Dear Dr. Geek,
I hear you are a true Legend of Zelda fan! I was at your Comic Con presentation this year and you has mentioned it - haha not a stalker. Can you provide how you would work with someone who loves Zelda and interpret the game for me? I love the game a lot and have always wondered why.
-The True Zelda Fan
Dear The True Zelda Fan,
IT IS TRUE! The Legend of Zelda is my all time favorite video game to play because of the amazing storyline and playability. Someday it seems we will need to put to the test who really is the true Legend of Zelda fan. However in the spirit of fun and games - which I love - here is a quick interpretation and write up of the game including some history. Now who is the true fan?
The Legend of Zelda has been a video game millions have enjoyed across the world. In total, across all of the Zelda video games, over 75 million copies have been sold from 1986 until the present. This comprises over 19 different The Legend of Zelda video games across 12 video game systems highly suggesting a long and enjoyable history of this video game’s popularity. Each of The Legend of Zelda video games conceptually have the same characters found within each virtual world in different and various beginnings, but placed in a land called Hyrule. Thus, making the popularity of the video game mysterious since the video gamer is conceptually playing a similar video game each time.
The entire purpose of playing The Legend of Zelda series can be easily simplified from an outsider perspective: save the princess and kingdom while destroying evil. However, this may be considered a too narrow point of viewing to a video game rich with its own rich history. In order to move past and look further than this type of thinking, one must take a deeper gaze at the characters and roles they play.
Evaluating the chronology of each video game and where each virtual world falls upon the reported timeline shows the aforementioned repetitious patterning of events. However, each The Legend of Zelda video game, no matter what year the video game came out, from 1986 until the present each falls in a different timeline of the history of the land of Hyrule. Regardless of the place in the chronology, aspects of the game are found continually in each one; woven together within the game in subtle manners. Examples of these can be symbols found on non-player controlled characters (NPCs), in the architecture of the buildings, in the shield of the hero, the harp played by Zelda, Sheik, and Impa, the items used in the game’s mastery, and much more; a video game player only needs to look around their in-game environment.
Interestingly enough, even with the title “The Legend of Zelda,” the video gamer plays as a different character named “Link” although there is usually the possibility of changing the name of the character in the beginning of the game. Zelda herself is the main princess in which is usually captured by an evil entity (i.e. Ganon, Vaati, Demise, etc.) and held prisoner for a period of the game. Link is then thrust into his destiny by having to defeat the evil entity by collecting items and tools throughout Hyrule and proving himself through completion of dungeons eventually leading up to a showdown with said villain.
The main story of why the villain takes the princess usually surrounds the breaking of a mystical seal which was holding the villain in check. The villain is in pursuit of obtaining the omnipotent Triforce which grants wishes to those who obtain it. The Triforce itself is comprised of three triangles placed together to form a larger triangle. Each of the three smaller triangles represents a part of a virtue; Power, Wisdom, and Courage. In order to appropriately use the Triforce, one must have all three virtues in balance. If balance does not exist and a person touches the Triforce, it splits apart into the three pieces leaving the person who initially touched it with the most represented or personified part of the Triforce they possess. The other two pieces will appear in other individuals personifying the other virtues (i.e. Link for Courage and Zelda for Wisdom). In order to recreate the Triforce, a reunification must occur with all three pieces in order to obtain the true Power the Triforce possesses.
This Triforce was created, and by reasons unknowing left behind, by three Goddesses referred through the game series as the Golden Goddesses. Their names were Din, the Goddess of Power, Nayru, the Goddess of Wisdom, and Farore, the Goddess of Courage. Each Goddess representing one of the Triforce elements. These three Goddesses additionally created existence within the video game known as Hyrule. Din created the land, Nayru creating order, and Farore creating the diverse Hyrulian populations. Now at this point in the history of the video game series, it is believed that only three Goddesses have existed, making this next addition intriguing. One Goddess still remained, but was craftily hidden and rarely spoken of throughout the video games. She was more of a mythological character until a more recent addition into the franchise called The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword. During this specific video game, the video game player finds more information on the Goddess called Hylia. The one Goddess left behind in charge of guarding the Triforce.
The player is told the Goddess Hylia was involved in an ancient battle against demonic forces subjugating the land. The demonic forces were led by a demon king called Demise. There was a fierce battle of the demonic horde and the Goddess Hylia. After one of the intense battles, Hylia gathered the remaining human population and the Triforce and raised a portion of the land into the sky where the evil entity, Demise and his minions, would be unable to reach them through a substantial barrier of clouds. The rest of the remaining population, consisting of other non-human races, continued the battle on the ground eventually becoming victorious sealing Demise away.
