Nintendo, Zelda, and a History That Conceals the Destiny

Zelda fans, the wait is FINALLY almost over… the long-awaited sequel to Breath of the Wild has finally received a release date (May 2023) as well as a full legal name (Tears of the Kingdom)! No, it is not going to be called Breath of the Wild 2, but this game is clearly a sequel in both style as well as story based on the limited reveals so far. In a series that has spanned almost thirty unique releases since its’ debut, it is honestly surprising that there are only a handful of titles in the Legend of Zelda game series that are direct sequels to the previous game… most of the games in this long-running franchise feature an entirely brand-new Link working with an entirely different Zelda to save Hyrule from yet another Ganon in a unique timeline. The opportunity to continue where we left off is pretty exciting, especially considering that many of the gameplay concepts we will be seeing in this release are ideas that were originally intended to be added to Breath of the Wild as expansion content before becoming so large they warranted becoming features in this new open world adventure. Nintendo will be building directly off of the foundation of their highly successful open-world Zelda adventure to bring us to new heights (literally) while still remaining true to their original vision for the places that Link and his friends would travel to next… which interestingly enough seems to run parallel to the strange and unpredictable history of the iconic brand of Nintendo itself. The history of the company that has produced the beloved adventures of Link, Zelda, Mario, Samus, and so many more iconic characters started out in a MUCH different form… but it certainly did not get here by accident.

With so much of the media’s attention focused on blockbuster studio acquisitions as well as the ongoing challenges of securing a PS5 or Xbox Series X console, it can be easy to take the consistent greatness and reliability of Nintendo for granted. Year after year they deliver blockbuster hits across each of their major franchises, they continue to innovate in the gaming space while still remaining true to the core of their experience, and they even found a path to relevance in the online gaming space through leveraging both their modern titles as well as their massive back library of classic content. From their home consoles to their portable gaming juggernauts, Nintendo currently stands without equal as the longest running entertainment company in the video game space. For over 130 years, Nintendo has had their eyes firmly focused on delivering relevant gaming content with entertainment options that are both affordable and portable. No… that wasn’t a typo. The Nintendo company that we all know and love got their start all the way back in 1889 as a producer and distributor of playing cards (no, they weren’t Pokémon cards. But wouldn’t that have been COOL?). If you didn’t know that, don’t feel bad… I didn’t know they had been around that long either until somebody told me a few weeks ago. I kind of assumed that they got their start somewhere in the 1960’s or 1970’s when video games were just starting to grow. But Nintendo has been grinding away at their formula for success long before the idea of video games ever existed.

It is almost hard to fathom that Nintendo has not only been around and kicking for over one hundred years, but has also successfully navigated some massive changes and challenges over the years to adapt to the changing gaming environment around them. In their transformation from a niche gaming card producer into one of the major players behind the video game industry, Nintendo has truly changed the entire world in the process. Plenty of incredible minds over the years have contributed to the growth and development of video games from a simple pastime into the incredible medium for telling stories that it has become today, but very few can claim to have had the influential impact of Nintendo while launching from such a different point of origin. Nintendo’s path from selling playing cards to producing video games took a very strange path that would not have been obvious at the beginning of their story, but the learning journey they took as they learned how to both anticipate customer demand and overcome the inevitable setbacks of launching such an endeavor is still visible in the backbone of everything that Nintendo continues to be today. And it is that story that I find even more compelling than the new narrative in the next Legend of Zelda game… not only because this one is true, but because it is where I currently find myself in the real world. And maybe you have similar feelings as well…

The distance between the place we feel the Lord has called us to serve Him and the place we find ourselves in right now can often feel so far apart that we can’t even imagine how we can get there from here. And if we are being honest with ourselves, it is not necessarily because we doubt the Lord and His capabilities… it is because we doubt ourselves. We know what we were, we know what we currently are, we know what we still struggle with, and we are fiercely aware of our own liabilities. And the long wait between receiving His anointing and seeing His will come to pass can often cause us to doubt that it is still happening. And if there is anyone that has experienced the seemingly uneventful and painful waiting period between receiving the calling and walking in it, the youngest son of Jesse certainly understood that all too well… let’s take a look at the time that the prophet Samuel came to town to anoint a new king of Israel, selected David, and then just LEFT.

