A Walkthrough

A spiritual sequel to Let’s Play.

A long time ago, now, I used to play Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening. I’d play it every day before school, during lunch time, or on one of my breaks, during the downtime waiting for food runs between the table-top role-playing games I’ve always had with my friends, and before bed when I really needed to sleep.

It wasn’t even the DX version, which might date me a bit. Don’t get me wrong, I did play it once and while when I got a GBC, but more often than not it’d be my old Gameboy with its chartreuse, grey-white casing, and faded grey yellow screen where I’d play the original. One of my friends might have told you about that already so I guess you’re not hearing anything particularly new.

Some retro players I know say that they like the 8-bit tunes: that it brings them nostalgia. You know the kind: the type that reminds you of being kids, not having to pay taxes, not working a dead-end job, not being on welfare or disability, always have energy — being so damned restless, vibrating with it — and going over to your best friend’s house after school. A lot of players like the original Zelda because of a similar feeling, you know? The Legend of Zelda was all cryptic and obscure on the NES, but it was really all about weird symbols, fighting monsters, and exploring. You never knew what you were going to find in that 8-bit world.

But to me, the music and pixels aren’t nostalgic. They don’t remind me of something that happened to me, of my childhood, or what I used to be. Playing those games reminds me of a place that doesn’t exist: that never did. When I played A Link to the Past, for example, it was new and exciting and tapped into a mythic place that even when you were directed to where you needed to go, there was still something new to discover in that colourful, dark world between worlds. And yeah, I’ve played Ocarina of Time, and Majora’s Mask that both tried to be all third dimensional, and all the games that became part of a timeline. The Hyrule Historia is a beautiful clusterfuck that tried to take iterations of a legend and a myth, and impose a linear-chronology onto the experiences: or a least a heroic test of multiple choice.

And every time, when left to my own devices, I’d return to Link’s Awakening. But just like I don’t wear baseball caps nowadays, I don’t play that game anymore, at least not as often these days. I always said that one of the reasons why it’s my favourite Zelda game is that the game’s not about Princess Zelda at all … if any of them ever really have been. I’d relax into the familiar koan of Link gradually realizing that he is asleep in the dream of a greater, ancient being that dreamed an entire island into existence on the open sea. And I’d think to myself, way before the Historia ever came, that this was more the Adventure of Link than Zelda II, and its cool side-scrolling uneven linear weirdness, had ever been.

Way before I knew about artificial intelligence attaining consciousness, or awakening — far before dealing with Mother 2 and its Magicant that we barely missed out on in North America, I just felt that quest of Link encountering all the strange entities that made up his dreaming mind: his hopes, his humour, his play, his fears, and his pain. I mean, can you imagine being someone knowing that you will always have to save a princess? That she will never really be safe? That no matter what you do, you will have to go out there, or your kids, or spiritual successors will need to head out and fight the demons and the monstrosities that you can never fully quell? After a while, if you were that character — if that kind of character had a consciousness — the cycle would all seem so utterly meaningless.

But I think what made me really stop playing Link’s Awakening, was Marin.

Zelda isn’t the only girl you meet in the Zelda series. From Malon to Princess Ruto of the Zoras to Nabooru and her questionable gifts to helpful little boys … to Midna and her clever little games that lead to her true nature, all of them were interesting. And sometimes you had to save some of them, or fight alongside another, or do a quest for them. And whatever else, they always wanted something from Link.

Even now, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that. That’s just life really, miniaturized and making you see just how things are. But Marin is … she was different. At the beginning of Awakening, Marin is the one that saves you. She nurses you back to health at her and her father Tarin’s hut. She sings songs in the Animal Village and it’s her song that helps you progress past the Walrus. And all you have to do, in exchange, is spend time with her. That’s it. You fool around with her in Mabe Village, falling down a well, playing the Trendy Game, and eventually talking on the side of the beach where she found you the first time … and you almost talk about real feelings.

Even when you do have to save her on Tal Tal Heights, she almost tells you something important: something that isn’t part of waking up the Wind Fish. By the time the game is almost over, she will teach you “The Ballad of the Wind Fish” and ask that you remember her when you leave the Island, as she will never forgive you if you forget her.

Of course, you always discover the truth: that Koholint Island was created from the dream of an ancient and powerful being known as the the Wind Fish, and that once the Nightmares keeping it asleep are defeated, it will awaken and the Island and everyone on it will cease to exist.

