” (Psalm 139:1-3). God not only has an intimate insight into our souls, but also an intimate authority, for he was the one who “formed [our] inward parts” (v. 13). Such a powerful and familiar grasp on who we were designed to be is essential in reshaping us from what we became through sin’s corruption. This is why the restorative work of Christ is so important. As he continues to lead us out of sin and remake us in the image of himself, we begin to see reality as God intends it: Under the authority of his Son, who became king over this world when he sacrificed Himself on the cross.
The book of Isaiah emphasizes the loving care of God in light of such a revelation: “Remember not the former things, nor consider the things of old. Behold, I am doing a new thing: now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert. The wild beasts will honor me, the jackals and the ostriches, for I give water in the wilderness, rivers in the desert, to give drink to my chosen people, the people whom I formed for myself that they might declare my praise” (Isaiah 43:18-21).
If Christ is King over the earth, then we should be filled with trust, joy, hope, and wonder at His reign, no matter how the noise of the enemy might try to pull us in another direction. We should look at frightening circumstances as an opportunity for the Lord to reveal Himself; we should see the world as a space for unification, not aggression; and we should ultimately reject despair for a hope pregnant with anticipation.
Art may suggest to us that a world exists beyond our typical perception, but a relationship with God gives shape to that world and immerses us within it.
So go out and experience it.