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.

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  • arkazain

    I long for the day when Zelda is considered art.

  • Eric

    I'm a little troubled when people criticize modern art in the fashion that you have in this article. It shows a lack of understanding about intent on the part of an artist. Art doesn't have to be difficult to produce to have meaning, and many times, that's one of the things the artist is trying to portray. Sometimes minimalism is making a statement too.

    I suggest, if you're so interested in cultural expression, that you take a deeper look at modern art and artist. I assure you that game designers have, and those same motivations can be found in video games if you look hard enough.

    On the whole, however, I feel the article was well written and that it made a valid point.

    • Art doesn't have to be difficult to produce to have meaning, but it can be complex, you could look at Zelda as a complex piece of art. Let's just pretend the whole process of make a videogame does not exist, also talking, of course, of the difficulties of making such a game, by the time it was made. You could just look at Zelda (as a whole, like one could do with Harry Potter series) as a complex piece of art, just by it's history, and all the twists that occurs in every title, and everyhing implied with them. I do see it as art, as I do with every videogame that has taken my breath, my sweat, my tears, my laughter, or my high scool grades (lol).

  • Ganonscreature

    Just as Tolkien told his grandchildren the story of the lord of the rings i too shall tell of the story of zelda to mine. having said that if i spend anymore time here and not with my girlfriend i think the topic of grandchildren or even children will be considered moot. Love your work Power Shot. Keep it up

  • Alkunkunka

    I will read this thing completely when I come back from work, but I think I might have huge problems with this…..He or she just compared Twilight with f***ng Romeo and Juliet. WHAT??!! Yes, yes…he/she only said Twilight has a bigger influence these days than Romeo and Juliet. Only it doesn't.

    • askmeagain

      Actually, I think the author is right about the Twilight thing. Going just by sheer numbers, Twilight might influence more people (see all girls ranging from junior high to high school, maybe college). Besides, most kids fall asleep in English when they have to read R&J anyway

      • Rin

        Ahaha R&J…
        I just sped through it while the tape was droning on, then drew 😀 Being in the back of the class, plus being the only one with extra credit certainly has its advantages

    • DaDaDaDaaaaaist

      And cultural influence is not a good indicator as to if a work should be studied or canonized. The quality of a work should be the main thing; that work should be able to survive the test of time and an honest evaluation of its worth. Shakespeare has great poetic language and well developed characters. Twilight does not. Zelda, despite that the story is collect three things and then collect 6 more things and then beat the big bad, is a stellar example of game play and creating an iconic mythos (triforce, Zelda, Ganon, master sword, etc.) It will survive the test of time and will continue to speak to people.

      • Alkunkunka

        I agree with pretty much everything Dadaaaaaist says, and I'm also a huge fan of that movement. Who knows? By the way things are going maybe we'll someday have a Zelda game with Dadaist graphics!……Not sure how that would work…..

        But getting back to it, I dont think Twilight has more influence than R&J and here's why. R&J however boring you may find it, (especially if you're not a quote unquote, theater fag like me) has succeeded the test of time. I think most girls that love Twilight today, no matter how much they're influenced by it, will be ashamed of it in a near future. Kinda like me and Power Rangers. I think people will look at the phenomenom of Twilight, ten years from now and say…Wow, what a piece of "sheeet." However, R&J will always be read, and will always influence in almost any love story. In fact, Twilight itself might have borrowed a thing or two from this Play. And that's why the comparison is simply outrageous. And besides, if Stephene Meyer ever met Sheakespeare, she would go like "You see the phenomenom I'm causing?" And lil ole' Uncle William will respond "Dude, I'm f**ng Sheakespeare." End of discussion.

    • DUDE! He/She? SRSLY? Its Power Shot! Get in the know!

