The temptation to steal has always been present in the Zelda franchise. A seemingly disconnected shopkeeper is usually the only thing separating you and shiny new items. Why are they charging you anyway? Tasked with saving the world, surely they would recognize the opportunity for philanthropy and provide aid for your quest. Alas, that is never the case. Instead, they jack up the prices as far as they can go, carrying the potential to drain your wallet for all it’s worth. A good example of this can be seen in A Link Between Worlds, where the majority of items can set you back thousands of Rupees. For the most part, we are stuck paying these prices, with no other way to obtain the item. In one instance, the developers of Zelda gave us an opportunity to do some major shoplifting. The setting is the store of Link’s Awakening, with expensive loot on the shelves; mainly, the bow for 980 Rupees. The player has the option to either pay, or go the second route: grab the item, sneak past the shopkeeper, and run for your life.
Diagnosing kleptomania in one easy step!
Even though the shopkeeper clearly sees you, he is powerless to stop Link from running out the door. The only consequence of the act, at first glance, is the game chiding you for your actions.
Breaking the 4th wall to comment on your behavior; Link’s Awakening developers keeping it real.
Okay, a scolding from the text box. Surely there can’t be any more to this, can there? Upon returning back to the store, the shopkeeper cries out in horror and zaps you, draining all of Link’s hearts while you, the player, look hopelessly by. Another tally to the death counter is punishment enough, right? Wrong. The developers then take it one step further, as your name officially switches from Link, Bob or whatever you named your hero to “THIEF”. Every Windfish conversation? He addresses you as THIEF. Taking a long walk with Marin on the beach? THIEF. Completing side-quest after side-quest? Thank you, THIEF! No matter where you go, the citizens of the game will call you THIEF. If you thought stealing was without consequence, this game will change your perspective.
In front of Marin too? Well, this is embarrassing..
Through this process, the concept of morality is officially introduced to the game. This is one of the first instances in the Zelda series where you truly choose your own fate; if you want the Bow, what will you do to get it? Clever players will never enter the store again to avoid the kill and designation of THIEF, and even cleverer ones will save and quit while the Rupee counter is ticking down to exploit a glitch and preserve their money. But if you play the way the game developers intended (or tackled the game as a kid and didn’t know otherwise), stealing will result in a punishment that taints your interactions with the characters for the rest of the game.
Stealing is a mechanism that has only seldom returned to Zelda. Curiously, in A Link Between Worlds (minor spoiler alert), you can rob a Cyclops of his Rupees by cornering him in his house as he cowers in fear. He will pay you, begging you to leave. You can continue to demand more, but after a few times, he will become invincible and start relentlessly attacking you, dealing oodles of damage until you flee or get killed (end of spoiler).
“Gimme back mah Rupees! Otherwise I can’t afford a new one piece.”
Again, you are given the choice to commit the act of stealing. Zelda acknowledges, and then punishes your greed, forcing you as the player to re-evaluate yourself as a decision maker. Should you treat the citizens of a town kindly, even though they are just pixels? Does committing crimes in a game matter, because it’s just a game? These are huge questions to be asked from a video game, especially one made in 1993.
“..the island, killing everyone instantly.”
These days, video games receive a lot of flak for the violence they contain. Pundits continue to point the finger at them in any instance involving a violent young person. There are enough games with no regard for morality out on the market (albeit usually not with Nintendo). The fact that Zelda asks you to make a decision, and then assesses you accordingly, proves that morality in video games does matter. Because this matters, we should always strive to make the most thoughtful decisions in-game, trying never to maliciously harm anything. Every Zelda game requires Link to be the ultimate protector; Link’s Awakening goes one step further, thrusting the player into an environment where he must choose between doing good, and doing evil. A game well before its time in so many ways, introducing pixel-based morality is just another reason to add to the list.