Long ago, in the beautiful
kingdom of Hyrule, surrounded
by mountains and forests...
There were six of us that day—I and the housemates Rad, Waker, Alex,
and Sylvio traced along Front Street from Hancock, met up with Haley on
Oxford, then turned up north, along Aramingo Ave.
Sweltering, yet beautiful out, in Philadelphia, trying to decide if I would
move there after graduation or stick around New York for 2011. More than a
break in rent or a chance to lay roots near familiar faces, I was here for some
final impression-one that would decide everything and answer everyone's
questions about my life. But I knew the city too well for amazement, hardly
enough to unearth its hidden certainties. Each moment folded between the
ambiguity of what I sensed and what I could imagine.
And all afternoon, I had these video game thoughts bouncing around
my head-extra lives: a Messiah out of quarters, Heaven in poverty, the
universe budgeted in prosperous times, then erected during an economic
downturn-hence, the cutbacks on general sense.
But even the night before, I kept flashing back to Super Nintendo, The
Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past. Marc, who slept in the living room, got
home around midnight from work. He offered me ramen and chased the idea,
I at the foot of the stairs, he from his mattress on the floor.
"Just start talking about it," he said.
"Okay, so you're Link, this kid in the ancient land of Hyrule. You wake
up one night, because Princess Zelda telepathically communicates that she's
been kidnapped by Agahnim, a corrupt court wizard in the pay of Ganon."
"'The King of Evil,'" I said, "A giant blue pig demon out to conquer the
world. He needs the princess to unlock the power of the Triforce, which is
pretty much the elemental essence of the universe."
"When did it come out?"
"1992. '93 was a good year. Batman the Animated Series was in its
second season. My brother saved a year's allowance, and Zelda was bundled
with the system. I used to watch him play it all day."
Marc laughed, "Sounds like fun."
"Well, I mean, it was a one-player. His friends had Turtles in Time,
Illusion of Gaia. He knew what he was doing. He pretty much taught me the
"B's the sword."
"No that's A." My brother scowls; we are five and seven. "A lifts
things and uses the running boots, but you don't have them yet."
"I wanna boomerang."
"Y. Hold down B to do the sword spin."
"What does this do?"
"X is the map, Start lets you pick items, Select lets you save and
"What do these do?"
"L and R don't do anything."
I look up, thumbing the D-pad. Link does a donut and leaps into the
nearby river, only to reappear on land, flashing, but uninjured. "Why
can't I swim?"
"'cause you don't have the flippers."
I leap again into the water.
"Come on. Lift up that bush and jump down."
I giggle, rather, holding Right as Link travels an endless cycle
between land and sea.
"Go in the cave!" Losing his patience, he grabs the controller back.
"I hope you know you're an idiot."
"Plus, he could read. And I learned a lot of the secrets."
"There's an angle-you and your brother. What else did you do
"He taught me to draw. We drew a bunch of comic books. Played a lot
with Legos. Wandered around with plastic swords. That kind of stuff. We set
up a lot of mythology, even around video games."
Marc scratched his beard, "Nabokov said something like-the author is a
storyteller, teacher, and enchanter. If video games, like film or books, direct
imagination by simulating experience, all told, what makes it fun? You spend
this whole game finding items, fighting bosses dungeon by dungeon. What
does it all come out to?"
"Getting lost," I said. A dim cave never knew better company than a
child with a lantern. "Most of it's puzzles and surprises. Even when you've
been everywhere, you enter the Dark World, which is twice as long. It's only
after getting the Moon Pearl that you don't turn into a defenseless pink
bunny rabbit there."
Marc laughed again. "That has adolescence written all over it. Maybe
the whole thing's a lesson on transition-taking things as they come-small,
and unknown, and gradual. Maybe it just teaches you how to play the game
well, so you can beat it." He shrugged. "I don't know if any of that helped at
"It did," I said, and went upstairs to brush my teeth.
"Can I get a cigarette?"
Back to the six of us, now in the evening; four blocks south of Allegheny
Square, we found a bar grandfathered out of the smoking ban. A stumpy,
middle-aged Polish woman with thick glasses served everyone, then asked
for my driver's license. Returning it, she mentioned how young I looked, as if
at twenty-two this was a compliment. But I'll get the last laugh, I thought.
