The sun stretches itself up over the horizon, pouring its earliest rays across the Kokiri Forest. The Deku Tree, revered guardian of these woods and the children who inhabit them, implores Navi the fairy to seek out Link, the boy without a fairy, and to bring him with haste. Footsteps away, in the hollow of a tree, the boy sleeps alone, his past a mystery, his destiny about to unfold before him.
When he awakens, he will meet Navi the Fairy. He will travel to the Deku Tree, learn of a great evil poised to sweep across the land, discover he has a role in this story. He will venture into the depths of the Deku Tree, purge it of a malignant monster, but watch as the Tree perishes nonetheless. He will leave his forest home, stopped just long enough for a heartbreaking farewell, and his feet will know many worlds: castles, mountain ranges, tucked-away waters, graveyards, deserts –– time itself. The boy without a fairy will make friends, forge bonds with them through struggle and celebration, fight on their behalf, form families and lose them, too. He will rescue this land, Hyrule, a journey he was born to make.
But, for now, he sleeps, youthful dreams already tormented by images of dark clouds on the horizon, a boy with nothing to worry over but boyhood.
I grew up watching my older brother play video games: Final Fantasy. Legend of Zelda. Secret of Mana. Super Metroid. Donkey Kong Country. Super Mario. GoldenEye. For hours, eyes wide, I’d watch, colorful character navigating world after world. If I was lucky, TJ provided commentary, giving the characters dialogue in funny voices.
These are some of my fondest memories, time spent with him and those characters. I learned to read watching him play Final Fantasy, the magical Terra rescued by the
thief treasure hunter Locke from the mines of Narshe. I also fell in love with stories, the chance to explore cause and effect using the controller in my hands, my heart twisting with the rise and fall of music –– Edgar and Sabin grieving the loss of their father, Cyan avenging the murder of his wife and son, Relm rescuing her grandfather from hopelessness. These were big themes, perhaps, for such a young person, but I devoured them eagerly.
To this day, video game music can take me back to those afternoons, sitting on the floor with my older brother playing from the bed, laughing and arguing and choosing to spend the day together. Two brothers on an adventure, imaginations expanding. Sometimes, when I power up a game, I feel young again. Everything feels possible, and there are a hundred worlds waiting to be explored.
Christmas morning, and the wrapping paper had all been ripped free. My brothers and I were gathered in TJ’s room, shoving AA batteries into GameBoy Color spring, powering up our games for the first time: Pokémon Red (TJ), Blue (me), and Yellow (Jordan). We met Professor Oak, who stopped me and TJ just shy of wandering into the ‘dangerous grasses’ outside Pallet Town. (Jordan stepped out into it, and Professor Oak had to rescue him from a wild Pikachu.) Soon enough, TJ had his Charmander, I had my Squirtle, and Jordan was walking with Pikachu in tow.
We played like that for five hours, emphatically updating one another each time we discovered something new. TJ found a Jigglypuff, he told me, just outside of Mt. Moon! My Squirtle evolved into a Wartortle, and Jordan’s Pikachu was not holding up well in his first Gym battle. We were breathless, too excited to fully come back to Earth, and we were together.
I have flashes of this memory each time I see my nieces and nephew tearing at wrapping paper. Across the room, my older brother still fidgets when the room’s energy picks up, like it travels through him. My younger brother, pulling out a framed Ash and Pikachu picture from the bag I gave him, glances at me knowingly. Time stretches out before us, keeps us moving along and filling our days with worries we didn’t always have, but our hearts are always children, always searching for each other, always ready for breathless wonder.
Night in New York City, and there are a million places to be. I’m in my apartment, though, incandescent light melting over the room from the lamp in the corner. I’m sitting on the couch, running Samus through the planet Zebes for the fourth time since moving to the city, making perhaps better time this go-around. I am 786 miles from home, an Indiana man writing his story in this ever-stretching city, but –– for the moment –– I don’t feel far from home.
At times, I feel tugged to put my hands to work on better things. I should be writing, or reading, or grabbing coffee with someone I might one day love. And, at times, I give in.
But I’m coming to understand that these hours aren’t lost, but felt. I am engaging with stories, perhaps searching them for new meaning. I am testing my reflexes, strategizing against complex enemies, trying new tweaks to old formulas. My living room is bathed in music, signaling adventure or sorrow or love or panic. Monsters shriek from my television screen, characters gathering near to each other to join arms, and I feel gratitude for togetherness. By the light of a television screen, now and way back then, I am watching with wide eyes as stories unfold at my fingertips.