A cell-shaded Link, with blond hair and his green suit and cap, smiles and punches his fist into the air. Above his head, text reads: PWN! in big blue letters

I've been playing The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass for forever—well, sort of. I got stuck and put the game down for a while, maybe a couple of months. But when I picked Phantom Hourglass back up again, I couldn't get unstuck. And I didn't even know why I was stuck in the first place.

Link has to sail to the Isle of Gust, which is on the other side of a foggy passage. The fog is so thick that there's only one complicated, loopy way through. Although I draw the route perfectly (and repeatedly), the captain whines that we're "blinder than a bat in a bucket" and we end up back where we started.

While I'm not very skilled at games generally, this sort of confusion doesn't happen to me outside of real life. Yes, my brain often switches direction without telling me ("Hey, does this look right? No. No, it doesn't"). And, yes, someone shadowing me around campus told me, "Wow. Your sense of direction is bad!" and I don't recall making any mistakes whatsoever. But in video games, when I do something wrong, I know it. Except now.

I'd triple-check the drawing in the secret hideout. I'd consult the guidebook. I'd ask the Internet. Comparing everyone's drawings against mine, they all looked the same. So I'd put Phantom Hourglass away—again, for a couple of months—pick it up and enter the cycle of checking and drawing and failing and not having any idea why.

This post was supposed to be a plea for help. I was going to take pictures of the game's drawing and my drawing and ask if they were different. Thrilled to be doing something constructive with my incompetence, I fired up The Phantom Hourglass to take my screenshots and then—

I did it.

From Bob Ross's Joy of Painting to Jack's portrait of Rose in Titanic,, I've always liked watching artists at work. Sometimes if I don't understand a picture, my brain can make more sense of it if I watch it being drawn. So, in a last-ditch effort to figure out my error, I looked for a video of someone drawing the route.

Thanks to another Phantom Hourglass player, I finally got through the fog. The beauty of the internet is that it allows people to distribute just about anything they make, from movies to music to pieces of software. This system could be a boon for gamers with disabilities. People have made accessible versions of Space Invaders and Tetris, as well as a music game for visually impaired and sighted players. There's a wide pool of accessibility out there, which is one reason I'd like to see big companies like Nintendo and Sony try to work more with amateur homebrew developers instead of shutting them out. Yes, there's piracy. But there's also creativity and the potential to make more games playable by more people.

Tera Kirk

Tera Kirk

Tera Kirk grew up in a small Nebraska town called Papillion. Although she has a nonverbal learning disability that affects her visual-spatial skills (among other things), she's always loved video games. Her first game system was a Commodore Vic-20, which her mom bought at a garage sale for $20. With this little computer Tera learned to write Mad Libs in BASIC, to play chess and to steal gold from Fort Knox.

But then a friend introduced her to the seedy underworld of the Mario brothers and she spent her saved-up birthday and Christmas money to buy a Nintendo Entertainment System (NES). Her mom didn't like the Nintendo at first, but The Legend of Zelda changed her mind. (When Tera got Zelda II: The Adventure of Link one Christmas, she suspected it was as much for her mother as for her).

Though she graduated from Agnes Scott College in 2002 and recently learned how to find the movie theater restroom by herself, Tera still loves video games. Far from being a brain-rotting waste of time, they've helped her practice spatial skills and discover new passions. Her love of games like Kid Icarus and The Battle of Olympus led to a degree in Classical Languages and Literatures. She thinks games have a place in discussions on disability and other cultural issues, and is excited to work with the like-minded staff at GameCritics.com.
Tera Kirk

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