There are very few games that have the power to sweep across nearly all gamer generations with as much emotional and visceral response as a Legend of Zelda announcement. As we become accustomed to annualized releases and expansive downloadable content that extends the “newness” of a title for several additional months of new experiences, the Zelda franchise eschews all of these trends and exists on its own playing field as a result. Each new tidbit of information is celebrated by fans worldwide, press conferences are eagerly watched and immediately dissected for fresh insight, and all of this continues to build towards a boiling crescendo with each drop from the faucet that will soon release Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild to the eager masses.
But this one, however, will be a little bit different. While each title in this venerable franchise has slowly drifted from linear storytelling to adding on optional areas to explore and additional side missions to lose some time in, this release will mark the first time Zelda has truly become an “open-world” game. For those unfamiliar with this distinction, this means that the entire environment is open to full exploration and as the player you are free to pursue the main quest or spend the day climbing, fishing, or scavenging to your heart’s content. But with this new-found freedom some interesting questions are raised. Will gamers still feel compelled to save Hyrule when there is so much room for activities? Will the presence of all of these options water down or detract from the reason we entered into Link’s oh-so-comfortable looking shoes in the first place? I can honestly say that in many open-world games I have played I often forgot what the next item in my main quest log was because I had so many other competing priorities, or simply found the side quests more compelling (Oblivion, I’m looking at you). So while this is a delightful conundrum for gamers to solve in the very near future, I believe there is a real world application that has some much larger ramifications to explore.
2 Samuel 11 may be one of the most bitter chapters in the entire Bible, at least it certainly is for me. After so many chapters of following the heroic, virtuous, and honorable David through his path from shepherd boy to kingship we finally land on a fatal chink in his previously impenetrable armor. We see the problem emerge promptly in the very first verse, as the text informs us that it was the spring and the time when “kings go off to war”. Only this time we don’t see David follow this practice… instead the verse finishes with David SENDING his army instead of going with them, remaining behind in Jerusalem instead. Seems harmless, right? After all, the preceding chapters are replete with David’s victorious conquests over the Ammonites, the Moabites, the Edomites… it was just rough times for the “-ites” in general. He even threw in the Philistines and Arameans for good measure. He must have had a coupon for “defeat two nations, get three free” or something. So what is the harm in going a little AWOL just this once? Just a little side mission as a breather after all his hard work completing so much of his primary mission? Well, as we will see this unapproved respite would have a barrage of unintended and fatal outcomes for multiple innocent parties and planted the seeds for the future civil war that would rip Israel into two separate nations for hundreds of years.
While David restlessly patrolled his balcony, a man in the wrong place at the wrong time, his eyes fell on a bathing woman and a chain of events were launched that would change his life forever… outcomes that were utterly avoidable if he had simply stayed on mission. David saw, sin came, and satan conquered, and sadly David would fall from His previously untouchable pedestal to add adulterer, conspirator, liar, and murderer to his résumé. When this forbidden tryst ran its course, Bathsheba’s innocent husband Uriah was a betrayed corpse on the battlefield, the newborn child produced by this act of infidelity occupied an undeserving grave of its own, and David’s conduct infected his own sons leading to incredibly dark acts of incest, rape, murder, and insurrection. David lost four sons (the newborn, Ammon, Absalom, and Adonijah) in a fulfillment of his pronouncement in 2 Sam 12:6 that the guilty should have to repay four-fold for their crime. And while David would ultimately repent of his actions and find restoration in God, his dalliance in this unapproved side mission came at an unacceptably high price.
It’s easy to come down hard on David… his actions are incredibly reprehensible and impossible to justify. But looking in the mirror, I have been this same man many times in different ways and have drifted off mission more times than I can count in pursuit of self-serving side missions that hurt others, damaged relationships, and drew me into a spiral of sin that I will always regret. Throughout the years I have been a failure as a father, a son, a husband, a friend, and any other role I have occupied, and each time I can trace the path back to one seemingly small decision to branch off of my primary life quest to serve God and love others as myself. David didn’t wake up with murder and adultery on his mind… but he did something just as dangerous. He made a choice to linger where he didn’t belong and allowed a sin that had previously laid dormant the time and opportunity to fester and grow.
And therein lies the inherent danger in unscripted side missions in life… when we forget who we are (in David’s case the king) and what we were given that position for (in his case to go to war and grow his nation) we end up in places we were never meant to be doing things we we never imagined we would do. In a video game, often times curiosity and exploration are rewarded and some amazing easter eggs can be found. But in our daily walk through life, we must always remember that the very steps of our feet are ordered by the Lord and He alone is in a position to authorize a detour from the very specific plan He has for your day. So before you look, ask Him what He would have you do. Before you go, seek His guidance. And if He has already given you an answer, it would be wise to accept His path. He knows what snares await you if you choose to call in sick today when you aren’t, or who you will run into if you go somewhere you know you aren’t meant to go. We are not called to live life through trial and error, that is a thematic concept from evolution. We are a new CREATION called to walk by FAITH. I encourage you to walk in faith in the mission He has given you today… just as David alone was called to lead his army to war and Link seems to be the only one capable of saving Hyrule, you are the one perfectly designed to fulfill your quest log. You never know… that boring mission that you would rather skip today might be protecting you from a world of bad choices later on.