Content notification on cancer
The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is a beautiful game. Everything from the title’s visual style to the ambient soundtrack spur this urge to explore the realm of Hyrule in a way that none of the previous titles did. The world is your oyster, provided you’re careful enough to not be ambushed by Guardians, and BOTW rewards the curious with all kind of secrets and discoveries.
But thinking about Breath of the Wild makes me emotional sometimes. It’s not because the game is THAT beautiful, though it is a good enough game to bring some to tears. No, Breath of the Wild makes me emotional because it’s just the sort of game my mother would love, and that I’d never be able to show her it.
My mom died sixteen years ago today, losing a battle with cancer that she was battling before I was even born. She learned she was pregnant with me when she went into radiation treatments, only to find out I was in there. One of my earliest memories is going to a hospital waiting room, watching the bigger kids play Pac-Man on the arcade machine (it was a cool hospital okay) while my mom went to her appointments, eventually stopping when her cancer was in remission.
But other than the waiting room, and even including it maybe, much of my childhood and many of my happiest memories revolved around video games. I still fondly remember how my half-brothers taught me how to play Super Mario Bros. 3 by recording their playthrough on a VHS then playing it back with me mimicking their button presses. I also remember the day my parents went to pick up Sonic the Hedgehog 2 from some store or another, and they gave me the very much over-sized pre-order shirt.
For most people my age, their childhood with gaming often involved begging parents for “just ten more minutes” with the SNES or Genesis before going out to play. My mom was not like that—in fact, she’s the one that brought the games into the house in the first place. Before I became enamored with video games, she bought the games she wanted to play, so titles like Final Fantasy lined the shelves alongside the average Mario and Sonic fare for my older brothers to enjoy.
I never got the chance to ask my mom why and how she got into gaming, but it’s not a stretch to imagine it was partially spurred by her cancer—radiation and chemotherapy take a lot out of a person, and video games provide passive escapism for someone too tired to do much else.
But when I started taking an interest in video games, my mom encouraged it. Often my birthday and Christmas presents would be video games, or if she could scrounge up the money, the latest iteration of the Game Boy console. She and I would often share Game Boy games, which was how I got into series like Castlevania and, as it turns out, The Legend of Zelda.
My mom always loved the Zelda titles, in particular doing everything possible in Link’s Awakening, and then doing a large chunk of it again in Link’s Awakening DX. Like every other child I was obsessed with the first two generations of Pokémon for a long, long time, but once the Pokefever went away and I moved onto RPGs like Dragon Quest, I was more interested in the titles that she played. When Oracle of Seasons and Ages released, I played through Seasons (the more action-based one) while she worked through Ages (the more puzzle-y title), and then we swapped carts when we finished.
I never quite understood her love for puzzle games, though. I am an impatient person, which is a bit ironic considering the number of times I grinded through and completed Dragon Quest III in my pre-teen days. She beat the main story of Dr. Robotnik’s Mean Bean Machine, which anyone that’s played would know that’s an incredible feat. I used to watch her play The New Tetris for the Nintendo 64 as the blocks fell at blindingly fast speed, reaching levels I didn’t think possible.
I wonder what she would have thought about Tetris Effect. The background probably would have been too distracting.
Maybe it was because she was over-protective, but the encouragement really solidified my love for gaming. She dealt with my rambling re-tellings of games like Golden Sun while walking or waiting for the taxi. Along with her copies of magazines like People and Weekly, she would grab me the latest issue of Electronic Gaming Monthly so I could stay up to date on gaming news. In fact, I first learned about Dragon Quest through the very first issue of Pocket Gamer.
This only amplified when her cancer returned. Most of my Mondays in 7th grade were spent not at school, but at the Cancer Center, as my mother underwent aggressive chemotherapy and needed help getting home. In her bag, she always had a book and her Game Boy Advance, and I would do that same. She would play Tetris as the poison was injected in her veins, and I would play Super Mario World in the waiting room, unable to focus on homework.
Eventually, the school called my mom and my stepdad out of concern of me missing so much class, and my mom had to find her way to and from the cancer center on her own. One day, she returned with a crocheted rabbit, in a blue dress with pink trim–the nurses at the Cancer Center made it, and she donated the money to get one, despite our home’s extremely constrained budget.
When her cancer became terminal, she gave me that rabbit. I can’t remember the reason she said at the time (likely something about how much I liked it), but the reason now is obvious—a memento.
But while perhaps that rabbit, an old college textbook, and some pictures are really all I have to remember her physically by, she really gave me a lot more than that. The likelihood that I’d be here, writing this, writing about video games at all would be very low if my mom didn’t support my main hobby. Despite everything, she really encouraged me to pursue creative hobbies. While I didn’t discover my ability and love for writing until college, about five years after she died, I still think she would have approved of my newfound love, and of course what I’ve been writing about since–video games.
I just wish I could have bought her a Switch and Breath of the Wild. I wonder how she would have reacted to the game’s sense of exploration and lack of hand-holding. Would she have gone off on her own adventures? Would she instead have pulled up a walkthrough (maybe even one I wrote for her) so she wouldn’t get lost? Would she get frustrated with the new-age controls and mechanics and just ask me to download Link to the Past for her again?
Unfortunately, I’ll never know the answer to that. But at the very least, I can take this hobby that she’s given me, and continue writing about what I love, and what she—maybe not loved as well, but something that gave her a little comfort in difficult times.
One reply on “In Memoriam”
[…] And while a single word itself is not invoked, Carolyn Petit’s “the pilgrimage” connects place and memory in Hyrule and her own world. “I had to imagine that what Link was really looking for was to be reminded,” she writes, “through memories of the people he loved and the places they’d shared, of who he was, what he was fighting for, what he was living for.” Similarly, Elizabeth Henges uses BotW as a fulcrum of memories. She shares how her late mother introduced her to video games, leading her to meditate on her relationship to the medium in “In Memoriam.” […]