1 Samuel 16:11-13 Samuel said to Jesse, “Are all the young men here?” Then he said, “There remains yet the youngest, and there he is, keeping the sheep.” And Samuel said to Jesse, “Send and bring him. For we will not sit down till he comes here.” So he sent and brought him in. Now he was ruddy, with bright eyes, and good-looking. And the Lord said, “Arise, anoint him; for this is the one!” Then Samuel took the horn of oil and anointed him in the midst of his brothers; and the Spirit of the Lord came upon David from that day forward. So Samuel arose and went to Ramah.

Samuel came to town to anoint a king, the house of Jesse was selected, and Jesse brought ALL of his sons with the exception of his youngest son (David) to the ceremony. David was not even given an invitation to the selection process that would ultimately culminate in anointing him as the king of Israel… and things would get even more awkward once the Lord passed on all of Jesse’s older children and they had to wait for David to be called out from his sheep watching duties. Also… there was a small problem with this whole “anointing” thing… Israel currently HAD a king. King Saul, to be specific. And kings were not simply elected by the people every few years in a democratic fashion… they served until death, at which point their direct heir would typically take the throne. This made David’s ascension to throne quite problematic, considering he was neither a member of the king’s family nor was he in a position that indicated that would be happening to him at any point in the future. So, if you are keeping score… David was neither invited to party nor did he meet the prerequisites for the position he was promised. But that didn’t stop him from being quietly and covertly prepared for the destiny that awaited him… just in a different form than we would have expected. And David’s years of secret preparation while watching sheep finally revealed their purpose when a certain giant named Goliath came to town…

1 Samuel 17:32-37 Then David said to Saul, “Let no man’s heart fail because of him (Goliath); your servant will go and fight with this Philistine.” And Saul said to David, “You are not able to go against this Philistine to fight with him; for you are a youth, and he a man of war from his youth.” But David said to Saul, “Your servant used to keep his father’s sheep, and when a lion or a bear came and took a lamb out of the flock, I went out after it and struck it, and delivered the lamb from its mouth; and when it arose against me, I caught it by its beard, and struck and killed it. Your servant has killed both lion and bear; and this uncircumcised Philistine will be like one of them, seeing he has defied the armies of the living God.” Moreover David said, “The Lord, who delivered me from the paw of the lion and from the paw of the bear, He will deliver me from the hand of this Philistine.” And Saul said to David, “Go, and the Lord be with you!”

David was being mentally, physically, and spiritually prepared for his future by the Lord in a place where nobody saw him… the youngest son of a family with no connection to the future he would inhabit. And in his house, he was in the position of shepherd… an occupation that was not the most well-regarded position historically (Genesis 46:34). But in this solitary place David was getting to know the Lord’s provision, experience His protection, and grow the capabilities he would need once he was placed into the position he was promised when he was a young boy. And one of those capabilities he would need to learn was PATIENCE. While we don’t know exactly how old David was at the time of Samuel’s selection of him, we have a pretty good idea of the general range. David had seven older brothers, but only three of them were old enough to be conscripted into military service (1 Samuel 17:13). This would indicate he had four more brothers who were NOT old enough to serve (according to Numbers 1:3 the age of military service was 20), meaning David was most likely a very young teenage boy when he received the call to become king. How old was David when he finally wore the crown? Thirty years old (2 Samuel 5:4)… which is quite a long time to wait when you are waiting for your destiny to come to pass. And if I remember anything from our multiple viewings of the Lion King, it is that young lions just can’t wait to be king.

Let’s get back to Nintendo for a minute… much like young David, the origins of Nintendo only provided the softest foreshadowing of the future they were destined to occupy. And like David, Nintendo had a looooooong wait until they moved from their starting point as a small playing card manufacturer into the kings of video game development that they currently are. But Nintendo developed all of the competencies that we currently recognize during their years of trial and error in a smaller but similarly competitive space. They learned how to demonstrate quality as well as quantity, forged licensing deals with other upcoming artists such as Walt Disney, made their fair share of mistakes, and demonstrated the ability to learn from those errors and come back with confidence… all values that have remained present as Nintendo navigated from facing competition in the playing card space into going toe-to-toe with industry giants such as Microsoft and Sony without breaking a sweat. Nintendo can run without fear when facing the “Goliaths” of the modern era because they have survived equally dangerous opponents in the past… and they had much less to defend themselves with.

