link to the past (1996)

A friend had lent me The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past, and it was making me miserable.

My mother took us to the pool at our grandparents’ condo in Sunnyvale. We were one of the few families that used the pool. It felt secluded, surrounded by honeysuckle bushes; we had discovered a previous summer that we could suck the nectar out of the flowers. On other days, I would have smelt chlorine, felt the hot concrete under my feet steaming with pool water. But that day, lying dry on a pool lounge chair, I noticed none of it.

There was a dungeon with a treasure chest. The treasure chest contained a Moon Pearl that would allow me to enter the Dark World without transforming into a rabbit. I needed to cross a chasm to reach the treasure chest, but I didn’t know how. I tried jumping, shooting arrows, throwing pots, falling through holes in the floor above. I needed to solve this; it was all I had thought about for days.

In 1996, if you got stuck in a video game, you had few options. You could ask your friends. You could buy a strategy guide, if one existed and was stocked at a bookstore. An issue of Nintendo Power might have the answer, so I saved every issue in a cardboard box, ordered ascending by date, just in case. Some games had hotlines you could call for hints, although I never did. Or you could give up.

My parents must have noticed I was preoccupied, because sometime later my dad handed me a stack of paper. It was a complete walk-through, the solution to every puzzle in the game. He had downloaded and printed it. I was stunned, and, maybe, saw a glimmer of how the internet was beginning to change everything.

But now I knew what to do. I had to fall through one of the holes in the ceiling after all. I just hadn’t found the right one yet.