*This post was originally published on The Game Bolt in July, 2015*
[“Trigger Warning” – is a piece dedicated to showcasing video games which focus on mental disorders as well as emotional and psychological trauma. It is my hope as a lifelong gamer and sufferer of various psychological disorders to combine my greatest passion with my greatest weakness to benefit the gaming community at large. These pieces are meant to applaud games that I have found to appropriately exemplify such issues in the human condition. Some of them are visceral and violent games that take a liberal approach and are not for the faint of heart. Others take a lighter approach to the whole affair and can apply to a much wider audience. Hopefully, those who do not suffer from such afflictions can look at these games as a chance to grasp at something otherwise intangible. While those who do suffer from psychological afflictions can look to these pieces of fiction for hope and catharsis. Without further ado, enjoy. 🙂 ]
[By the way, this is the trigger warning for the article: suicide, depression, death]
Majora’s Mask, In Summation
The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask is a bit different than the rest of the games in the series’ long and illustrious history. While most LoZ games are marked by their cheerful demeanor and overall hopeful story of good overcoming evil, Majora’s Mask takes a more somber, macabre approach to its themes. For those of you who might be out of the loop, Majora’s Mask takes place after the events of Ocarina of Time. Link has been sent back in time to once again to become his childhood self. Somewhere along the way he loses his faithful faerie companion Navi and goes off into the Lost Woods to find her.
While traveling through the woods, Link is attacked by the mischievous Skull Kid who is donned with, of course, Majora’s Mask. In the world of Termina, masks all possess magical powers to the wearer. In the case of Majora’s Mask it was sealed away from the world by an ancient race that saw a cataclysmic evil within its confines. However, the oddball Happy Mask Salesmen found the mask and added it to his collection from which the Skull Kid stole it. And upon donning the mask, the spirit of Majora is unleashed upon Termina.
Two important events coincide with one another during the game’s three day cycle. The jubilant one is of the Festival of Time, a celebration by the citizens of Termina to praise the four giants who oversee the land’s safety. However, Link finds himself stuck in this three day cycle which marks the hours until Majora’s Mask brings the moon crashing into Termina and ending all life. One event is of life, the other of death, hopelessness, denial.
A Stand Out in the Series
What makes Majora’s Mask so much more different than other LoZ games are the dark undertones throughout the game. Death is a constant theme as you come across the spirit of Darmani the Goron hero, Mikau the Zora guitarist, and the entirety of Ikana Canyon, an area within the game that is inhabited by reanimated dead and spectres alike. Link, the player, is forced to look at and confront the dead and the dying throughout the entire game.
Then there’s the age old “5 Stages of Grief” theory where each area in the game is representative of the five stages of grief. Clocktown is denial with its citizens denying the impending moon crash. Woodfall Swamp represents anger as the Deku king is blinded into almost killing an innocent in his rage. Snowhead is bargaining as the Ghost of Darmani believes that you can resurrect him from the dead. The Great Bay has the Zora singer depressed at the loss of her eggs. Lastly, Ikana Canyon is acceptance as death literally takes on the physical form.
Masks were also a new addition to the game. In Ocarina of Time, and in most Zelda games, music is used as powerful magic. In Majora’s Mask, music is still prevalent but masks also hold magical powers. When Link wears any of the different masks he gains numerous different powers from being able to transform into different creatures to being able to talk to the dead. These masks are his main defense against the evils of the land and are often used to help those around him as well. And it’s those masks that I find a great deal of importance as someone who suffers from mental disorders.
Hiding in Plain Sight
Several months ago I finally received a diagnosis for mental disorders that I’ve been suffering from for quite a long time. Diagnosis: Generalized Anxiety Disorder (I exist in a state of nearly perpetual anxiety), Panic Attack Disorder (I am prone to having panic attacks which are phenomena I cannot even begin to describe), Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (This actually has little to do with being organized like commonly thought and is actually categorized by any repetitive behavior that interrupts daily life.), Agoraphobia (the fear of inescapable situations. I can’t be out in public places for too long.), and Dysthymia (a form of depression where my status quo is depressed and on occasion I dip into dangerous levels of depression.). All of which take care, diligence, and the help of others simply to function on a daily basis. However, I learned how to do something a long time ago that helps me go out into the world and tackle its challenges. I learned to wear masks.
