Ok, so The Legend of Zelda, right?
We all know the basics: this guy Link wanders around Hyrule collecting various trinkets that aid him in conquering this Ganon dude and acquiring a triangle, and there’s a princess too, I guess. This is all standard video game fare, because video game designers have known for a long time that what kids want to do is collect trinkets and triangles (and princesses, I guess).
But I want to talk about
THE ECONOMICS OF HYRULE
(Hyrule being the place where all these particular trinkets, triangles, and princesses are kept).
Alright, so in The Legend of Zelda, Hyrule is set up something like this:
There are 0 towns.
This makes you wonder why there’s a princess at all. What’s the point of a monarchy if there are no subjects to monarch over? Is Zelda really even a princess? Is monarch really a verb? If I wander out into Antarctica and declare myself prince of all the people there, is that any less legitimate than Zelda’s claim to princesshood?
There are a handful of humans (or elves, maybe, I dunno).
All the people in the game fit into 4 categories:
2. Old people who give shit to Link (including arcane advice)
3. Scruffy lowlifes who sell shit to Link
4. Old dudes who try to get Link to gamble
And really, all of the old people might just be the same old dude and old lady running around in an elaborate system of secret passages a la Clue.
Either way, this is hardly enough people to constitute a kingdom, and they’re all either nomads (Link) or cave dwellers (everybody else). This is not civilization.
It’s also not a viable market. Here’s a little thought experiment: imagine you’re looking to start a business. What does your business model look like? Are you selling arrows, shields, and bombs out of a cave in the middle of nowhere? This sounds like the setup for some kind of Al Qaeda joke, but nope! It’s the retail sector of Hyrule.
What else does Hyrule have to offer? Why, 9 dungeons, of course!
Who built these dungeons? What are they for? Where did the funding come from? How can you have a kingdom with no towns and only a few geriatric cavemen, and why would such a kingdom need to build 9 fairly complex dungeons?
Perhaps the old dudes built the dungeons. Did they use them to kill everybody else? Or were the dungeons built as elaborate studios for producing torture porn? Is The Legend of Zelda a prequel to Videodrome?
What haven’t we considered so far?
Monsters. Lots and lots of monsters. Octoroks, keese, zols, darknuts (really), leevers, and many more. These guys are all over the place. And you know what’s weird? They have all the money.
I haven’t tried it, but I have a strong suspicion that if I were to wander out into the woods and start killing wild animals, fewer than 1% of them would drop money. But in Hyrule, this is a perfectly viable way to make a living, I guess because Hyrulean wildlife feels compelled to collect coins. That could explain why they always wander back and forth around the same area: they are diligently checking the ground for rupees. This implies deficiencies in both short-term memory and eyesight (since rupees are roughly as big as the monsters themselves), but hey, I’m no better.
Paul the Octorok: So… hungry… gotta scrape together… 10 rupees to play… Money Making Game.
Paul the Octorok: Daddy needs 4 new pairs of shoes!
Paul the Octorok: Oh hells yes! Ol’ Paul gets to live another 3 days!
Paul the Octorok: Food! Sweet, sweet indiscernable meat!
It’s kind of crazy and depressing that these animals have to go to such extremes to get fed, isn’t it? But that’s the only explanation for their beachcombing behavior.
UNLESS, of course, they’re hoping to buy up all the weapons in the kingdom. But why would they want to do that?
Well, let’s review. You’ve got a kingdom with plenty of well-engineered buildings but apparently no citizens to finance them, and all of the currency is in the hands of a bunch of monsters. These monsters are peaceful, except when Link shows up all like “Hey pansies, I can’t help but notice that some parts of my sword aren’t completely stained with blood. Mind if I take some of yours?” Furthermore, the only other humans around hide out in caves and peddle wares to help Link kill everything. No wonder the monsters want to decrease the availability of weapons.
(What are the merchants using their profits for, anyway? Do they live on monster bait? Maybe they live on bombs?)
My friends, perhaps it is time we consider that Link might not be a hero saving the kingdom of Hyrule and its beloved princess Zelda. Maybe the “monsters” in question are the rightful citizens of a very diverse and nature-oriented kingdom who prefer their civic buildings to be subterranean and perilous, and Link is just a genocidal asshole killing off the non-human (or whatever) citizens of Hyrule for the benefit of himself and of a princess of questionable legitimacy. Yes, maybe — just maybe — Link is a soulless mass murderer.
The economic arrangement looks rather different once we get to Zelda II, but that’s a different article for a different time.