This weekend is Thanksgiving, and unlike our American friends to the south we Canadians don’t put nearly the same emphasis on the holiday. We also celebrate it a month earlier, but that’s beside the point. Sure, on Thanksgiving we still get together with our families and eat Turkey, cranberry sauce and pumpkin pie- but as a whole, the holiday holds much less weight. Christmas, celebrated religiously or not, has always been the holiday ’round these parts, as far as getting together with friends and family, grossly over-eating and generally grating on each others nerves.
Thanksgiving, you must understand, therefore places much, much lower on any Canadian child’s holiday list due to the fact that it is: a) not Christmas, and b) closely precedes Halloween. As such, I have very few childhood Thanksgivings that I really remember with any accuracy. They more blend together to make a fuzzy collage of relatives, cabbage rolls and general Turkey soaked happiness. Except for the one Thanksgiving, that is.
It was this weekend 22 years ago that would end up changing my life forever. I know that sounds fairly dramatic, but I certainly wouldn’t be writing this blog, or writing for the half of a dozen other websites and ‘zines I write for if not for that Thanksgiving. I probably would not be nearly as into older video games either, or who knows? Maybe I wouldn’t be into video game at all, although I find that kind of hard to envision.
On Thanksgiving weekend 1990, after months upon months of endless begging and pleading on my part, my parents finally caved and bought me a brand spanking new copy of The Legend of Zelda. How I managed to finagle a new Nintendo game for what, even in the US, is not considered a gift oriented holiday (black Friday not withstanding) I will never know.
Consumers Distributing flyer circa 1991
What I do know, is that my dad took me into the garage (where he had stashed the game after purchasing it at Consumers Distributing the day before) and presented me with the object of my obsession. I vividly remember opening the yellow plastic bag and staring at the shield-shaped piece of gold cartridge peeking at me through the die-cut box. I swear, up to that point it was the single most beautiful thing I had ever seen. I spent the remainder of that Thanksgiving Sunday in my basement, doing my best to power down Turkey and cabbage rolls, battling octoroks and avoiding relatives.
Over the next three weeks I played Zelda at every conceivable opportunity. With only the map and precious few hints included in the packaging of the game to guide me, and whatever issues of Nintendo Power I had laying around or could borrow from friends, I still managed to make it to the end of level 9 and defeat Ganon. I remember this so precisely because not only was “wrapping” (my neighbourhood-specific vernacular for beating a game) Zelda no small feat, but I also managed to do it on Halloween night after I got back from trick-or-treating, to the amazement of several of the neighbourhood kids in attendance.
Playing Zelda was a huge turning point in video gaming for me personally. Up until I played Zelda video games were one of my favorite pass times for sure, but they were always somewhat hollow experiences. They didn’t really stick with you when you put down the controller, not like Zelda did. I mean, the game saved! There was a piece of me left inside the cart, that was just waiting for me to come back to it. The year after I got Zelda I got my hands on a brand new game called Final Fantasy, and after that my world completely opened up. Video games became something all encompassing and totally engrossing; for me they became more than an amusement you popped quarters into at the corner store. This continued exponentially, culminating at the point where I now spend a large percentage of my spare time playing, and writing about video games- and for that, I will always be thankful.
Zelda map taken from ZeldaUniverse.net