During the 1930s and 1940s families would gather around the radio to listen to their favorite programs together. They’d listen to shows like Abbott and Costello, Dragnet, and The Shadow. The most infamous of these programs probably being H.G Well’s The War of the Worlds which convinced the country that we were under attack from an alien invasion. Then during the late 40s and into the 50s, television began to take center stage in people’s living rooms. Families once again would come together to enjoy their favorite shows, but this time it was The Ed Sullivan Show, The Honeymooners and Gunsmoke that demanded their attention.
Television remained the centerpiece of most living rooms for decades, when I was growing up in the 80s my brothers and I would plop down on the floor while mom and dad sat on the couch and we’d watch The Dukes of Hazard or Knight Rider. TV shows were something you scheduled your entire evening around, if you missed your favorite show when it was airing live there was a pretty good chance that you’d never see that episode at all. But those days are gone now. With the advent of DVR the need to remember when a show aired disappeared completely, we’d just look at the shows as they collected on the hard drive and choose when and what to watch. And in recent years, the popularity of Netflix and other streaming services meant that you could skip entire seasons of a show and still be able to catch up on what you missed.
The era of the whole family gathering around the television (or radio) for the evenings entertainment seems to be quickly becoming a relic of the past. We still have family movie nights at our house on a fairly regular basis, but on your run of the mill weeknight after dinner it’s not uncommon to see everyone watching a different show on separate devices in different rooms. It seems kind of cold as I write it, but modern electronics have made it easy for everyone to enjoy their own entertainment without arguing over which show to watch. With how segmented our evenings had become, I was surprised recently when something started drawing us all together again onto that couch to enjoy something as a family.
The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild for the Nintendo Switch is undoubtedly a game that most of you have already read or heard plenty about if you follow the games industry with any regularity. It’s one of the best games to come out in recent years and will probably go down as possibly the best Zelda title ever released. It takes the familiar characters and themes from past games in the series and places them in a beautiful, Miyazaki-esque open world where you are given an impressive amount of freedom to explore and progress at your own pace. When I first played the game I knew it would be a classic, what I didn’t know was how engrossed the rest of my family would become with it.
I’ve been telling my daughter Zelda bedtime stories since she was a toddler, so she’s been familiar with the characters for awhile, but the last major Zelda title to come out was 2011’s Skyward Sword, so she really doesn’t have any memories of the games themselves. The evening of the midnight release of the Switch she looked up at me as she was getting ready for bed and asked “You’re not going to play Zelda tomorrow without me, are you?” … well, I WAS. But how in the hell am I supposed to do that now?? So like a good dad I waited until the next day when everybody was home and we had eaten dinner, then we all went downstairs to the family room and started the game. I played for an hour or so while everybody looked on, and while everyone was interested in those first few hours, it wasn’t until the game opened up and the enormity of the world became apparent that it really sunk it’s claws into us.
Over the course of that weekend we spent several hours with the game. The kids would keep an eye out for shrines in the distance or something in the environment that would hint at a nearby Korok seed, and my wife would help me figure out any puzzles that had me stumped. While I was usually the one holding the controller, we were definitely playing the game together. Once Monday came, everyone went back to school and work and went about our usual busy routines. Later that evening though it became apparent that the game had really stuck with us all throughout the day. When the girls came skipping off of the bus that afternoon, Chloe jumped through the front door and exclaimed “I figured it out!”. After I stared at her confused for a moment she clarified “I figured out the puzzle with the trees on top of the mountain!“. Yes it turns out that not only had my daughter spent the day trying to figure out puzzles from the game, she even recruited her teacher to help her solve the riddles.
At dinner my wife threw me an even bigger curveball when she told the kids that if they ate good, did their homework, and put on their pajamas, their might be time to play some more Zelda before bed. I sat there staring at my family as if I was suddenly in an episode of The Twilight Zone. This game had come into our home and not only taken over my brain (as expected), but my entire family as well. The girls shoveled down their brussel sprouts, cruised through their math problems, and jumped into their pajamas in record time. We retired again downstairs to what has become an almost nightly ritual of 30-60 minutes of Breath of the Wild at the end of the night.
For the first time in what seems like forever, we were spending our evenings doing something together! And it’s not just all four of us staring in silence while I play. We figure things out together, the kids yell at the Bokoblins and shout out when they see something I missed. My wife or I would read the text out loud so that our youngest could follow only withe story. The kids would draw pictures of the characters as they watched, play with their World of Nintendo Link and Zelda figures, and sculpt little Triforces out of Play Doh. Playing The Legend of Zelda had transformed from something I always used to do alone into our version of family time, just like when I was a kid and we were all huddled around the TV for Magnum P.I..
As my kids get older I really cherish these times when we can bond together over a shared love of something, I know that there are a finite number of those instances and one day I’ll look back wishing that I could have just a few more. I also know that spring is almost here and the nice weather will make it harder to justify hanging out in the basement during the evenings, so for now I’ll enjoy every moment of our time together in Hyrule. And the great thing about the Nintendo Switch is that when it is sunny and 80 degrees outside I can just take The Legend of Zelda with us to the park! (kidding….. maybe)