The following article contains major Wind Waker spoilers.
There is something deeply affecting, so desperately affirming, about not wanting to write this article. Each time I try to think of a good intro I become acutely aware of the state of my post-suffering. My skin crawls each time I stroke the keys, and the flesh is becoming loose enough from the ideological terror of being alive that I can find its flakes in the shadows that stain my mattress.
I want to start off heavy-handedly to center a sentiment that I have not wielded in ages: the deep-seated traumas that weighed the anchors of my venture into critical theory and my now four-years-old article series about The Wind Waker. Satisfied with my first shots into academic darkness, I put on my green-hued thinking cap and aimed my sights forever skyward. No matter how many games I have grown to love, I’ve always come back to the original marker of my blogging identity somehow. Zelda seems to be a constant in my life on the surface, yet I’ve found the exploration of that surface to be markedly unlike that of the first Link, a link in a larger chain of events that have left me to question the affecting capabilities of video games. We can call my version of that chain the Demise Timeline if you’d like, but I’d rather not: after all, I did argue way back then that “happiness” and “sadness” are not clear-cut categories conveyable across such a vast and dangerous sea, and I feel destined to one day sail across it myself. I have no room for fatalism in a world where hope can reign.
I have spent many recent hours tinkering with my original analyses of that dearest Zelda title, and the philosophies that the game has imparted. Without a copy of the original to revisit, I have thrown myself into the arms of the Wii U remake, my personal history with which I have also uncovered from the depths of Google Drives past. My hopes for Wind Waker HD had been blown out of the bloom-ridden waters when I received it for my sixteenth birthday right around its release, and I wrote a reflection on it soon after. I reread it the other day and found my observations emerging yet sufficient:
Every wave I sailed across looked textured and pure. Peering out onto the horizon, I saw the silhouettes of the islands in the distance more vividly than I ever could on the GameCube. My telescope was constantly set to one of my main item buttons just so I could get a closer look at the skies. Whenever I stopped in deep waters to pick up the treasure hidden beneath those beautiful glowing rings, I admired the light that emitted from the treasure chests.
The high-definition overhaul changed my entire outlook on The Wind Waker. I could not perceive The Great Sea as a wasteland any longer. The Great Sea had been filled with life and vibrant color that its original state didn’t seem to contain. The land was full of optimism still, but there was no denying that it was the virtual embodiment of an emotion that I once thought the Great Sea lacked: happiness.
Wind Waker HD had transformed the Great Sea from a barren mystery to a determinable persona, from a question to an answer. And for the first time, the Great Sea seemed to answer to someone. Wind Waker HD translated a once-contested and cryptic kind of escapism into the sheer joy that I knew it could have always convened. What had been an all-encompassing projection of the people’s hopes in the original game had transformed into a graphic celebration of the new generation of video games, and an amplification of the magic of our pasts. He was fully right in these claims – truly an art historian even years before finding the discipline – but I would like to revise his previous perspective to more accurately reflect my experience with the remake itself.
Even before the release of my high-definition homecoming I knew that it would give me closure. To feel the breeze in my virtualized hair without a signature bite would be enough for me to believe that it still loved me. But time had passed since I had played the original. People had moved. I had found affections that ran as deep as Hyrule lay below the waves. Growing older had taught me that sometimes I crave connections more concrete than a whisper on the wind. And my reasons for playing video games eventually evolved from formal narrative interests to the medium’s ability to connect others across time and space. The singular experiences I enjoyed offline could not match the thought of becoming something embodied in virtual space. By that sweet sixteen I had begun sailing the web, always on the lookout for new faces to meet and places to explore. The internet was alive and empty and terrifying and just as colorful as my cell-shaded home had been. But Wind Waker HD revealed to me that “home” was not a singular place or time: it was wherever I could become what I knew I was meant to be. Wind Waker HD brought me to a home, but how long exactly was I supposed to stay? Would the wind grow cold and bitter and force my retreat? What would it mean if this game wasn’t everything to me?
