I’m going to cut to the chase here and assume you’ve played The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask. If you haven’t, please step onto the conveyor belt that will lead you off this article and into the repurposed car-compactor. Those of you who have, please try to ignore the compaction screams. I’ll be selling them in the back alley later as fleshy companion cubes. There’ll be tracking chips and cameras in them too. What do you mean it’s invasive? It’s DRM. It’s because people keep pirating fleshy companion cu- All right, all right, I’ll stop.
Majora’s Mask is the target this fortnight, and there are multiple themes I could explore in it. Friendship, with the skull kid and the giants, the temporary and mortal nature of things, what with the giant angry stone carving of Gabe Newell soaring towards Termina. Futility, in the way the strenuous heroics of Link amount to little. Despite these themes the game brilliantly explores, the reason I value this game semantically is because of the way it deals with misery.
There’s a pervasive feeling of emptiness in Majora’s Mask, accentuated by the way everything you change and fix reverses to its former state every seventy two hours. There’s an unmissable feeling of futility that grips the player, and while that’s incredibly powerful, it’s not what I mean by how the game explores misery. I don’t know about you, reader, but the strange feeling I got at the end of the game, after being confronted time and time again with frozen, shivering and lonely Gorons, was that this conclusion was somehow unsatisfactory.
Yes, I had saved Termina, I had ended all that suffering, but after being flashed with it time and time again this game taught me something about myself, and about misery. Majora’s Mask taught me that sometimes, merely solving a problem isn’t as satisfactory as you’d like. There’s some sadness out there that lingers even after it’s been resolved, which explains why the only thing I felt at the end of this game was, “This shouldn’t have happened in the first place”.
For some reason, I didn’t feel like celebrating that I had resolved these struggles. I didn’t feel wholly relieved that I had reunited the Goron child, for instance, with the Elder. I simply felt sad that they were ever separated in the first place. This game can give the player an eerie response to sadness, a grim feeling of responsibility that moved me from a “resolutionist” morality, as I’ll quickly term it, to a more holistic, all-encompassing realization.
So how would this translate to real-world morality? I feel that the majority of people hold the resolutionist point of view. Hey look! That Ismael guy just covered an infant in napalm in order to make a point about morality and plans to do it to more as well! But we stopped him, so it’s all OK! Never mind that there’s a kid burning in the corner, staring out at the world with agonized eyes, tears evaporating from his face as his flesh cooks, we saved the day! I don’t think this view is really good enough. It translates to things like natural disasters, where we look at just solving things rather than trying to prevent them from happening in the first place – as if it’s all right so long as we can fix it. I know it sounds grim, and it is.
Majora’s Mask highlights that better than any way I could, but it’s the unfortunate reality of sadness. And while it may not be as rosy as we would like, acting preventatively rather than just in the name of resolving can stop a lot of suffering, suffering like the things in Majora’s Mask that I couldn’t just shake off and forget about like a dog shaking off rainwater. I had just swam through a bloody river of suffering, and I was drenched with it when I came out the other side.
Majora’s Mask is a game about sadness, and it taught me a lot about how I should approach suffering in the real world. After experiencing the misery cast across Termina, I realize that solving things doesn’t always make you the real hero. Often, it makes you the metaphysical janitor – cleaning up the world’s vomit after it decides to eat hundreds of babies. It made me realize that I don’t want to be a moral clean-up guy, and that true heroism vastly lies in preventing suffering before it has a chance to rear its ugly head, to nip it in the bud.
I was a kid, and I put down that game with a heavy heart, unsatisfied, unfulfilled and unhappy. But the world was a little clearer to me now, and just like Link, I told myself I would brave the harsh reality of pain in the name of making the lives of others better. The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask made me want to be a hero. I hope that after reading this, you’ll look back on it and feel the same way.