Every day when I would get up and attend high school I would figuratively wear masks. I would smile and laugh and be angry or sad whenever the situation called for it. I developed ways to trick my emotions into behaving appropriately, because inside I was truly empty and dead. I felt no love for those around me. I cared little for my own life. But part of me still clung on to reality and so I wore masks to fool people into thinking I was okay, that I was a normal, hardworking high school boy, with dreams and aspirations. But, the reality is that I was depressed and suicidal.
Enter the Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask and the masks that my favorite video game hero wears. When I was a child I simply thought the world of Termina was an interesting one, but I rediscovered it in my teenage years and decided to play it through. It was then when I discovered that just like me, Link gained powers from wearing masks. My masks made the real me invisible (much like the Stone Mask in-game) while Link’s gave him a whole host of powers. Masks gave him power and I found a connection to the Hero of Time and his relentless struggles against evil.
Every three days in-game Link must use the Song of Time to travel back to the dawn of the first day. All non-essential items are lost. All progress in dungeons and quests is reset. It’s a vicious cycle of 10 steps forward and 9 steps back, much like living with mental disorders. Every day when I wake up I try my hardest to make progress. Some days I can make the world move and change lives. Others I’m a dysfunctional shell of a human being who simply wants the world to let him be. But I’ve always had my masks when I needed them.
What can one gain from The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask?
If I could answer this in the form of a real world anecdote. The Golden Gate Bridge is a notoriously popular suicide spot. Many people walk to the bridge every year simply to jump off and take their own life. Enter one Milton Van Sant, an 85 year old veteran who walked 20 blocks to the bridge and jumped. On his suicide note he wrote, “If just one person smiles at me I won’t jump.” Clearly, no one smiled. No one acknowledged this one man in 20 blocks of walking through a city. No one bothered to look past the mask.
So my recommendation is to look through people’s masks at the real them. The ones that need these crutches to get through life. Just like the Hero of Time, people need masks to overcome obstacles and transform themselves into beings capable of overcoming obstacles. However, it’s not the mask that enables the person. It’s the person that enables the mask. For without a body to wear the mask and a soul to drive the body the mask is nothing more than a prop. Whenever I’m out in public I smile at people whenever I make eye contact because I know there are people out there just like me. People who need a shred of joy in their lives and a smile from a stranger could save them from oblivion. The least I can do, the least we can all do, is be a little kinder to others because you never know what someone is going through.
Your dear writer’s thoughts on Majora’s Mask…
I have to be honest. I haven’t shown my whole hand yet. There’s one important aspect of Link’s mask wielding that I haven’t touched upon and that’s what happens at the end of the game. When Link finally collects the four masks of the evil creatures in each dungeon he goes to confront the Skull Kid and is sucked up into the looming moon into a scene only Lewis Carroll could dream of. A white light clears and Link finds himself in the middle of a vast field with a tree at its center. Four kids, each wearing the mask of one of the bosses, play while one child wearing Majora’s Mask sits forlornly at the base of the tree.
And here’s the important thing. There’s one last mask to get, the Fierce Deity mask, which will imbue Link with a power to rival that of Majora’s, but there’s a catch. He has to give up all the masks he has collected on his way. Think about it. To achieve ultimate power. To achieve equality to his greatest obstacle, Link must give up everything he worked for on the way there.
So until you, dear reader, stop wearing your masks and show the world how truly human you are, only then can you truly overcome what troubles you in life.
Trigger Warnings for Majora’s Mask: Honestly, there really aren’t any. The light hearted, cartoon style of the game’s visuals lend to a very inviting experience and any themes discussed here are not overt enough to insight any issues. I cannot recommend this game enough.