So, in case you missed it, there’s a new Zelda game out.
I know, I know, you’re probably sick to death of reading about Tears of the Kingdom, especially if you’re not a Zelda fan. But even non-fans will admit this game has captured the gaming zeitgeist in a way few others since its predecessor’s release have been able to rival. And why is that? Some might say it’s the addicting gameplay loop, others the myriad of abilities the game puts at your disposal. Still others might credit the extensive building mechanics, allowing you to craft contraptions lifted straight out of a Looney Tunes short. And while I think all of these are definite contenders for the game’s appeal, I think one of the things that gripped me was the game’s story.
The story in both Breath of the Wild and Tears of the Kingdom is told both non-linearly and environmentally. The major plot points are communicated through flashback scenes in both games, while the more fill-in-the-blank pieces come with exploring Hyrule. A flashback might tell you that the Castle Town was destroyed, but simply exploring the town will give you more hints at the lives of those that actually experienced the tragedy.
One of the things that TOTK does even better than its older sibling is the way it allows the characters to do that environmental storytelling as you explore. That’s not entirely BOTW’s fault, since the game was based around the desolation that Calamity Ganon brought onto Hyrule. Given that TOTK is focused more on the rebuilding of Hyrule under Zelda and Link’s leadership, we get a lot more characters to interact with, as well as ways in which they interact with each other.
There’s much more of a sense of community in TOTK as compared to BOTW. Characters are forming rudimentary settlements, and they’re wonderfully diverse. You’ve still got your main hubs for the five races: Rito Village, Goron City, Gerudo Town, Zora’s Domain, and Hateno Village. However, between those hotspots, you’ll find hubs of activity with people binding together across racial and physical boundaries. By doing so, they discover more about each other and the world around them. One of the stables features a Hylian-Goron traveling duo who met on the road. They’re on their way to explore some ancient ruins; the Hylian to document them for posterity, and the Goron to…eat them. Though in many ways, they couldn’t be more different, this odd couple overcomes those obstacles to accompany each other across the dangerous wilderness of Hyrule.
Combine these kinds of relationships with the ever-looming threat of Ganondorf’s return, and I think TOTK paints a good picture of what community can look like in times of crisis. Here in the real world, it feels like there’s a new disaster thrust upon us every day. Whether it’s climate change related disasters to mass violence to displays of anger and hatred, we cannot escape the broken nature of our world. It’s quite poetic that TOTK calls its main crisis The Upheaval; it feels like our world is in the midst of an upheaval of our very own. And amid all the chaos are voices insisting that if we all just band together, we can fix it all.
It’s a nice thought, to be sure, and it’s certainly not a new sentiment. Every major sociological movement in history has been born from a group of people united by a common goal. The problem is, Scripture is pretty clear that, without the unity of the Holy Spirit, humans gathering together is usually not a great thing. You don’t even have to go very far into the narrative of Scripture to see this.
In Genesis 4, we see Cain, the first murderer, sent out from the garden to wander the earth. Once he takes a wife, he builds the first city. This first city is the beginning of an archetype we see repeated again and again in Scripture, all the way up to Revelation: human cities are accompanied by human abuse of power. It only takes a few generations for us to see Lamech, one of Cain’s descendants, bragging to his two wives about murdering a man, the very thing that caused his forefather to forfeit the presence of God. Later on, we see a larger group of humans gathering to build the Tower of Babel, repeating the original sin of humans wanting to be like God while leaving God Himself completely out of the picture. Time and time again, we see humanity attempting this same pattern, trying to reach God-like status without seeking the One Who made them in His image to begin with.
Contrast this human-centric unity with the picture we get of Godly unity later in Scripture:
“Behold, how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity! It is like the precious oil on the head, running down on the beard, on the beard of Aaron, running down on the collar of his robes!” –Psalm 133-1-2
“And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.” – Acts 2:44-47
“There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” –Galatians 3:28
The key component separating this type of unity from the sinful unity we see earlier is the inclusion of God into that unity. The work of the Holy Spirit takes a fallen humanity’s efforts to raise themselves above their sin and completes the work for us. Because of Christ, we are able to band together as Christians united under the Kingdom of God and declare a new way of living, which is, in fact, the original and oldest way of being human.
Though the Holy Spirit doesn’t exist in the land of Hyrule, I think we see a similar sort of unification across the land in Tears of the Kingdom. The crisis that Ganondorf’s evil has brought to Hyrule has lent a spirituality to the way the residents assist each other. Whether it’s the Zoras treating the mysterious sludge’s effects on their people at great personal cost, the Central Hyrule Outpost gathering together people from across the land in order to study the Upheaval, or the regathering of the dispersed residents of Lurelin Village, the game gives us glimpse after glimpse of the beauty of unity in the face of crisis. In the face of the Upheaval, there is no longer any Zora, Goron, Hylian, Rito, or Gerudo. It’s the residents of Hyrule against the forces of evil, and as they put their differences aside and each find their place in this new unified kingdom, they find that their forces combined do more good than they ever could have expected.
I’m no humanist. I acknowledge that the base nature of humanity is, at its core, evil and selfish. I’m not trying to argue for any sort of utopia. But as Christians, we have the work of the Holy Spirit on our side, and by carrying His influence into a world full of crisis, I think we can create community wherever we go. Remember, unity with God was our original design. We all crave that perfect unity and reunion with the One Who loves us. If we as Christians carry Him with us, ensuring that we ourselves are continually one with Him, we will find that He creates unity wherever we are. As His ambassadors, we have a responsibility to ensure that we represent Him well, and that we witness to His Spirit to everyone around us, through our words and our actions. We must let our words “always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that [we] may know how [we] ought to answer each person.” (Colossians 4:5-4)
As many people struggle with what it means to be human in a post-postmodern culture that continually rejects the idea of God, let us take our hope and unity out into the world. For some, that might be street preaching, for others, it’s hosting friends in their homes. In all things, let us show that God has transformed not just our lives, but our very souls. The way we see the world and the humanity in it has been fundamentally altered. We see the imago Dei in every human, regardless of their language, race, background, or economic status. It isn’t that we refuse to recognize things like race or background in a false sense of “color-blindness”, but we serve a God Who is bigger than all of that.
We are not facing an evil like Ganondorf. We are facing an evil that is much more subtle and destructive. It seeps in at the seams of our consciousness, promising God-like power, but leaving us feeling more broken and empty than ever. But in the face of this evil, our community and unity can surround those who are hurting and drained, restoring them and re-introducing them to the God Who was, is, and ever will be.
That is our calling.