However, the seal was not complete, would not last forever and required the use and force of the Triforce in order to permanently seal Demise away. Unfortunately, Goddess Hylia was unable to use the Triforce because a Goddess cannot wield its Power. Ultimately, she had to become mortal and renounce her divinity as a Goddess. She was eventually reborn as a human in the island in the sky with the rest of the human race.
This leads to the continuous cyclic coming of Zelda, Link, and the evil entity. Zelda always becomes the reincarnation of Hylia when the seal on evil in the world begins to weaken. Link additionally becomes born in order to fulfil the destiny created and a dark and evil presence begins to gain power across the land. In Skyward Sword, the evil was Demise, in other games it is Vaati, and still in others it is Ganon. Regardless of the evil deity, the symbolic representation remains the same. Zelda, Link, and the evil entity are key elements to helping restore the balance in each video game.
Link’s purpose is to wield the Triforce portion of Courage. It is well placed in his in-story fabled name, “The Hero of Time,” that he is the link to restoring balance to the land. He usually has the Power to link time together which is regularly needed in order to progress through the game. In some cases it is light and dark realms, others it is seasons, and yet still in others, it is a period of days. Link is the embodiment of Courage standing against evil for noble causes, and he is the one link in the game the video game player can control. As such, he is aptly named for his role in each video game.
While Link’s quest is to gain control and worthiness of the Triforce of Courage, Zelda’s is to use her Triforce portion of Wisdom to guild Link on his quest while staying out of the clutches of the demons. This may come in the form of being prisoner and reaching out telepathically to Link asking for help or in the form of Zelda’s persona of Sheik. Regardless of the method, Zelda’s role of Wisdom is an important one. Without the Triforce portion of Wisdom, Link loses his guide and evil is one step closer to claiming the omnipotent Triforce.
The villain is imbued with the Triforce portion of Power and attempts to usurp the other Triforce portions from the other two characters out of force. This force is usually in the form of destruction of the world, kidnapping of Zelda, a perversion of reality, or threatening gestures. The villain is usually introduced early within the video game and presents as an outsider and conceptually “odd.” As the story progresses, the intentions become clear in what the plan is. While it may not seem as important to the story, the villain’s actions begin the Hero’s or Link’s journey. Link only comes to prominence when a great threat appears, the villain.
This brings us to the next set of ideas or the archetypes found within the game. The primary and most noticeable ones are the Hero (Link), Goddess (Zelda), and the Villain (dependent upon the game being played). Link may also be considered to be an Orphan and Child archetypes as well since he usually has little to no known family and is usually presented as a child in the beginning of the video games. However, there other lesser, yet just as important, archetypes being embodied throughout the game and game play. For instance, the Triforce stands for three additional archetypes: Courage, Wisdom, and Power while the lands requiring traversing and saving are symbolic for each Triforce piece: forest for Courage, the desert or fire for Power, and the lake for Wisdom. Each land is symbolic for the player to conquer and work through becoming worthy of their virtues. In order to progress through the game, the player must navigate these lands and deal with the evil entities barring his path. By the act of defeating the dungeons, Link clears the area of the evil being restoring balance, gaining understanding of the virtue it represents, and becoming worthy if it. The player may only be conscious of the primary ones, but may be influenced by the others nonetheless through the game play.
The primary archetypes being played as through the only playable character Link are the Hero and Orphan. Link is considered to be an outsider with no affiliation to anyone of importance. He, his family, and heritage are not known for anything in particular or even relatively acknowledged within the game itself. Throughout the beginning of the games, he usually is reflected as an outsider, outcast, being ridiculed and bullied, and considered to be unpopular. Furthering the stereotype of outcast, he doesn’t speak in any of his games; he has no voice. This is to allow the projection of the player’s immersion to be attained easier as we unconsciously project our voice onto Link. The other NPCs in the video game tend to poke fun at him very similar to how children in schools act today. These actions are usually reflected through name calling, insults, and general bullying because he is perceptually and conceptually different. These effects quickly influence and build up the Hero archetype within the player as they have identified or immersed themselves within the game’s characters at this point and want to prove what the NPCs say in game isn’t true. This is a distinct possibility to why he is relatable; the video game instinctively taps into the player’s Hero archetype through each of our own past experiences of being seen as not worthy.
A moment of consideration on the idea of not being worthy is important at this point. Everyone at some point in their lives has felt unworthy of someone, some act, or something. This is one of the easier parts to relate to from our own experience when one sees it in another individual. In this case we see it in Link. A fear of not being worthy is an embodiment of low self-esteem, a personal assessment of not being able to meet expectations, and a comparison of standards set for us by another. Being in this disposition can put us into a “funk” or “rut” sapping our creativity and power. Only through the power of perseverance and courage can one expect to discover, retake, or return to knowing their self-worth. Through the game play of The Legend of Zelda, we experience and visualize how this can be made possible.