In the end, when I look back on the game now Marin, the girl who saved Link, and never asked anything from him aside from spending some time with her … also never existed. At least Midna exists somewhere in the Twilight Realm. In many ways for Link, it’s so much worse than someone you love being dead, than not being in the same reality anymore, than your Princess even being in another Castle.

I’m a lot older now, obviously, since the first time I played this game … since even the first couple of times I played it. I can refer, roughly, to a Japanese sentiment of mono no aware: an understanding of the beauty of sadness in the transitory nature of things. I can also go into some Classical Western thought and look at a woman representing the wisdom that a man gains when he ultimately loses her, especially by his own hand: as Link did when he beat all Eight Nightmares, and used the song that Marin taught him to awaken the Wind Fish.

Yeah. Even now, I’m still not comfortable with either thought: that Marin had to cease to exist, that she had never existed, so that Link could complete his own awakening as a whole person away from Zelda … before, you know, presumably returning to Hyrule and reaffirming the cycle all over again. Hell, Marin even looked like Zelda, when it comes right down to it.

That was my final koan, really, as we all finished high school. What did it mean when you met someone — when Link meets someone who helps him, who just wants to spend time with him in exchange and ends up never existing? Is gaining and losing someone like her the only way he could be free? And was he truly free? I used to dream about it, at times, even when I fell asleep in front of my laptop playing the “Sword Search” theme of Link’s Awakening: the song making me think of a Link who had gone old and grey, who’d retired from adventuring, who had put the Master Sword away for his successors, and dozed on his front porch remembering bygone days when he was a hero and he persevered, and had many quests. I wondered if sometimes, in his sleep, he thought about a seagull singing her song across the world. I wondered if, in his sleep, he ever murmured her name, after all that time.

I was a very angry kid back then. Like I said, the game was never nostalgic. For me, it always reminded me of the present. And when the present became the past after a while, and I got tired of playing and watching playthroughs past 5 am, I put the game away, and moved onto other things.

The thing about a game is that when it frustrates you, it generates the opposite of a Zen state. And it’s in that negativity, when you can’t solve that part, that sometimes you need to step away and do something else for a while. Maybe one day, after I’ve played some other games, I will return to this one, searching across an invisible shore, an ephemeral beach. And maybe then, I’ll finally find the answer.

Alternative Facts: An Alternate Perspective On You and I

This is one of my first Mythic Bios revisits today. I said before that I didn’t conduct my examination of Alternative Facts in order. And now, to complicate things even further, I realized I actually forgot some things and instead of adding them to my previous entry, I thought about it, and came to the decision that these elements deserve their own.

In my last article, I mentioned how the first draft of “Lost Words” didn’t really work. The spirit of it was there, but it wasn’t really direct. I wrote about a few reasons why it had issues, and while most of them were structural and still trying to figure out what they were beyond a gimmick or two, there is one major change between the first and the succeeding drafts.

The first draft of “Lost Words” was actually in first-person. The narrator, who was a student academe, was talking to their teacher. They are separate from the reader, they and their teacher at the Freed Dome. The entire situation is outlined for the reader through the dialogue and some small description on the part of the narrator. In a way, they are basically telling you what is going on more than anything and as I said in my “Alternative Facts” analysis, it is a more “Gee Willikers this is the World, Batman” dynamic and feeling more than anything else. In other words, it felt cheap. It felt like, as I said before, a gimmick to sell one idea. And some of that is fair as I never thought there would be an interconnected story after this until a friend of mine said all but said they wanted to see a story about the Repos that survived their official disbandment and their exile from the main State of Amarak.

The first draft wasn’t even a Word Document. It was an inline text email that I’d sent to my girlfriend at the time, and then my friend a few months later after we reconnected. To be honest, I even forgot about what literary perspective I used. For a while, I even thought I wrote it in third person limited perspective because there were two characters having dialogue with one another. Talk about degrees of separation and cognitive dissonance: thoughts that are appropriate given the title of the series, and the times that has inspired it.

I don’t remember why I chose to rewrite it, and then rewrite and write the succeeding stories in second person perspective. Second person perspective is not a common literary narrative point of view. It is the kind of thing you would expect in a Choose Your Own Adventure book, or a video game, or the post-card fiction I was told about by my World Literature teacher back in Grade 13 or OAC. I thought it interesting, and I played with it when I designed Twine narratives and even some of my own Choose Your Own Adventure and Roleplaying Game experiments back in the day.

But as I planned to hone the story down … you see, it’s clever. Not me, but … one of those age-old exercises you always get in literary classes is to determine what narrative perspective you are using. And even as I reviewed my stories for this article, I see how tricky it is. Technically, “Lost Words” is first-person perspective. However … the narrator is talking to an audience. They are talking to you.

