How This Video Game Series Saved My Life When I Wanted to Die
To most fans, the “Legend of Zelda” video game series is a means of escapism, immersing oneself in the world of Hyrule and being captivated by the story that follows. A youth in green is able to overcome great tribulation with one simple trait, and that is his courage. Decades of this franchise have been built upon this one concept, this one driving force that proves an otherwise tired trope a timeless tale.
I was introduced to the Zelda series by my parents, who in playing “Super Mario 64,” “The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time” and “The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker” in my early and formative years, made everything about those games lovely and familiar. As a young child, I remember restarting those games over and over, unable to get past one specific thing and yet still getting a kick out of the portion I could play, making Link run around Kokiri forest or Outset Island. Even after my parents or I played, I would watch the opening crawl of “The Wind Waker” over and over again, the dark and foreboding turn in the tale giving me chills and showing me how much I already loved the Zelda series for its music, for its setting and for its story. I was enthralled, and to the best of my memory, you could say it was love at first sight for the Zelda series. So, it’s no surprise that I would grow to see it as a constant and ever-growing sanctuary, a safe place to call home when the world outside the pixels was threatening and malicious.
In elementary school, I was bullied. Friendless and lonely, I lived in constant fear of my words and how they could be used against me. Everything I said was mocked, turned into a joke or completely ignored, so I learned to adapt. I kept everything inward, I began to take on extremely shy qualities, hiding in corners, staying silent, and I felt completely powerless. The Legend of Zelda series gave me an avenue of what control would feel like, but the damage was done. After years of being bullied in both elementary school and at my dance studio, I thought myself nothing, and that my words were just as meaningless. I was quiet and shy and I would carry that instinct of protection with me for a very long time. My shield was up.
I took strides to regain my confidence, but my guard was up, defending myself from pain and kicking myself when I didn’t and got hurt again. Middle school and high school were battles of combatting my incredible lack of self-worth, but it seemed every time I would build myself up, something would knock me down and prove myself right all along. There were times I knew something was up with my mental health, but I never reached out. I was headstrong, independent and terrified of being mocked. Being bullied had left scars of a subconscious fear of being heard.
By the time I had finished my first year of college, I had played most Zelda games, as they had been a big part of entertainment and recreation over the course of my life thus far. I enjoyed them greatly and loved them. Like I said, they were a great sanctuary, but sanctuaries alone do not heal wounds. The safety I felt within them did not yield to how I felt outside them, alone in a crowd and unhappy where others smiled. Yet, at this point in my life, I would consider myself fine. Always fine.
One day, I was shamefully looking at fan art for my favorite Zelda couple, Zelda and Link. I was scrolling through Google Images and saw one in particular that sparked something in me that would change my life completely. Link and Zelda were kissing in the picture but it was that I thought, “Well, how would that happen?” and “I better write that down.” Pretty soon, many “I better write that downs” later, and I was a fanfiction writer. A lousy one at the time, but a fan-fiction writer nonetheless. And most importantly, my words were beginning to mean something. With the internet the way it is, just posting my work online was a courageous act on its own, but I did so because I was proud — proud that, for once, I curbed my impatience and wrote a story.
After a few attempts at writing a good one, I realized that my stories were starting to affect people, that people told me they would smile or laugh or cry and that meant everything to me, that in such an apathetic world, I had the power to create empathy where there once was none. Thus, I dove headfirst into the hobby. I didn’t care that I wouldn’t get paid for my stories. Affecting people was enough. And, I was starting to get better at writing, too. All because I wanted to be better for them, for an audience I didn’t know, for the audience that proved to me that I was worth something, and that my silence was something long overdue to be broken.
But you came here for the title of this article, intrigued by the drama of a life being saved by a video game. Throughout my life, I have struggled with depression and anxiety, undiagnosed and untreated because of my shyness. I thought I had a handle on both until the year 2020 arrived. Come March 2020, I was separated from friends, family and loved ones interminably due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. Everything piled on in a perfect storm of life events I won’t mention, but they were seemingly meant to utterly destroy me. Because of these events, I started to fear once again that I was easily forgettable and unimportant, that I was insignificant to the world and that I did not matter to it. As of July 2020, I was perfectly satisfied with ending my own life. I felt I had done what was required, that there was nothing more good to come in the future and that any happiness was behind me. I was resigned to the idea that suicide was OK, that maybe it was even my destiny, that it perhaps always was.
I had finished my long-fic “A Moment Beyond” and planned to have the rest of the chapters posted by someone else. I wrote goodbye letters and planned out how I would go through with the act. Right up until the end of August, I felt I had nothing left to live for.
On August 29, I self-harmed and, because of the insistence and concern of my best friend, the police were called and I was hospitalized for a week. I didn’t have my computer or my phone. I couldn’t write anymore and without anything to fire my brain, I couldn’t think. I felt horrible and vegetative, staring at blank walls with nothing to do but think and think and think of everything that had transpired, the people who let me down and the people who didn’t, the people who I could talk to and the people I couldn’t talk to, the way I was being treated and the way it made me feel worse, the way I was considered no more than a number, a name, a body by the strangers around me. I felt dead.
Eventually, my friends’ and family’s concern showed me I was worth something, but my desire to go back to my life writing for Zelda Dungeon, writing Zelda fanfiction and going back to the Zelda community showed me that my life was worth something. I realized I felt dead without all those things, and I didn’t like it. I wanted to live, to go back to my life and write stories that matter and learn things in school and see what the future holds. I wanted to be strong and courageous and more than anything, I didn’t want to give up. I was forced upon an opportunity to step outside my life without dying, and only then did I realize how much I wanted it.
As of October 2020, I have been diagnosed, medicated and placed in therapy for the first time in my life. I have reclaimed my passion in writing words and my confidence that they are worth something and that people want to hear them. I have even recently made writing my career focus, as I have discovered it as my passion and purpose to instill empathy into others with my words.
But I sincerely believe that without the Zelda series, I would have never found the outlet to truly express myself through writing, I would have never found the lovely and patient Zelda community, I would have never found the strength to continue on, and I would have never wanted to live because of that. If it weren’t for the Zelda series and my subsequent inspiration to write, I would have descended further until I would no longer have been at all. I had friends and family who insisted upon my life when I didn’t, and I cannot thank them enough for their efforts. Yet, I truly believe that I wouldn’t have learned to insist upon it myself without the Zelda series and everything that came with it. The lessons of perseverance and courage that the games taught me, the beautiful community that showed me unrelenting patience and kindness, and even the Zelda Dungeon team who welcomed me with open arms, that is what helped me want to live again. I much less readily fear being mocked for my words because the Zelda community has proved that caution unnecessary. I’ve begun to learn that people are inherently kind, that my experiences as a child that weighed me down could be a burden lifted from my shoulders. I’ve begun to learn how much I matter, and how much everyone else does too, how much we all have to contribute in our own special way.
Image via YouTube