My brother and I are very different people. Not in a good/evil way, mind you, but in a much more boring, yin-and-yang sort of way. For example, when he graduated high school, he got a car. When I graduated, I got a computer. He once painted his bathroom orange and blue to celebrate his love of the Chicago Bears. I have spent hours researching which color of Cherry MX switch might best suit my typing style. He probably went on more dates in high school than I have in my entire life. And, like most brothers, I’m sure we spent more time bickering than getting along as kids. Technically, he’s my half brother — a child from my father’s previous marriage. I wouldn’t even mention it, because we don’t see each other that way, but it plays a small part in this particular story.
We weren’t the first kids on the block to get a Nintendo Entertainment System(colloquially referred to as an NES). We may have even been the last. I remember wanting one so badly that when I turned seven in the summer of 1987, I begged my parents to let me use my birthday checks to get an Action Set(I used a similar tactic a couple years later, promising to give up a full year of gifts in exchange for a Game Boy). I don’t know that they actually cashed the checks and used them to pay for the system. It is entirely possible that my parents just deposited those birthday checks into my savings account and bought the NES. I was in second grade, I wasn’t checking the books at the time.
Getting an NES was a big deal. No longer were our gaming sessions limited to the whims of our friends, surely exasperated at my obsession with their copies of Super Mario Bros. and Kid Icarus. For the better part of four months, we had two games, both of them on a single cartridge: Super Mario Bros. and Duck Hunt. The NES was hooked up to the only TV we had, which sat in the living room. This meant our game time was quite limited, and as a result those two games felt like more than enough. We’d seen some newer games at our friend’s houses, however, and so my brother and I asked for new cartridges cartridges when the holiday season came around. That December, my brother and I each found ourselves unwrapping a new game. I’d asked for Super Mario Bros. 2. He’d asked for The Legend of Zelda. The excitement didn’t stop there, however. In addition to this, we received a TV of our very own. It was incredibly old and clunky, so much so that a few years later it would die entirely, but it was ours.
My brother and I had an odd living arrangement. The house we lived in technically only had two bedrooms and a single bathroom. When my mother began nurturing the embryo that would become our sister, the bedroom we shared was prepped for our sister. The finished attic became our bedroom. It was actually two rooms, and the one that had stairs, and therefore no privacy, became our play room. The bunk bed we shared in the regular room was converted into a pair of twin beds. These rested in the next room, which became our actual bedroom. With the addition of a TV, our play room became a game room.
I don’t recall how long it took, but at some point, while we were playing Zelda, my brother decided we’d need to map the world out. We had seen maps of the game before; one of our friends had the coveted Official Nintendo Player’s Guide, which featured complete walkthroughs of many original NES classics. We had no such book, and my brother didn’t feel that we needed to buy one.
“We’ll make our own maps,” he proudly declared. “But we have to put them somewhere they won’t get lost.” I pondered, perhaps for the first time, the idea of permanence. His eyes lit up. “I’ve got it.” He grabbed a pen and ran from the playroom to our bedroom, grabbed the reading lamp from my bedpost, and slid under the bed. I followed him.
On the particle board base of my bed, he drew that starting point of the entire game: the opening square where Link began his journey. He drew the entrance to the cave that held the wooden sword, and approximated the rock face around it. We began to build out from there, drawing the beginning of the overworld map from memory. We marked the various stores, rooms with mysterious old women that said nothing, and the bombable walls that our friend Sam had shown us during one of his exhibitions of the game long before we owned it. We plotted the course to the first dungeon, and the desert just beyond it. We used different colored pens to mark the secrets things we discovered and to mark important locations.
We never finished the map. We kept playing Zelda, but in short order began to memorize the sprawling overworld. Before long, my brother had finished the game. We kept playing it, of course, because when you are that young you can’t afford to buy every game that catches your eye. Everyone on the block was playing it. For a brief period, it was declared that I was a good luck charm for the game’s secondary game, a room where an old man would ask you to “Play money-making game” and gamble a portion of your money. I was asked to choose which of three possibilities would pay out. When I was wrong, my friends bemoaned that I wasn’t taking it seriously. I found the whole thing silly, but I conceded to their demands until the fad mercifully passed. Around this same time, I suddenly found myself spending a great deal of time not playing video games. Being grounded from video games became my parent’s new favorite punishment, and I was a terrible student.
That following summer, my brother returned home from visiting his mother(remember: half-brother) with a copy of Zelda II. He declared that she told him this was his game, and I wasn’t allowed to play it, because she bought it for him. I was insanely jealous. In the face of my constant pestering, he eventually relented and let me play on a separate save file. I even used his ownership of it as an attempt to circumvent my parent’s limiting of my play. After all, it was his game, and his mom bought it, so didn’t that mean if he said I could play it, my parents were powerless to stop me?
(No, as it turns out, it didn’t.)
In the summer of 1990, our family moved from Chicago to Skokie. My parents wanted to get us out of the Chicago Public School system, and into a better suburban one. My brother and I lost our large bedroom and playroom, this time relegated to a smaller single room. Our bunk beds were re-stacked, and the space beneath my bed became a haven for whatever mess I’d left on the floor the day before and didn’t feel like cleaning up. I forgot about the unfinished map of Hyrule.
On his fourteenth birthday, the spring before he’d be entering high school, it was decided that my brother would get his own room. He got all-new furniture, including a new bed. My parents re-arranged the bookcases in the basement so that he had a quarter of it to himself, and I got a room of my own. A year and a half later, for my thirteenth birthday, I received a new set of furniture for my bedroom. When preparing to sell our old furniture at a garage sale, my parents discovered the map. They were not pleased, but knew nothing could be done about it. They sold the bunk beds, including our cartographic adventure, to another family.
My brother and I get along much better now. We have our own lives, and meet up for holidays and birthdays. Despite over a decade of major life events occurring since, that time spent mapping out the original Legend of Zelda is still one of my fondest memories.