by David Lopez
I didn't meet the seventh sage until the day my son was born. Holding Lawson in my arms for the first time was the moment I realized he was the last piece of the puzzle I had been waiting for to complete my journey.
I grew up in Thousand Oaks, California, a suburb about an hour north of Los Angeles, where my parents sacrificed everything to give me the best childhood they possibly could. My father, an immigrant from Mexico City, and mother always provided what we needed but not always what we wanted. My dad worked seven days a week as an entrepreneur in the house-cleaning business, and he often wouldn’t get home until 8:30 p.m. My mom was in the sales industry for a local mailer business and did fairly well (that all changed in 1998 when the internet started to become a bigger player in the advertising world).
When I was nine years old, they surprised my brother and me with a Nintendo 64 for Christmas. I can still remember jumping up and down and screaming in excitement with my brother. Alongside the game console were two rented games from Blockbuster: Super Mario 64 and The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time (my brother and I had to do chores for a month and a half before our allowance reached a point where we could buy our own copy of Ocarina of Time).
That’s when my passion for the Zelda franchise-- and Ocarina of Time especially–really started.
I now can beat The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time without even thinking about the process. Gone are the child-like wonder and the difficulties of a first-time play-through as a kid (curse you, Water Temple!), yet with those pleasures erased, I’ll still find myself dueling Ganondorf out of a sense of obligation to Link. I’m always hoping I’ll unlock some alternate ending where Link gets to be the hero in a timeline where he is present for the celebration in Hyrule and can enjoy the fruits of his labor.
I’ve completed the game at least 20 times, and, as of yet, I’ve unlocked no such sequence. Link is still sent into a personal purgatory by Zelda where he is burdened with the knowledge of his journey, but no one around him understands the sacrifice he made for Hyrule. In this sense, Link is the ultimate hero.
The magnitude of Link’s journey always hits me after completing the Forest Temple. Seeing Kokiri Forest infested with Ganondorf’s monsters always puts a rage inside me as the player, but that anger subsides after defeating Phantom Ganon and allowing the Deku Tree Sprout to be born. Traveling back to the Temple of Time, we see Sheik, who steps away from the Pedestal of Time to allow Link to travel between his childhood and adult timelines–this is when Link’s sacrifice becomes even more real to me. He has the ability to access an easier time, but instead he accepts his destiny to be the Hero of Time. He sacrifices himself, regardless of the cost, to rid the land he loves of evil.
The first time I played this game, I was an impressionable nine-year-old boy who was beginning his own journey into adolescence. The truth is, as an adult, my world view was shaped by the hours I spent leading Link across Hyrule and through time to fulfill a promise to Zelda: defeat Ganondorf and save Hyrule. Ocarina of Time taught me that doing the right thing doesn’t always give you the best result. Link doesn’t do what he does because he believes there’s a prize at the end of the journey: he accepts his destiny as a hero and pursues that calling from the moment he sees the Great Deku Tree perish.
I grew up playing sports, and I was the typical team player. I didn’t have to be told the sport was about elevating those around me and not elevating myself. Link’s approach has served me as a working adult as well. I work in the struggling print newspaper industry, and I’ll do anything within my power to help our company stand out. I work for a small media company in Ventura County called the Acorn Newspapers. We’re family owned and have fewer than 40 employees, and we do a lot more than our size might suggest we’re capable of. Journalism as a whole is under siege from big media companies coming and purchasing newsrooms and stripping them of their identities.
Every time I sit down and design a feature, I look at a poster of Link I have hanging over my monitor and take the extra time to tell our subjects’ stories properly, not just the quickest and easiest way. Journalism as an industry is falling short because too many newsrooms are being instructed to do the quickest work and not the best work. That’s a battle for Hyrule that hasn’t been won yet, but every day I can sit at my desk and work on telling my community’s stories, I feel grateful.
Where I’ll be eternally grateful for Link’s lessons is the real-world application of becoming a father. My household is now my Hyrule, and I’ll sacrifice anything to maintain its glory. When we found out we were having our child at the beginning of the pandemic, I walked away from the Deku Tree and accepted my destiny. I was scared, and I wasn’t prepared–but I headed for the castle anyway. As time has progressed, I’ve met my own sages and figured out how to use their powers as mine to become greater than I ever imagined I could be.
My wife, Danica, was the first sage that was awakened in my life. Then it was my own father and mother, brother, and best friends, Richard and Andrew. These were people I could lean on and talk to about what I was about to encounter. Their support meant the world to me and let me know I didn’t have to do this all alone. I didn't meet the seventh sage until the day my son was born. Holding Lawson in my arms for the first time was the moment I realized he was the last piece of the puzzle I had been waiting for to complete my journey.
I often think of this quote by Sheik: “The flow of time is always cruel; its speed seems different for each person, but no one can change it. A thing that does not change with time is a memory of younger days.”
My parents conquered their Hyrule when I was 11; my mom went back to school to become a school teacher. They had had to sacrifice for us, but they finally made it to a place where they could be more comfortable. What I remember about my childhood is what I hope my son remembers of his: the love of a family. My mom never enjoyed that I played video games, but I hope when she reads this she understands that the gift she gave us when I was nine shaped me in ways she probably never imagined. Ocarina of Time is a big part of the lens I use when I look back on my childhood and a bigger part of how to perceive Lawson’s future.
That’s why I’m still hunting for the alternate ending for Link. Unlike him, I defeated Ganondorf in my own life and can enjoy the rewards of a saved Hyrule. My biggest regret is that I can’t give that to Link.
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