It’s 10 years ago this month that I published a post called ‘Home computer gaming from the 1980’s onwards’. A lot has happened in the last decade, both in life and with computer games. I hadn’t played too many games for a good while until the Covid-19 pandemic hit and we all found ourselves in lockdown. Just to fill a bit of time, I bought and played (to destruction) and wrote about Zelda, Breath of the Wild, Travels in lockdown. I was incredibly impressed with the playability and open nature of this game and the way in which you could capture and share travel photos, like you would if you weren’t in lockdown – it was the next best thing.
The sequel is The Legend of Zelda, Tears of the Kingdom. Released in May 2023, it sold more than 10 million copies in its first few days and almost 20 million by July making it one of the best sellers on Nintendo Switch. Although we are not in lockdown anymore, a lot has happened with technology and game worlds in the last couple of years. The metaverse went up and down the hype curve again with Facebook rebranding to Meta in Oct 2021 and going large on VR headsets in 2022. By 2023, ChatGPT launched and suddenly everyone stopped talking about the metaverse and started talking about AI.
Zelda in the metaverse
Meanwhile, Nintendo keep selling these unbelievable open world Zelda games, which appear to (largely) transcend these trends and hype curves. Listening recently to the excellent podcast ‘Status Update’, episode 2 interviews Misan Harriman. Misan discusses his incredible journey as photographer to web3 visionary and also talks about mental health. For Misan, playing Zelda games was his metaverse. He was entirely absorbed into the environment and he found it the ideal way to deal with his own situation.
“When people throw around words like “metaverse”, I mean, that’s not new. If you play Zelda Ocarina of Time, that’s the ultimate metaverse experience that’s never been bettered. It is of no surprise with that background that I’ve been obsessed about the value of virtual items. Any game that you play, there are always items that basically are yours — that you earn. ” – Misan Harriman
This is a really interesting observation. Whilst people are talking about Virtual and Augmented Reality and (now) AI, Nintendo are creating these open world games which are so massively absorbing for people. They are open, but at the same time in a walled garden, away from the perils of the ‘real’ world. They don’t require a VR headset or even a big screen (the Switch is a handheld device). They do not feature multiplayer gaming, AI generated characters or any of the kind of bells and whistles increasingly associated with modern gaming and yet they are still massively popular.
In this article, I wanted to explore why that might be and why people would be motivated to play. Would the games be even better if we were more immersive or used the latest technologies? If we could play with other gamers around the world or friends or chat away to Non-player characters (NPCs) powered by ChatGPT or AI generated plot lines, we could really create something impressive with massive sticking power. What if, like other metaverses, the in game currency could be exchanged for real or crypto currency, that would open up all kinds of possibilities for turning ‘in game’ time, items and land into cash or vice versa as we’ve seen in other situations like Second Life’s Lindon Dollars or Fortnights V-Bucks.
I think probably the truth is, whilst all of these things sound incredible and I would love to try them all, they also change what the franchise is all about. An open, but safe, Half Real world in a beautiful, rich walled garden. Parents can buy this game for their kids and not worry about what unsavoury characters (or AI’s) will be lurking behind a castle wall or without racking up a family sized mortgage for (accidental?) in game purchases or massive fluctuations in currencies. Where gamers can control things, they will, so there are mod’s available for Zelda VR. Nintendo also dabbled with the VR cardboard for Zelda, but the Verge described this as an ugly and uncomfortable experience.
Motivations and the future of gaming
What is in the pipeline for the future of Zelda and further sequel’s is unclear, but even without this, these games are proving to be incredibly popular. It seems technological hardware advancements aren’t always required in order to make a popular game today. Amazing gameplay is still the cornerstone of a popular game, whether it’s Angry Birds on a smartphone, Zelda on a handheld or something that takes more advantage of increasingly connected technologies. For Zelda also, there are hours and hours of gameplay and ways to play the game from completing the central plot, side quests or gamer invented challenges like timed speed runs. Would Nintendo want to extend this longevity indefinitely by introducing new features? The business model may not require it whilst this format is still as popular as it is – a nice safe and happy environment which for some, is all the metaverse that they need. If your motivation is to kill time, escapism, exploration, discussion, creating or share photos or videos of the game, a sense of challenge or just plain fun, there are lots of human motivations being fulfilled. At present, Zelda does not need a more immersive, unpredictable or more connected game – just yet.
Have you played these games? What motivates you to play and what do you think about applying new technologies to these games? Let me know.