The other day, I spent a ludicrous amount of time debating whether to buy myself a personalised Love Island water bottle. The reasons against are manifold:
1. I have enough water bottles
2. I am 40
3. They are FIFTEEN POUNDS
4. I do not live on an island with a load of sexy strangers, I live in Catford with blood relatives, so I do not really need to minimise the risk of someone drinking from my water bottle by having my name printed on it 5. PLUS DELIVERY
On top of all this, it's not even like I'm a long time Love Island fan. This is the first series I've watched, having tuned in to see what all the fuss is about. It turns out the fuss is about people in bikinis worrying about the impact of Brexit on trees. Obviously, I am hooked.
What has this got to do with video games, I hear my employer ask? Well, this is not the first time I have embraced a franchise I spent ages politely avoiding at best, and publicly deriding at worst. For years, I could never understand the appeal of the Legend of Zelda games, with their twee visuals, fiddly game mechanics, and mawkish plots. Then there's the whimsy - oh God, SO MUCH WHIMSY. Such was my dislike of the games, and my love of winding people up on Twitter, that I regularly appeared on Challenge TV's Video Game Nation to slag off Zelda, and ask why anyone would want to play a game about a pixie with a girl's name.
Then, a few weeks before Christmas, I got a Switch. I thought I'd save it as a present for my six year-old son, but to be sure of avoiding disappointment on the big day, it seemed sensible to boot it up and make sure it was working. And, you know, might as well give Breath of the Wild a quick go, just to make sure it's as rubbish as all the other ones.
Cut to one week later. I cannot wait for the kids to go to bed so I can get back to Hyrule. I have started secretly putting the clocks back so bedtime rolls around earlier and earlier. The children are initially confused by being told to put their pyjamas back on after breakfast, but luckily they are quite simple.
The minute their heads hit the pillow, I jump into my own bed with the Switch. Every time the door handle rattles, I hurriedly shove the console under the duvet in case it's my son wandering in. Usually it's just my husband, who begins to suspect I have developed a secret pornography addiction. He is disappointed when he finds out the shameful truth.
Breath of the Wild has won me over with its stunningly realised environments, enormous scope for discovery and exploration, and delightfully surprising lack of being shit. Obviously, the plot and the voice acting are still dreadful. But who cares, because the cutscenes don't matter; they are just footnotes to a story I am writing myself as I carve a path through this extraordinary landscape.
The last time I felt this engaged with a virtual world was in 2006, when I started playing World of Warcraft. I spent a happy few weeks in Azeroth, bimbling round, doing quests, and punching rats, while drinking copious cans of strong Continental lager.
When I got to around level 25, I realised that to progress I'd have to do a dungeon, and join a group of other real life players. This turned out to be an absolute disaster. I found it impossible to follow what was going on in battles and was totally rubbish at them. "PULL!" my team-mates would shout, "YOU'RE A TANK!" I had no idea what they were on about. My entire character creation strategy had involved picking some sort of warrior-type and modelling her loosely on Clare Balding. I never played again.
Hyrule reminds me all the time of Azeroth, with its charming villages, cosy taverns, epic vistas, big baddies, silly quests, and all the pointy ears. But I like being able to choose my own adventure, without being shouted at by 14 year-old Norwegian grindcore fans. Breath of the Wild is basically World of Warcraft for insular middle-aged people, and I love it.
So does this mean I must have been wrong about all the previous Zelda games? Will I embark on a mission to go back and play them all to completion? Nope, just as I will not be mining the ITV2 archive for episodes of Love Island. Having hit 40 and had two children, I am acutely aware of my own mortality. I don't fancy lying on my deathbed thinking, "Well, at least I know what a Wind Waker is, and how Muggy Mike got his name."
Nor am I saying, just to be clear, that BOTW and Love Island represent equally impressive artistic achievements. If I had to guess, I'd say that in 500 years time, when video games have finally evolved into an art form, and Melvyn Bragg is still presenting his incredibly boring Radio 4 history programme, he is more likely to be discussing recurrent themes in the work of Eiji Aonuma than that episode where the women had to smash watermelons using just their arses. (Having said that, faced with the choice of watching that clip or fighting Thunderblight Ganon again, we all know which one we'd choose.)
My point is that both of these towering contributions to contemporary culture have reminded me it's important not to dismiss something just because you haven't tried it, or because lots of other people like it. (With obvious exceptions including the music of the Black-Eyed Peas, racism, and Cup-a-Soups.)
I'm sure there will be plenty of people who don't like this article, because they believe mentions of lowbrow disposable mass market entertainment have no place on a video games website. If it helps, please rest assured that the money I've been paid to write this will only pay for 50 or 60 Love Island water bottles, not including delivery. Cheers!
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