I am continuing to salute the graduating Comparative Media Studies cohort of 2007.
Kristina Drzaic tackled a really interesting critical challenge — how does one write meaningfully about an element which, by her definition, is not a necessary or even self-evident aspect of the game’s style, themes, narrative, or game play. She recognizes that the pursuit and discovery of secrets may be deeply pleasurable to those who play games: indeed, there is a robust economy in the trade of information — both sold by companies and freely shared on the web — which might help players to find secrets. As this passage from her thesis suggests, there is even enough interest that some people even go so far as to “fake” secrets simply for the bragging rights for discovering them. To try to understand secrets, she found herself looking at phenomenon in other media — what has been written about, say, gags in slapstick comedy, attractions in early cinema, and excess in art cinema, but none offers a precise parallel to the place which secrets play in games. Throughout all of this, Kristina was clear on one thing — secrets were central to the pleasure she took in playing games and thus should be open to analysis. In the end, those of us on her committee felt she nailed it, making an original contribution to our understanding of game aesthetics. We hope you will agree.
As she has worked on understanding secrets, she has been designing her own secrets for the game, Labrynth, which is being developed through the Education Arcade for Maryland Public Television. Kristina did much of the art direction on the game, doing character sketches and storyboards. The resulting game, when it is released, will be much shaped by her own particular sense of whimsy.
The following passage describes her own childhood experience at inventing a secret in Zelda which has become legendary in the game world and why she thinks people were so ready to accept her fabrication.
Anatomy of a Game Secret
by Kristina Dryziac
The year was 1998 and the game in which I became the toast was Zelda: Ocarina of Time. It was at this moment in my life that I invented my own videogame secret. I was not a designer. Nor was I in the videogame business. I was sixteen years old, a single player and a fan. New to videogames at the time, I often frequented Zelda message boards and chat rooms for help with the game. Over the course of a few months I learned the space of the videogame, found all the recorded secrets, mastered Zelda and then I got bored.
The message boards I frequented were full of less experienced players than I, players looking for unknown content, players who were gullible. One of the most often discussed topics in the message board was where one might find and collect a part of a Zelda game, ‘The Triforce.’ Rumor had it that there was a space on a certain screen that implied that this Triforce could be collected. In a moment of juvenile and rather silly behavior I decided to tell people I had found this ‘Triforce’ and they could find it too. I announced that if one went into the most confusing dungeon in the game and leapt through the air to hit a particular wall in just the right way they would be able to find a hidden chest that contained, of all things, wings for your horse ‘Epona.’ The wings would attach to the horse and she would and fly up into the air and take you into a hidden sky temple. There you would find the Triforce in all its glory.
This was not true. Honestly I did not even think it was all that believable. However when I went to research this paper I found endless accounts of people still discussing the Triforce and the sky temple I invented. I even found fan-sites dedicated to the journey players made there, photo-shopped images of the Triforce as it was supposedly found within the game and message boards fighting over the validity of the temple’s existence.
I was shocked.
What was it about my invented secret that caused such discussion that a small internet event in a fan community would still maintain vestiges of the discussion on the internet after eight years? What made this sky temple secret so believable as something that might be found within the game content? While all the factors involved here could potentially be overwhelming ranging from Mia Consalvo’s gaming capital to the fan community makeup and more, I believe there are certain elements within the Zelda: Ocarina of Timetext itself that especially enable belief in this secret. I contend that examining what made my secret successful provides a window into the interaction between players and secrets and will allow us to look at the meaning of this interaction itself. I pose then that the credibility of my secret boils down to two factors within Zelda Ocarina of Time: narrative plot-holes and unresolved gameplay. Building on this I will demonstrate that the “Oh No I’m Toast” glitch moments within the game illustrate what players hope to achieve in their interactions with the secret.
To understand what this means we must look at the game itself. Zelda: Ocarina of Time debuted on the Nintendo 64 console in 1998. Widely regarded as one of the best games on the platform, Ocarina is a game that translates the Zelda franchise from its past history as a pixilated two-dimensional adventure game and re-imagines the Zelda world as a lively and realistic space. The world had forests to explore, lakes to dive in, ponies to ride and a variety of towns, cities and villages to explore. It was a whole new notion of what the Zelda franchise was about. To illustrate the change, Zelda went from looking like this:
Zelda: Links Awakening, 1993
To looking like this:
Zelda: Ocarina of Time, 1998