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Escape to Hyrule: How A Link Between Worlds Saved Me

“They called me for a liver.”

Those six harrowing words were the first thing that greeted me in the early hours Thanksgiving morning as I stared bleary-eyed at one of my best friends. She had been sick for a long time, suffering from a liver disease that would require a transplant for her survival. Around 5 am that day, she had received a call that a new liver was available for transplant and that she was the number one contender.

Having been on that list for nearly a year, it was an amazing thing to see her finally get a new chance at life.But it was as terrifying as it was amazing, heartening as much as heartbreaking, and a confusing mix of other emotions I couldn’t even begin to process. I’d gone up the night before the holiday to help prepare for the big dinner and to visit with my friends, none of us knowing she was mere hours away from a life-changing surgery. And it was in that early, foggy state of mind that I hugged her right before she left, not knowing if this would be the last time I’d ever see her, not knowing if everything would go okay, not knowing anything.

As someone who often struggles with anxiety, the sheer fact of not knowing anything is enough to drive me mad. The stress builds up, the tension becomes great, and the moments of the unknown that I had to endure were some of the most arduous and painful I’ve ever been through.

Whereas Thanksgiving is a day for joy and peace, mine was filled with fear and worry. Was she okay? Was the donor liver a match? When would things happen? Aside from the occasional update via text message, I was largely left to cope with my faulty and potentially dangerous  imagination on the verge of spiraling out of control.

It was in these moments of uncertainty, however, that I found solace in the most unlikely of places. Being that I was staying overnight, I had brought my 3DS with me and had loaded up the newly-released Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds. It was during these long moments between updates that I sat down, booting the game up and attempting to lose myself to its digital world.

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I’ve never been a diehard Zelda fan. Truth be told, I’ve probably only played five or six proper Zeldas, and I’ve only ever finished one. But my favorite Zelda games were the isometric ones in the same vein as A Link to the Past, Link’s Awakening, and Oracle of Seasons, and with the added promise of updated graphics and a new adventure on a handheld, I was pretty easily suckered in to buying up a copy of A Link Between Worlds almost right away.

From the moment it started, the game filled me with such an immeasurable amount of relief and joy that I can’t possibly explain. Everything was right; the colors, the sounds, the controls, the world. I didn’t have to worry anymore. I didn’t have to feel helpless. I was Link, on an epic adventure, scouring the fields of Hyrule as I exercised my mighty power.

Such is the power of video game escapism. When I was in the game, I didn’t have to worry. When granted the power of an almighty sword and given free access to a beautiful fantasy world, I no longer struggled with feeling vulnerable and broken. Why would I? I was too busy chasing cuckoos, throwing pots, and ridding the world of the baddies that plagued it.

Of course, there is a dangerous trap to fall into when turning to games when reality becomes too difficult to handle. It’s not healthy to run away from problems, or to simply fool ourselves into thinking they will merely vanish if we ignore them long enough.

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But that day, I learned the true power of this precious medium. When all felt lost, when there was nothing I could do, and when things became just a little too hard for me to endure, I was able to vent my frustrations and shed my incessant worries in favor of feeling empowered and infallible.

I don’t know what would have happened had the game not been there. I’d already been dealing with other issues that were chewing at my already-fragile mental state, and this flood of stress was only the cherry on the proverbial sundae. Maybe I would have pulled through. Maybe I would have broken down. I’ll never know, because the game helped me cope and saved me from myself.

For that, I’ll always be grateful.



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