For most people, tracing back their nerd origins typically leads to some piece of nerd culture that they found and fell in love with. For me, that path leads back to my dad and his nerdy pursuits. Let’s take a trip to 1998, when my dad obsessively rented and played The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, while I watched.
Like most kids, I very casually played video games when I was younger. I played around on games like Diddy Kong Racing. For most games I dabbled in, I didn’t really have a grasp on the rules. I’d usually just pick my favorite character (like Conker from Diddy Kong) and wander aimlessly for hours in a virtual world, creating my own story as I went. At 5-years-old, that’s pretty much where my interest ended.
While we did own a Nintendo 64, we didn’t have a lot of money. Game cartridges at the time were $50 – $70 each, so we rented most of the games we played. I remember walking around yet another video rental store, bored because it wasn’t an errand that involved buying me a toy or a treat. I will never forget seeing my dad enthusiastically pick up what I would later recognize as the iconic gold box. Inside was Ocarina of Time. Of course, I couldn’t read the words, but I could read the excitement in his face.
I don’t remember the first time my dad booted up the game but I do remember our new norm. Each day after work (or early in the mornings on weekends) my dad would pop the Ocarina of Time cartridge into the console. He’d sit down on the edge of the couch, elbows propped on his knees, controller in hand, ready to play. What you have to know about my dad is that he’s typically a giant goober. But once you put a controller in his hand, it’s serious business. I would sit right behind him, between him and the back of the couch, captivated. Sometimes I’d take breaks to play but I would always come back to see more of that game.
Ocarina of Time’s protagonist is a little kid named Link who has a fairy, Navi, that follows him around. I was in from jump. A little kid who has his own personal fairy? That’s the dream! The game opens in Kokiri Forest. It was beautiful then, and if not for the grainy graphics, it’d be beautiful now. It was so lush and green and full of pretty fairy lights. Plus, there were plenty of fun Kokiri (small child-like beings that Link lived among) to play with. Despite my protests, my dad insisted on leaving Kokiri Forest. I didn’t see why. Kokiri Forest had everything we needed for a fun game. Of course, he knew that in order to experience all the game had to offer, you had to move on. So he went beyond the Great Deku Tree, and beyond Kokiri Forest altogether.
As it would turn out, the Kokiri Forest was quite literally only the beginning. It was so exciting to me to see Link running through Hyrule Field, ocarina in hand, ready to solve puzzles with a single note. One minute we’d be in an almost ethereal water landscape called Zora’s Domain, and the next thing we’d be weaving around the mountains climbing our way to Goron City. Hours flew by. “This is the neatest place, yet,” I would think to myself. My wonder would sometimes get the better of me and my dad would shout, “Move, Big Hair!” because I had a tendency to stand in smack-dab in front of TVs when something interesting grabbed my attention.
And the music! From the tunes Link would learn on his ocarina (a flute type instrument) to the epic pieces that accompanied each new location, the soundtrack, it was all superb. Anytime we entered Gerudo Valley, for instance, the first few notes of that iconic Spanish guitar would play. I would shoot up from my spot on the couch to start dancing and stomping around the middle of the living room, much to my parents’ amusement.
There is a big moment within the game (spoiler alert for those who have managed to avoid them for the last 20 years), where Kid Link enters the Temple of Time to finally free and claim The Master Sword in his quest to defeat Ganon. Upon pulling The Master Sword free, Link is then sealed within the Spirit Realm for 7 years, essentially propelling him into the future, becoming Adult Link. My kid brain imploded. I quite literally did not understand. “Did Link grow up?” “Does Link remember being a kid?” “Where did everyone go?” On and on my questions went. My dad would answer these questions as patiently as he could. I’m sure once we began moving back and forth in time with more frequency, my questions became an even bigger test on his patience, but he never told me to go to my room, we just kept playing.
In the future, the Kingdom of Hyrule was different. Where there was once a vibrant scene of town life in Hyrule Castle Town, there now was only darkness and ReDeads — zombie-like creatures that jumped on you to kill you. I hated this bit. My dad would warn me when he was about to run through the town. I’d root him on sometimes, “Run Daddy, run!” Other times, I would just hide my face. Goron Mountain was on fire. Zora’s Domain was frozen over. I, as a 5-year-old, did not care for any of it.
Still, I stayed and watched. I was my dad’s cheerleader. When he would reach a temple boss, he would sometimes give a sort of battle cry like “Here we go, baby!” and I’d shout along with him. When he would beat a boss that was even more exciting. We’d shout, dance, and I would jump up and down. Every now and again a temple or puzzle would really stump him and I’d give my advice. “Did you check over there, Daddy?” In hindsight, he probably had, but he would usually take my suggestions on board and check again just in case.
It took a lot of time, over a year in fact. My dad even purchased a walkthrough to help him out. Although I couldn’t read, I remember laying on the floor as my dad played, flipping through its glossy colorful pages. The moments leading up to the final battle were incredibly stressful. There was no ritual of getting hyped as we headed up the stairs of Ganon’s Castle, not knowing what door would finally bring us to him. No, this had been a quiet and somber event. The fight itself was intense, only punctuated by cries of frustration from my dad as he tried again and again to beat Ganondorf (Ganon’s ultimate form).
Finally, after many defeats, he won. Once it was over, peace spread through the land. We had already helped many of the lands ravaged by Ganon’s terror, but now all the friends we met along the way were at peace. We had saved them. My dad says, though I don’t remember, that I cried to see everyone finally happy and safe.
In the years since, I’ve watched my dad play a few games. None of them have ever been quite able to live up to the wonder and excitement Ocarina of Time inspired in me. As our relationship grew, we found other things to nerd out together over, mainly Lord of the Rings. I have Ocarina to thank for my fascination with fantasy. This game offered so much fuel for my imagination. This was different from the usual classic fairy tales. This was epic. The game spoke to the strength and difference one kid could make. It showed people of all different species and backgrounds, most of which I could never have imagined before that. It changed me at my core. A whole world of video games, fantasy, and music had opened up to me.
Without my dad, I might have never entered into that world of possibility. I would have never been able to binge watch The Lord of the Rings with him (while he napped on and off) and I would have never found Harry Potter. Nerd culture and epic fantasy have added so much depth and color to my life. Who knew Ocarina of Time would have all that to offer to the daughter of a gamer beyond the Kokiri Forest?