The Legend of The Legend of Zelda:
An Argument for the Canonization of Video Games
Article by Power Shot
I’ve been examining the fandom of the Zelda series for the better part of six years. I’ve watched speculation after speculation emerge for games past and present and I’ve watched as people will argue the significance of a single rock from Majora’s Mask. I’ve watched a thread like this progress for pages and pages filled with arguments. Zelda isn’t the only series where this takes place, though. Halo, for instance, sends quite a few people arguing about continuity. My close friend can recall the position of every enemy in Metal Gear Solid with perfect accuracy, but it always seems to come back to Zelda for me. For example, I’ve never given a fleeting thought as to Jirachi’s significance in the overall universe of Pokemon, but many others have. But it’s Zelda, more than any other series, that I love, and it’s the Zelda fandom, more than any other, that I love to analyze. I love to watch the little spats, the two-and-fro of each side as they argue which timeline is accurate (though personally, none of them probably are).
Why do I bring all this up? Well, because we once again have new material to discuss. New footage to speculate about, new controls to analyze. Yes, we have been promised a Zelda which will be unlike any other ever made before it. But as I waited in anticipation for the news conference which would bestow us with this new speculative material, I wondered what would happen. Would the world explode from a masterpiece? Probably not. Would servers crash as an endless legion of fans erupt to express their opinions on the subject? Oh, this you can bet on.
It wasn’t always like that though. I remember as a child my information about video games came from hilariously written British magazines (I dare anyone to compare the quality of NGamer to Nintendo Power and disagree on which is the best) and the schoolyard, where rumors were abound and there was no way to fact-check anything. I can recall as a child weeping in dismay as I discovered that there was no way to unlock Gyarados in Super Smash Bros. But now thanks to the Internet we can check on what is a rumor and what is a source and very rarely does a child spend twenty hours on something for it not to come true. You know, excluding extreme situations like the purple coin challenges in Super Mario Galaxy.
What is it though, that drives us to analyze every piece of this puzzle? When the trailer comes out for the new Zelda game, and it will come out, and the demo is available for playing, we will tear it apart like mindless rats discovering a piece of freshly cut bread. We will rip into each frame of footage, each room in the dungeon, until we know it all by heart. But why? Why do we devote such time to a video game? A video game which, by the way, we can’t even touch yet. We know nothing about it. For all we know, the trailer and the demo could be the greatest conspiracy known to man, but that won’t stop us from developing theories about every single piece of it. “Oh, that rock looks like the one from Link’s Awakening!” one theorist will shout. “The entire map looks like it’s from Oracle of Ages!” another will scream at the top of their lungs. And this will go on and on and transcend into another great war of theorists, where sides will be chosen, life will be forgotten, and no one will profit from. Yet why do we do it? Is it our human nature to argue? Our need to be right? Or something else entirely?
My examinations of the fandom have revealed several lines of thinking that correspond, in many ways, to literary analysis. In spite of the fact that The Legend of Zelda is not an accepted member of the literary canon, and never will be due to its design as a video game, the fact of the matter remains that a lot of the analysis of the series I’ve come across relates in very real ways to modern scholastic thought processes. Think, if you will, of the theorists’ arguments being nothing more than scholarly debate, and you have it. In essence, the new battleground for literary thought is moving away from canonical literature and towards modern genre works such as The Legend of Zelda and other forms of media.
As a student of literary analysis I’ve often come across the problem of having to analyze pieces of literature that, quite frankly, bored me. I can provide many examples, such as the works of Charles Dickens, William Shakespeare, and a whole slew of others writers and thinkers who, in my opinion, are no longer influencing the modern world. True, The Lion King is nothing more than Hamlet with bright colors and singing, but in the long run we must look toward our own generation’s contributions to culture. The Zelda series. Manga and anime. And even Twilight. Yes, Twilight. As annoying a stigma as it is, I ask you to go out and ask anyone which has influenced them more: William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet or Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight. Odds are you’ll discover that Meyer’s literature has more significance with today’s society. Zelda is much the same way. It’s inspired the way video games are thought of these days, how they’re designed, and a whole vast array of things. We owe the Zelda series so much for showing the world that a video game, an interactive story, can have as much depth and meaning as the finest piece of literature.
Yet Zelda will never have the same status as William Shakespeare. Shigeru Miyamoto will go down in history as a maker of toys and nothing more, in spite of the fact that he has influenced millions. I mean, I’m sitting here writing a critical essay in regards to the Zelda series in relation to literary canon. Why is that? Why is it I cannot express to a literary committee the significance of one video game series? I would be laughed at, for thinking such a mere toy could have such an astounding cultural effect as the works of William Shakespeare. But let’s not forgot that once, not so long ago, and barely noticeable in consideration of our species’ domination of this planet, the wheel was nothing but a toy. The musical instrument was nothing but a toy. The printing press once considered evil for taking away the orator’s ability to perform to his full extent. Yet society would not be as it is today without these simple ‘toys’, once considered nothing more than idle tomfoolery are now essential for our lifestyle. What about the Internet? Is that nothing more than a passing phase? No, it’s reshaped our culture in such a way that our world as we know it would die without it. So why are none of these things included in the canon of literature significance? Is it because The Legend of Zelda wasn’t invented by a middle-age white guy in the nineteenth century? Possibly.
The simple fact of the matter is the canon, which includes every work of literature deemed culturally significant by scholars, was originally designed and implemented by a bunch of old white guys. As a result, countless texts were left out of the canon that had no right to be. Consider the majority of the texts you’ve been asked to read in middle school, high school, and a lot of college works, and you’ll find that many of them are from the canon, and because of this a large portion of them were written by middle-age white guys. Only just recently has this begun to change. For instance, one of America’s greatest writers, Kate Chopin, was ignored from the canon for much of history simply because she was a woman who wrote The Awakening, in which it is discussed that there’s the possibility that women want more from life than being housewives. It was considered scandalous, and thus banned for its content, but ask any scholar today and they’ll tell you that it was one of the most important pieces of American literature ever written.
But why won’t Zelda ever be in the canon? Despite the fact that it is a historically significant series, and despite the fact that millions have been inspired about it, and despite the fact that almost anyone who has grown up in today’s culture would rather play the series than deal with Shakespeare, the simple fact of the matter is that video games still aren’t considered a cultural artifact worth preserving. We have the National Film Registry for films, we have the canon for literature, we even have the Meridian Collection for anime, but nothing for video games like Zelda. Nothing to show that Zelda, or genre works like it, have a place in the canon for being culturally significant.
It’s a shame, really. There are countless examples of why the Zelda series should be considered culturally influencing enough to be included in the canon. What of its introduction of the free-roaming game, of its introduction of three dimensional graphics? Aren’t those culturally significant? In consideration of the fact that society in general is branching out from literature and embracing new ways of cultural expression, helped through the advent of film and television, it’s entirely possible that future generations will look back on the Zelda series as one of the finest examples of video games ever designed. There is plenty of precedent to show that one day people might analyze video games in the same way that scholars do famous bodies of literature. To the theorists out there that read this, know that you lead the charge in this new way of thinking.
Much like The Awakening, regarded as nothing but pornography because of its content, there will come a time in the future when video games are also perceived as works of art and judged as part of the canon. It’s happened for art, it’s happened for music, it’s happened for film, but perhaps more importantly it’s happened for modern art. I would like to emphasize this: modern art is perceived as a canonical part of art, exactly like literature is. Modern art, a horrible genre of art which can feature the elaborateness of a stone sculpture of a middle finger extended to a smudge of paint on a blank canvas. If modern art can be perceived as canonical and culturally significant, so can Zelda.
So can Zelda.