by Abe Rose
An aphorism by Nietzche:
“What if some day or night, a demon were to steal after you into your loneliest loneliness and say to you: ‘This life as you live it and have lived it, you will have to live once more and innumerable times more; and there will be nothing new in it, but pain and every joy and every thought and sigh and everything unutterably small or great in your life will have to return to you, all in the same succession and sequence-even this spider and this moonlight between the trees, and even this moment and I myself. The eternal hourglass of existence is turned upside down again and again, and you with it, speck of dust!’
“Would you not throw yourself down and gnash your teeth and curse the demon who spoke thus? Or have you once experienced a tremendous moment when you would have answered him: ‘You are a god and never have I heard anything more divine.’ If this thought gained possession of you, it would change you as you are or perhaps crush you. The question in each and everything, ‘Do you desire this once more and innumerable times more?‘ would lie upon your actions as the greatest weight. Or how well disposed would you have to become to yourself and to life to crave nothing more fervently than this ultimate eternal confirmation and seal?” (Nietzche, §341)
Out of all of the words spoken by the German philosopher, Friedrich Nietzche, these stick out the most to me. To relive the same day countless times seems like an exercise in futility, like being a hamster forever running on a wheel, going no place in particular. What could be learned? What new things could be seen or discovered? This treadmill journey goes nowhere. A person expecting to travel to new places on an exercise bike would have to be reminded of Einstein’s definition of insanity. “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”
Books and movies have both explored Nietzche’s question. Albert Camus explored a similar scenario in which a man eternally pushes a boulder up a hill, only to have it roll back down again in his analysis of the Myth of Sisyphus. And Bill Murray played a man who relives the same day for perhaps ten thousand years in Groundhog Day. But only a video game could explore Nietzche’s question in an interactive way. The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask, widely regarded as being the darkest and saddest entry in the series, is the video game equivalent of Nietzche’s question. In the game, Link, who is looking for his lost friend, comes upon a dark forest where he is ambushed by a Skull Kid wearing a mask. The Skull Kid steals Link’s horse who is Link’s only remaining friend. Skull Kid then turns Link into a monster, and prepares to destroy the world by calling down the moon in three days. If Link does not stop the Skull Kid in three days, he must rewind time and try again. The people in this world are doomed to repeat the last three days of their lives forever.
The falling moon is like an apocalyptic angel of death, and each character prepares for doom. Because the inhabitants of Termina know they are going to die within days, they live out all the different stages of life in mere hours. Bliss. Denial. Fear. Grief. And finally acceptance. And because they do not know the clock will rewind, they are doomed to repeat these feelings for all eternity.
And what truly is the point of this needless destruction? What does this benefit, except a madman’s sick fantasy? The Skull Kid in this story is an anarchist. Friends abandoned him. Society ignores him. With nothing to lose, he is willing to destroy himself as long as he can bring down the moon and watch the world burn. His fetish is Apocalyptic Sadism.
And because Link is living these last moments again and again, he gets to peer into the heart of every victim in this game. While these individuals have the same character model design as the townspeople in Ocarina of Time, they feel more realized here. In Ocarina, they simply exist to sell Deku nuts, or lose chickens that must be found. They are not faced with impending death in that game. But in Majora’s Mask, you see a hundred tragedies, and all of them are personal. Over the course of the game, you start to understand each person’s habits – where they go, who they love, and who they want to be with when the final moment comes. You really get to know the individuals in this game when they are faced with death.
In The Dark Knight, the Joker makes a similar observation about knowing the person who is faced with death. He says, “Do you want to know why I use a knife? Guns are too quick. You can’t savor all the… little emotions. In their last moments, people show you who they really are. So in a way, I know your friends better than you ever did.” Majora’s Mask stabs that nihilism in as slow and painful as possible.
With widespread death just three days away, the side-quests in this game are somber affairs. Without Link’s help, everyone will die in peril and alone. There is one side-quest where a little girl is trapped in her house, surrounded by zombies. Dreadfully thirsty, she won’t come out, even though there is a well nearby. Once Link kills the zombies and restores water to the well, she will finally come out, looking like a wide-eyed deer scanning for headlights. When Link sneaks into her house, all sorts of questions arise like where are her parents? What kind of horrible parent would abandon their child in a place like this? Then there is a noise coming from the basement. A closet door bangs like something is trying to get out. It’s the girl’s father. Undead father.
