Can a Power Fantasy be Art?

On the other side of my previous post, I wanted to also look at games that just make you feel like an awesome person.In so doing I want to pose the following question: Does pandering to the player’s sense of self worth make a game any less artistic?

For me, the ur-example of games that make you feel like a mensch has to be the Zelda series. In the Zelda franchise, you are Link, a character whose identity is rooted in heroism, whether he’s the Hero of Time, Winds, or whatever else. In games like Ocarina of Time and Twilight Princess, the lands are very clearly under the influence of a malicious force which seems to affect every part of Hyrule. Link is thrust into the story when his childhood home is disturbed by this evil influence, and everywhere he goes afterwards contains some problem related to the overarching threat. Little by little, Link purges the world of this evil, before finally addressing the problem at its source in Hyrule Castle during the finale. During the final credits, the player is treated to a montage of all the places that they have rescued. They see all the friends they’ve made along the way, and each one is happier than they were when Link met them. For me, no other series makes you feel like you’ve truly saved the world like Zelda.

Some entries in the series are less subtle about it.

But does the game going out of its way to congratulate you just for playing it diminish its value? Is it possible that the developers are only including this to appeal to the players’ selfish desire for recognition?

I would argue no. Yes, the ending credits are manipulative; but they are vital to the overall message of the series. Zelda as a series is deeply rooted in fairy tales; Link could not be more archetypical a hero, and Ganon is defined first and foremost by his wickedness. The ending credit sequence are not just to make the player feel good; they are also there to show that Hyrule is a living, breathing world where the actions of the hero have consequences. It is telling that many of the characters have needs only incidental to the overarching plot. In Twilight Princess he rescues a woman’s cat; in Ocarina of Time he helps a farmer collect chickens. Neither action has a clear reward, but Link, and the player, still do them. Thus the ending sequences are nothing more than fulfillment of the contract implicitly set out by the world; when Link helps somebody, their lives improve, because Link is the hero of the story and that’s how Hyrule operates. It is the end credit sequences that complete the theme of Link as the hero, and they are vital because of it.

0 thoughts on “Can a Power Fantasy be Art?

  1. As a fan of the Legend of Zelda series, I would agree with you. While each title obviously has a main storyline, one of the best parts of these games is, as you said, the fact that the developers placed a large emphasis upon helping people with no immediate reward. For me, it serves as a sort of immersive factor. I’m not just liberating a civilization full of emotionless robots, I’m helping real people with real problems. The finish is satisfying both because I’ve saved the world, but also because I know who I’ve saved. I thought you made a great point when you said that no other game makes you feel like you saved the world more; that’s exactly how I feel.

  2. I agree. I find that the side quest interaction with the main quests in Zelda and the characters both of these introduce to the player only improves the story. Bringing back the player to the characters from those quests also enhances the game because it shows that EVERYTHING you did, not just killing/sealing Ganon, was of importance. It broadens the scope of Link’s narrative from, Link and Zelda versus Ganon to, how Link improved the entire land of Hyrule.

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