  • Marcelo

    Great article, but I guess on the last part you suffered from the same kind of preconceived opinion you were trying to refute. First of all, modern art includes much of the work done on the second half of the 19th century, such as Monet, Manet, Degas, Cezanne, Gauguin, Van Gogh, Coubert, Turner, only to say a few. Their works can hardly be described as 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". And, funny enough, we've just found out that one of the major influences to the aesthetics of the new Zelda is modern art! Apart from that, it was a great article.

  • Thareous33

    This is only a fraction of the reason I enjoy Zelda more than any other franchise. It employs imagination to greater degrees than most any games I have played. Mario consists of various things mishmashed into a single world. Sure they hold my appeal, but never to the amount if this series.

  • askmeagain

    A very well-written article! I enjoyed your thought process and yes, I also hope one day Zelda will get the recognition it deserves, cause Zelda games are awesome haha

  • Elizabeth

    I vow before your essay. I, myself, wrote one years ago, when still in high-school. The legend of Zelda is a precedent. It will remain in people's minds and history will surely save it's memory.

  • midnaa1

    this article is incredible, made me fall even more in love with zelda! i totally feel that zelda's realism, both visually, and in terms of story, is what makes it so easy to immerse yourself in. its very simple to lose yourself in this world, isn't it?

    …..which, on a more depressing note, is also making it very difficult for me to accept that the graphics for the new one are going to remain as hard to believe as they are for me…immersing yourself in mushroom kingdom is a little difficult….

  • wayofthesheikah

    This was fantastic! I laughed at your SSB Gyarados joke; around my school we had rumors that you could play as Sonic if you did certain things in the game, haha. I can relate so much to the article not only through Zelda and it's impact on my own life, but also through your literary examples (I'm an English major, LOL).

    Shakespeare also used to bore me, but fortunately most of my teachers would have us act out scenes, don costumes, etc. to make the readings more interesting. One thing people should keep in mind is that audiences back in Shakespeare's day didn't enjoy his work simply by reading it: no, they saw it ACTED out for them on stage, VISUALLY, just as we go to the movies or play games like the Zelda series to escape reality and be entertained. Shakespeare had his day, I'm sure the Zelda series will too someday!

  • Reign

    Zelda is the perfect example of why a video game doesn't just have to be a video game. It doesn't have mindless blood and guts and other M rated things that people wrongfully associate with all video games. I've, in fact, never thought of Zelda as a true video game, but a perfectly designed story or movie, that you can go through, discover things or not, run through at a speed run, or take your time and do the side quests. It's your to interpret just like any good book or movie. Better than most, in fact. Say what you will, but I consider these games to be just as much of an art as a painting.

  • LinkFX

    Possibly the most well written article I've come across in a long, long time. Allow me to commend you for your efforts and say that I wholeheartedly agree with all that has been exposed. One can only hope for the day videogames will be considered as much a form of art as books, films and music are today.

  • darren

    well said, u have a VERY good point. zelda IS art, and ur examples of the printing press, shakespeare and music was actually really inspiring. i just might use that as an argument with friends in defense of videogames lol. very wonderfully written, good job ;

  • Good Job! Tally-ho! (wow Ive never said that b4, who says that anyway?)

  • Musky Melon

    Introduction of free roam and 3D graphics? Those were introduced long before the Zelda series used them.

    In regards to your argument, it has to go beyond just having a lot of fans and being referred to in popular culture. Lots of media succeed at doing that. There has to be some depth to it. Zelda, while a great series, is basically just a well executed adventure game utilizing the classical hero and plot. It's nothing groundbreaking.

    Further, what are you trying to get the game to break into? Literary society? Film society? Wrong medium. If you want a canon for video games there first has to be some sort of society for them. Nobody has made one yet.

  • mario_master

    im sure someone has before but i think it crashed and burned after i say a month which is why nobody really knows about it

  • Something I would really like to see done to the series? A museum. I would love to go to that! 'The Museum of The Legend of Zelda'! You get museums on art and films and so on, why don't we have museums for video games?

  • thejoey

    This is an amazing and beautiful article, I completely agree. Thank you for sharing this.