With the end of 2012 and the Mayan calender on people’s minds, I thought it would be topical to explore one of my favourite stories revolving around the end of the world: The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask. Many consider it to be the most creative entry in the Zelda videogame franchise. Released after The Legend of Zelda: The Ocarina of Time, one of the most critically acclaimed game of all time, Majora’s unique narrative and deeply human characters help to convey mature themes of grief, loss, and mortality with a sophistication not normally found within the medium. Drawing upon elements of the fantastic and the grim, the disturbing and the absurd, Majora’s Mask shares many similarities with traditional fairy tales and ancient myths, evoking a rich full range of emotional responses within the player.
Having recently celebrated its 25th anniversary, the Legend of Zelda is one of the most iconic and celebrated franchises in videogame history. What I love about the series is that it continually incorporates inspiration from various real-life mythologies into its own world. Each mainline iteration is a self-contained story, but they can all be seen as discrete reinterpretations of one central legend, a core narrative that revolves around the hero of Courage, aided by the heroine of Wisdom, embarking on a quest to prevent the villain of Power from acquiring the Triforce, a sacred artifact that grants its wielder’s desires. Two games in the series struck me as being particularly intriguing in the content and delivery of their monomyths from an Ekostories perspective. The first I’ll touch on is The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker, released for the Gamecube in 2003.
I came across the first Pikmin in 2001. At the time, it was the newest video game created by celebrated videogame designer Shigeru Miyamoto. Responsible for some of the most successful gaming franchises of all time, Miyamoto is famous for drawing inspiration from his everyday life to create universally accessible gaming experiences. The Legend of Zelda franchise was inspired by his childhood exploration of the natural environments that surrounded his home. Nintendogs was dreamt up during interactions with his Shetland sheepdog. Wii Fit stemmed from his obsession to weigh himself daily. The Pikmin games have their roots in his fondness for gardening.
The main plot of the first game has Olimar, a tiny alien astronaut, crash-landing on an alien planet that is very reminiscent of Earth. Being the size of a thimble, Olimar is in desperate need of assistance to recover the scattered engine parts of his damaged spaceship. He finds allies in indigenous creatures called “Pikmin”, cute plant-animal hybrids that behave like swarms of ants and come to regard Olimar as their leader. It proves to be a mutually beneficial relationship; the Pikmin are able to multiply quickly by being able to acquire more food, and Olimar accomplishes his objectives and eventually succeeds in returning to his home.
The sequel, Pikmin 2, was released in 2004. This time, Olimar returns to the planet with his co-worker Louie to salvage treasure in order to pay down the debt of their employer back on their home planet. The game fleshes out the world of Pikmin more significantly, introducing new vistas and a host of exotic creatures. There is more of a focus on collecting items and exploring underground subterranean levels, but the tiny explorers still rely exclusively on the help of Pikmin swarms to accomplish their objectives.
I found myself utterly charmed by the setting and characters of the Pikmin universe. The narrative devices employed in the Pikmin games coupled with its exploration of natural environments make them unique experiences that convey surprising connections to ecology, biology, and science.
As a fan of video games ever since I was introduced to Pac-Man and Dig Dug by my uncle at the age of three, it pains me to admit that most gaming stories are in fact quite terrible; many of them are riddled with cringe-worthy clichés and written expressly to stimulate and titillate. It’s understandable and almost forgivable: Crafting good stories takes time and effort. It is not often a high priority for most game developers when they are justifiably concentrating their energies on things that make games playable: interesting level design, enjoyable game mechanics, user-friendly controls. As a result, few games have stories that approach the quality of ones routinely found in more established mediums such as literature and film; fewer still deal with environmental themes, ideas, and connections of any depth.
But once in a while, something comes along and fuses interactivity, the unique strength of the medium, with a compelling narrative to create an affective and emotional experience about the relationship of humanity and nature. Flower, released by thatgamecompany, is one of those games.