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We played a real-life Zelda adventure and Ganondorf won

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It’s dangerous to go alone

I am Error
Dieter Bohn

The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild finally launches on March 3rd, but a second Zelda adventure will be traveling across North America this year. With Hyrule hype at an all-time high, it’s no surprise that Nintendo has licensed a bunch of Zelda content to Scrap, a company that runs “Escape the Room” events in California. Defenders of the Triforce is coming to US and Canadian cities through the summer, though the $50–$60 tickets have already sold out in a few locations. We attended a press preview of its San Francisco event last night, solving puzzles in felt green caps and running around a basement ballroom festooned with Zelda-themed decorations.

We did not solve all the puzzles in time (though other teams did). We fought the forces of evil and all we got was this lousy photo — and a strong desire to head to the bar and fortify ourselves with mixed drinks so we could face a future ruled by darkness.

We didn’t get to keep the hats, either.

I am a unabashed Zelda fan. I’ve enjoyed every game in the series (barring some of the Game Boy instantiations). I pored over Hyrule Historia. I will debate anyone who casts aspersions on the severely underappreciated Zelda II: The Adventure of Link, until they submit from exhaustion.

All of which is to say, a Zelda-themed escape room felt like my moment to shine. I imagined a real-life version of classic Zelda dungeon puzzles. As we waited in line, I let everybody know I was good at pushing blocks around and eager to do so.

There was no block pushing.

Sadly, the event organizers didn’t allow photos, video, or internet access during the hour-long event — they didn’t want us spoiling the puzzles. They sat us at a table with a binder, a bunch of paper-based puzzles, and some Rupee stickers. After a brief introductory video cribbed mostly from Ocarina of Time, we were asked to figure out various word games and mazes.

Our team biffed the challenge right from the start, missing small but obvious clues. We wheedled hints out of the black-sweatshirted assistants running around the room with glowing LED Navi fairies stuck to their chests. They clearly enjoyed their job: they knew the answers, we didn’t, and like Navi’s insistent “Hey! Listen!” they vaguely pointed us in the right direction with a winking attitude that didn’t rise to the level of smugness but also certainly didn’t endear them to us.

In that way, the experience was quite accurate to Zelda.

We didn’t spend our entire hour sitting at a table, staring at a binder. Instead, each clue sent us scampering to another section of the ballroom, where we encountered staffers cosplaying the classic Zelda races: Kokiri, Goron, and Zora. We presented our answers, which were alternately accepted and rebuffed depending on our accuracy.

We received little chests which could be unlocked with answers to more puzzles (or, in my case, the accidental use of force), and the event progressed in hectic fashion. In the end, we ran out of time. (Let me emphasize that we came very close to victory.) Three out of the 15 or so teams successfully completed all the puzzles and were rewarded with plastic Master Swords, a diminutive rate of success that helped assuage my feeling of failure.

I thought about how holding a puzzle event in San Francisco — a place so stacked with puzzle-minded software engineers that it boggles the mind — perhaps meant that mere journalists had the deck stacked against them. But I didn’t express these feelings out loud, because I am as gracious in defeat as I am magnanimous in victory.

After all, even the losers were rewarded. The venue had Nintendo Switch consoles on hand and we got to play Breath of the Wild for a few short minutes. Not enough to give you better impressions than have already been written on this very site, but enough to soothe our wounded egos.

Was it fun? Absolutely, yes — if only because we were forcibly disconnected from the internet and given solvable problems with limited stakes. There’s something to be said for having moments where you can tell your friends that they are smart and capable and mean it — and to have them tell you the very same. There’s a joy in physically and intellectually inhabiting a fantasy world that was very much a formative part of your formative years.

This is the part where I admit to you that some of this joy came because we were able to ever-so-briefly ignore our current politics. It’s the part where I tell you that the real catharsis here was a small group of people organizing and acting collectively to solve a problem and it felt good precisely because it was solvable.

It’s also the part where you get annoyed that I brought politics into a thing that fundamentally shouldn’t be about politics. Sorry about that, but — Spoiler Warning — the Zelda metaphor Scrap chose for the closing video about defeating Ganondorf did everything but show a picture of our new president.

We worked together and did a lot but still failed to stop the monster. And — Spoiler Warning Again — as Princess Zelda told us that to defeat the darkness we had to understand the darkness, it felt as though the whole game was reminding us that treating problems like intellectual puzzles wasn’t enough. We had to get up from our table, go out into the world, put on our silly hats, and figure out how to make our solutions real with the citizens and denizens of Hyrule.