Let’s Think Deep: Schrödinger’s Zelda


If he never pulled the sword, would anything have happened? Let's Think Deep.

It’s a new year and with that comes new chances to try something fresh. I’ve written a handful of reviews and retrospectives and lists and such here at Toy-TMA about whatever (you know, you’ve read them I’m sure). But you know what we haven’t done yet? We haven’t thunk deep. So let’s do that. Let’s Think Deep.

Science In Motion

Today I want to talk about something that’s been nagging at my mind a bit. For reference here you need to be familiar with Schödinger’s Cat and the famous experiment that goes along with said feline. The experiment is all about the liminal state that the cat in the experiment takes when placed in a box. The cat has been fed a capsule of poison that has a 50% chance of breaking and killing the cat and a 50% chance of doing nothing. While in the box there is no way of knowing whether the cat is alive or otherwise (the experiment doesn’t compensate for zombification unfortunately). Officially, the cat is both alive and dead while also being neither. Technically, the cat ceases to exist in a state we can functionally understand. More than anything, we run into a moment of complete quantum physics scrambling our noggins. As long as we never look in that box, that cat’s fate is up in the air (though after a certain point you know for sure the cat isn’t alive anymore).

Yes, I do believe this describes the theory perfectly. Or does it...?

How does this pertain to video games you may ask? Well, how often do you find yourself in a situation within a game where you are asked to do something that you know will end poorly, such as pull a lever or walk through a door or hand the villain all the magical gems he needs to take over the world? Pretty frequently. But no matter what you say or do, you are forced to play this situation out to the end for better or worse. I absolutely hate when a game demands you fall into a trap to advance the story when I know I’m about to fall into a trap and don’t want to.

My favorite example of this comes from The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time. Nope, still not done talking about this game yet. The first half of the game you spend running around as a young Link collecting three spiritual stones in hopes of opening the Temple of Time and grabbing the Trifroce before Ganondorf gets the chance. It should be no surprise but when you open the door and pull the Master Sword from its pedestal, Ganondorf walks in behind you and nabs the Triforce, mentioning that you did all the hard work for him and leaving you to look like a complete newb for your actions.

By the end of the game you discover that things would have been so much better had you never futzed with the spiritual stones and tried to stop the King of Darkness at all. Things probably would have ended just fine if you buried the three stones in remote parts of the map without any markings to show what they are and where someone else can find them. But you have to open that door and grab that sword, otherwise the game never progresses, even if you’ve played the game hundreds of times before and know exactly what’s about to happen.

Okay, time to boggle some minds and think deep here. You ready? Lets say you’ve collected the three stones and are standing in front of the Master Sword. You can either pull that sword and put into motion all the events to follow, or you can do nothing. On the other end of that sword is a liminal world between existing and not as long as you never pull that sword. You can conceivably stand with the game turned on, staring at the sword for all eternity and nothing will ever happen. Hyrule will never fall under Ganondorf’s rule and Link will never have to fight again.

But should you decide to pull the sword, everything happens as you’d expect. Sound confusing just a bit? Of course it does, but that’s because we’re thinking deep. I’ve got more examples to deal with.

Oh snaps, I'm totally about to go there.

Oh snaps, I'm totally about to go there.

So show of hands here on who has played Final Fantasy VII. Okay, counting…and wow, that’s a lot of people. I’m tempted to spoil the big plot point, but then again is it really possible to spoil the big plot point? It’s like telling you that Humpty Dumpty is an egg or that the “Rosebud” in Citizen Kane is a sled. You already know, right? Well, I won’t be explicit, but this is a perfect example of a character living up to Schrödinger’s fantasies since at some point that I won’t tell you, something that I won’t tell you happens (here’s a hint: “Hey why is this sword sticking out of me?”).

In the game you cannot prevent this from happening, even if you know it’s about to happen. You can, however, never continue with the game. You can turn it off and never turn it back on. In doing so, the game will never progress and “someone” will never “something.” In fact, a lot of people do this completely by accident by stopping right before a big event in a game and just plain forgetting to return to play. At that moment the character both does and does not exist at the same time. They will be forever frozen in this state until you continue out their destiny, whatever it may be.

I’m somewhat surprised more games don’t address this flaw more often in games. It is extremely rare that a game allows you the option of doing or not doing something if you feel the outcome is something you’d rather not happen. Most of these come down to morality choices, but those are terribly executed in games, mostly with one option being “Something Super Evil” and the other being “Something Super Nice.” I’d like to have a game where the designers realize that not everyone is dimwitted enough to fall into the same traps over and over and instead have figured out what exactly the villain is planning way before the villain blatantly explains it to everyone right before he annihilates you for being so dimwitted. Maybe an option for an alternate ending where the villain’s plans are averted by you hiding the magical crystals in some other, unreferenced locations? I’d find that kind of cool and definitely original. But then again, maybe I’m just thinking too deep.

So I’ve thunk deep, but have you? I don’t know, I haven’t heard anything you’ve said. Why not give a deep comment on the subject of the liminal world here in video games between the events happening and nothing happening at all. Does this bother you or are you totally fine with it continuing? Leave a comment and let’s get us all thinking deep.


About Author

Chris was the former Head Writer/Editor of Toy-TMA. He did a great job overseeing the site and getting new content published regularly. Always more than willing to respond to a comment or two, but pitiless with trolls! He has since moved on from TMA, and we wish him the best.

1 Comment

  1. Great minder-bender. If I perch my finger above the submit button without touching it, I’ll never progress and unlock all the wonderful things a comment can bring…………….Here goes.

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