Breath of the Elevator
This column is a reprint from Unwinnable Monthly #161. If you like what you see, grab the magazine for less than ten dollars, or subscribe and get all future magazines for half price.
A tongue-in-cheek but also painfully earnest look at pop culture and anything else that deserves to be ridiculed while at the same time regarded with the utmost respect. It is written by Matt Marrone and emailed to Stu Horvath and David Shimomura, who add any typos or factual errors that might appear within.
“Use the map! Use the map!”
As I wrote last month (well, as ChatGPT wrote last month, at least), there is great freedom in playing Breath of the Wild. I’m a completist, biding my time until Tears of the Kingdom working on the DLC and hunting dragons to level up my armor. My 7-year-old is more the easily distracted type, never really getting very much farther than a tight radius around his Hateno Village homestead. He can’t help but stop for every battle and then double back when he’s running low on hearts to cook up a few new dishes at his fire pit.
But my 4-year-old? His style of play is . . . unique. Since the first time he saw his brother play, he’s been obsessed with the world map. I take all the blame for this, as I was enthusiastically advising my 7-year-old to use the map when he was frustrated about not being able to find the next town. My 4-year-old loves to torment his older brother, so he echoed me. “Use the map! Use the map!”
But I had no idea how much this was capturing his imagination. Last night, when he saw me on the couch with the Switch, he surprised me by asking to play Zelda. Using my character, the full map was at his disposal. I assumed he’d check out the snowy peaks, perhaps hit the desert for a while, maybe head out toward the coast. I was right. He did all that.
Except he didn’t stay around to look.
Sure, once or twice, at my prodding, he walked away from a shrine and maybe stepped into a lava flow or fell into a pit. “Am I dead?” is his favorite Zelda-related question. Mostly, though, my 4-year-old’s chosen path in Breath of the Wild was simply to open the map, warp to a shrine, then open the map again and warp to another shrine.
He loves this. He even asked if he could pause the game when he was called for dinner and pick it up again after he got into his PJs, a practice heretofore reserved for his favorite television shows. “I went to the ocean!” he breathlessly told his mother after warping to a DLC shrine southeast of Ankel Island. He’s learned he must hit the minus button and select the blue spots on the map. And off he goes.
Me being his dad, and trying to help him learn and grow and maybe not drive me insane and all that silly stuff, suggested perhaps he try walking around a bit more. So he walked to the back of a shrine and, with Link in the darkness, asked me, “Is this a wall?” I explained that, yes, it is a wall, but underneath him is an elevator, and if he takes it down, there will be a puzzle waiting for him. “I want to go down the elevator!” he announced.
So, he went down the elevator. I worried that the puzzle would be way too much for him, and I was right: He walked out of the elevator, took a few steps, and fell to his death. “Am I dead?” he asked.
When he respawned, he simply spun around and returned to the elevator, then rode it back to the surface. But instead of opening the map, he went right back down the elevator again. Then he went up again. Then down. Then up. Then, at last, he opened the map, traveled to another shrine, and went down that elevator. I mentioned to my wife that our younger son now seems to prefer a part of the game that wisely presents players with the option to skip.
At the bottom of one elevator, he came upon a Modest Test of Strength – so with nothing to lose I convinced him to walk further inside to see the bad guy. With my armor and weapons, he was actually holding his own in battle for a bit. But after striking a few blows, the guardian clash became too dull, at least compared to his other options, and he ran in a wide circle around the arena, lest the enemy get in the way of Lift’s, er, Link’s true goal: to ride up and down the elevator some more. Which he did. Again and again.
Which is when it hit me. Watching all the elevator rides was so brutal, I looked at my son, paused for a moment, and pleaded:
“Use the map! Use the map!”
Matt Marrone is a senior MLB editor at ESPN.com. He has been Unwinnable’s reigning Rookie of the Year since 2011. You can follow him on Twitter @thebigm.