ajor Changes in Minor Keys: Music and Narrative in The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask

The goal of my project was to help tell the story Link is thrust into while exploring Termina in The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask. Music plays a particularly important role in the game series, relying on songs Link learns to trigger events to further the story. This project took no focus on the Ocarina songs, though, and told a story through the game’s background music. The music can be found here

One of the most challenging aspects of this project was to portray the emotion that permeates scenes from the game through the use of music. In my eyes, Majora’s Mask is a game that highlights the tragedies of loneliness and how one deals with it. For this reason, the first two tracks are written as character pieces for Link and Skull Kid: “Link’s Departure”, a track I wrote in conjunction with the beginning of the game, a scene in which Link is alone with his horse, walking through a forest, is a mellow, downtempo track written in the minor key, a mode that inspires introverted thought and sadness, but not so much to dissuade us from the possibility of a brighter tomorrow. Link is alone in that moment, but his loneliness is cast aside through being kind and helpful to the people of the primary location of the game, Clocktown, who return his kindness with their own help towards Link. The aptly titled “I Am So Sad”, on the other hand, is a much darker and more sinister piece that is also written in minor, but experiences much more dramatism and agony than the first track. This was done to highlight Skull Kid’s inability to keep his friends – he uses fear when under the control of Majora’s Mask. The song takes on a hopeless air, emphasizing chaos and disorder through a random array of claps and thunder samples, exemplifying the futility of Skull kid’s attempt at friendship through his negative emotions.

Majora’s Mask tells a simple story with complex themes, and I wanted the music to represent this dichotomy as well. Creatively, I took a choice to be as minimalistic as possible in my arrangements, often opting for a simple piano and rhythm section to drive forward the main melody, but layering different soundscapes, counter-melodies, and effect-samples to create an organized chaos in the track, mimicking the added layers of complexity the main story of the game engages with. In some cases, though, emphasis was placed on the rushed and hectic nature of the game, notably during the tracks “Idalwa Boss Music” and “THE MOON IS FALLING”, which forsake the layers complexity of the other tracks in favour of promoting the energy and rushed feeling of fighting a boss, or mustering up the courage to stop the moon from falling and destroying Clock Town and all of Termina.

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The Slow Violence of the Video-game Empire – Olivier Aveline

The popularity of video-games in popular culture is undeniable: While the business might be growing on a grandiose scale unequalled by almost any other sector in the economy, we fail to ever mention the dark side of the gaming industry. Capitalism has turned us into a culture of waste, where we are encouraged to change our consoles, phones, and other gadgets every few months as to keep up with the latest trends. The result of this economic trend has resulted in what Rob Nixon calls “Slow Violence”, a “violence that occurs gradually and out of sight, a violence of delayed destruction that is disperse across time and space, an attritional violence that is typically not viewed as violence at all.” (2, Nixon).

This violence manifests itself as environmental and social consequences, through the lack of a proper recycling program, exploitation of precious metals that is poorly regulated, and labour that would be deemed less-than-moral by the standards set in our own countries. Miller, in his paper “Gaming For Beginners”, writes that “16 year-old girls […]pick away without protection at discarded First World computers full of leaded glass to find precious metals, then dump the remains in landfills. The metals are sold to recyclers, who do not use landfills or labor in the First World because of environmental and industrial legislation…” (9). This immoral business practice is a byproduct of globalization, as well as the free market, allowing businesses to exploit resources and outdated laws in the pursuit of profit.

Playing by the rules has its drawbacks – After playing “To Build A Better Mousetrap”, I found it almost impossible to simulate a situation where I could fairly compensate my workers and still churn a profit. Two times out of three, my company went bankrupt, even when I was barely paying my workers a fair wage. Only when I automated my assembly line, computerized my analyses, could I profit from any of my business, at the expense of paying workers.

Companies even try to sell us their products through the virtual world. Second Life, a virtual world simulator, has been overwhelmed with a Capitalist presence, having their “streets filled with familiar logos […] [with[ in-game stores where you can purchase virtual equivalents of offline products” (xii Witherford and De Peuter). The waste we produce even extends to this virtual world: In “Capitalism and Videogames”, it is noted that “Computer servers that, according to one estimate, annually use about 1,752 kilowatts of electricity per Second Life resident as much as is consumed by an average actual Brazilian, and generating about as much CO2 as does a 2,300 mile journey in an SUV” (Carr 2006)

The current system is unsustainable. We cannot expel the capitalist system from the videogame empire, as it would require the whole world to embrace such a drastic change: A green revolution would need to take place, where the buying, recycling, and production process could become self-sustainable, as to end the cycle of consumption and exploitation.

Micro Essay #1: Narratology and Video Games (A Very Tardy Entry)

In Juul’s paper on Narrative, the most prominent counter-argument is that video games cannot always have a narrative as “cannot be viewed independently”, meaning that it must be able to translate beyond a reasonable doubt from one medium to another. I would say that, while translating certain games over to other forms of media would still be troublesome, does not mean that a video game is void of any form of narrative. For example, “Tetris” is cited in his paper as a game with no formal “actor” – But how does one go about describing “Tetris” to a friend? The first point I’d like to bring up is that narrative does not always have to be projected onto us: As the gamer, the one controlling the actions within the world we are playing in, we project our own narrative onto the game. In playing “Tetris”, one can craft a story of their own simply through validating their actions within the game. If there is no goal, no actions must be taken, thus, no narrative is present.

Furthermore, we have games like “Graveyard”, or “Every day the Same Dream”, in which we must piece together the narrative ourselves. Both games use a generic character, the latter of the two titles even has us play a character with no face, who’s goals are not immediately apparent. Through a use of trial and error, we can slowly begin to piece together the narrative of these two characters, having one character walk through a graveyard, to sit on a bench and remember her youth, and another who goes about rewarding the player to do break the “everyday” habit the character engages in to further the story. The importance lies on the events that bring us to the conclusion of the story, a narrative technique exclusive to video games.

Another point worth mentioning is the notion of narrative time in videogames: In the article, it is written that narrative time in a video game is chronological, and happening right now. I believe this statement to be false: Video games have become incredibly intricate with their narrative storytelling abilities – Citing the same examples from above, “Everyday the Same Dream” cannot possibly comply with the narrative ideology: There is a chronological progression happening within the story, but the same scenario is being played in a loop. Does this mean the game is taking place in some sort of extra dimensional space? How does this affect the flow of the story? How can we truly know which order the five events we need to perform to complete the game have to be played in? This is example of a non-linear storyline defeats the assumption that games can only run in a chronological/real-time format