Brief Crissed-Crossed-mas update (plus Wind Waker impressions)

Forget “ho ho ho”, in reality it’s more “woe woe woe”. And woe woe woe to you all during this brief annual holiday. It’s a truly despicable time of year in the UK for those who celebrate Christmas, and even worse if like me you don’t, but everyone around you does. I am going to exorcise a few demons by discussing in this here post the English mind (and, perhaps get around eventually to the Wind Waker on Gamecube). So fair warning that if you’re not interested in my Christmas demons – and frankly who would be – it’d be wise to skip to the last quarter of the post.

This is something that annoys me all year round, but Christmas in particular presents the most draining social encounters imaginable. In particular, in my own case, a lot of my frustration stems from the fact that although I am English, my partner has visibly non-English roots. This generates a great deal of curiosity, but surprisingly little conversation (at least little conversation that I am privy to). In large part this fact is attributable to the wretched curse of Englishness, which I am afflicted with too, to some extent.

It’s a common stereotype abroad that English people are arrogant. Another, which is present in England itself as well as abroad is that English people are repressed. It has only just dawned on me today that these two traits are separate interpretations of the same thing. The typical Englishman feels that there are only certain topics that can be discussed, and only certain things that can be said. Often that-which-can-be-discussed is talked about using a kind of sarcastic, irony-filled dialect that makes it difficult to work out what the speaker’s opinion is. There’s just too much damn irony getting in the way.

This is the English person’s way to avoid potentially contentious discussions. The “repressed” English stereotype justifies these ironic evasions, claiming it is done to prevent people taking offence. The “arrogant” English stereotype places the same situation in a very different light. The English person’s beliefs are not held back by his or her desire to prevent offence, but actually to prevent their own ideas from being challenged. There is nothing worse for an English person than finding their assumptions and ideas under attack. In this way, the English person can maintain that they are correct in all things, that they are intellectually self-sufficient. And because English people rarely if ever have their ideas challenged, they are by nature conservative creatures.

Wind Waker 2

What does Wind Waker have to with the English mind? Very little, it turns out.

Since this all sounds a bit abstract, I’ll give an example. The scenario is made up but this is based on my own experiences of English people over the past few Xmas-tinged days.

A Jewish rabbi and a Muslim imam walk into a church on Sunday morning. They sit through the service. Since they arrive late, several people turn around and catch sight of these fully garbed men. After the service, the two visibly out of place men are approached by our object of study, the English man:

EM (English man): Hello! Ha ha, you two look out of place don’t you! After all you’re M-M-M-Mu- and you’re J-J-J-Je-you’re the only people here without a cup of tea!

R&I: That’s true, we’re also-

EM: Did you know, when you two walked in here I was dead surprised. I thought perhaps the church had been hired out and you folks had arrived early for an event or something!

R&I: Oh, did you? Well actually-

EM: “Who are those shady-looking folks?” Ha ha, don’t worry though, no explanation necessary! I see you’ve got your tea now, that’s always for the best. Anyway, whatever you’ve done, I don’t judge, and neither do the rest of us! I’ll leave you both to it then.

(Exit English man).

In this scenario, the rabbi and the imam are expecting to be questioned on their presence in the church. They might perhaps need to draw upon their body of experience, their religious views, their heritage, to answer the never-spoken-constantly-dodged-bleeding-obvious-staring-you-in-the-face question: what are a rabbi and an imam doing at a church service?! This is not an offensive question at all, but in the English person’s eyes it is contentious, and therefore best avoided. Instead vague allusions and jokey irony substitute actual conversation. Note how this act of “kindness” on the English person’s part – ignoring  the elephant in the room – does not reduce embarrassment. Instead the embarrassing difference is continually highlighted without being addressed. Also we see here how a lack of genuine dialogue allows the English person to cling to an unspoken set of assumptions (“Whatever you’ve done…”) and never have them questioned.

Enough Scrooging. I have written several further paragraphs on “the English mind” but I will spare you my many Xmas gripes in order to turn to Wind Waker, another conservative object. Wind Waker is an extremely difficult beast to critique. There is a lot to like, and even to love about it, but it does not surprise or wow me the way its predecessors do.

A big part of the problem is to do with pacing. I’m currently a good ways into the game. But I feel that the game is only just getting started. To be precise, I’m at the (deliberately trying to be vague here) wow-cool underwater segment, where the talking boat has assured me the true nature of Link’s mission will be revealed. Up until now I, in Link’s shoes, have been little more than a shill, an unpaid apprentice for the wordy boat, who seems to talk a lot while revealing little. The missions I have been completing for the verbose boat don’t bear any obvious relation to my primary goal, which is the rescue of Link’s sister. Now it seems strange to be complaining about the story of a Zelda game, but the lack of clarity about the purpose of the mission creates the feel of being in a perpetual tutorial. I still have this sense after what must be around 15 hours of play.

Another problem is the overworld. As ambitious as it is, it is not convenient or streamlined, and coupled with the vast size and lack of a map (well, you have to manually fill the map in yourself), exploring off the set course is a far more daunting prospect, and less satisfying, than in previous Zelda games. I find myself following the exact instructions I’m given, sailing from island to island quickly, hardly stopping for anything along the way, let alone going out of my way to land in an alternative location.

Despite its slow and at times off-putting pacing, Wind Waker has much to say in its favour. For starters (how can I not mention this), the graphics are beautiful. The animation and the style all-round is up there with some of the best animated projects in terms of its charm and vividness. The one significant town in the game, Windfall Island, feels alive and fully formed, with its hilarious battleships game, cafe, auction house, and rip-off bomb shop. It’s a shame there aren’t more islands that serve as towns, as Windfall is so good it leaves you wanting more. The music is great too, par for the course in the Zelda series.

I won’t say any more for now, since I still have a good deal more to play and experience of the game. I’m looking forward to the later dungeons, but dreading the notorious Triforce quest.

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