In which our juvenile heroine engages in a spot of porcine procrastination, and learns that people have names.
Let’s set the scene. It’s 3.35am one cold February morning, and I’m comfortably lounging somewhere between a contended doze and full, restful sleep. These days, this is usually the best kind of rest I can hope for. Suddenly, the white, rubber-coated handset situated on my bedside table begins to emit a strange grizzling sound. A colour-coded sensor near the top of the device begins to pulse between green, yellow and red as the sounds intensify. There’s a brief lull, then:
What follows is the kind of wailing cry that thoroughly pierces the mind, evicting every scrap of rational thought but one: “How do I stop it?!”.
For anyone among my readers who hasn’t yet experienced the joys of parenthood, the above events tend to play out anywhere up to five or six times a night, sometimes for as long as a week, during that dread process known as teething.
What usually follows is either A) a frantic scramble to the nursery, wherein I try to pacify a distraught 17-month-old with “cuddles”, water, and a horrendously masticated Jellycat duck, or B) a slightly slower, more reluctant version of the above, depending on the hour, and how many times I’ve completed this particular ritual already that night.
On that particular night, however, the usual routine wasn’t yielding results. The Screaming was not due to nappy discomfort, thirst, hunger or any other real physical distress. In situations like this, you hear tales of desperate dads strapping their wailing kids into the family car and going out for a late-night drive to ease them off to sleep. Childcare literature calls that kind of thing a “crutch” - an easy way of pacifying a demanding child without going through the torturous process of teaching them to self-soothe. However, at 4.45am, with around half-an-hour of sleep and a 6am rise for work looming on the horizon, you’re usually about ready to take “Childcare Made Easy” and shove it right up Doctor Sanctimonious’s perfectly bleached arse.
Since Mummy would be looking after the kid alone throughout the rest of the day while I was at work, I decided to relocate The Screaming to the living room - away from sleeping quarters. I’d done this a few times before; usually ending up falling asleep with baby on the sofa (even though co-sleeping is another of Doctor Sanctimonious’s massive parenting taboos). Bobbing, bum-patting, shushing and various other baby-calming techniques were quickly exhausted. What was needed was a distraction. Fishing under the sofa, I managed to wrap my fingers around the idling Wii U GamePad. I jabbed my finger at the power button, and as the touchscreen lit up, something extraordinary happened.
The Screaming faded away, leaving only the ringing ghost of a wail in my ears. A slightly stunned expression settled onto my daughter’s face. She excitedly tapped away at Mummy’s Mii avatar, which bears such an uncanny resemblance to the real thing that she was able to immediately name it. Once I’d wiped the tears from the kid’s cheeks and the snot from her nose, I flicked us back to the dashboard and booted up The Wind Waker.
It’s worth noting here that this was my daughter’s very first physical encounter with a games console. I was somewhat reluctant to introduce her to the medium at such a young age, partly due to her lack of interest in sitting down in front of a TV, and partly as the result of a lingering sentiment that gaming isn’t really considered a “constructive” pass-time. Nevertheless, as the first light of dawn began to creep into view outside, and as The Wind Waker’s beautifully illustrated opening played out, my infant daughter and I began exploring Outset Island.
I narrated all the dialogue. I instinctively found myself coming up with unique voices for each of the characters - a task made infinitely easier by the fact that the game’s distinctive art style and limited voice acting already imbues NPCs like Link’s sister Aryll and his elderly neighbours with so much character. We learned the basics with with the scholarly Sturgeon, trained with sword-master Orca, and nabbed Link’s iconic green tunic (knowingly parodied in this entry as being a bit lame) from his sweet-natured Grandma. I spun the camera around and zoomed it in a little to frame Link more effectively.
“Who’s that?” I asked, pointing at the screen.
“Baby” came the response. To clarify, my daughter tends to view anyone who isn’t visably an adult as a baby.
“He’s not really a baby, though, is he.” I responded. “He’s a little boy.”
“Boy.” She repeated.
“What’s his name?”