"Here," said Rad, passing me the one he had just lit, reaching down to
roll another for himself. I handed it to Alex.
I turned back to Waker, "The iPad's not supposed to be this great thing
in itself. It's just a way of acclimating people to touch screens."
Waker rubbed his eyes, "Yeah, but people aren't going to give up
keyboards. There are some things buttons are just better for. My phones've
had touch screens for years. I use it for scrolling menus and all that, but
when it comes to texting," he slid it open, tapping the keypad.
He had a point, but how much of form is romanticism?
Anyone of my generation will recall Pokemon (some way or other) with
a certain fondness. I forgo ROMs for the tactile senses of controller shape,
neck craned to a glaring, round-monitor television. Consider chiptunes―our
musical genre utilizing hacked GameBoys, NES, and other antiquated systems
to compose and perform original arrangements―already digested, fertilizing
with 8-bit synth tones all manner of contemporary music. Time and again, we
were warned of being the first generation to come of age with PCs and video
games. What I find truly interesting is that we were the only generation to
mature with dial-up internet, MIDI soundtracks, and two-dimensional
graphics. No child now will recall a time before YouTube, Google and
Wikipedia, with VHS and bunny ear antennae. They will scoff at our notions of
innovation, intrigue, and convenience: wires, newspapers, books, ancient
electronics with obsolete hardware.
Beyond the facade of youth, the vocation of all form lies with comfort
and memory. What survives decay floats on the buoyancy of our nostalgia,
until we decompose―our friends, places, objects, aesthetic
sensibilities―artifacts of our lives, and without us, they are nothing.
"But some things," Waker maintains, "People will never abandon. And
On our way out, we noticed a phone booth that must have been a
century old, too dark for Sylvio to photograph. Said the bartender, "Worked
right up until yesterday."
The sky faded pink with the last of the magic hour. South, over railroad
tracks, hills tunneled through for the roads and sidewalks, a bridge thickly
overgrown, we came to a brackish field. Waker begged off, wanting no harm
to his high-tops.
Before, the skyline came to light, presenting itself to no one in
particular. Behind, two billboards reached from the ground. Atop a concrete
chunk full of twisted metal bands thick as my arm, I felt the hot breath of
uncertainty on my neck-sensing I was far from home, existing by a landline
stretched across the mountains. Hyrule is a lonely place, inhabited mostly by
monsters. People are scattered haphazardly, in shops proffering bombs and
shields-things that you, alone, might ever buy. There is one village, Kakariko,
but the people say the same things, over and over again.
Picking down the rocks, past the No Trespassing sign, we went on,
"parkouring" pylons under the Delaware Expressway. Really, this meant
running at things, kicking off or leaping them, shouting "Parkour!" Nothing
very impressive, but like Rad's habit of rolling everybody cigarettes, it grew
from that month in the earlier summer, tearing across the highways, over the
mountains, up and down the coasts of North America, he, Alex, and I,
delirious with Kerouac in our eyes.
As I mention this, many wistfully turn to the window and sigh, "Ah, but
if only..." in the tone that implies they can't do the same. Yes-we were in a
unique phase, when none of us were tied down, we were full of vigor, we
borrowed a car for four weeks. All of these things are true and fortuitous, but
none of it coalesced with clarity or certainty at the time.
Hyrule is full of people who, rather than asking you why you're
ransacking their houses, speak of evil and trouble in the world. Their folklore
tells of a Legendary Hero, who alone can resist the darkness and transform
this world for the better. Yet they have clearly made no effort to discern who
this might be, so none would ever know, if even the hero numbered among
them. What's so legendary about Link is that he leaves the familiar to travel
the strange and find what he can. After all, the player's first task is to get out
of bed and leave the house...
In the middle of the night...
During a thunderstorm.
The Triforce is divided into three parts-power, wisdom, and courage-
paralleled by Ganon, Zelda, and Link, respectively. Compassionate and
astute, the Hero makes his stand against corruption, vanquishing it to will
some semblance of sanity and justice into the world, at least for a time; but
the story begins with bravery.