These fears never again crossed my mind after I first turned on the console. The Miiverse Network immediately pulled me into a world of screenshots, fanart, and memes that I could have never imagined forming on a Nintendo platform. Black-and-white masterworks flashed before me, high score screenshots in Nintendoland rang up like arcade machine screens, and people screamed their excitement for their unfinished downloads at the top of their Mii’s caps-locked lungs. I felt the future of video gaming flood my living room and pull me under with the force of the goddesses themselves. Once on solid ground and soaked in soulful tears, I toured the place with unbound enthusiasm. The application was like an art museum that encouraged me to throw wine on the walls — and even if I didn’t, my presence was still enough of an artwork to be welcome at the opening.
I spent hours simply scrolling through the Wind Waker community before even turning on the game. Not fearing spoilers enabled me to see all corners of that world from all perspectives. Did people pictograph the starry skies? Take selfies with the tied-up bomb shop guy? Linger in those grey-scaled halls and contemplate the past like I did? Miiverse answered “yes” to all, or “Yeah!” in fidelic Mii-speak. I’ll never forget that glorious syntax, so distinguishable from the played-out “likes” and “loves” of other social media platforms. It was the most accurate signifier of how it felt to just play video games, and I slammed that button for every post I saw if only to virtually replicate how easily it slipped from my real-life lips. Yeah, this is awesome! Yeah, this is great! Yeah, I’m happy to be alive right now!
My past self sprung from this community and plunged deep into the waters once more, only to resurface with a new analysis of the artistic style that had saved his life so long ago. I had originally played The Wind Waker as the lonely kid looking for escape, and had found across its waters an immeasurable mass of friends and new adventures. In those waters, I had also found hope. But somewhere in my analysis I had forgotten that hope and its mass of believers are contingent on each other, for without the bonds I made in that new land, I would have never had the courage to set out after Aryll in the first place. The Wind Waker‘s art style and its signification of “hope” as I have so long argued is wholly dependent on the tension between the game’s dark subject matter, the presumed loneliness of one out at sea, and the fully developed cast scattered throughout that unconquerable territory. These terms, however, are almost too technical for me to fathom; that “cast” is simply my friends, and I deem them so for the hope they gave me in my times of ceaseless struggle. The art style may be an exemplification of that hope, but its sentiment emanated from those I encountered on my in-game (and out-of-game) journey to self-actualization.
In this manner, the overbearing communality of Miiverse transcended my original experience of The Wind Waker and materialized it as a universal reality. Miiverse allowed the hope The Wind Waker once bestowed upon me to manifest in all players, and for all players to then effectively become each other’s cast. The sea became filled with Tingle Bottles, new devices through which we could track each other’s journeys across the once-barren depths. Community-posted screenshots transported us to places we hadn’t yet explored, marked on our maps treasures we never knew existed, and bespoke the beauty of the world across which we sailed. The spirit of the legend was alive in more people than I had ever thought possible. I had first left Outset Island as a child thinking not a single soul could ever love me, yet here I stood among friends who had once breathed my air. Simultaneously they were survivors and symbols of my being one, for were it not for my resilience in the face of trauma I never would have been able to affirm my joys alongside them in the present. Beyond the NPCs was a vibrant group of people with diverse talents, humors, and perspectives that could not have entered my world until Miiverse let them into it, and I didn’t want them to leave. They became my reason for wanting to save the world once more, as every postcard and pictograph sent my way reminded me that I wasn’t the only one in it.
My past self was right to read happiness into the game for the first time, but what he missed was its conduit. The bloom may have captivated us all, but the true agent of this newfound emotional vibrancy were the players themselves, and the new platform through which we could connect. In the Miiverse, joy was generative and egalitarian. The network’s group-by-game community structure realized our voices through appreciation of a singular virtual experience, yet we weren’t there to worship the titles. We didn’t need to external affirmation of the fact that we were part of something greater. We made that something. And as collectivist curators of these virtual experiences, we were determined to share our unique adventures with them through every post we made. We actively retold our favorite stories as we played them, effortlessly weaving ourselves into the continuum of these tales as if they were made for us. All of us. Our collective presence made sure that no adventurer would ever sail alone. We were there for one another as my in-game friends were for me the first time around. We were the lighthouse in the distance, ever ready to guide you to a home you never knew you could have.