Think about the implications. How long was the girl living like this? There are no other people around. She had to fend for herself while the undead walked among her. This is an unimaginably cruel fate for a child. But while she could simply run away to a safer place, she stays to be with her undead, cursed father. That’s a powerful image. And while it is possible for Link to save the father with his magic, the moment of relief and joy is fleeting like a speck of dust in an hourglass.
Because when the clock rewinds, this whole scenario will happen again.
Link could continuously rewind the clock and save every individual citizen that is in need of aid. But Link can’t be everywhere at once. In order to make progress in the game, Link has to play one quest at a time. You can’t simultaneously be fighting in a dungeon and help the old woman from being mugged in town. While you are helping a crying Goron baby find his daddy lost in the snow, simultaneously the pirates are stealing the Zora’s eggs. One of the Zora women goes mute from sheer grief from losing her babies. Link has the power of Superman, but also shares Superman’s curse. With all this power to save people, there isn’t the time to save everyone. With every run through, you must effectively choose who gets saved and who doesn’t.
If you are to view the three days as a three act story, it plays out the same every time. The Moon is falling. People are in denial. They try to ignore it. It gets closer. They panic. Some of them flee. Others stay with the ones they love. They accept their fates in their final moments. The third day is over. They die. While the game is linear in that sense, it is completely non-linear in another. The player has the power to see what is happening at different places in the world at the same moment in time. At 2 o’clock on the first day, the player can help an old hag in the woods. Or at the same time, listen to a Zora’s last dying request. Or give water to the ghost of a soldier in the desert. It’s like the game starts off as a short story, with a brief main storyline. But as the player keeps rewinding the clock, the player is expanding on the story, not through the x-axis, but the y-axis. It expands on place, not time. The player explores subplots and side-stories. By the time you are through with every minor character’s individual story arc, you end up with providential ensemble like Magnolia or Robert Altman’s Nashville.
The game places a large emphasis on the use of masks. The design of all these masks are African, which also served as inspiration for Western art at the turn of the 20th Century. But while Picasso was interested in only the aesthetic values of the masks, he largely ignored the spiritual significance of the masks. In many of the African tribes, the masks were used in spiritual rituals. When one put on the mask, that individual ceased being himself or herself, and became the spirit of the mask. With use of the individual’s body, the spirit could act, very much like a possessor. Majora’s Mask has three primary masks, each of which has morbid implications.
Link gets the Goron mask at the gravesite of a fallen Goron warrior who failed to protect his people from the cold wind of winter. The Goron asks Link to use his spirit to aid his people.
Link gets the Zora mask at the request of a dying Zora who failed to rescue the eggs from the pirates. Link has to play the Song of Healing to ease his pain. His spirit is embodied in the mask that he gives to Link.
Both of these masks are the representations of spirits. The Gorons recognize Link as Darmani when he wears the mask, and conclude that he must be some great spirit because he returns from the dead. The Zora’s have no idea that their great musician, Mikau, has died. For the Deku mask, we don’t see anyone die to become the mask, but in the beginning of the game, there is a really twisted image of a young dead tree that looks strangely like Link’s Deku mask.
Later in the game, the great Deku Butler makes a comment that Link in his Deku mask reminds him of his son.
We never see his son at all until during the ending credits, he is weeping in front of the young, dead tree.
Joseph Stalin once said “One death is a tragedy; a million is a statistic.” Given that his regime killed even more people than Hitler, Stalin truly wasn’t bothered by his statistics. If Alderaan blows up and billions of people die, no one bats an eye. But if you were given a rewind power and got to know every single person on that planet in the days preceding the Death Star’s approach, the death toll would not be viewed in terms of statistics. It would be global tragedy. Every single life is precious, and Majora’s Mask uses Nietzche’s proposed question to explore that. A lot of people will die by the end of the third day in Majora’s Mask, and each and every person does not end up serving a damn statistic.
Original Post date: 10/6/2013 on thealternativechronicle.com
Nietzche, Friedrich. Die fröhliche Wissenschaft .Germany. 1882