Rad has observed how oddly attuned we are-he, Alex, and I.
"Together," he says, "We form a balanced person." He calls it "the
Manifestation." Alex once spoke of this as "the Trilogy (not 'the triumvirate'),"
and while it has as much to do with cramped spaces, as with a year's worth
of social time passed in the course of thirty days, it shouldn't be overlooked
that I only met Rad the day prior to departure. A friend to us both, Alex
perceived shared characteristics-bluntness, naivete, a certain lack of contact
with reality. He was, of course, a miraculous judge of character, but greater
still is whatever held us together, through thick, and thin, and weird. Perhaps
not a direct parallel to the Triforce, but enough to navigate 15,000 miles of
road without GPS, never once sleeping in the car and never once paying for
lodging, arriving home with all of our throats intact. The most important
aspect remains that we tried.
Sylvio rushed at a pylon, just as Waker's formidable shape jumped from
behind it, screaming something in Japanese. Sylvio charged face-first into the
wall, barely protecting his camera as the Million Youth March hat he'd bought
that afternoon at the dollar store went flying from his head. Standing, in
mock outrage he hurled his phone at Waker, who held his ground, shaking
his head as it missed and skittered across the pavement.
"What do I care?" said Sylvio, "My phone is a (chain of expletives)."
"It isn't working," I tell my brother. When I hit Power, a series of
red lines. Then nothing. I wouldn't have told him, except that he came in
just then. I am terribly frightened. He reacts calmly. Proud, even.
"Blow," he says, "Like this," and pressing Eject, carefully raising
the gray plastic tabernacle to his lips, he exhales a powerful gust through
the opening slot. Treating the system to the same, he inserts the game. He
slides Power on, Reset, Power off, on, off, on and voila: the title screen
gleams in familiar glory. "Now be careful," he says, "And never slam the
Speaking with gravity, "Zach slams his, and they never work."
Zachary Law lived at the end of the street, in the house around the
corner. Famed for jumping off roofs, throwing handsprings on asphalt, he
chronically lost, broke, or gave away his toys, including $50 video games.
Some hold technology in a certain reverence. Some treat it like anything
else. There are those who complain every year of another ailing phone, an
mp3 player gone to bits, a hard disk fried under a keyboard doused in wine
or tea. Suffocation, or certain destruction; prudent insurance, or absolute
liberty-who is to say what choices exist, what balance struck between
discretion and chance? In any case, I will say this-all of my cartridges work.
Super Metroid erases files from time to time, but I bought it off Zach in the
The final sequence in Link to the Past is the Triforce floating across the
land, purifying it of evil, turning the sky from red, to gold, to green, to blue.
Peace returns to Hyrule, while arguably the best theme music in the game
plays for the first and only time.
Rad and I stopped to relieve ourselves on a burnt-out car as the
streetlights flickered overhead. Finished, we crunched along gravel, forty feet
behind everyone else.
"I think he'll really like this," he said, patting his backpack-the filtered
papers, rolling machine, and pouch of Amsterdam Shag we'd picked up for
Marc that afternoon.
"Anything to get him off Newport Menthols."
Rad's was the smile of promissory light breaking after the storm, "I'm'a
make him like, thirty when we get home, and put 'em all in little a box."
I asked what he called the difference between happiness and a happy
"Word," he said, "Joy."
"That's what I called it too."
We traversed a glass-strewn lot, up a cobblestone way to Penn Treaty
Park, hours later than originally planned, but it made no difference. We
climbed out onto the rocks, where a cool wind bit through out t-shirts. And I
stood there, capturing one of those rare moments of oblivion, deaf to
unhinging memories, decisions of where and how to be, the Easter traffic I
would wait on the following night in a humid bus lacking air-conditioning,
watching the headlights vanish through the trees, along a far-off road
adjacent to the darkness.
A matter of gathering what you need to go on, no matter what
questions you may have concerning what, or why. A matter of getting out of
bed in the morning. I watched the lights pulse on the Benjamin Franklin
Bridge from to red, to gold, to green, to blue.
The Triforce is waiting for a
new owner. Its Golden Power is
in your hands...
Now, touch it with a wish in
... ... ... ...