At times, it can seem like people who play video games can be stigmatized with having poor mental health . There have been a lot of scare stories about gamer deaths due to playing non stop for days, and claims that they incite violent behavior. As someone who has played games for over twenty nine years, it frustrates me when the papers jump on this angle and forget about the benefits of gaming, which is why I feel compelled to argue that not only does gaming has more benefits towards mental health than it’s given credit for, but that Link in particular is not just a gaming icon, but a good role model for mental health in the real world.

Now, I know what you’re thinking; Link is a video game character, not a real person. He doesn’t have to deal with the challenges of modern day life: paying the bills, taking exams, getting homework in on time and social media, but hear me out. Let’s start our own quest, following some pointers from Link that can inspire us to take better care of our mental health.

Connecting With Others

No man is an island, not even Link. Okay, so quite a lot of the time poor Link is traveling across the land of Hyrule on his own. He may have a companion such as Midna in Twilight Princess or The King of the Red Lions in The Wind Waker, but in Breath of the Wild and Link’s Awakening, for example, he is pretty much a loner. When Link visits a village, however he makes up for this big time! He connects with the people within it, often changing their lives for the better. He listens to their life stories and helps with their problems. Link makes the effort to talk to others and is often rewarded for his efforts.

There is plenty of research out there that suggests withdrawing from others dramatically affects how we feel. Humans are social animals, whether we like it or not. Keeping in touch with friends (even when you don’t feel like) is a smart move. Nothing beats having your own Navi to turn to when you get lost or feel low – in fact, often sharing the good and bad times can make your friendships stronger in the long run.

I do appreciate that in some circumstances keeping in touch doesn’t always work. Maybe the people who should be there for you have really dropped the ball. Families and friends can be dysfunctional, or due to sad events may not be there at all. Everyone is different. The important thing is that you talk and interact with someone. So why not take a leaf out of Link’s book and volunteer to do some work in your local community? It’s no surprise that helping others improves our mood, because having a sense of purpose makes life worth living.

Making Time For Yourself

Link obviously cares about his mission, whether it be saving Zelda or Hyrule itself, but I can’t help but laugh sometimes at the number of distractions that he gets caught up in. Ganondorf might have taken control of the Triforce, but Link wants to spend hours catching a Hylian Loach instead. How about tackling fifty one floors of enemies in the Savage Labyrinth? Tick! Fancy hunting for 900 Korok seeds? Sure, why not, Princess Zelda can hold out a bit longer… Some might say Link is cruel and selfish for doing such things, when actually, this is self care. A hero with enormous responsibilities needs time out to prevent burn out. It would be difficult for Link to vanquish evil suffering from insomnia, a complete lack of energy, or poor concentration – classic symptoms of stress!

So be honest, when was the last time you put yourself first? Say you desperately want to learn archery and hitting that bullseye sounds like fun. The problem is you can think of a million excuses why you shouldn’t. I have to work late or a friend is expecting to meet up and moan about Skyward Sword, again. With a little courage you could make this desire a reality. Obviously quitting your job or school is a bad idea, but talking to your boss or parents is worth a shot. You could get your friend to join archery with you, but if they won’t, put yourself first and meet up another time. It can feel weird taking charge, especially if you are used to pleasing other people. Try to persevere, because the benefits of doing something just for you far out weigh the fear of putting someone else’s nose out of joint.

Be Active

You could never imagine Link hunched over a computer desk or binge watching box sets at the weekend. He’s out there collecting rupees, walking for miles, riding a horse, swimming, climbing a mountain or challenging Gorons to a race! Being active is an important part of what makes Link so great. We get to do things in the games we might not normally do and have a blast in the process. It isn’t just physical activity however, this Hylian is using his brain too. Solving puzzles has been a long running staple of the series with some devious ones at that. My personal nightmare was the Water Temple in Ocarina of Time on the N64. With the constant changing of iron boots and the maze like structure I couldn’t help but get lost at times.

Playing The Legend of Zelda for escapism is priceless, but there is a fine balance between farming dragon horns for hours (guilty) and remembering there is a world outside your window. Link does a LOT of walking across Hyrule and it has been proven that walking for just half an hour can help ease the symptoms of depression. Your local sports center might have a climbing wall and definitely a swimming pool, dive in! You don’t have to make your own dungeon to get a feel for puzzle solving either. Sudoku is a logic-based, combination number-placement puzzle which you can pick up and put down as and when you feel like. If anyone remembers Dr. Kawashima’s Brain Training, it was a fun game on the Nintendo DS that contained all sorts of different puzzles. How effective it is to improve your brain memory is under debate, but it does get you thinking at least.

Learn Something New

 

If there’s one thing Link is good at, it’s learning. He can handle a sword, ride a horse, play musical instruments, solve puzzles and even learn magic spells in Ocarina of Time. Learning something new can be a challenge, it engages the brain and creates new pathways. You can gain new skills that help you grow in confidence and get stronger, just like Link does in his own adventures. Learning new things can be quite scary, you might make mistakes and fall flat on your face. How many times did it take for Link (and you) to learn how to control Goron Link to cross the gaps in Majora’s Mask?  When facing the Guardians for the first time in Breath of the Wild, it took a while to master the timing to deflect their attacks, right?

Taking the time out to learn something new gets you out of your comfort zone. It could be trying out a new sport or learning to sew properly so you can finally make that cosplay costume you’ve been dreaming about. You could play the Ocarina for real, or take the time to learn the names of different species of plants and flowers as you take a walk around the block. Why not try out some of the cooking recipes in Breath of the Wild and make some Monster Rice Balls? It doesn’t have to be a massive thing, start small and see how you go!

Notice Things

On his travels through Hyrule in Breath of the Wild in particular, Link can use all of his senses. He can take photographs, admire the scenery, listen to the birds or musicians, cook outside and so on. His focus is primarily on the present and what is happening at that exact moment. He isn’t obsessed with the past, despite being asleep for 100 years and his near-death experience. He has a goal to defeat Calamity Ganon, but Ganon doesn’t go around and round in his thoughts every moment of every day. If it did, how could he concentrate on solving shrine puzzles or navigate his glider in the air? This links to an idea called Mindfulness that is being tossed around nowadays.

Mindfulness in general is about appreciating the here and now. We can regret decisions made in the past and repeat them over and over in our heads without a break. All this mulling over can make us feel tired and irritable. It can also be exhausting worrying endlessly about the future, or wishing it was already here. In the meantime, the present happening right in front of you is completely ignored.

Have you ever driven a car but can’t remember the journey? Try saying out loud what you see as you drive, it will stop you thinking about things and help you concentrate. When Link cooks in Breath of the Wild, he doesn’t tuck into his food in front of the television. Taking the time to appreciate the flavor of a meal can be a novelty for many people. Do you like listening to the rain or coloring in? All of these are mindful experiences that can help keep your head in the present. So, the next time you go for a walk, why not take the time to smell the Silent Princesses?

When you take a few knocks in life you realize that you can’t take your mental health for granted. As lighthearted as this may seem at first, we all have our own battles to fight. We may not even get a heart piece for victory, but I think taking onboard even one of Link’s pointers could really make a difference.

So, did I manage to convince you that Link is a good ambassador for mental health? Which pointers surprised you, or maybe you have some you’d like to add? Let me know in the comments below.

 

Alison Brunyee is an Editor for Zelda Dungeon. She likes reading manga and collecting Japanese wind chimes. Her favorite Zelda game is Ocarina of Time.   

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