Continuing the reflection of the game play and how we may see ourselves within this character, the video gamer is considered to have become immersed and identified with the character. At this point, the video gamer has to symbolically take on the role of Courage in order to push forward. There is danger at every path in the game and monsters continuously arrive and challenge Link. Through the acquisition of tools, knowledge, and equipment the video gamer gains competence and self-esteem in completing these challenges while understanding his role and worth to the kingdom. As the actions are repeated, they become easier and easier to utilize. Throughout the dungeons, the video gamer is required to use their intellect, strategy, speed, strength, and ability to figure out puzzles in order to proceed. Completion of these tasks in a safe and linear environment builds up the confidence and courage of the player to continue forward and experience new challenges, puzzles, and game play.
Through the playing the role of Courage throughout the video game, courageously defeating monsters in dungeons, cleansing Link of his own shadow and the world of evil, and continuously standing up for the good in the world. The player has to be aware off these actions and requirements through the storyline due to the linear path one must take. The player has to have the Courage in order to continually defeat evil’s minions and earn the right to wield the Triforce of Courage.
Link would be unable to find and continue with the courage to undertake his long journey without the nurturance of another individual, namely Zelda. Zelda is the literalized form of the Goddess Hylia, the savior of the human people and protector of the Triforce. She is the divine guiding natural force within the game, a feminine mother guiding her child through wisdom. Zelda knows Link is the one to destroy the evil laying siege, but does not unload and burden him with that information as it would prove to be too much for one unknown person to handle. Instead, Zelda leads him to the understanding of it through his actions and endeavors. She is aware that knowledge must be earned and understand the difference between external and internal power; something the villain is not aware of. Zelda has earned the right to wield the Triforce of Wisdom through her self-knowledge of how one uses their external power or force upon the world and self-reflects upon their actions. Through this attained knowledge, Zelda is the perfect person in order to guide Link on his journey.
The villain is the one who set this story into motion from the beginning focusing his intent on destruction in order to have power. It is the villain’s objective to cause substantial harm to Link, Hyrule, and Zelda. The villain serves as an obstacle in which Link must struggle to overcome. The archetype of the villain attempts something disastrous and hurtful in which we could never imagine ourselves doing because of the pain inflicted upon others. They can be considered to be outsiders, misfits, outcasts, and orphans as well. They seek external power without understanding their internal power or having the wisdom to wield the authority which is why they usually fail. Power corrupts those who are not meant to have it, do not understand how to use it, or unaware of their own internal insight. The villain can be considered to be the anti-hero or a fallen hero. Link’s role is to have the courage, insight, and power to end the villain’s rule.
Link’s awakening as the Hero is to end the Villain’s power over the land with his courage. However, he requires guidance and a development of wisdom in order to appropriately and effectively deal with this burden. Without the guidance from Zelda, it is most likely he would follow a similar path to the villain’s and become corrupt. Power without wisdom can provide disastrous effects as exampled by the villain’s wants in the video game.
After Link’s long journey traversing the land of Hyrule, trials, clearing and cleansing dungeons, acquiring insight, gaining power, helping others, being guided by Zelda, he comes to the final showdown between him and the evil entity. This is where he becomes the true Hero. Through the wisdom acquired, courage to persevere against all odds, and power to destroy the villain, he is worthy of the omnipotent Triforce. With these three virtues he embodies the true archetypal hero leaving behind his Orphan and Child archetypes and coming forth as the victorious Hero. The player succeeds and saves the kingdom with his new found wisdom, courage, and power. Although the story has ended, the game’s touch upon the individual has not and imparts the Hero’s journey and accomplishments upon the player. Long afterwards the game has been turned off, the messages, achievements, and story stay with the video gamer in their memory and consciousness.
Gombos, M., & Himekawa, A. (2013). The legend of Zelda: Hyrule historia. Milwaukie, OR: Dark Horse Books.
Hillman, J. (2004). Uniform edition: 1. Putnam: Spring Publications.
Jung, C. G., & Hull, R. F. C. (2006). The archetypes and the collective unconscious. London: Routledge.
Nichols, M. (2014). Zelda: Sales numbers in context. Retrieved from http://www.zeldadata.com/zeldadata_SalesInContext2014.html.
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Dr. Anthony Bean is a Licensed Psychologist in Fort Worth, Texas specializing in video games, therapy, geekiness, and virtual worlds. He is considered an expert in this growing field and has been published extensively in the discipline. At Bean Psychological Services, he works with children, adolescents, and adults who play video games and their families to better understand the immersive effects video games have upon the individual and resulting family dynamics. He is active and available on Twitter as @videogamedoc.
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Dr. Anthony Bean is a Licensed Psychologist in Fort Worth, Texas specializing in video games, therapy, geekiness, and virtual worlds.