Back when God of War: Ragnarok launched, I wrote about how certain elements of its design and technology refused to play nicely with my neurodivergent brain. My mind was convinced it needed to keep fiddling with specific graphical and mechanical configurations until it nailed that perfect sweet spot. This established an awkward stop-and-start momentum which never felt befitting of a narrative blockbuster that required my constant attention.
So I walked away and let the FOMO wash over me, knowing my mental health was more important than brute forcing a game that preyed on my worst habits. It wasn’t malicious in the slightest, but I felt frustrated that I couldn’t enjoy Ragnarok unless I was influenced by medication that actually made it possible to focus for longer periods of time. If not, all I did was work myself up over nothing. I beat Ragnarok eventually, but I’ll never revisit it again.
Several games over the years have affected me in a similar fashion, where the act of playing them is hamstrung by irrational qualms I know aren’t a big deal. It’s still impossible to tell my busted brain that it doesn’t matter if the colours are slightly off or the vibration in my hand should be giving off a slightly different rumble. No matter what I do, it springs to the forefront, so unless I’m hyperfixating on something or have a deadline to meet, sitting down to enjoy media in my spare time is harder than it has any right to be. I often hate myself for it, although in recent months I’ve come to recognise certain triggers and how I can best counter them in ways that compliment my favourite hobbies instead of alienating them.
This is why games like The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom are so special. Despite its vast scope and uncompromising amount of content, the moment-to-moment experience proves surprisingly uncomplicated. Link is taught a number of new abilities on the Great Sky Plateau with immaculately paced tutorials designed to invite curiosity while always pushing you onto the next exciting discovery. When you’re finally free to embrace Hyrule in all of its majesty, you can go anywhere.
I’d recommend chasing down the main quest first though, so you can earn the Paraglider and Camera, but otherwise there is no punishment or eventual expectations associated with how you approach things. You’re bound to miss something, but not in a way that will soon require a frustrating instance of backtracking. Instead, this sense of discovery will merely resurface at a later time.
For me, no longer having that pressure or fear of doing something wrong or having to constantly alter my behaviour in fear of things turning sour or being overstimulated was a lifeline. Modern games are so obsessed with holding your attention and pointing you in specific directions, overwhelming the player because they're so scared we'll switch off. Tears of the Kingdom never does this in spite of its daunting offerings, and is best played by falling in love with its world on your own terms. Even as I write this article, I’m disgustingly aware of the spacing left behind by each paragraph and how all of them need to be neatly arranged or everything in my life will be set on fire. Games that demand constant engagement and focus, or become harder to enjoy if I fail to consume every piece of required knowledge only frustrate me. I wish they didn’t, but that’s the reality, and all I can do is tackle it with tricks both healthy and effective.
I’ve now put over 120 hours into Tears of the Kingdom, and each session is a rewarding bout of relaxation that doesn’t set my brain aflame with hostile possibilities. Each passing moment is a gift to my emergent curiosity, rewarding me with new shrines, outfits, enemy encounters, and similar discoveries despite having no goal in mind. I might have a main quest marked on my map, but it’s a foregone conclusion that I’ll eventually get distracted and lose yet another evening to ascending a mountain in search of koroks and treasure chests I’ve never seen before. Everything you do in Tears of the Kingdom is building Link into a stronger force of heroism, ensuring he will be better prepared to vanquish the darkness that awaits him.
The same goes for me. Rarely is there a worry that I should be forcing myself to play in a certain manner or bending to the whims of strict game design. You’re rewarded for going about things differently or thinking outside the box, a quirk neurodivergent people are too often punished for. To have a game that warmly accommodates me in ways other titles unintentionally exacerbate is a welcome delight. Four temples and goodness knows what else await in this current playthrough, and I’m content to keep chipping away at things at a pace that doesn’t turn this game into a chore or needless source of stress warped into resentment.
Tears of the Kingdom also remedies the technical hurdles I faced with Ragnarok, once again because of its liberating game design and deliberately simple aesthetic. Not a single crash has hindered my time with it, the whole thing looks amazing, runs well, and never asks me to curate things to my liking. It just works, and, when combined with a freeing yet forgiving gameplay formula, there is an element of safety to it all I can’t help but value.
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