That is a commercial promoting Nintendo’s upcoming 3D remake of The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time for the 3DS. It’s a pretty simple ad, but one that struck a big chord with me. It shows just how meaningful something trivial like video games can be. Zelda meant enough to Robin Williams and his wife to name their daughter after the titular character. It’s a pretty cool story and one that hits close to home for me. So today I’m going to take a break from the snark and go a little personal….
I was 6 years old when the original Nintendo was released. To be quite honest I didn’t have the slightest idea what a Nintendo was or what it did. I wasn’t clamoring for it because in my world it didn’t really exist. I was actually introduced to video games by the unlikeliest person, my Grandfather.
Luis Lopez was a Cuban immigrant who spent his life working for General Motors and speaking a fantastically funny broken English. He was a fiery yet kind man who treated his grandchildren like they were treasures from Heaven. He saw the ads for the upcoming Nintendo and decided that’s what I was getting for Christmas, so he proudly bought the first system available at the Toys ‘R Us in Lansing, Michigan (a fact my Grandma still talks about to this day, now do you see why I have to get systems RIGHT when they come out? GENETICS!) I received it that Christmas and after watching him try to hook it up for about 2 hours (a process that I would later be able to do in about 2 minutes) we were up and playing, and not only was a lifetime love for gaming born that day, but so was a bond between a two people separated by a couple of generations.
Every weekend my sister and I would go to our grandparent’s house and while she would go with my Grandma, my Grandpa would take his “partner” as he called me and we’d go off and play video games together. We’d sit in that room for hours just playing different games. Back then most games were quick disposable affairs, meant to be played in short bursts and not really having an over-arching story. None of them even had a feature to save your progress. You just played as far as you could. Because of this, we were always on the lookout for new games to play. One day he took me to Toys ‘R Us looking for a new game. I had my heart set on “Commando.”
When we got to the store we didn’t waste any time going right to the game section. I went right for Commando, while my Grandpa looked for the salesperson. Since we were there a lot the guy knew my Grandpa and he actually suggested a new game that had just come out that apparently was selling really well. The name of that game was “The Legend of Zelda.” The guy went to the store display, and showed us a little about the game. I didn’t really understand it, and still wanted Commando, but my Grandpa was intrigued by this new game and asked if we could get that instead. Imagine this scene for a minute. A short, little chubby Grandpa asking his grandson if he can get a different game. I looked at him and said, “ok,” and it turned out being the best decision I’ve ever made.
The game came in a gold box, and even the cartridge was gold. It was with great anticipation that I put it in the Nintendo and turned it on. We watched the opening scroll that told a simple but powerful story of a Princess who had broken up a piece of something called the “Triforce” and spread the 8 pieces across Hyrule before being kidnapped by the evil Ganon. It was your job to reassemble the Triforce of Wisdom and defeat Ganon. I hit start and our journey began…
There wasn’t a tutorial on how to play the game, or really any indication of where you should go. You started in an open area with a door to the top of the screen and upon entering you were given a sword. We picked up the sword and wandered around the open world until I stumbled upon Level 1. Wait, there are dungeons in this game? The revelation made both me and my Grandpa really excited. Where are the rest of these dungeons? What will we find inside of them? This game would consume us for the next 6 months.
Every weekend we’d play, finding new secrets and new dungeons. We drew a map of the world on blueprint paper that he had from his years of working at GM. We even drew which enemies were on each part of the map. This game was our focus, and it’s a bond that brought us together.
After months and months of unraveling the secrets of Zelda we finally had made it, Level 9. The final level. Ganon would surely be waiting for us at the end of this final maze. The tension mounted as we found our way through the (still quite tricky) skull shaped dungeon. Finally we met the final boss, Ganon. Months of playing came down to this. Many of my family members were sitting in the room as my Grandpa and I defeated Ganon and finished the game. We celebrated the ending of out months long quest and then got the biggest reveal of all. There’s a second quest?
More months passed as we went through Zelda’s second quest. It was an amazing experience and it’s something I didn’t value enough as it happened. These were the best times we would ever share, and I miss them.
Outside of my family world, while most people I knew played Nintendo, it was still looked at as a “nerdy” thing to do. Kids picked on me for the thing I loved, but the way I looked at it, if someone as awesome as my Grandpa loved video games then they were just missing out. He was my armor to their barbs, and actually he still is today. My Grandpa loved video games, and when people dismiss them and make fun of me for loving them, I view that as an insult to one of the greatest people I’ve ever known. This is why I am who I am. Because of him I’ve never made apologies for loving the things I love. I’ve never hidden things for fear of being made fun of. He instilled in me a belief in who I was, and there is nothing I can ever do to repay that lesson. I am who I am and I love what I love. Either you get that and appreciate that for what it is, or we’re not friends. Simple.
My Grandpa passed away in 1991. Later that same year Nintendo released The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past, a game he would have absolutely loved. I still think of him every time I fire up one of my video game systems, but especially when I play Zelda games. Three years ago I got the Triforce tattooed on my left forearm to commemorate forever the connection he and I shared with that game. It’s a reminder every day of the lessons he taught me. Be proud of who you are and forget what everyone else thinks. I live that as best I can every single day.
This is the kind of impact “games” can have. They can be amazing shared experiences that bond people forever. That’s why we play. Call me a nerd if you want, but in the end I could care less because I’m not afraid of who I am or the things I love. As a great man showed me when I was young, EMBRACE who you are. Don’t apologize for the things you love. They are part of what makes you, you. Go out and share the things you love with others, and you’ll be amazed at some of the bonds you can make.
If I have kids someday I will share my love for video games with them, and the lessons my Grandpa taught me. He’ll live forever in my heart and the time we spent together will never be forgotten.
All this from just playing some games…