“Try to imagine a life without timekeeping. You probably can’t. You know the month, the year, the day of the week. There is a clock on your wall or the dashboard of your car. You have a schedule, a calendar, a time for dinner or a movie. Yet all around you, timekeeping is ignored. Birds are not late. A dog does not check its watch. Deer do not fret over passing birthdays. Man alone measures time. Man alone chimes the hour. And, because of this, man alone suffers a paralyzing fear that no other creature endures. A fear of time running out.”
-Mitch Albom, The Time Keeper
Time and Eternity
One of the more devious constructs man has come up with is time. The idea that the events of our past, present, and future can all be quantified and relegated to a measurable line. Where every moment’s importance is weighed against another’s based on whether or not it is useful to us in the long run. Although the idea of timekeeping does hold significance, it also can become a burden when we feel it is wasted or that there’s never enough time to utilize.
The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask places time as a focal point for its game mechanics. The game keeps track of events that happen over the course of three in-game days.Various quests, shops, and NPC’s all operate based on what time it is on each of the three days. Some quests require you to spend the entire three days on them. There are numerous dungeons and sub-dungeons that take large chunks of time. At the end of the three day period, the magical forces of Majora’s Mask, a plain mask containing a powerfully evil deity, cause the moon to crash in the game world of Termina. Thus causing the destruction of all life. So you are on a time limit to accomplish whatever goals you’ve set out to do.
However, our hero Link, aided with the powerful artefact, the Ocarina of Time, can play the aptly named “Song of Time” to travel back three days in the past and reset the moon’s descent. Thus, he can artificially delay the coming apocalypse and keep working to free Termina of its fate.
This ability to play with time and the emphasis on time as a game mechanic as well as a point of lore within the world can actually show us how to reconcile our constant need for control over something that is uncontrollable, time itself.
What is Time?
The first notion that comes to mind when “time” is mentioned is as a measurement of duration. How long something has been taking place, did take place, or when it will take place. Although not an incorrect definition, time is much more than that. When talking about time itself, the definition changes from those measurable instances to all time, from the beginning of our reality’s existence until its end. The beginning being something we can only conceive of and the end being something we can only imagine. For the duration of this article, it’s important to understand that references to time refer not a specific set of moments but all time. Eternity, if you will.
Think of eternity starting with creation. There was nothing here. Just the void, whether it be an endless expanse of blackness, whiteness, or what have you. Then suddenly, existence came into fruition. Space occupied by infinitesimal dust that eventually combined into greater and greater forms. Stars, planets, and life took form. And presumably, one day it will all return to nothingness. Imagine time as a chain. The starting point(the first link), the entire middle(every link in the chain), and the end point(the last link) where nothing is anymore. Take all of that. Ball it up into a single point in which it all happens simultaneously, and that is eternity. Something that is both infinite and yet so finite. And each chain link, each little point along the way is so small that it seems to be insignificant but actually helps keep the whole thing together.
Links in the Chain
The idea of time in Majora’s Mask plays on the aforementioned notion of time, a measurement of duration. The game being relegated to a specific three day period in the eternity of the LoZ universe. There is so much content in the game that it is impossible to accomplish everything within that three day period. Hence the ability to reset time. At any given moment there are multiple events taking place on different corners of the game world. Dungeons are so large that they require most of a three day cycle to tackle. And some quests even take place over the course of all three days. So, resetting is entirely inescapable. There is also the ever present pressure of the moon’s collision with the earth. A force that Link cannot directly take action against. All he can do is take to releasing the world’s trapped guardians and hope they can prevent the coming cataclysm. These two sorts of events can parallel over to our real world experiences and give us a notion of how we can direct our time as well.
Every day, we wake up and are given numerous different choices as to how we want to spend our time. Whether it be with friends and family, working, relaxing, etcetera. But while Link can travel back in time to experience everything Termina has to offer, we have to weigh our actions against each other. In these moments, time is often a factor. And then there are the events that occur in which we have no stake. Wars on an international scale. The omnipotence of nature. Ever changing laws and regulations. These, parallel to the moon in Majora’s Mask. It represents the forces that we cannot change and so we go about our day woefully trying to fill our time with significance. In hopes that maybe our efforts will change the minds of those around us.
So how can we reconcile this notion of our own individual actions having a greater significance when we are so limited by time? Or so we think…
So we have our everyday actions that affect the world around us in small ways, which relate to Link’s actions in Majora’s Mask. And we have the greater machinations of time, the events we cannot change, which parallels to the moon’s descent into Termina. What we can change and what we cannot change.
Throughout the course of Majora’s Mask, Link is tasked with going forth to free four spirits from each of the major temples located in the four cardinal directions. Resetting the three day cycle of the moon’s descent each time it gets to be the zero hour. It’s a constant fight against something that seems unstoppable. No matter how much progress you make you’re always resetting. However, Link is still making progress with each cleared temple. It’s helping him build a defense against the coming tide. Not only that, but all the side quests that seemingly have little to do with the main story help out as well. The rewards of life expanding heart containers, better equipment, and more magical masks help set up Link for the final fight.
When the moment of time comes, the moon descends and Link summons the four released guardian deities. Hopeful that they will stop the coming tide. But, they struggle against the weight of the moon and it’s left up to Link to enter the moon and confront the manifestation of Majora itself. And every little event leading up to it helped Link. The people he helped. The endeavors he undertook. The time he took to himself. All of it mattered in helping build himself up against something that was seemingly impossible to overcome.
Our own life endeavors are the same. We have our major goals in life, whether that be a prominent, meaningful career, vast humanitarian efforts, political or religious notions, or even something as simple as a living a fulfilling domestic life. The fact of the matter is that we can always envision the end goal but until we’ve reached that goal itself we cannot truly know how all the events leading up to it are interconnected. Actions you take everyday will help form your person towards your greater goal. Every action we take will help bolster our own person so when the moment of genesis arrives we are ready to accept it fully. So regardless of how you spend your time, it all adds up to building yourself up in the end.
To go even further, it may not seem like our everyday efforts affect the world around us. Something as simple as doing one’s jobs can have imperceivable implications outside of our immediate knowledge. Like ripples in a pond, small actions can have effects that change our greater world. Think of the teacher who, simply by doing their job, inspires the next great thinker. Or the day laboring railroad track layer who is creating transportation that could change the face of travel. The notion that only the highest intellects, ardent inventors, and other “movers and shakers” affect the world is a singular notion. We affect the world every day with our actions.
It simply takes time to notice the effects.
[The Mythology of Gaming of gaming is a series that seeks to take an intellectual look at the lore and mechanics of video games. All in order to give beloved games deeper meaning even after the power button is turned off. Hopefully, the reader will be able to see their favorite video games rendered anew and be able to take their messages with them outside of the game into their own life.]
-The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask
-Joseph Campbell’s The Power of Myth