For Nintendo enthusiasts and video game fans in general, The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is a big deal. Not only did the game usher in the next-generation of Nintendo video game hardware, it also stands as one of the highest-rated games of all time, with more perfect scores on Metacritic than any other video game released to date. While it will be remembered by others for its unprecedented critical-acclaim, for me personally, The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild will be remembered as the game that helped me cope with the death of my dog.
When I first met my border collie/Australian shepherd Jean Louise “Scout," she was extremely shy. A lot of shelter dogs were bouncing off the walls or barking incessantly, but she just stood there quietly, her tail tucked between her legs. My girlfriend and I tried to get her to play with toys the shelter had, but she wasn't having it. She was scared and confused, as I'm sure most dogs are in these situations.
We decided to adopt Scout as our own, but we had to wait a week for her to get spayed and get all of her shots. My girlfriend had to work the night we were able to pick Scout up from the shelter, so I went on my own. I'll never forget that car ride home with Scout. She was still shy, nervous, and confused, and so I expected her to stay in the passenger seat the entire time, but instead she climbed into my lap. I pet and spoke to her, telling her of all the different people that were going to be in her life. By the time we got home, I was in love with Scout, and she became my best friend.
It didn't take long for Scout to come out of her shell. She was such a happy dog, always wanting to play or snuggle. She was so smart, too, as is typical of border collies. With my girlfriend as her teacher, Scout learned a number of tricks; most impressively, Scout knew left-shake and right-shake. My girlfriend was in the process of teaching Scout "roll over," which was trickier as Scout always seemed to want to wrestle whenever we would try to get her to roll over for a treat. Scout never did learn roll over. She would have got it, though.
On Thursday, March 9th, Scout was hit by a car and died. My girlfriend and I were devastated by the loss, but we forced ourselves to go on the vacation we had scheduled for the next day anyway, thinking maybe getting out of the state could help us heal. The vacation didn’t do much to ease my pain, and if anything, I felt guilty for not staying curled up in a ball at home. I spent the entire vacation walking around with a hole in my chest, eating almost nothing and sleeping very little, only finding brief respite from my pain when playing The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild.
Since the Nintendo Switch is a home console/handheld hybrid, I was able to play the game whenever it wasn’t my turn to drive. I found myself so lost in Breath of the Wild’s new Hyrule that I forgot who I was, where I was, and the heartbreak I was dealing with. Breath of the Wild helped me escape reality in a way that very few video games or other forms of entertainment have been able to in the past.
I think the main reason Breath of the Wild was able to keep me so engrossed is the game’s remarkable sense of adventure. Nintendo has crafted a vast open world where something interesting can be found around every corner, whether it’s an encampment of bokoblins guarding treasure or a hidden shrine with a challenging puzzle inside. The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild keeps players busy, and since I always had something to do, it kept me absorbed in the experience.
When I wasn’t keeping busy by fighting enemies or conquering shrines, The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild helped me relax. There was something therapeutic about climbing to the top of a mountain and jumping off, using Link’s paraglider to reach new areas or to just take in the sights.
I also found it relaxing to walk around the game world, collecting ingredients like mushrooms, apples, and the like to cook interesting food for Link. Speaking of food, there is a side quest in Kakariko Village where a young girl named Koko is grieving the death of her mother, and she asks Link to collect specific items to help her cook dishes her mother used to make when she was alive. Perhaps fueled by my own loss, I felt an overwhelming desire to drop everything I was doing and help this girl until her quest was complete. I also spent some time playing with her hyper little brother, who players can find running around the village most of the day, looking for someone to play tag or hide-and-seek with.
Interacting with these characters and collecting cooking materials relaxed me, but one element to the game broke my sense of immersion and yanked me back into reality. As Breath of the Wild players know, there are dogs that can be found in the game’s open world, and seeing these dogs reminded me of Scout. Seeing these digital canines hurt my heart, and because of my lingering pain from my real dog’s death, I still find myself avoiding them.
Whenever I found my escapism slipping away from seeing a dog in the game, I could count on the main quest to pull me right back in to Link’s world. While I have progressed very little in the main quest, even a couple of weeks since the game’s release, every time I move it forward even slightly, it helps me get lost in the adventure all over again because of its intriguing characters and exciting plot developments.
The point of sharing this story is to highlight the importance of video games beyond their function as entertainment. For some people, certain video games can be much more than just a game, and can deeply impact them on an emotional level. The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is more than a video game to me, and it’s one I think I will return to for years to come. Maybe one day I’ll even be able to play with the dogs.
The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is available now for Nintendo Switch and Wii U.