Parenting Lessons from the Legend of Zelda

The Legend of Zelda can teach you more about being a parent than a library full of parenting books. To be fair, I have a particular disdain for most parenting books not because of the books themselves but because of parents who delegate their parenting decisions to strangers. You read a couple of sleep training books and you come away thinking that one late night is going to give your kid a sleeping disorder.

A household’s screen time policy has become a proverbial minefield of parenting smugness. We’re all one article away from starting to display bumper stickers bragging about minimal screen time like runners do with maximum mileage. In the land of parenting smugness, the person with the 0hr bumper sticker will reign supreme.

Now that my son is into games, I’ve asked myself two questions:

1) How long should he be allowed to play?

And, the more important question by a level of several magnitudes…

2) How can I make sure he pays his damn dues first?

I may have to listen to Kidz Bop when I’m trying to talk to him about Pearl Jam, but I’ll be damned if he gets to ignore the history of video games. As I’ve thought about how to properly educate my son in video game lore, a few parenting lessons occurred to me on this journey back in time (metaphoric, not Ocarina style).

I’ve taken Vizzini’s advice and have decided to go back to the beginning. Zelda may not be THE beginning of video games but it is A beginning. Nintendo was a respository of “unproductive” hours for me as an only child. I’m sure it resulted in many blown cartridges and many thrown controllers, but that isn’t what I remember. Decades later, talking Zelda shop with my son overlays a scene of me playing Zelda with my dad. I catch myself having the same discussion about how the game cheats (and oh, does it ever cheat).

Yes, the princess always being in another castle has led to an entire generation’s inability to commit. Still, while I sat there coaching my son on the best way to deal with that bastard, Zora, I had this sensation in my chest that was part guilt, part excitement.

This is way too much fun to be good parenting.

It’s ok to have fun as a parent. Sometimes I’m so focused on being the line cook at the parenting diner that I forget how much fun it is to cook with my kids. When I’m trying to land a good sportsmanship lesson, I forget how much fun it is to kick a soccer ball around. Or just run. Run for no reason just… hey we’re running now! Dogs know that time. Kids know that time. The rest of us forget.

Kids are more susceptible to suggestion (just ask the assholes peddling breakfast cereal). So, many modern games are designed around dopamine hits. There’s nothing to solve, nothing to create and no story to immerse yourself in. Mindless entertainment has its place in small quantities, but lumping these types of games in with something like Zelda is writing off the Once and Future King because you don’t like the writing in Fifty Shades of Gray.

Conversely, in the original Zelda, if you die way out in the cemetery, you’re going back to the beginning and starting with a fraction of your health. No complaining will change that. No parent can step in and make it ok. It teaches you the value of continuing in the face of adversity. As adversity goes, your cartoon character getting killed by a cartoon ghost is pretty tame, but still. Think about all the other times we’re terrified to let our kids struggle at all.

The feeling of delayed but earned satisfaction is written into my soul by that sound of finding something hidden in Zelda. That do-do-dododo sound still sends chills down my spine. I want that sound to happen in my day to day life. I figure out the right metaphor for something? Do-do-dododo. My kids are crying and I find a way to cheer them up? Do-do-dododo. My wife gives me that smile when I know I did something sweet (even when most of the time I don’t even know what the hell it is?) Do-do-dododo.

After a particularly frustrating loss, my son asked me if he could play on my character. I responded in this overly important Inside the NFL voice, “You have to earn the triforce, son.” Maybe that’ll be the title of my parenting book.

Next, he asked me to look up where something was on the internet. Flabbergasted, I gave him the mandatory “in my day, we didn’t have the internet” treatment which is just my generation’s version of the “walking to school in the snow uphill both ways” speech.

He was not convinced since everything in his world is immediate satisfaction. Everything. Luckily, it’s not my job to convince him. It’s my job to give some guardrails and let him figure it out himself. Sometimes you have to sneak life lessons in there like vegetables pureed in spaghetti sauce. I’m not going to understand half the stuff they get into but I understand video games. I understand books or cooking or speaking the secret language of dogs.

I can always connect on those things.

None of this really has anything to do with Zelda of course. It’s about connection. Landing life lessons with my children will get harder as they get older, especially as they enter the Here There Be Dragons part of the map known as the dreaded teenage years.

Though, I still love Zelda and my son is on board that train 100%. I’ve come to love cooking and my daughter will stop anything she’s doing to come cook with me. Both my kids love books. The best times we have individually are when we’re all having fun together. As an introvert, that’s anathema. It’s insane but true. Do-do-dododo.


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