Top positive review
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Unique and accessible, though at times lacking in presentation
on February 12, 2009
Seeing as how I like to read in my spare time, I thought I'd post some short reviews of the books I complete.
Just last night I finally got around to finishing Luke Cuddy's The Legend of Zelda and Philosophy. This was my first foray into the "Popular Culture and Philosophy" series, which also includes the likes of The Simpsons, Star Trek, Star Wars, Buffy, House, and plenty others.
The general format of these books are sections organized by topic. The authors explore basic ideas such as the general mythology, timeline, and free will, while tackling some more complex ones including the link between reality and Hyrule, Zelda's feminism, and the existence of God & evil. Within each section are chapters, each consisting of an essay published by a professor at an American university (so you can presume they're not just BSing you). The essays themselves are well-organized, and the content of certain ones were more appealing than others.
In general, the concepts were accessible and well-explained. Yes, there were ideas that seemed a bit far-fetched, as if the authors were looking too much into it, but that's to be expected when you philosophize about playing video games. However, as a whole it does make a valid case about the presence and prevalence of role-playing games in modern society, and I did get something out of it.
In terms of representation of the series, I'd say most of them were addressed, especially in the chapter that focuses on the timeline. I'm not sure I agree with focusing on The Wind Waker so much in the opening chapter was the right decision, since the author made it seem like the quintessential Zelda game (when A Link to the Past and The Ocarina of Time have set more of a precedent and are more widely known). You'll probably find some gaming discussion appeals more to you than others, and it might be worth reading sections out of order rather than cover-to-cover as I did. Or you could use the handy index as a starting point.
Given my familiarity and background with many of the topics (both the philosophy and the games), I found it a comfortable read. But for those who are unfamiliar or simply not interested in philosophy (but at least interested in the franchise or gaming in general), the book still presents some thought-provoking questions. The inclusion of great philosophers and their ideas was a nice touch, and the discussion won't go over your head. I'd say the book takes itself seriously but not too seriously.
That said, as it is a collection of essays, I found it lacking flow since the dynamic varied between authors. Also, the is a forceful open-endedness, since conclusions were never really reached (though I suppose that's to be expected when you're discussing philosophy). In going back and forth between ideas (playing devil's advocate with itself) and not really favoring a side, it can leave you hanging, should you look for any real "answer".
But maybe that's not the purpose of the book. It makes you think and gives supporting arguments for and against an idea. Overall, it presents an intellectual discussion about topics most people wouldn't dare to approach (either diminishing the credibility of video games or exaggerating the complexity behind philosophy). If you're a fan of the series or role-playing games, it's a definite must-read. But even as a gamer, if the idea of philosophizing about a game doesn't strike your fancy, then this might be worth passing over.