If I Only Knew Then

     Last week, Nintendo released Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening as one of the first purchasable titles in the 3DS Virtual Console. I haven’t played the game in years, and it has been really fun going back to the island of Koholint.
     But it seems that the game has also caused me a bit of unexpected attention. Not long after I started playing the game, and nostalgia started to creep up on me, I felt a gentle tap on my back.
     “Excuse me?” asked a quiet voice.
     Looking down, I saw a young boy clutching an original, chunky Game Boy system. “Yes?”
     “What are you playing?” I could see that he was eyeing the 3DS in my hands. Being such a new console, I wasn’t too surprised that it would be unrecognizable to some.
     “Oh! It’s like what you have,” I responded, glancing toward the classic handheld. “Just a slightly different model.”
     The boy nodded, taking this in. “Have you played Zelda?”

     I chuckled, turning my 3DS so that my little friend could see the screen, “I’m playing it right now, actually.”
     “Wow, it’s in color!” he exclaimed, taking in the sight of the familiar Mabe Village in colors that the original Game Boy just wasn’t capable of. “That’s so cool!”
     “Very cool, but it’s just as good in grayscale,” I nodded.
     “Yeah,” the boy replied, sounding apprehensive. “Do you think you could maybe help me?”
     “I can try! What has you stuck?”
     “Well, I’m in the forest but this raccoon guy keeps laughing at me and messing me up.”
     Wow, that wasn’t far in the game at all. “Ah, right. Well, what have you tried?”
     “Everything!” he said, a bit more confident from his frustration. “I tried using my sword, and going everywhere I can to find something to get rid of him, but nothing helps!”
     “Have you tried talking to him?”
     “Yeah, he just says something about making me lost.”
     “No, I mean actually talk to him,” I smiled, noticing the slightly blank look from my companion. “Video game characters – especially those who seem to be impeding your progress – hardly ever say things just for the heck of it. It’s usually a clue.”
     I watched him make his way back to the forest, “He says he’s sensitive to dust?”
     “And there’s your clue,” I smiled, watching a relieved smile grow on the boy’s face. He still wasn’t sure what the dust referred to, but he was happy to be on the right track.

     A few days passed without seeing him again. But then, unexpectedly, he ran up to me with a big grin on his face.
     “I did it!” he said, showing me the screen of his Game Boy, “I got the Tail Key!”
     “Good job! I knew you could figure it out!”
     “Yeah!” he nods, “But now I’m stuck again.”
     I chuckled, “Oh? Have you tried talking to everyone?”
     “Can you talk to the monsters?”
     “Um… not really.”
     “Then yes,” he said as he progressed the game to the screen he wanted me to see, “I can’t get past this door. I beat all the monsters, which usually opens the door, but it’s still closed.”
     “Ah, well, remember what I said about the characters? The same thing applies to the game environment.”
     Without saying anything, he looked down at his screen, trying to see what I meant. I knew exactly how his screen looked, so I continue, “See the pattern on the floor that isn’t anywhere else? And how the other blocks are arranged? It’s not a random flourish, there’s a purpose to it all.”
     He purposefully and methodically worked the controls until the unmistakable unlock chime floated into our ears, coaxing a grin from both of us.
     “Good job.”

     The next time I saw the young boy, he was a little less celebratory. In fact, he almost looked sheepish as he looked up at me. “I’m stuck again,” he admitted.
     “It’s all right,” I encouraged, “Have you played a game like this before?”
     He shook his head, “Tetris and Paperboy, but this is kinda challenging.”
     “Compared to those, it is a different sort of game, yes. So where are you stuck?”
     “I got to the Bottle Grotto, but as soon as I walk into the dungeon, I’m in a room where all the doors close, and I’m in the dark.”
     “Ah right, this one is more obvious than it seems—“
     “I tried killing the spinny thing,” he quickly added, “and trying to find the fire stick that the manual talks about to maybe light the torches. But… I think I may have a solution anyway.” His voice grew quiet and more guarded.
     “Oh?”
     He nodded, sitting closer to me so that I could watch the screen as he played, “If I walk into a room and then immediately hit Select to go to the map,” I watched, my heart beating a little faster, my stomach becoming unsettled, “then return to the game, I get teleported to the other side of the room!” His exclamation was muted, knowing full well that he was exploiting a bug in the game.
     Link was sitting unnaturally on the top of the wall opposite to the entrance. Tapping forward on the d-pad caused Link to fall forward into a room that shouldn’t exist – a room with four walls, no doors, no enemies – nothing at all.
     “If I could find a way to teleport to one of the walls that has a door to a real room, I’d be all set!”
     “How did you find out about this?” I tried to sound serious but not disappointed, even though I was.
     “It was on a TV show,” any pride he may have had from showing off this trick was now gone, “Someone was stuck and called the show for help.”
     “Wow,” I shook my head a bit, “You shouldn’t cheat. Trust me on this – it causes more harm than good.”
     “But I’m frustrated! Every time I solve something, I get stuck again right away with another puzzle!”
     “You’re just not used to this sort of game,” I smiled. “If you keep using that cheat, you’ll break the game’s carefully scripted flow – and ultimately break your ability to finish the game. You want to finish the game don’t you?”
     He nodded slowly.
     “I know you don’t have much experience with games like this, but you can’t get that experience unless you play them like they’re supposed to be played. And as you explore more games – which you will – these little tricks and hints become second nature.”
     “But it takes so long…”
     “Sometimes. But it gets easier as you progress, as you learn. And you will,” I reassured him, smiling confidently even though he looked doubtful. “You’ll learn.”

     You’ll learn.

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