37. Everything I Know about Creativity I Learned from The Legend of Zelda

Today’s post was written by Wes Molebash, blogger and cartoonist extraordinaire. It came at the perfect time, since The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword is coming out in a couple of days. Check out his website for more awesome artwork and insights on creativity!

Like most people my age, I grew up playing the Legend of Zelda video game series. I loved every minute of those games, and Ocarina of Time played a defining role in my young adulthood.

Now I like to consider myself a “creative person.” What I mean by this is that I love to create art and I’m always scheming of my next “big” project. Ideas are cheap; art is work, and I’m absolutely in love with the creative process.

That being said, I realized the other day as I was toiling in my basement office that everything I know about creativity was learned from playing the Legend of Zelda video games.

For instance:

It doesn’t matter how small you are or what tools you are using

In several of the Zelda games, Link starts his journey as a little boy who wields a measly wooden sword and a Deku shield. A DEKU shield! No one is afraid of a Deku shield. But he doesn’t let this stop him. He goes straight into his first dungeon and defeats the baddie with his slingshot David-and-Goliath-style. The journey has begun. He’s received his first taste of victory, and he’s off to the next dungeon.

So what does this tell me about the creative process? Simple: It doesn’t matter how skilled you are or how big your platform is or how expensive your tools are, just create! Don’t be hindered by your limited experience or lack of resources. I know famous cartoonists who draw awesome cartoons on three-thousand-dollar computer tablets. I also know a lot of amateur cartoonists who draw awesome cartoons using Ticonderoga No. 2 pencils and Sharpie markers. Take the resources you have and use them to the best of your ability.

Every obstacle has a weak spot—exploit it!

The Legend of Zelda series has been around since the eighties and it continues to follow a familiar formula: go into dungeons, collect maps and compasses and special weapons, and fight seemingly indestructible beasts who all have a glaring Achilles heel. Does the beastie have one huge, rolling eyeball? It’s a safe bet that you’ll want to shoot some arrows into the beast’s ocular cavity. Does the baddie occasionally stop to roar for a prolonged period of time? I’d grab some bombs and make it rain inside that guy’s maw. No matter how big the monster is, his weak point is right there in front of you begging to be struck.

The same holds true with our creative obstacles. They seem impossible to topple, but—the fact is—they’re quite easy to destroy! If I had to guess, I’d say that 99% of our creative obstacles can be toppled by simply CREATING. Are you having a hard time motivating yourself? Get out your tools and create. Do you have some naysayers telling you that you suck at life? Tune them out and create. Are you swimming in a sea of rejection letters from agents and publishers? Take the critiques and criticism with a grain of salt and create.

It really is that simple. Once you get started it’ll be hard to stop. The weak spot of your obstacle is right there staring you in the face. Exploit it.

You’re going to get better

As I said above, when Link starts his journey he is just a little boy with a crappy sword and shield and three hearts in his life meter. However, as he continues his quest he gets better. He collects more weapons. He becomes more resilient. He ages. By the end of the game he’s got the Hyrule Shield, the Master Sword, some rad magic powers, a pair of flippers that help him swim and hold his breath under water, a bunch of sweet weapons in a bag that would be impossible to carry in the real world, and eighteen hearts in his life meter. He finally ends up at Ganon’s door and he’s ready to—as they say in the UFC—“bang.”

The same is true for your creative endeavors. The more you create, the better you’ll get. You’ll also acquire new tools and awesome advice from other creators. Most importantly, you’ll gain experience. No longer will you feel completely daunted by project proposals, pitches, and rejections. It’s all part of the process and you’ll get better and better at those things.

So wipe your brow, keep creating, and—when you need to take a break—dust off your N64, pop in Ocarina of Time, and wander around Hyrule Field for a spell.

What have you learned from video games? Let us know in the comments!


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2 thoughts on “37. Everything I Know about Creativity I Learned from The Legend of Zelda

  1. It’s funny you bring that up because I have a motto I use that came from playing games on my old Super Nintendo: if I’ve gotten through this part once, I’ll eventually do it again.
    This came from those games in which you had to complete several levels before the game would save your progress. Just when you thought you had finally got through that impossible part or level you would die and have to start all over again. But I figured that once I had made it, I would sooner or later do it again and after a while the level wouldn’t even be hard to play anymore. And I discovered a little while after I came up with that motto that the same goes for lots of things in life, and certainly for the creative process. If I have trouble with drawing anatomy, perspective or if I can’t get that pose right, I think back to a time when I nailed it and think: if I have done it once, I’ll eventually do it again. The same principle goes for things that you haven’t done before, just stick with it, keep “playing” and eventually you’ll figure it out.

  2. It doesn’t need to be complicated to be fun.

    Some of the better games are the simpler games, such as most of the Commodore 64 games I remember. A good concept should be able to be portrayed without complications.

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