By Abe Rose
Video games are unique to storytelling in the sense that some games allow the player to name the main character. Naming the main character is not open to debate in other mediums. Could you imagine reading a digital text version of The Great Gatsby in which the reader could choose to name Nick Carroway? No longer would Gatsby call him “Old Sport,” you could choose to have Gatsby call him “Dark Lord Voldemort.” It would cause a chuckle at first, but after the joke overstays its welcome, you’d be aware of how much the name change would affect the tone of the story.
But this name change is possible in video games. In The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, if the player wants to call Link, “Batman,” the player can do that. Link could be named “Pinky-Pie.” He can have whatever name you want, given the word length. If I were to play through the game of The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time with my own name, it would cause me to identify more with Link, as if Link were just a mere extension of myself. Link has no real personality. He can be whatever you want him to be. He’s an amorphous blob of persona. He doesn’t speak, excluding a few lines of “Hyaaa! Yaaah!!” When the player gives Link a name, the player defines Link as the kind of person he or she wants Link to be. You could call him “Farm Boy” and suddenly Zelda’s commands to him makes her sound uncannily like Princess Buttercup.
How far could you stretch this naming? What if we gave Link a name that was simply a mere phrase, and not an actual name? If we gave him the name “I do say,” how would that change the tone of the story? Playing through with that name doesn’t really affect Link himself, but rather, the phrase changes the rest of the characters of the world around him. It makes them sound extremely formal, like they’re all attending a rich dinner party.
Link never really gets the respect he deserves until he destroys a dungeon boss. Except for Zelda, most of all the other characters always belittle him, call him names, and have a pretty low view of him until he obliterates a dungeon. Even then, some characters still have a low opinion of him. No matter how many villages Link can save, there will always be those characters that have nothing but contempt for him. You can beat Ganondorf, but you can’t win his respect.
Unless you name Link, “um.. sir.”
A whole new world of possibilities come to life if you name Link, “um.. sir.” Conversations play out entirely different. Characters who once hated Link, now show a hint of fear and convey a great strain of politeness. The old, wise man archetypes now have role reversals. The Great Deku Tree, guardian of the Kokiri Forest for hundreds of years, now sounds mumbly-bumbly.
The Great Fairies were already really creepy with their scantily clothed bodies placed in suggestive poses, and laughing “Tee-hee.” But now, what they call Link makes it seem like Link just walked into an underground brothel.
That stupidly annoying owl, Kaepora Gaebora, has long, tedious conversations in which he explains quest details to such a great length, all of which is unavoidable. And to top it all off, he asks you at the end, “Do you want me to repeat what I said?” And because the players tend to rapidly spam the B button, trying to skip all the dialogue, they now accidentally choose “Yes.” So he repeats it all again, verbatim, always getting the last laugh. But by giving Link the name, “um..sir” you have defeated the smart-ass owl. He will give you respect and call you sir over and over again.
I like to think that by naming Link, “um..sir,” it makes all the inhabitants of Hyrule fearful of the green cloaked hero. They may still hate Link, but they show hints of fear in his presence. The best way to play with this name is to play it with the intent of not just beating the Ganondorf, the King of Evil, but to mock him so badly, that he cowers in awe. When most people play Zelda, most will go for completionist goals, snagging up every heart piece, and every secret item. Doing all the side-quests will greatly overpower Link. When you beat Ganondorf in such a fashion, he’s defeated, but he still doesn’t respect you. He curses your name. What I like to do is to embarrass him by beating him without all the bells and whistles of a fully stocked hero. I like to beat him with the broken hilt of a knife. No shield. No upgrades. And being that the player could potentially get up to twenty hearts, I go with the minimum of three. Beating him in this fashion in which you bounce his death rays back at him with a cute, little glass bottle, and bonk him on the head with the broken hilt of a knife, makes it ultimately satisfying when he trembles in fear and whimpers your dreaded name, “um sir..”
Being defeated by a warrior with fully-powered magic, strength, and weapons is an honorable defeat. Being beaten by a fairy boy with a cute bottle and broken knife is just plain embarrassing. There’s a wide variety of different ways a player can change the tone of Ganondorf when he is defeated. It all depends on how much they want to embarrass him. Even in a game as linear as Ocarina of Time, the player still has some degree of control over the very tone of the game, simply by adjusting play style and naming mechanics.
By giving naming duties to the player, the game designers have effectively handed over the keys to the Ferrari. Most players will make sure the narrative stays intact in one piece, but the more daring will drive the narrative into a ditch.
Originally posted on thealternativechronicle.com, Aug 2013