I’m not yet finished with The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword and I make a point not to formally review anything that I haven’t finished, so consider this a critique. It’s a critique born of the unorthodox way that I’m playing the game, which is itself the reason that I haven’t finished it yet. For reasons I’m still unclear on, my wife Hanah has expressed interest in Skyward Sword, so we’re doing a quasi-cooperative playthrough. We hand the controller back and forth, I offer hints, and we generally try to stay at about the same level of progress on our respective saves. We make an odd couple: I’m a grizzled Zelda veteran whose played video games his whole life, while Hanah’s a relative novice to the series and more casual devotee to the medium. It’s an unorthodox way to play the game, one that’s driven me towards an unsettling realization: neither one of us is all that happy with the game. This raises the question: Who is Skyward Sword’s audience?
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After five days trapped between an eight hundred pound boulder and a canyon wall, dying of extreme thirst and malnutrition, Aron Ralston amputated his own arm with a dull two inch pocket knife. Carrying out this impromptu surgery took time and tenacity. Ralston first broke his radius and ulna and then carved and chipped away at his tissue and tendons for about an hour before pulling himself free. Then, in a state of delirium, Ralston rappelled down a 65-foot wall and walked out of the canyon.
Since Ralston’s agonizing ordeal, he has become an inspirational speaker, and for good reason—it takes a uniquely strong person to survive the impossible. Yet according to Ralston, the exact opposite is true. You, yes, you, my humble reader, would chop off your own arm too if you had to. In fact, Ralston’s story is so compelling for this exact reason. It forces us to ask ourselves, would I be capable of such a seemingly inhuman feat? Could I really confront the pain and horror of self-amputation and survive? In his award nominated film 127 Hours, which is based on Ralston’s experience, Danny Boyle answers with a resounding yes. Boyle punctuates Ralston’s escape with a shot of ancient paintings on a canyon wall and a montage of people celebrating, running, swimming, and generally living. Instead of exalting Ralston, he places him within a long history of human accomplishment, a representative of the spirit that we each have to endure and overcome immense challenges. The film is a triumphant celebration of human tenacity.
Since their inception, the sensations of empowerment that games have evoked in their audience only slightly mirror the universal humanity depicted in Boyle’s work. How many millions of player have faced ostensibly insurmountable odds and overcome? How many of us have, at least, defeated the boss or safely navigated a level? Time and again, we have all become heroes. We certainly share that much in common. But too often our heroics are born of something entirely nonhuman. Our champions may possess innate powers, gifts from gods, talking swords, magical incantations, or numerous otherworldly endowments. Few video game characters represent very well both the frailty and fortitude of mankind evidenced in Ralston’s experience.
It seems that reports of Shigeru Miyamoto’s retirement have been greatly exaggerated. Last week, an excerpt from Wired‘s extended interview with Miyamoto set off a brief panic amongst players and stockholders. Thanks to a combination of translation issues, alarmism, and poor reading comprehension, the prospect of Miyamoto’s impending retirement loomed large. Nintendo quickly put the kibosh on the speculation (as well as the stock dip fueled by such speculation) by reassuring the world that: “He has no intention of stepping down. Please do not be concerned” (Isabel Reynolds, “Nintendo denies report games designer Miyamoto to retire”, Reuters, 8 December 2011).
Everything is fine and nothing will change. Miyamoto’s not going anywhere. Nintendo would have us think this and dedicated fans want to believe this, but it’s only half true. Things have already changed. Miyamoto has been preparing for his late-career period for some time. Even so, we shouldn’t be concerned.
While strolling along the vast expanse of wilderness between Skyrim’s major settlements, I chanced upon two mages dueling each other to the death. One was a fire mage, the other a frost mage. After killing them both (they were hostile, I promise), I took a moment to marvel at the consistency of it all. Here, in the middle of nowhere, I encountered something that I might have easily missed: a continuation, perhaps, of an eternal feud between fire and ice. While this duel might otherwise appear as a scripted event for my benefit, the fire/ice battle in a frozen landscape instead enriches the world of Skyrim. While the picturesque landscape and Nordic atmosphere constructs the environment, logic lays the foundation for an enveloping, albeit precarious, form of world building.
Even though we’re in the thick of new release season, I’ve been spending a lot of time thinking about a ten-year-old game. Of course, Ico isn’t just any old game, and its recent HD remastering provides ample justification for replaying it. This time around, the critical distance and sharpened visuals gave me a fresh perspective on the game. After experiencing Ico again, its confidence in the player, stark environments, and mysterious story struck me as decisions that were as brave as they are artistic.