I love storytime; it’s one of my favorite parts of parenting, and I’ve ruthlessly staked a claim on bedtime stories that I rarely relinquish to my wife. Together my daughter, Rosie, and I have read Charlotte’s Web, Stuart Little, and The Tale of Despereaux, as well as countless other picture books. Rosie keeps up with the stories fairly well; we’ll review what has happened so far with each new chapter, and she’ll sometimes stop me along the way to ask questions. One of my favorite parts of storytime is coming up with voices for all the characters. I know that by any decent theatrical standard, my voices are terrible (hence no audio sample), but I do my best and Rosie knows what voices to expect for the different characters once I’ve got them all worked out.
Then a few months ago, Rosie pulled The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess out of the video game drawer and, with a glimmer in her eye, asked, “Can we play this game, daddy?” At first I was hesitant; some of Twilight Princess‘s scenes might be scary for a four year old, and I also knew that the game was too advanced for Rosie to be able to do much playing on her own (except for maybe running around Hyrule field). But then I realized Zelda’s great advantage: it didn’t have fully voiced characters! I could read all the dialogue as if we were reading a story.
So we began playing The Legend of Zelda, and while I always knew that the Zelda dialogue was a bit hokey, the offense to credulity is magnified tenfold when you read it all out loud. (Nintendo’s going to have to really step up their game if they ever plan to do a fully voiced version of Zelda.) Here’s a bit of dialogue from Zane, one of the game’s villains: “Are you implying that my power is… our old magic? Now that is a joke! This power is granted to me by my god, and you will respect it!.” I do my best deep, dark voice and off we go. Yet while I’m cringing at the writing, Rosie is enchanted.Playing Twilight Princess with Rosie was a lesson in why video games matter. At each turn, Rosie was fully invested in the story. When Link was pulled into Twilight, Rosie jumped into my chair, anxious to know what had happened to our hero. But the best part of this game for Rosie was Midna, Link’s impish companion through the game. Unlike the sidekicks from previous games, Midna was a fully developed character with desire, emotion, and motivation. After Link gets his ability to transform into a dog, Rosie always wanted Link to be in his canine form, since Midna would appear and ride on his back. And Rosie was awe-struck the first time Midna used her great strength to hoist a bridge into the sky. Every moment in the game filled her with hope, anticipation, and wonder. When I think about what video games have to offer us, these are the moments I recall; the stories affect us, and Link’s heroic quest to help Midna is essentially a story of charity and compassion.
Our playthrough of Twilight Princess went remarkably well, and now we’ve moved on to Skyward Sword. Rosie not such a fan of Link’s new sidekick, Fi, the “android in a sword” character. We haven’t finished Skyward Sword yet, but Rosie often looks at me and asks plaintively, “When will we get to see Midna again?” Still, despite the absence of Midna, my daughter finds the new game engrossing, particularly in its “quest to find Zelda” component. In the midst of playing, Rosie will become so engrossed that she migrates to stand directly in front of the television, which often instigates Link’s hasty demise. The visual style of the games is so enchanting that she has trouble remembering to stand back.
And for those who think that using a video game for storytime is a sin only slightly less heinous than playing video games in church, I can only say that her enthusiasm for reading has remained strong. I do have a fear related to our Zelda adventures, however: have I ruined Zelda for my daughter by presenting the games in this way? The Zelda games are, in their very nature, games that challenge your problem-solving skills, encouraging you to develop solutions to difficulties the game throws at you. Instead of experiencing the benefits of developing solutions to impediments, Rosie only watches as the solution is discovered for her. With Skyward Sword I’ve tried to alleviate this issue by asking Rosie for input, and she’ll make suggestions to help me (and once she even noticed a solution that I hadn’t). So maybe not all is lost?
Are there other games that would work well as “storytime” games? Do you think future Zelda games will be fully voiced?