Monday, September 1, 2014

Masking the Pain: Death and Loss in "The Legend of Zelda"

Nintendo is widely recognized as the leading company in video games directed at a younger audience, almost indisputably. One of its most popular games, renowned even in older generations, is the Legend of Zelda series. Fans often cite the series' soundtrack, or simply a great fun factor brings them back. But most players that have stuck with the series for a long while and have taken the time to ask why they enjoy the games so much can see that above all, the players can connect to the game. In The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask, the player assumes the position of Link, a knightly hero in search of his lost fairy, Navi. The game then is split into five major areas, each of which are themed differently, and all of which perfectly resemble the Kubler-Ross Model of Grief, a five stage progression of mourning that people have been shown to go through whenever confronted by a great deal of loss (such as, perhaps, the apparent loss of a good friend and companion). The game almost perfectly models this progression without saying it, providing an easy bridge to the heart of any player who has lost something they cared about.

The gamer's travels in Majora's Mask occur in a land called Termina, which is under the threat of a falling moon that would soon crush the entirety of the land and kill all its people. The first part of Termina the player visits is known as Clock Town, where the people are all in denial that the moon is actually falling, or saying that if it does fall, everyone will be okay. The people even plan a carnival for the day the moon will reach the ground. Interestingly enough, the first stage of the grief cycle is known as denial--where the griever denies or represses the loss in question and, in the game, the first "stage" Link goes through after his loss of Navi.

The second portion of the game, dubbed Woodfall, features a captured princess, and an outraged king. The king responds to the loss of his daughter by lashing out and trying to kill an innocent monkey that he had dubbed the culprit. Conversely, the second stage of the famed aforementioned grief cycle is anger--having realized the failure in denial and the truth of the loss, the griever lashes out at his or her surroundings.

The third area Link visits in Majora's Mask is called Snowhead, where a tribe has just lost its leader. The dead leader begs Link to revive him with magic, offering him everything he had in trade for preventing the inevitability of his death and passing on. When he is not revived, the leader lapses into intense sorrow, lamenting that he would have to watch as his tribe became buried in ice. The third stage in the cycle, as one might guess, is bargaining--through any number of means, the griever tries to escape the loss they have experienced, rarely met with any remote success.

The third stage of the Kubler-Ross model is often short and quick to transition into the next, so the fourth area of the game is rather a continuation of the end of the third. In the Great Bay, Link encounters a mother who has lost her children, and stands stoic looking out at the ocean, retreated inward and remaining unresponsive, almost permanently suspended in sorrow, similar to the leader seen in the third realm. This inward turn is a representation of the fourth stage of the cycle, depression--where the griever becomes reserved and distant, unable to handle the level of loss experienced.

The fifth and final area of Majora's Mask is known as Ikana Valley, literally a valley full of death. However, it is what more lies in the valley that the player can relate to. Ikana Valley comes with the acceptance of death and loss. In Ikana Valley, the player ascends a tower to open a shining chest, obtaining that acceptance and the enlightenment that awaits inside it. Almost needless to say, the final stage of the grief cycle is acceptance--where one realizes that loss is bound to happen, and that in the end, things do turn out okay.

The game ends with Link riding through misty woods, supposedly continuing his search for his good friend. However, the possibility remains that this riding off into the mist was in fact his acceptance of loss, perhaps loss of Navi, or even something greater. Many more theories surround the game, but almost all of them accept the game as progressing through a cycle of grief, something that players can feel close to. Here is one of those alternate theories, with a similar base and an entirely more revolutionary conclusion:


  1. This was a very interesting read, I never really thought Nintendo put that much effort into the narrative of their games (whoever came up with an Italian plumber rescuing a princess from a castle probably didn't put in long hours). However, this made me rethink that assumption, well done.

  2. Great job on this, I play zelda all the time and i'm about halfway through majoras mask. I never noticed that link, or anyone else was going through the stages of grief. I probably should have read a different one because it ruined the ending for me but I had to read on because it was that interesting.