The thrill of setting sail not knowing what island is coming across the horizon, seeing the moods of the tide wrap around your boat in a beautifully crafted cel-shaded universe. The promise of adventure has always been ripe for the taking in any Zelda game and The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker is no exception. However one of the reasons that make this particular entry so compelling is the grandeur of The Great Sea, where the majesty of each new location is presented to the player through the very game play they are partaking. For there is no need to impose any spectacle on us in this game because it is embedded into the very heart of the game play; spectacle and experience are one and the same. Like a painting hanging up in a museum, we are invited to interpret the piece for ourselves rather than us being forced into an interpretation by a flurry of spectacles that deter us from our own point of view.
When we look at the media industries today we see a tendency to be lulled into a state of mindless consumption created by spectacle that can distract us from the fundamental meaning behind any piece of art. If we consider artists in the charts like Miley Cyrus, her attitude is enough to distract us from the fact that her vocal performances are atrocious. Many other singers use the spectacle of backing vocals which often cover up the fact that the singer themselves is no longer singing. Furthermore an artist like Beyoncé, who is such an empowering figure, blasts us with sexual imagery in her music videos and recent performances resulting in a state where “the audience is hit by sexual imagery with such frequency and speed that they prevent any interpretation of the song’s actual meaning” (“My Vendetta Against Women” http://www.readwave.com/my-vendetta-against-women_s35671). We see this in Hollywood blockbusters also; the Transformers series is so steeped in American propaganda, yet its painfully contrived set-up is forgotten in the midst of the dazzling action in the forefront. There is so much spectacle fuelling these experiences that we don’t have the opportunity to consider the meaning within the content.
Of course we see this need for spectacle within the video games we play on a regular basis.
Charlie Brooker’s How Video Games Changed the World points out the alarming use of gun licensing in the Call of Duty series and of course juxtaposed against the infamous airport mission doesn’t make a dangerous mix of reality and fiction at all; the opportunity to shoot loads of people regardless of their innocence is apparently an exciting spectacle. Sonic the Hedgehog often runs through insane loops giving that fantastic sensation of speed albeit there’s little or no player interaction during these sections at all. Even something as critically acclaimed as The Last of Us drives us through a beautiful narrative so powerful we can overlook the fact that the game play itself isn’t all that compelling (I loved the game but even I thought the middle section dragged on). Ultimately we’ve all been strung along by the spectacle of a villain only to find their boss fight was a cake walk and all that dazzling power they displayed through things like cut scenes was just for show. And of course we all realise the sensational QTE should never have existed to begin with. However the imagery and spectacle that such tactics present keep us playing despite the fact that the game play itself is lacking and can often lead to a state of playing without taking in the experience along the way.
Thus we return to The Wind Waker and even after almost 12 years since the original release the HD re-release proves we can still appreciate its merits today. Landscapes melt into view along the horizon, creating an experience that can be internalised because we discover it at our own pace. The tools you receive through the journey have a variety of functions to discover on both the field and in battle and being able to assign a tool to your own buttons really allow you to feel your own personal preferences in the make-up of your character without the spectacle of designing their look. The Pictograph also is a great feature, allowing not only sharing with players across the world but inviting us to soak up the universe in seeing it through the camera lens. One thing I appreciated greatly was that Ganondorf’s power was never displayed through the cut scenes but was withheld until you faced him in game play and thus the fight against him became so much more exhilarating; he could end up doing anything! All in all the adventure plays out in a way that allows the player to process each step rather than propelling them forward by spectacle in an attempt to keep the game play from going stale.
Ultimately this need to create spectacle isn’t necessarily a bad thing; sometimes this gives you exactly the outlet you’re looking for when playing a game or watching a film. However sometimes it is also important to be given the opportunity to process the experience along the way because at the end of the day an experience processed is one that will remain with you longer than a stream of visual ecstasy. Sure The Wind Waker wasn’t always the most compelling adventure throughout the time I was playing, but now that I’ve finished the majesty of sailing those seas is something I will remember fondly for a long time coming. While video games today are much more fast-paced and often filled with guns and other gadgets, it’s a comfort to know that something like The Legend of Zelda is still around to engage us in an adventure and not simply make us witness to one. Besides if one were to step away from the mainstream gaming scene there are plenty more treats like this to experience, they just need to be sought after. At the end of the day a little less spectacle can go a long way.