I grew up playing the many games of Nintendo's The Legend of Zelda franchise and was still playing at the age of 22 when the GameCube iteration of the series, The Wind Waker, hit stores in 2003. At this point in my life I was going to college full time and working part time, spending my days out in the world and evenings back home in my little one-bedroom apartment. I had been on the fence about buying the game at launch, however, and it wasn't until I took a private tour of developer n-Space's facilities and saw them playing the Japanese version of the game (which was already out by that time) that I decided to take the pre-order plunge just about the time that Nintendo announced it was offering the Ocarina of Time Master Quest as a reservation bonus. By the time I was ready to make things happen, I was dealing with severe stomach problems and had to wrench myself out of bed to make the fifteen-minute drive towards downtown to Best Buy to take care of business. I put down my $5 on the pre-order, picked up the bonus disc, and went home to sleep for the rest of the day. I figured I'd take a day off to rest, and then revisit the quest the next day in better health. Unfortunately, some things just don't work out as I plan.
By the time the Wind Waker game itself was ready for pick-up in March, my condition had seriously deteriorated to the point where I needed surgery to correct it. Several lengths of small intestine had to come out, and while my doctor assembled a team of specialists to handle the job, I had to wait. It can be easy to take digestion for granted, but when it's impossible to eat anything safely, one comes to really appreciate it. For months I rested at home in bed or reclined my chair, unable to eat or drink anything beyond water and other clear liquids. I was too weak to go out (I'd dropped my college classes and taken a leave of absence from my job) and needed help handling chores around the apartment, so my grandparents volunteered to help out with errands and anything else I needed. They'd make the hour-long drive from the east coast regularly to bring more things to drink, pick up medications, clean, do laundry, and all of the other things I was too ill to take care of myself. When Wind Waker day came, my grandfather volunteered to go and pick up the game for me (and he refused to let me pay for it).
After they left that day, I settled in the recliner and started to explore the flooded world of Hyrule. I don't remember many of the details about the game thanks to all of the painkillers and general fatigue, but I do remember having a blast with the adventure. After sitting home for so long with nothing to do, it was nice to have a purpose again even if that purpose was saving a fictional princess by sailing an imaginary ocean. For the months that I was trapped at home, that ocean seemed real enough to me. As my surgery date approached and my health continued to spiral downward, I rushed to complete the story just in case I didn't survive the procedure. I finally defeated Ganon by jamming a sword in his head just two days before I was slated to enter the hospital. If finishing Wind Waker was to be the last thing I'd ever do, then at least I went out on my own terms doing what I loved.
As I've said before, even today you'll hear players bash Wind Waker's visuals or gameplay. You'll never hear that from me though. You'll also hear that an adult should not play a Nintendo video game, as they're "just for kids". Again, you'll never hear that from me. Even though I was trapped in my apartment by my continually deteriorating health, I spent nearly two months going to Hyrule each day. Whenever I wasn't asleep I'd sail and seas and explore the dungeons, confined yet free to roam the world. Wind Waker gave me a purpose during this difficult time; since I was physically unable to do anything besides watch television, write, and sleep, it provided me with a goal to meet while the rest of the world continued on without me.
I made it through surgery in the end, of course, and went on to go back to classes, graduate, and do all of the things one does during college years. Eight years later, I still haven't gone back to the flooded remains of Hyrule for a replay. For as much fun as I had playing the game, I'd hate to see now with a clear head and a healthy body that it doesn't live up to my drug-addled recollections. Still, from what I remember, it's a masterful title full of exploration and adventure. When wasting away at home for months on end, that is a wonderful gift.
I miss you, Pops.