Walking through the packed streets of Cusco on a rainy night, I was hit with the realization that the classmates I was supposedly following to our dinner reservation had dissolved into the crowd. Looking at my classmates behind me I saw similar faces of confusion, and then panic, as we began to realize what was happening. In an instant we had become an island of familiar faces in a sea of anonymity, and we knew neither where we came from nor where we were going. In a word, we were lost.
Many of my classmates quickly became hysteric and not without reason. After all, we were a small group of thirteen-year-olds lost in a strange city at night and armed with only an eighth-grade understanding of Spanish and the name of our hotel. However, in spite of our potentially dangerous situation, there was something uniquely exciting and even liberating about being lost. As the majority of my friends broke into tears, a few others and I kept our spirits high, embraced the challenge and the excitement, and thankfully managed to lead us back to our hotel unharmed. In truth, it was an experience unlike any I’d previously had, and it was one that I would have to wait many years to experience once more.
Upon reflection, I can see that it was only through the combination of a very unique set of circumstances that I was able to experience getting lost in this day and age. After all, under normal conditions anyone of us would have been able to pull out our phones and receive step-by-step directions to our hotel courtesy of Google maps. Alternatively, even without our phones we could normally ask someone else for directions. However, being in Peru we could neither use our cell phones nor communicate to the point of requesting and understanding directions to our hotel. We were, for what felt like the first time, truly dependent on our own innate abilities and knowledge to solve the problem at hand.
It has been years since I got lost in Cusco, and I still often think back to that rainy night in all its excitement, fear, and possibilities. And, while I often miss the feeling of getting lost, I had accepted that it is an experience I will likely not have again in such a true form. However, Nintendo’s new game The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild has recently been testing that assumption. Already being lauded as one of the best-reviewed video games in the history of video games, Breath of the Wild has cultivated a unique experience in which the player can get lost in an age where getting lost is going extinct.
Unlike many video games, Breath of the Wild does not give the player a clear means of accomplishing a goal. Rather, I found myself presented with a set of tools and thrown into a strange new world with little more than a “have at it.” Like in Cusco, I found myself in a position where I felt entirely dependent on my own abilities and intuition to figure out what to do and where to go.
After fifty of hours of gameplay the in-game world is less overwhelming and the path to success is less unknowable, but the sense of mystery and excitement remains. It feels as if on top of every mountain and within every valley there might be some new weapon or elixir that can aid you in your quest, while the path to success, if becoming clearer, remains blessedly fluid. The essence of being lost remains intact, and the path to getting found is just as thrilling as it was in the start of the game.
The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is a game that has managed to create the utterly human experience of getting lost in a virtual world, an experience that is dying in our technological reality. Thus, Breath of the Wild serves as a refreshing change of gears, allowing people to get lost without the implicit danger in the real world and allowing me to indulge in my nostalgia for that night in Cusco long ago.