David knew that he could take on Goliath because he felt the anointing of the Lord calling him to that moment… but he wasn’t marching into this battle unprepared. He had been training to protect the defenseless against lions and bears armed only with the tools of a shepherd for YEARS… and it was through that real-world training that he developed his abilities to listen to the Lord, seek out and save the lost, and carefully deliver them from the dangerous adversaries seeking to destroy them. Nintendo also grew into the gaming juggernaut we currently enjoy in a quiet place of development and preparation so they could fully inhabit the weight of the destiny they would one day occupy… they didn’t simply burst onto the scene with Donkey Kong and change the world. They spent decades gathering the resources and creating the infrastructure that would act as the foundation of the company that would one day change and define the gaming world. And it is in both of these real-world narratives that we find the secret to how we grow into the anointing the Lord has placed in our hearts… by faithfully performing the seemingly unconnected tasks and challenges that are currently lie before us each and every day.

Here is the uncomfortable truth about serving the Lord… there is typically a lengthy period of testing that accompanies His callings (1 Peter 4:12-13), and these trials tend to feel very disconnected from the mission He has placed in our hearts. But these are the developmental places that He uses to cultivate the skills we will need as well as grow our dependency on Him so we will be able to sustain the larger burden that we will one day carry. Just as the strength and depth of a tree’s roots determines how high and far its’ branches can reach, our depth in Christ that is developed in these quiet places determines the quantity and quality of the fruit we will produce for Him (John 15:1-8). And in our current season in life, we may feel the pressing desire to take on the “Goliaths” and “Ganons” in the world around us… but right now is the time for us to invest time into building our relationship with Christ through the unseen, grinding, day-to-day, battles with the lions and bears that are currently on our path. The Lord is faithful to qualify those who He has called… but He grows us underground, so we have the depth to support the destiny He has called us to when it is time for us to take on a giant with nothing more than a few small rocks. The anointing is GIVEN, but the competency to walk in it is GROWN. And wherever we are today and whatever our current station in life is, THIS is the place He has chosen to develop us and THIS is the place He has currently asked us to serve Him in (Colossians 3:23-24). And if we are faithful to Him in these smaller places of responsibility, He will be faithful to give us more (Luke 16:10, Matthew 25:23).

Both Nintendo and David came from beginnings that did not fully indicate the destiny they would one day step into… and they didn’t do everything perfectly along the way. But the seasons that they walked through were not merely pointless detours… they were intentional steps towards their future that were only obvious when looked at through the rearview mirror. In whatever position life has us in right now, we are NOT here by accident… there is a purpose in these circumstances that is aligned with the calling He has given us (Romans 8:28). It may not make a lot of sense right now… it rarely does. But if we want to graduate to the next part of His plan for our lives, we must first fully learn the lessons that He is teaching us in this place we are currently occupying. Nintendo was not an overnight success nor were they “lucky”… and David endured incomprehensible setbacks and challenges that led him to live a life on the run as “Israel’s Most Wanted” for years before he was finally welcomed as their king.

In my video game travels over the years, I have found that if I receive a slingshot, the path ahead will require me to use it. It will be everything I need to advance, and the game won’t let me progress until I demonstrate my proficiency with it. When more difficult missions arise that call for heavier equipment, that will be provided… but not until I have mastered the humble slingshot FIRST. As His followers, this may be in our families, our homes, our places of employment, our schools, our churches, or whatever other responsibilities and relationships that He has currently entrusted us with… and being a good steward of what He has already given us is the prerequisite to receiving more (Matthew 25:14-30). Let’s embrace the place the Lord has us serving Him in right now and learn what He is teaching us in the solitude of these smaller beginnings… it is only in this quiet place that He grows shepherds into kings.

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