In The Legend of Zelda, Hyrule is a land constantly threatened by malevolent lords of shadow, catastrophic volcanic eruptions, and an unfathomable sense of paranormal gloom that saps the will to live from every human, Zora and Goron. Its nations are spread across the land, all living under the gnarled constraints of an autocratic royal bloodline. (Princess Zelda, Demon King Ganondorf, they’re all fat cats to me.) In other words, the people of Zelda need a free press, and in the latest game in the series – Tears of the Kingdom – the Hylians discovered that Uncommon is the feather mightier than the sword. Those up for the adventure will discover ancient vistas, magnificent ruins and, most surprisingly, a proud homage to the power of journalism. Finally, Link asks the tough questions.
In America, Tears of the Kingdom is already Nintendo’s fastest-selling game of all time, selling more than 4 million copies in its first three days. Its map is 198 miles wide, which is nearly twice the size of Massachusetts. Our protagonist – the green-capped, mute Cipher Link – can unimaginably display human cruelty on his journey, as these mutilated Korok sprites can attest. But as the narrative begins, you stumble into a small community called Rito Village, where Link can put his bloodthirstiness aside and join the team at the up-and-coming Lucky Clover Gazette, based in an abandoned horse stable, as a budding freelancer. Two employees, Traysi and Penn, show up and hand out jobs to Link, usually involving the mysterious, if entirely predictable, disappearance of Princess Zelda. Link does his job, earns his reward, and strengthens Hyrule’s reporting power. The freer the press, the freer the people.
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The background characters that populate Tears of the Kingdom all have a remarkably serious, almost Pollyanna-esque perspective on both the Lucky Clover Gazette and the Fourth Estate as a whole. No partisanship divides the Hyrule media; No one accuses Link of being a clickbait sensationalist journalist or spreading fake news, and his bosses are dogmatic about their J-School fundamentals. (“We can’t print anything unless we’re sure it’s true,” Penn instructs in one of the side-quest’s cutscenes.) The more you explore, the more you’ll come across people flipping through an open copy of the Gazette issuing vehemently pro-First Amendment pronouncements to everyone within earshot. “It’s strange to think that I can learn about world affairs just by reading the newspaper,” says one. “Lucky Clover Gazette! What a miracle!” enthuses another. “If they’re understaffed, maybe I should consider becoming a journalist.” Penn – who, it should be said, appears in Tears of the Kingdom as an anthropomorphic pelican – recruits Link with a rousing paean to the life of the news dog. “Hey, do you want to be a reporter?” He asks, “Tell the truth? Uncover the evil in our world?” He praises our tenacity throughout the game, sounding like a Vogel Marty Baron: “The more mysteries there are, the brighter a reporter’s mind burns!”
Love the #TearsOfTheKingdom #Zelda #NintendoSwitch pic.twitter.com/rnRs1WT5vm
— Rebekah Valentine (@duckvalentine) May 16, 2023
It’s about ethics in in-game journalism. #TearsOfTheKingdom #Zelda #NintendoSwitch pic.twitter.com/qZnJolmsNO
— Your ink is fine (@yourinkisokay) May 19, 2023
All of this makes Tears of the Kingdom perhaps the only major video game with a decidedly positive attitude towards the media, meaning that a generation of eight-year-olds currently enjoying their very first Zelda game will hopefully be nurtured away from the ever-growing gamer- paranoia and “enemy of the people” illiberalism and towards the purifying realization that journalism as a craft is all about telling the truth and writing funny little stories. Nintendo reaches them before the toxic comment threads.
“Journalism has been relentlessly attacked in recent years by people who don’t like the questions they ask. I think it’s really important that younger audiences get messages like this,” Brianna Wu, one of the internet’s most prominent anti-Gamergate activists and executive director of the progressive Rebellion Pac, told me. “I also really liked the message that you have to inform yourself personally. All too often, Reddit-style journalism is about sitting at home and Googling things. This often leads to wrong conclusions. This gameplay is about good old fashioned shoe leather journalism.”
Laura Owen, editor of Harvard’s Nieman Journalism Lab, agrees with Wu’s conclusion. “I love all of the journalistic eulogies in pop culture,” she said, noting that positive references to journalism — even as part of a video game side story — can leave a surprisingly deep mark on a developing mind. “My 6-year-old just learned the concept of pretending you’re reading a newspaper when you’re actually spying on someone from an episode of something,” Owen explained.
Shiv Roy never stood a chance, he is one of the most popular Twitter writers. What happened to his new novel? Succession’s obituary has a clear message for the evil fans. Is there really a new way to make a Holocaust film? Yes – and you don’t know what to expect.
Of course, Nintendo itself hasn’t always lived up to the Lucky Clover Gazette standard. For example, Kotaku, a longtime gaming blog, has grappled with a company-enforced blacklist — barring site staff access to review copies and preview events, making their jobs as games journalists a lot harder than they need to be – all apparently because they covered leaks. Link may be a proponent of open airwaves in Hyrule, but his superiors have other ideas. The character has never been more sympathetic than when he struggles to live ethically amidst conflicting corporate interests.
Regardless, I hope Link continues his media adventure in future chapters of his story as the Lucky Clover Gazette navigates the increasingly turbulent waters of the newspaper business. Ganondorf may be an existential villainess on the outskirts of Hyrule, but the hero of the time now faces greater threats: bosses like the Pivot-to-Video, corporate restructuring, and of course, institutional burnout. Congratulations Link you are one of us