It isn’t as clear, perhaps, in the first story but from “Freedom” and onward, while there is an “I,” there is also a “You.” Certainly, Alternative Facts stories like “View From the Badlands” and “Beyond the Wall” actually have specific narrator characters, and the others have a clearly delineated group talking to the reader-audience, to you, but that is just it, isn’t it? It feels as though they are talking to someone. There is always a you in this narrative.

Even in “Lost Words,” there is a general “you” when the narrator talks about their research into the past. This tenuous link between the first and second perspectives in the narrative, arguably and from my obviously “unbiased” opinion, makes it so that you aren’t only watching an interaction, or passively having the information revealed to you. The idea is that you are involved in the process. You are supposed to be immersed in this world, through this pronoun become a verb. You aren’t separate from it. This isn’t another place or another time. And even if it is, you are there with them: actively discovering this.

Of course, you have to suspend your disbelief or pique your interest to do this little bit of roleplaying. You can remind yourself that you aren’t in this. That you are beyond it. But as I think more about it, in this convoluted way, given the subject matter about politics and horror, and the movement of a world, what is the difference between “I” and “you.” I refers to one’s self, but when “you” is used it refers to another. It can be exclusionary, but it can also be inclusive, an invitation, a realization that one is — that you — aren’t separate, but rather in the same place. Maybe not in the same situation, but you have that invitation to being invited to being a part of the story, to even the illusion of actively exploring it.

I’m looking at what I’ve written already, and I wonder if there was any point to it: if I have actually communicated anything worthwhile at all. I suppose, if I really look at it, the way that Alternative Facts takes “I” and “you” sometimes makes them distinct, but also makes the boundaries between them finer … almost erasing them entirely. It takes some doing to see where one ends and the other begins, to see which one is true, and which one is not. It gets muddy, and a bit unsettling even to talk about: and not just because of the strange hodge-podge language.

And maybe that is the point. Or something.

Steven Universe: From My Crystal Heart

Spoiler Warning: There are series spoilers in the body of this article. Reader’s discretion is advised. 

As of this writing, I just finished watching the latest series of episodes of Steven Universe: in the Heart of the Crystal Gems arc. And, I think, this is an article for the fans.

I’ve written about Steven Universe, and the Crystal Gems elsewhere. It is a show very close to my heart. I wouldn’t have seen it coming, really. It is a children’s cartoon show with some very elemental illustration, brightly coloured animation, musical sequences, and humour. It is also a show with depth, character development, and world-building that slowly builds into some excellent storytelling. It talks about feelings. Some people might scoff, or laugh about feelings, but emotions are complex things, and Steven Universe doesn’t skim over that fact.

It is a show that starts off as a Magical Girls trope subverted into a story about ancient extraterrestrial mineral beings — sentient Gems that can take humanoid, feminine form — dealing with the aftermath of rebelling against an intergalactic conqueror empire with which they belonged, the horrors of war, the consequences of secrets and regrets, while also eating strange food, dealing with the zany humans of Beach City, misunderstanding human customs in ridiculous ways, and singing about their feelings: how happy they are, how sad they are, how angry they are, how afraid they are, and how it is all right to feel all those emotions: loss, pain, humour, and joy.

I have also stated elsewhere that it is a show about relationships. This is shown with how they deal with humans and their environment, but also how the Gems deal with each other: and how they Fuse. Fusion is something of a Go, Go Power Rangers mechanic where they combine together to form a whole new being to fight against monsters. But even as the show questions what monsters really are, what evil is, what good is, it also looks at the mentality of Fusion: of Fusion as an extended metaphor for intimate relationships.

Garnet, the leader of the Crystal Gems, is a Fusion and emblematic of the entire theme of the show: made all the more apparent by recent events in the series of just how inspirational she truly is. She is the Fusion of a prophetic Sapphire, and a short-tempered Ruby. And you watch as she works well, as she falls apart, as she recombines, as she is two people who after thousands of years is still getting to each other and the expression of love: the action, the living verb that is Garnet.

And the show makes no bones about it. What Garnet is, this almost permanent state of Fusion often taken once and a while, or between Gems of one kind for purposes of war or building, is not the norm. It is an exception. Not the love, of course. Love can manifest in different ways, among different beings.

And watching hem recently deal with another hurdle in their Fusion, in their reason to Fuse, in their relationship made me think about something.

