Forget the Princess, let’s climb another mountain.

I knew I was in trouble when I found myself on the way to work and saw a squirrel cross my path. I nearly ran after it to try and catch it. I could have laughed but was still feeling very tired. You see, I have a new mistress and a dirty addiction.

Two weeks ago, I got my grubby mitts on a Nintendo Switch with a copy of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. For any non-gamer reading this, the Switch is a videogame console that can be played as a handheld device, or docked to a television. Nintendo revealed this machine in October 2016 and it launched to huge acclaim in March 2017.

Nintendo, as a videogame company marches to its own beat. Where Sony and Microsoft are in a dual with their high-powered 4K machines (Playstation 4 Pro and Xbox One X respectively), Nintendo gave us what is essentially a low-powered tablet with motion controls. This was a make or break machine for the company and people, myself included doubted it would succeed. If it failed, Nintendo would have been likely leaving the industry as a console producer. But the Switch has not failed; in fact it has been a sales success.

Why has it been a huge success? You could point to the Switch’s main selling point. It’s a portable machine that you can take anywhere and believe me, people have been doing just that. I have never been an outdoor gamer. I prefer to play alone at night in the privacy of my own house, so the world can’t see me revert back into a teenage boy who gets very excited at seeing the afore mentioned squirrel (you can cook them, or sell them for cold hard cash).

For me though, it is the simple fact that Nintendo is the only “Videogame” company still in the industry. Sega and Atari are distant memories and Sony and Microsoft are electronic and computer companies respectively. Sure, they have amazing franchises such as Halo and Uncharted, but Nintendo "knows" games. Let’s take Zelda for example. There have been various Zelda games on all of their consoles over the last few decades and I have played most of them. They all revolve around the player taking control go the mythical hero, called Link. He has to save Princess Zelda from the Evil Ganon and restore the land of Hyrule to peace and harmony. Nintendo recycles this story within every game and over the last ten years, Zelda had devolved into a fetch quest with all the objectives signposted. You get the sword, you go to the castle, which is marked on the map and kill Ganon. Enjoyable enough, but nothing special.

Breath of the Wild is something different. It is the first open-world Zelda game, which means you can go anywhere you see in the world. What sets this game apart from EVERY other game out there is the ability to climb. Sounds simple, doesn’t it? I was skeptical myself, but by the end of my first night playing, I was totally engrossed in this adventure. I could climb, start fires, hunt, cook, sneak around and I even got my first horse and tamed her. It got to 3am that night and I had to fight myself  to put the joypad down. I certainly wasn't taking the console to bed, as that would mean NO sleep. With all the will power of a hero, I put the pad down and turned off the television. Feeling overjoyed I went to bed happy and relaxed.  

I am a gamer and I love games, I love losing myself in these worlds. Playing games allows me to really switch off my inner voice that is constantly screaming at me. This isn’t a mindless activity either. There are puzzles ingrained into the world that require real thinking and problem solving. The satisfaction of solving them is makes me feel dead clever.

Most of all though, these games take me back to my childhood, to my cousins Dean and Leon’s house on a Saturday night when we would huddle around the SNES (Super Nintendo Entertainment System), playing another Zelda game: A Link to the Past. Those carefree days when our biggest issues were homework and avoiding my Aunty Joan, who kept threatening to put us to bed.

Breath of the Wild allows me to embrace my inner child. The curiosity and excitement of playing for just five more minutes. To see what is around the next corner. To see if I can cook squirrel meat and apples together? To give myself space to breath. To give myself the gift of that space. Life can be challenging and hectic, but here, I get to be a hero. A hero who is going to save a Princess.

As I get older and wiser, I see that we are all too quick to judge and chastise ourselves for those moments of childishness. I know I used to tell myself, I had to be stronger, more serious or hard working, because every adult in the world is an challenger, who knows so much more than I do. As a man, I feel pressure form society to be strong and stoic, very much like Link himself. This is a lie we tell little boys as they are going up. They have to be this way to succeed. By showing their softer sides, they are somehow weak or less masculine. The truth is every man, deep down, is still a little boy and by embracing that child, we connect with ourselves in a primal way. We connect to who we really are. We forget that every little boy is a hero and every little girl is a princess. By having the courage to show that side of ourselves to the world, we get to be free. 

I know Nintendo as a company understands this concept. They reinvent their franchises with every console release and give us adults an opportunity to play like children again. That is their magic and that is why they deserve to remain in the video game ecosystem.

For me, I’ve been having a great week getting to know "little" Robert again and I have missed him. 

Nintendo, thank you for reminding me who I am and letting me play once more. I have to go now and do something productive (by which I mean climb to the top of Mt. Hylia to find a fish scale).