The other day I walked through my childhood’s universe. Shadows of the neighborhood kids, my brother, and I raced ahead of my adult walking pace. I glance down one of my favorite spots in the neighborhood, my neighbor’s hedge row lining his house. A tall fence gives just enough space for a lawn mower to keep the strip of grass in check. Except for the extreme morning hours, the area is always shaded; the closest place I had for a cave.
As I walked, thinking about how most of my childhood neighbors are gone – time takes even the most stalwart, I realized just how deeply Japanese culture wrote itself on my childhood. I grew up in a quintessential small rural town in Ohio. Japan was just something mentioned in geography class. Yet, Japan influenced my ways of viewing the world. How can a country literally half a world away from a nerdy country kid forever change his view of the world?
The Legend of Zelda.
My family didn’t own a Nintendo or any other video game system until I was around 10 years old. One of the first games I played was the Legend of Zelda for the NES. Now, I always wandered my grandmother’s farm with a little pouch to stuff treasures into. Bird feathers, polished stones, and anything else that caught my eye. Then, I played the Legend of Zelda. The vast scale of the adventure, the necessity to try everything (I burned every tree in the game in my quest for secrets), and the exploration resonated with me. Suddenly, my dead end street became as vast as Hyrule. That shaded strip of lawn, choked by hedges and a fence, became a network of caves. The railroad tracks across the street transformed into a rocky Death Mountain. The single maple tree in our yard was the Lost Woods. The sense of wonder the game infused in me remains. Even now, when I hike, the world expands into Hyrule. What is on the other side of this tree? Does that boulder have a cave? Ooo. That is a nice feather!
More than any other game, the Legend of Zelda made my world full of wonder. Whenever I hike deep in the woods, the Hyrule overworld theme blasts in full orchestra in my mind. I make up stories about the sights, wondering if perhaps a fairy might just flutter out of that overhang. If only I kept a glass bottle with me!
It seems silly to say a video game opened my eyes to environmental problems and the beauty of nature. However, being human is about telling stories. We tell stories to ourselves and to others about why this is so. We have a constant dialogue with ourselves about everything our senses take in. Childhood is a time when we learn the most about the world. Everything is new, and the dialogue has yet to be written. A Japanese company told me a story through a video game that forever changed how I think about the world. The Legend of Zelda spoke of wonder and beauty and discovery. It spoke of the small things being vital to reaching your goal. Sometimes forget that the world is quite different from what we tell ourselves. Reality is seen through a lens darkly. The Legend of Zelda encourages open eyes.
The stories we consume shapes our views of reality. In many ways, the stories we tell are more important than reality. This is particularly true of social life. I am struck by how artificial and silly everything is. What makes people so upset really doesn’t matter. The stories we cherish are often not those stories we care the most about. What we cherish is what we think about the most, regardless of how we feel toward that story. Money, for example. Many of us are taught that the love of money is the root of all evil, yet we spend most of our time thinking about it and striving to get more of it. We cherish that which we hate in many cases. This all comes back to the stories we tell. Actions are stories. Each day is a story. We consume stories through what we read, watch, and listen. These stories shape reality and determine what we cherish.
The fact we are living stories is why anime, manga, video games, and all other story telling medium are the most important things we can spend our time with. Spending time with a spouse or friend is just another story telling medium. The stories I learned through The Legend of Zelda is why Japanese culture will have an enduring influence on my thinking. Researching for JP has increased the influence Japanese story telling has on my thinking.
Realizing the importance of stories also should give us pause. What kinds of stories do you view reality through? Repeatedly consuming certain stories leaves a deeper mark on our views of reality. I consumed a lot of Zelda, for example. Repeated exposure is why pornography is damaging. The story porn tells shapes our view of sex and relationships. Likewise, anime and manga can shape our behavior and views of culture and relationships. Often, we are unaware of how the stories we consume shape our thinking. It is a gradual process.
In other words, we can improve our view of the world by consuming positive stories. This also means we need to be cautious about what stories we spend most of our time with. I spent much of my childhood with Zelda stories. The stories gave me a sense of wonder and appreciation for the world that will always be with me. Through The Legend of Zelda, Japan forever changed my reality.
What stories influenced you? How did they shape the story you tell to yourself?