Legend of Zelda and Philosophy (Popular Culture & Philosophy) Paperback – 8 Jan 2009
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If you're a Zelda theorist, chances are you already have this book or plan to run out and buy it. If you're just dipping your feet into Zelda at a higher level of thought, "The Legend of Zelda and Philosophy" offers a great starting point with interesting insights into both Zelda and gaming as a whole.... A true Zelda fan shouldn't be without it. - "ZeldaUniverse.net," March 27, 2009
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The typographical errors that saturate this book are just appalling, and deserve no further remark. Well, some are hilarious though, like "Zeldac universe" (p. 76).
I'm paging through this looking for egregious examples of what makes this book such a disappointment; there are so many. Here's the opening to one of the essays: "I have a confession to make. I don't finish what I start. Specifically, the Zelda games I start" (p. 45). I'm sorry? What then exactly makes you qualified to write about them?!
There's a section on the "controversial" chronology of the Zelda games that I found particularly ridiculous. Sorry, I did not pay to read some 13-year-old's half-baked theory lifted straight from a random online forum, every mangled word faithfully replicated.
There's a lot to complain about here, but ultimately there's no real need even to consider this forgettable volume. All I wanted in this book was a collection of essays written by die hard Zelda fans first, philosophy enthusiasts second. There's more than enough compelling material in the games themselves to warrant valid philosophical topics; forcing inapplicable Western philosophy into this universe just comes across as pretentious and frustrating. The writers simply do not appear to have a transcendent passion for The Legend of Zelda any more than they do for video games in general, which begs the question: why were they chosen to contribute to this volume? To be fair, there are a few grains of ideas here that are fascinating, but ask yourself this question: is it worth opening your wallet to read in a book what you can find for free in the 'essay' section of any Zelda fansite?
Just last night I finally got around to finishing Luke Cuddy's The Legend of Zelda and Philosophy. This was my first foray into the "Popular Culture and Philosophy" series, which also includes the likes of The Simpsons, Star Trek, Star Wars, Buffy, House, and plenty others.
The general format of these books are sections organized by topic. The authors explore basic ideas such as the general mythology, timeline, and free will, while tackling some more complex ones including the link between reality and Hyrule, Zelda's feminism, and the existence of God & evil. Within each section are chapters, each consisting of an essay published by a professor at an American university (so you can presume they're not just BSing you). The essays themselves are well-organized, and the content of certain ones were more appealing than others.
In general, the concepts were accessible and well-explained. Yes, there were ideas that seemed a bit far-fetched, as if the authors were looking too much into it, but that's to be expected when you philosophize about playing video games. However, as a whole it does make a valid case about the presence and prevalence of role-playing games in modern society, and I did get something out of it.
In terms of representation of the series, I'd say most of them were addressed, especially in the chapter that focuses on the timeline. I'm not sure I agree with focusing on The Wind Waker so much in the opening chapter was the right decision, since the author made it seem like the quintessential Zelda game (when A Link to the Past and The Ocarina of Time have set more of a precedent and are more widely known). You'll probably find some gaming discussion appeals more to you than others, and it might be worth reading sections out of order rather than cover-to-cover as I did. Or you could use the handy index as a starting point.
Given my familiarity and background with many of the topics (both the philosophy and the games), I found it a comfortable read. But for those who are unfamiliar or simply not interested in philosophy (but at least interested in the franchise or gaming in general), the book still presents some thought-provoking questions. The inclusion of great philosophers and their ideas was a nice touch, and the discussion won't go over your head. I'd say the book takes itself seriously but not too seriously.
That said, as it is a collection of essays, I found it lacking flow since the dynamic varied between authors. Also, the is a forceful open-endedness, since conclusions were never really reached (though I suppose that's to be expected when you're discussing philosophy). In going back and forth between ideas (playing devil's advocate with itself) and not really favoring a side, it can leave you hanging, should you look for any real "answer".
But maybe that's not the purpose of the book. It makes you think and gives supporting arguments for and against an idea. Overall, it presents an intellectual discussion about topics most people wouldn't dare to approach (either diminishing the credibility of video games or exaggerating the complexity behind philosophy). If you're a fan of the series or role-playing games, it's a definite must-read. But even as a gamer, if the idea of philosophizing about a game doesn't strike your fancy, then this might be worth passing over.
I can only feel right in giving this book it's three stars, because as I said, it DID give what it said it would give, and offered some interesting thoughts. But now let me focus on the frustrating aspects.
The typographical errors were atrocious, and there's no excuse for them on a professional level. End of story.
Politics are ever-so-subtly brought into focus, which is just unpleasant. On p.39, the War in Iraq is brought to the attention of the reader. On p.158, the author states that war propaganda is intended to be coercive. I didn't quite understand how Uncle Sam posters are any more invasive than anti-war posters. But, whether or not I understood the meaning isn't even my point, anyway. My point is that the mere words "War in Iraq" being on paper and saying that war propaganda is coercive without balancing it by stating the same about anti-war propaganda is biased and simply unpleasant. There are a million and one examples that could've been used, but instead the author insisted on using examples that are loaded with heavy emotions, and it's simply unnecessary. Whether or not I agree or ever agreed with the War in Iraq, or any war for that matter, is besides the point. It's unnecessary to bring out people's emotions on an otherwise emotionless subject. It detracts what the author is trying to say.
Chapter 3 annoyed me more than any other chapter. Yes, we all get it, racism is bad. It's okay to use racism as an example, but the chapter went a step further and made a statement with the content provided. Though I may agree with what the author had to say on the subject, that's besides the point. I don't read Tom Clancy to hear one's opinion on the right to bear arms, and I don't read the Philosophy of Zelda to hear why the author thinks racism is bad.
Another frustration was the constant insistance of using the pronoun "she" to describe a gamer, rather than "he." It is largely accepted through many studies that males play video games much, much more than females. And I wasn't offended that the female pronoun was brought in to describe something that has a largely male fanbase; I was simply annoyed because it seemed way out of left field and random. I understand sexism exists, and I understand the desire to more openly include females in language. At the same time, if I was describing an animal that plays in the mud, I wouldn't use cats instead of pigs. Can cats play in the mud? Yes. Do some cats play in mud? Yes. But it is largely pigs that can and do play in the mud. In fact, there are many more cats who DON'T play in the mud than there are that do. It seems to me that the only reason I would describe a cat playing in the mud instead of a pig is because I wanted to be different; a deviation from the norm. It's just unnecessary and adds further confusion. It also ignores the fact that "he" is generally accepted as a neutral pronoun already, while "she" is specific to gender. So, it's my opinion in fact that using "she" is much more sexist than using "he." Again, a simple and small annoyance, but it made me roll my eyes every time I came across it.
Again, I reiterate that the book delivered what it promised, and if you are a Zelda fan, it's worth a glance. However, I recommend going in with the understanding that it is an amateurish book written by unprofessional professionals.