by Kevin Goodwin
A father reflects on the joy of adventure and playing video games with his young son.
All photos were taken by and provided by the author.
“And then you get to the end and there’s a Wind Fish, but it's a whale.”
I once overheard my son explain the above quote to another parent at the local park. He had only just turned 4 years old, and I could already tell that The Legend of Zelda was making an impact on him–and maybe it had always been impacting him in ways I didn’t truly understand.
Breath of the Wild came out right when he was born. So, as I started this incredible journey into fatherhood, I was also starting an amazing adventure in the Zelda series. That sense of not knowing what’s over the next hill in Breath of the Wild is a lot like trying to navigate the mysteries of parenthood: you never know what’s around the corner or what’s inside the next dirty diaper.
I have some amazing memories of holding a napping baby in my arms while playing the latest Zelda at the same time, and as I reflect on those times, I realize that there is a connection between the journey of parenthood and the journey these games can take you on. The journey can be tough, and it can be beautiful at the same time.
As my son got older, we started going on lots of adventures. My wife, he, and I find ourselves all over the city. Whether we are exploring local libraries, museums, parks, the zoo, or neighborhoods, there is always something to find and to explore. I often think of Zelda whenever I explore these spaces; there’s that idea of looking and searching and finding out something new. It's hard to replicate that in the real world, but when you have a small child leading the way, it makes it a little easier.
Then I decided to take the leap with my son and have him actually experience his first Zelda game. We borrowed a copy of the remake of Link’s Awakening from my nephew. I felt that the cute aesthetic would be perfect for him. Not only was it his first time experiencing this game, but it was also mine. I had never really played Link’s Awakening, so this would be a shared game between us we would play together.
Up until this point, he had mostly watched me play some games here and there. He knew who Mario was, he understood a bit of what Zelda was, and he saw some other games here and there on the Switch. So, we took the trip and explored that weird little island together. From the outset, we both loved the game. There was anticipation every time we sat down to play it together. It felt so good to realize that I was able to share something that I love (video games) with one of the most important people in my life.
He had so many questions about the game, the characters, and the items. He would get excited about boss battles and dungeons, but, at the same time, he loved the idea of just cutting the grass with the sword (which is something that I think all kids love). I remember doing the same thing in older Zelda games when I was younger–just cutting all the grass, breaking all the rocks, and checking on every nook and cranny in the game.
As adults, we sometimes don’t do that with games. I often feel like I need to rush through games or not take my time just tinkering and exploring, so it was nice to see a kid play a game with that infinite sense of time that they often have. We often think that the adult is leading the kid on these journeys, but those roles are reversed quite often with a game like Zelda. I will admit that I would try to control the game too often, and I remember my wife even telling me to let our son get a turn with the controller. I hope to get better with that as time goes on.
Letting kids take control (of anything) can be hard for a parent, and maybe Link’s Awakening was a perfect teaching tool for me. We eventually made it through the game and beat the final boss, and we pondered the strange ending. Then my son asked, “Can we play it again?” Sadly, we had to return the game to our relatives, but I was already thinking about what could be our next adventure.
We didn’t move onto another Zelda game right away, though; instead, I started to find other games for him to try out with me. I was no longer finding games for me to exclusively play while he watched. I wanted to find games that he would enjoy and could possibly play along with me. Mario Kart allowed for some nice accessibility options where he didn’t have to push any buttons on the controller and could just use tilt controls to move around the track. Games like Cat Quest, Paper Mario, Jump Rope Challenge, Ori and the Blind Forest and Will of the Wisps, Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater, and Untitled Goose Game were quick favorites. These were games that he could connect with and would often try controlling as best he could. He could be found running around playgrounds pretending to be Ori and garnering more attention from parents about his knowledge of video games instead of his peers.
This process is so different from how I was exposed to video games as a kid. My parents bought my sister and me an NES and then provided us with games, but they never really played with us. We played the games on our own and experienced them entirely with our friends in the neighborhood. I would guess that more and more it's the parents who are still buying the consoles and games, but I would also guess that more often the parents are also participating in the games (or, as in my case, are already playing the games and the kids actually join the parents). I feel good knowing that I get to introduce these games to my son, but I also see the benefit in letting kids discover things on their own. I cannot wait until he starts to choose his own games and experience things all on his own. As a parent in this era of time, it's a little hard to not show media too much to kids. I often fear that I speak too openly about certain games or plot points in Harry Potter or Star Wars when I should leave those things to be discovered by my son on his own. I do my best to not say too much whenever we play older games.
And that leads to our second Zelda game that we played together: Skyward Sword.
I actually never beat Skyward Sword when it was on the Wii. I owned it, but, like many people, I didn't really get into it. I loved the idea of getting the remaster and revisiting once again. My son was excited to have a “new” Zelda game to play. We played through the entire game together. He tried his best to play the game on his own. It was fun to see him start to understand the controller more and more. He loved the characters, he loved the art style, he loved the story, and he just loved everything about the game.
Kids are fun to play games with because they don’t read reviews and nitpick on things; they enjoy the game for what it is. They enjoy the adventure, and that’s what Zelda is all about–the adventure.
Being a dad is an adventure. The Legend of Zelda is also an adventure.
And there is magic in sharing an adventure with someone you love.
Kevin Goodwin is a guest writer for Another Zelda Podcast. Check out his first article, “Zelda in the Classroom.”