Silence, followed by “Boy” again. This is the first time I’d ever asked her someone’s name, so I didn’t expect her to deliver the correct answer. Think about it: to a baby, how you refer to the people around you tends to revolve entirely around their relationship to you and the role they play in your life. For example, your parents are Mummy and Daddy. Grandparents might be Grandma (Manma in my daughter’s case), Granddad (Dad-Dad) or Nana (Nana, but this sometimes means banana too, let’s not get into it...). I decided to elaborate:
“Yes, he’s a boy. His name’s Link.”
We continued onward. To my surprise, my daughter was quite happy to sit on my knee, flicking her eyes back and forth from the touchscreen to the TV while I helped her identify the things she was seeing. I picked up a rock, broke it against a cliff, and a rupee dutifully dropped out.
I looked down at the girl’s face, gazing inquisitively at the gently twinkling gemstone on-screen. I did the same thing with one of Zelda’s iconic pots.
Quick translation: “Gen” means “again”. Up to this point, its use had been exclusively associated with requesting more tickles, or to demand an encore of “The Grand Old Duke of York”.
If pots and rocks proved to be my daughter’s entry-point into the Zelda universe, then Outset Island’s roaming pigs became the reason she stayed. The post-sobbing sniffles were still in place, which meant I was not yet in the clear. Determined as I was to maintain the tenuous calm, I enthusiastically set to work with the pig-collecting side-quest. For the unfamiliar, this involves speaking to one of Link’s fellow islanders, a put-upon husband whose wife seems to have an unhealthy infatuation with pigs. This quest essentially serves as a tutorial, teaching players how to use the new (and somewhat underused) crawling mechanics to creep up on and catch the timid porkers. I didn’t remember this task being quite so difficult on the GameCube as it is in the Wii U version - perhaps I struggled with it due to my relative unfamiliarity with the Wii U’s oversized controller. Nevertheless, I persisted. Snatching each pig results in the animal letting out a satisfying squeal, followed by a series of cute grunts that match Link’s running pace. Naturally, this meant love at first sight:
We tracked down and caught each of Outset Island’s porcine wanderers, and dutifully tossed them into the pen to face a life of indentured servitude to an eccentric middle-aged housewife. We idled for a while by the pen, chasing the pigs around the pen in first-person view, then I decided to progress the story.
“We’ll come visit them again. Let’s go see Link’s sister.”
I relented, images of Doctor Sanctimonious and her infernal crutches flashing before my mind’s eye. Eventually we were able to prize ourselves away from the pen to catch up with Aryll at the lookout point, witness the pirates’ battle with the gigantic Helmaroc King bird, and venture into the island’s woods to help rescue a spunky pirate lass.
The short trek through the woods gave us our first real taste of combat with a couple of Bokoblins lurking among the trees. I ably dispatched them, and the reinforcements that parachute in as you close in on pirate girl Tetra’s location. Cutscenes play, and for an 17-month-old infant, dialogue-fatigue begins to set in. I rush through the next plot developments, maintaining an enthusiastic commentary to keep the kid engaged in the unfolding action. Aryll excitedly totters across a rope-bridge to meet her brother:
“Yeah, sure. Why not.” I respond.
The Helmaroc King swoops in, snatching Aryll mid-trot, then gets out of dodge.
Not quite the emotional reaction Aonuma and company were hoping for as Link’s totes adorbs kid sister gets snatched, probably to be sold into white slavery or something. Nevertheless, it demonstrates to me that my daughter is capable of understanding the images she’s seeing in these fast-paced cutscenes. By this point, the sun is well and truly up, and it’s almost time for me to start getting ready for work. The pirates are brow beaten by a friendly delivery-man-bird into helping Link track his sister to the not-at-all-ominously named Forsaken Fortress - but they give him a minute to say his goodbyes to everything he’s ever known since he was born. No biggie. I take the opportunity to spin the camera around again, pulling Link’s huge-eyed face into focus.
“Who’s that?” I ask.
“Boy.” The kid responds, then she corrects herself. “Link!”
And thus, Halfpint Hero, budding gamer-gal is born.