As far back as I can remember, video games have been a part of my life.
My dad played PC first person shooter games. The earliest ones I can remember are the original Castle Wolfenstein, followed by Doom, Quake, and Duke Nukem. I very much enjoyed these games, even if I wasn’t the best at them. My mom, on the other hand, loved playing Nintendo games. From Legend of Zelda and Final Fantasy (FF) on the NES to A Link to the Past, Lufia, Illusion of Gaia, and more FF on the SNES, I grew up watching her play these games. The most important gaming lesson I learned from her was to grind until your characters can tank their way through anything. (No seriously, this is how I play most games; technique be damned).
In 1996 my mom got diagnosed with breast cancer. She was 31 years old, had two children, and she had stage IV breast cancer. The same year saw the launch of the Nintendo 64. That Christmas the family got an N64. We would take turns playing Mario 64 but had to be careful because too much running around would sometimes leave her feeling dizzy (on top of how she felt from chemo and her other medications).
Around this same time my father and brother got really into archery. I would sometimes participate, but it didn’t interest me as much as it did them. This worked out because my mom could not continue going and walking the trails at the various archery tournaments that were held every weekend. But, it also wasn’t a great idea to leave my mom home alone in case she started to feel worse or if she passed out. I stayed home with her when my father and brother went and did archery tournaments. This worked out for all parties because my mom and I could share the N64.
The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time came out in November of 1998. My mom had always been a LoZ fan, and this game was no exception. It was 3D, it had side quests, it had a myriad of things you could collect. It was perfect. Every aspect of this game was enjoyable. My dad took to printing off tips and tricks, the locations of gold skulltulas, anything he thought would be beneficial to her quest through Hyrule. (Please keep in mind this was the early days of search engines and fast internet).
Although there were many things about the game my mom adored, like many other fans, my mom loathed the water temple. It is a whole bunch of up and down, confusing rooms, and locked doors. Whenever my mom would get to this temple in her play-through, it was my job to get to the final boss, and then she would take it from there. I was so excited to be able to help her out on her journey. We would sit there, in the living room, for hours, taking turns running through the game.
I can remember how much she despised the quest for the Biggoron’s sword. I can also remember her frustration with that stupid owl when you accidentally hit the wrong button and had to listen to his whole (extremely long) explanation over again. But, I also remember her joy at the fire temple, how much she enjoyed the music of the game, and her excitement at finding all the secrets.
Together we must have beat the game 4-5 times. In her final play-through she wanted to do the water temple herself; I sat next to her while she did it, just in case she needed my assistance. She didn’t, but I was happy to watch her beat the temple this time.
Before trophies and completion were tracked on video games, you had to do it yourself. And, that was her final goal for Ocarina of Time; she wanted to get every item, get every Gold Skulltula, win all of the competitions, plant all of the seeds. She named the character after my father and found all but a few of the heart pieces and most of the 100 Gold Skulltulas. She had made it to Ganon’s castle. She could have ended her play-through there, but she was still missing a few items.
Sadly, my mother passed before completing her final goal, three years after her initial diagnosis. I still have it, though. The game cartridge with her final save on it. It is one of my prized possessions, and despite no longer having an N64, I’ve held onto that game for 22 years. It sits in a place of honor amongst my curios and a small collection of mementos. And, of course (at the risk of sounding sappy) I still have my memories of all the hours we spent playing that game.
This article was inspired by a couple of things. First, October is breast cancer awareness month. Even if you are 30, if you have a lump in your breasts, monitor it and report any concerns you have to your physician. The second is the Nintendo 64 games coming to Nintendo Switch Online. I’m looking forward to sharing Ocarina of Time with my son, just like my mom shared it with me. I can foresee spending many hours replaying the game just so I can watch my son experience it for the first time. And, it will be nice to share a little bit of a grandmother he never got to meet.