And on November 8th, 2017, the fire inside it went out for good.
I do not have any answers to why Miiverse had to shut down. The uses were plenty and still relevant to myriad games. I am sure Nintendo has its reasons for making the decision, but that does not mean I have to agree with it, and I have been in a state of relative shock since the announcement of its untimely death.
Part of my obsession with the history of ideas is that I know ideas have endpoints. Ideas will die whether after loud revolutions or lonely suicides; either way, new ones will take their place. But I have argued elsewhere that on the internet, discourse is material. What we read, what we write, and whatever media we upload to the virtual realm has an essence or affect that we carry with us after consumption. Miiverse was not simply a place where people could abstractly connect with one another: Miiverse was a space where people could create and exchange meaningful things in a meaningful context. Art, discussion, screenshots — these are all objects with intrinsic value whose meanings transcended their initial functions when circulated within Miiverse, and that mediation is what made those objects so integral to gameplay. These creations surpassed their data and became experiences in their own right. I learned this first-hand.
It would be objectively correct to say that Miiverse content in its original context has been lost forever. That statement slightly devalues the real reasons for Miiverse’s importance, though. What really matters here is that Miiverse transformed the entire experience of Wind Waker itself by virtue of its social circulations. The community that formed on Miiverse took a single-player experience – one whose in-game interplays of solitude and connection were once my salvation – and transformed it into a communal one. That community then embodied The Wind Waker’s thematically purported ideals of belonging and its aspirations for brighter futures simply by existing in each other’s space. As game experiences crossed, so, too, did the lines blur between the spirit of The Wind Waker and its real-life manifestations. And not a single object that made this happen – not one Tingle bottle, not one piece of fanart, not one legendary missable pictograph – will ever wash up on the shores of a lonely player ever again.
Wind Waker HD exemplified the possibility of happiness above hope, but the pursuit of the former was primarily made possible by a connection that no longer exists. I want to believe that the power of The Wind Waker has lived on; indeed, I understand that I show little faith in the game’s own ability to delegate that hope, which strains my self-definition as a Wind Waker success story. But these online components were so valuable to the new Wind Waker experience that they changed my entire conceptualization of the title. The kid struggling with suicide, so desperate for virtual escape, must once more sail the high seas alone. I was once that kid. In many ways, I still am that kid. I weep for all those alike.
To Miiverse itself and everyone who populated it: God, I miss you all so much. I miss practicing photography, I miss the geocaching, I miss your funny selfies. You gave this game everything you could, and I miss everything about it. I will undoubtedly set sail again soon to receive some modicum of closure and comfort, but nothing will ever be the same without you. You made the world come to life in a way that I quite literally could only dream of until Miiverse came along, and you filled it with all things bright and special. I will not ever forget how much that means to me, and how much you mean to me. If you ever doubted your impact in that community, you have my word that you made one.
At the end of The Wind Waker, Daphnes gives Link and Zelda his final speech as Hyrule floods around him. “W-Wait!” Zelda interrupts. “You could… You could come with us! We have a ship! We can find it. We WILL find it! The land that will be the next Hyrule!”
Daphnes is silent, first responding only with a solemn mile. “Ah, but child… That land will not be Hyrule.” He pauses, and like the lion he once was, he roars his last words to them. “It will be YOUR land!”
I do not believe we will ever have another Miiverse. If the amount of tears shed for it are any indication, it now lays with a ruined Hyrule at the bottom of its own salty sea.
But as the scattered seeds of the future, I am certain that we will carry its spirit with us forever, wherever we land.
REST IN PEACE MIIVERSE
2012 – 2017