Breath of the Wild – Questions and Concerns

I’ve been playing Breath of the Wild slowly, only about one or two hours a night, and I’ve been focusing on working my way through the shrines. There may still be parts of the story that I’m missing, but so far I’ve seen a number of things in the game that make me go “Hey, this is 2017, why are we still doing this?”

For one thing, there are multiple queer-coded characters whose gender presentation seems to function primarily as a target for humor. I’m not saying that we shouldn’t poke fun at the gender binary, and I’m certainly not saying that over-the-top gay camp silliness isn’t wonderful, but it would be nice if there were more normalized queerness to go along with the jokes.

It’s also really cool that people of all races and genders are in love with Link, and it’s cool that Link is totally okay with this, but the insistence of the game designers that he is male still rubs me the wrong way. For some reason it’s okay to queerbait a shark boyfriend (fish pun totally intended) with boy Link, but heaven forbid that Mipha or Princess Zelda becomes romantically attracted to girl Link. Ditto for Link dressing up as a Gerudo – couldn’t it have worked just as easily for female Link to have needed to wear special clothing?

I’m also fascinated by the gender politics of Gerudo society. If there are male Gerudo, why don’t we see more of them? It’s fun to joke about how a homosocial society finds heteronormativity strange, but I think that it would have been super interesting to see how that plays out for the male minority.

And speaking of the male minority, I definitely want to know what happened with Ganondorf. Was he the reason the Gerudo ditched the whole “the one male born in a hundred years becomes king” tradition? It’s kind of a bummer that, while the Hylians have a long history that affects their actions and worldview, the Gerudo seem ahistorical. If the Hylians have been able to transmit information about Ganon from generation to generation, why would the Gerudo have forgotten about Ganondorf? Since they have their own language, don’t they have their own books? Why is their history given less weight than the history of the Hylians?

Before the game came out, I was beyond excited that the Gerudo were making another appearance. After all, it’s 2017, and Nintendo has demonstrated greater sensitivity to global diversity (in terms of race, ethnicity, gender, sexuality, disability, and so on) for the past several years. The amount of time and care the Breath of the Wild development team was putting into the game made me optimistic that they were devoting significant attention to rectifying the boring and ugly tropes formerly allowed to pass because of technical limitations and the relative lack of conversation surrounding the Zelda series. The more I actually play the game, however, the more I’m becoming frustrated with various aspects of the worldbuilding and storytelling.

Specifically, Breath of the Wild could have been much more sensitive regarding its portrayal of transgender issues, and I don’t think it would have hurt the game if there had been some solid LGBT+ representation. Also, it’s more than a little disturbing that the theme of gendered otherness is conflated with racial otherness, and if I never have to see another Orientalist stereotype of a harem outfit presented unironically for the viewer/player’s pleasure then I can die happy.

It’s a bit weird to see “legitimate” and generally fairly progressive venues like The New Yorker hail Breath of the Wild as being “a perfect game.” I can’t help but wonder if perhaps it’s not being unduly rewarded for reflecting the interests of “serious” (typically white male) gamers while the vocal demands made by a number of groups overwhelmingly marginalized in mainstream gaming journalism were ignored, even when they were repeatedly made directly to the developers in interviews. Journalists have basically been like, “Breath of the Wild is everything that the sort of people who read and write for ‘serious’ gaming publications like Edge magazine think a good game should be,” all the while amplifying the voices of a small and very specific group of gamers. Meanwhile, it’s apparently not worth discussing that the story and visual imagery of Breath of the Wild actively reinforce stereotypes that harm real people.

I am head over heels in love with Breath of the Wild, and I really appreciate how the game gives the player a sense of moving through a huge open world. I just really wish the story elements were as expansive and as carefully considered as the gameplay.

( Header image by Nicole Busse on Tumblr )

Breath of the Wild – Initial Impressions

I’ve really been enjoying Breath of the Wild.

To be honest, I wasn’t crazy about the game when I first started playing, as the “go anywhere and do anything” mode of gameplay can be a bit overwhelming at the beginning. Now that I’ve put a solid two months of my life into this game, however, I can say that I’m having a crazy amount of fun with Breath of the Wild. It’s everything that I’ve ever enjoyed about the Zelda series in terms of adventure and exploration and the thrill of discovery. The player is free to go off on her own in any direction, but there’s just enough guidance to ensure that you’re never going to be completely lost or unsure of what to do next. In other words, I think the game developers were able to create a perfect balance between creative direction and player agency.

Breath of the Wild is deep and rich and full of cool things to interact with, and it’s saturated with color and charm and humor that ranges from stupid dad puns to surprisingly clever sex jokes. It’s also been breaking my heart with its sheer beauty, with the music and lighting effects being especially phenomenal.

My favorite thing about the game is that it’s filled with plants and animals in a vibrant and interconnected set of ecosystems. Link can ride around on a horse all day hunting and fishing and collecting mushrooms and herbs, and it never gets boring. Whatever you chose to do (or not do), the game will reward you by being an absolute joy to play.

Because Breath of the Wild is so rewarding, I think I’ve become more disciplined about playing it than I’ve ever been about anything in my life.

Don’t get me wrong – the game doesn’t feel like work, but it does require mental energy. It’s not difficult, exactly, but it requires that you be fully engaged with the diegetic environment. Sometimes when I get home in the evening I just want to take a bath and read for a bit and go to sleep, but I’ve been forcing myself to sit down on the couch and turn on the Wii U so that I can get just a little farther in Breath of the Wild.

Every night I try to play through at least one shrine. Shrines are puzzle-based mini-dungeons, and since they’re hidden all over the world (often in dangerous areas) locating and then being able to access a shrine is often a major task. There are 120 shrines in the game, and some of them are significantly more difficult than others.

If I can, I’ve also been trying to complete or at least trigger one sidequest a day. Some of these are basic fetch quests, while others encourage the player to venture out into the world and investigate strange phenomena far off the beaten path. I have seen some extremely strange and interesting things in this game, and I don’t think I’ve covered even half of the map yet.

Meanwhile, I haven’t gotten very far in the main quest at all. The overarching story (such as it is) is told through a series of flashback sequences, and I watched them all on Youtube a day or two after the game came out. I mean, this game really isn’t about story. There’s a princess who wants to be a hero, but because she’s a girl and doesn’t have The Phallus Of Destiny her job is to sit in the castle and wait for the hero to save her. Some story, right? Aside from some of the randomly dropped weapons becoming incrementally more powerful, nothing in the game really changes if the player completes one of the dungeons, so I’m saving them for when I get around to it.

For the time being, my goals in the game are to make Link (1) rich, (2) swol, (3) fashionably dressed, and (4) a certified master chef, and I am making good progress. When I walk in on Ganon in Hyrule Castle, I want him to be impressed.

Even though I must have put well over sixty hours into Breath of the Wild, the game still feels infinite. Its plot and background information is offered to the player in such small fragments that people will probably still be trying to put everything together years from now. I have some major concerns about the story, but it’s easy to put them aside and just have fun in the wide open world.

( Header image from Daniel Shaffer on Tumblr )