There is a hero whose legend has been whispered on the wind for an age. A boy of destiny, dressed in green and bearing the sword of evil’s bane, or the golden arrow of evil’s bane, or… well, let’s just say evil is sufficiently baned whenever he comes swinging random objects at it.

We know all about him.

This is about someone who always wanted to be like the hero. A man who acts like a boy. A man who dresses in green pyjamas and minces around, throws confetti and calls it magic. A strange and obnoxious man.

Tingle.

[gasps!]

Sorry.

Born to be one of life’s pitiable lessons, Tingle is a Hylian with race issues. He always wanted to be a Kokiri with a fairy of his own. Instead of looking at himself long and hard in the mirror saying, “Well, that’s life for you,” and getting on with it, Tingle decides that if he cannot be a fairy-boy, he will at least look and act the part as best he can and live out his days as an embarrassment to his father and anyone watching. Fortunately, all his friendless time is taken up making maps which are a boon to lost adventurers.

We first meet Tingle in Majora’s Mask, hanging from a balloon. You have to wonder if he did it to himself. Once Tingle is grounded, the eager adventurer soon wishes he had left well enough alone. Kooloo Limpah! Still, Tingle’s maps are a necessity for inter-dimensional travellers and he has a habit of being everywhere you need him.

Hundreds of years pass, and evil once again returns to Hyrule – except Hyrule is now covered in a vast sea. The centuries have been good to our oddball map-maker, whose descendant now has his own island, cult of devotees, and new-found appreciation for capitalist cartography.

Tingle is an enigma no one’s curious about wrapped in a conundrum we’ve long given up on, packaged in tight green spandex. He’s weird, and not in the happy way.

Even though the games are named Zelda, it’s Link’s show – it will always be Link’s show, because Link is, as his name suggests, our connection to the world of Zelda. A young boy who never speaks (outside the occasional yip), who’s always ready to fight and figure out puzzles and doesn’t fear dark caves or growling monsters. Link is a vessel. He has just enough personality to get players invested in him as a character, but not so much that we’re left as mere spectators.

Such is the nature of a good playable character. NPC’s need only be memorable or move the plot along. They add to the illusion of the game world, filling out corners like strangers in a city. Those without significant stories add texture to the human element – so expertly articulated in Major’s Mask, as the town denizens grow increasingly grim and frantic while the moon looms closer – and many feed directly into the quest, aid or hinder as the plot dictates. Ocarina of Time sees Malon, Talon and Ingo embroiled in family politics; solving their problems brings you closer to your goal. It’s practical and necessary. But good characterization takes players out of the quest’s machinations and plunks us down in Hyrule. You have to race Ingo to get Epona when you’re an adult – you want to beat him because he’s a snotty bastard who stole the farm from its rightful owners. It’s all about investment.

IGN started a “Die, Tingle, Die!” campaign in 2004, calling Nintendo to keep LoZGC Tingle-free. A Google search of “I hate Tingle” brings up a list of forum pages where fans spout off on our functionally retarded non-friend. The official Nintendo boards recently instituted a Tingle Ban (cribbing on Gannon-banned!) to stem the tide of hate.

Poor Tingle. His maps are an invented necessity – before him overworld maps were a gimme. The added gameplay is neat, but why, oh why, give the job to someone who’s bound to alienate people? And really, why do we find Tingle so obnoxious?

He’s a fan, of course – more-so he’s a fanboy, the dirtiest word in gaming. He is what we all fear to be.

Take the facts – he’s 35, living at home, enamoured with the minutia of proven heroes but no real motivation to become one himself. He is Zelda’s resident ‘Comic Book Guy’ without the self-awareness. Kooloo Limpah! is a poor substitute for Worst. Episode. Ever. Developmentally stunted and fat, skeezy soul-patch, no life outside his chosen obsession – geeks and gamers tremble at the thought. Since his first showing came in [i]MM[/i] after the genre-defining experience that was OoT, I’m willing to wager my ZU salary (read: nothing) that Tingle is a subtle jab at some of the nuts that fell from the Great Deku Tree of fandom. And yes, I am well aware that sentence puts me dangerously close to my own criticism, but at least I’m living on my own. For now. And I have a real beard. Mostly. Shut up.

Bow to the Power of the Internet! Urbandictionary and Wikipedia both list fanboys as those participants in geek culture who blindly worship a product or company regardless of quality. Each suggest the cunning fanboy is a master of projection; the quickest way to spot one is that he’s likely calling everyone else “fanboy.” He will passionately defend his chosen obsession against all evidence that it sucks. This evidence is largely based on the subjective nature of experience.

Halo 2 saturated gaming media before its release, playing on the reputation of the original. What it delivered was essentially considered more of the same, but from the hype you’d think it came packaged with Jesus. After its release the debate was split – those who thought it was a worthy successor but none-to-special in its own right, and the fanboys, valiantly defending it against all detractors with as much ad hominem as can be packed in sentences where numbers are an acceptable substitute for vowels. These fanboys were accused of media-brainwashing. That many of them genuinely loved the game is a non-issue – this is the Internet, folks, Serious Business all around – because once they expressed their deep affection they became such an easy mark to hit for the disappointed and unimpressed.

Every subculture has fragments. Gaming is first divided into console-allegiance; a well-rounded gamer needs all three systems to be considered non-partisan. Then developer and franchise, right down to niggly details within games, like Tingle. Too much passion at any given split and you’ve fallen into fanboy hell. Not if you’re a detractor, or course – fanboy never applies to haters.

Some embrace the term. Just like “queer” and the n-word have been reclaimed, fanboy is a rallying point. As many people vocally hate Tingle, there are those who love him. The Mr. Fairy fanlisting is a good place to start if you’re interested.

Geek culture, as varied as the colour of Tribbles, always had its notable weirdos. The average sci-fi fan versus the Trekkies. Lovers of fantasy versus Ringers. These people are already fanboys compared to mainstream culture, but within themselves there are further divisions – those who speak Klingon, and those who live it. One is acceptable and the other not, but ask any fan and you’ll get two different answers. Ask any non-fan and you’ll get, “Bitch, please.”

Gaming is an involved experience. There’s less need to live the particulars of your poison – you already get to be Link and roam around Hyrule. The game itself is a costume. The more open the gameplay, the more emphasis is put on the subjective nature of experience. There is choice – do I round up the pigs, or do I play hide-and-seek with vagrant children? How you reach your goals is as important to the experience as completing them. Each player can pursue their own path. How you judge a game can be viewed as an expression of how you played it. The more options a player has the more likely he or she will find a route that fits.

Tingle is a perfect stereotype of the toadying fan. Those most bothered by him – or anyone who thinks an NPC is worthy of lengthy analysis – have already lost the fight against fanboyism. Because you noticed. Because you think he is worthy of remark. Because you are content to argue how he damages or elevates the series. Because he affected your experience.

When we hate on him, we’re only hating on ourselves. We argue the details as tiny kings of tiny kingdoms. As we stand on the fringes of the mainstream we push our own members further out, who in turn find those among them even worse, and so on, until we have someone like Tingle, derided by all, a reflection of each.

I think I need a shave.

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This retro article was originally posted March 13th, 2005.