Sometimes, you don’t always keep your Garnet. Sometimes you don’t always find your Sapphire and everything you think you know will happen, doesn’t … or you ignore the fact that you know what will happen, because you just don’t want to know. Sometimes you don’t find your Ruby, and that place of spontaneity and bravery amid the humility that keeps something so truly special.

I suppose that is a misnomer, however. I think what I mean is when sometimes you don’t find your Ruby or your Sapphire, when I say you don’t always keep your Garnet what I am really saying is that sometimes your Ruby and Sapphire doesn’t stay.

It can be different, of course. Sometimes you are Ruby and Sapphire, and Garnet. And sometimes you are a Garnet that has fun with an Amethyst, or a Garnet that lets a Pearl Fuse with her sometimes, or offers to show a ridiculous Peridot how to Fuse and places no pressure either which way.

But sometimes you do not stay Fused. Sometimes you have to separate. Sometimes it is just temporary as you talk outside the action that is Garnet. Sometimes you have to deal with other Gems, other people. Sometimes you have deal with the fact that you are other people too, or that there are other people that make up the totality of you. Sometimes you come back together, stronger than you were before.

Sometimes, you don’t.

Sometimes you are a Rose Quartz that doesn’t want to keep secrets, but doesn’t know how to do anything more and just as you stay with your Pearl, you find many others in your life before losing yourself to the experience, the dynamic, each time. Sometimes you are that Pearl waiting for your Rose Quartz to come back to you. Sometimes you are that Pearl pining for a Rose Quartz that will not — that cannot — come back.

Or you’re a cranky flustered Peridot that is used to the way things are, and you don’t see how lucky you are to meet other Rebels who can show you how life is, and that they will actually stay with you. Sometimes you are that Lapis Lazuli that’s been hurt and you flee the prospect of more pain while taking the barn, and the knick-knacks, while viewing the life that you left behind, that went on without you, that is going on without you on the Moon: missing it always.

You could also be that Bismuth whose Gem is inverted, and you try to do the right thing while always feeling a bit of loneliness while engrossing yourself in your work. Or, you’re that Jasper. You know the one: the one that feels like you have to prove yourself to everyone, and you wonder why you can’t hold a Fusion each time.

Or you’re a Diamond and you are hard and unyielding in your rules and strictures, but even the hardest heart can shatter under the right circumstances.

Perhaps the best thing to be, though and in retrospect, is an Amethyst. Sometimes you still don’t know what’s going on, but you don’t always care, and you just go with it until you realize that your one thousand year baggage is your own, and that you change yourself for only one person: you.

Mind you, being an Off Color — for all Gem society rejects it or hunts you down — can be fun too. You can all be freaks together, and who knows? Maybe you might become part of a great, old, chosen family of Fusion like a Fluorite, if you are brave enough, and if that is who you really are.

It’s easy, given that  Padparadscha Sapphire’ retrovision is 20/20, to look back and see the point where your foundation or body can vanish, or where you shatter, or whether or not you should have eaten all that garbage as Amethyst … or overeaten those Cookie Cat ice cream cookies that were so full of love that they made the Gem on your body, that makes up your very being, shine.

I don’t suppose there is a point to any of this. There never is. I’ve lost a lot of things over the years. Some I’d seen coming. Some I did not. Some I wish I hadn’t. You don’t always get to keep your Sapphire. You don’t always get to keep your Ruby. And Garnet, under most circumstances, never stays forever. That state of being, that insulated bubble and the barn with the weird art pieces and the animated Pumpkin entity pet can’t always be there in that current form.

Yeah. If you haven’t watched the show yet, that is a whole long, other story.

I don’t cry as much these days. But I do when I watch this show. It lets me. It’s appropriate when I do. Every time, especially now. I never thought it would have gotten into my life as much as it has. Under my skin. Into my heart. If only people were like the Gems, or even the people of Beach City where problems can always be solved through talking, and no one has to be that Jasper who sucks as Fusion forever.

But I think, as long as Steven Universe exists … as long as shows like it exist and the people that create them continue to possess this form of empathy — a strength of compassion and emotional depth — even if I never Fuse again, even if I feel disembodied, or broken, or flawed, or shattered, or “not made right” like an Off Color … even if I have to be alone like a moping Peridot, or a sad Lapis Lazuli just knowing something like it exists out there, like a Garnet who is almost always Fused and actually marries after over five thousand years honestly?

I can live with that. Despair, perhaps I am stronger than you, like an Amethyst on some Cookie Cat.

Or, you know: this lucky, awesome guy who has grown so much.