I know there were and still are video games out there that are made for the purpose of teaching. Teaching children math, teaching them reading, or teaching them that life is full of disappointment. Be that as it may, one game franchise that wasn't necessarily geared toward educating, helped me with my reading problems. That series was The Legend of Zelda.
So first, a little back story. Growing up, and to this day if I'm honest, I've never been the brightest person. I've had to work my butt off and study like crazy to get the grades I've gotten. When I was 6 or 7 years old and in first grade, one of the things I had a lot of trouble with was reading. It just didn't stick with me and I got frustrated and bored with it. In class they split us up into cheetahs and turtles. The cheetahs were fast readers, the turtles no so fast. Looking back, that seems kind of awful to do to kids. You kids are the smart and fast ones. You kids are the slow and dumb ones. Luckily I was young and didn't really understand it. In fact, I loved being a turtle. I thought it made me a Ninja Turtle.
My parents on the other hand new exactly what this meant. I found out years later just how bad things were. The teacher wanted to hold me back for another year of first grade. My parents didn't want this as I had made friends and I wouldn't be with my established classmates. So they were determined to teach me to read. My parents were awesome and worked so hard to get it to stick with me, but I continued to struggle and get frustrated and then I would just stop. I would give up, no matter what they did. I know it frustrated my parents as well.
When all seemed lost, along came a wonderful teaching tool, that no one saw coming. I grew up with the SNES and it to this day remains one of my favorite systems. And with that system came A Link to the Past. I remember on the original NES, watching my uncle play The Legend of Zelda and just being entranced with it. I fell in love at the age of 5 watching him play old Zelda on the NES. Then I had my chance to play a Zelda game myself. Oh joy!
One problem...to really understand what was going on, I had to read. There was no voice acting, it was all text. Oh boy. So I started playing and little me had no clue what was going on . I started out by asking my parents to read what was written so I would know what was happening. At first they obliged, but then...light bulb moment, epiphany struck. My parents could use this text story as a learning tool.
At first, they would challenge me to try and sound out and read one of the words on the screen myself and then they'd give me the rest. I was young and didn't realize quite what they were doing. All I knew is I loved Zelda and I wanted more. So I'd sound out words and lo and behold, some of those words started to stick. As time went on, my parents would ask me to read more and more words from Zelda, two then three then four and so on, before they would fill in the rest. After a couple months of this game, it was working wonders. I was reading most of the text, with only small help from the rents. My parents, bless their souls, would actually write up some of their own Zelda stories and work with me on reading them. I wish I still had them, but I distinctly remember one where Link had to save the world by cleaning Room of Disaster or Ganondorf would rule the world. Corny stuff, but I appreciate it and realize this was a great way to get me to clean my room. My parents had turned something I hated, reading and homework, and turned it into something to help me learn. A Zelda reader.
Not surprisingly, with my Zelda reader at home, I started doing much better in reading at school. I was still a turtle, but that didn't bother me. I was passing and catching up with the curve and I was able to move up with my classmates.
As time moved on, I still struggled at times with reading and spelling. About 2 years later, I got a Gamboy and with it was Link's Awakening. Oh man, another amazing Zelda game and yet again, all text. This time though I was a couple years older and I took it on myself to work through these text screens. I remember playing Link's Awakening with my spelling and English book close by and sounding out and learning the words myself. I was quite proud of myself and I knew what was going on in my precious Zelda game! Killing two birds with one stone. I totally get that saying now!
Over the years, I've done the same thing with game text. I've also loved reading instruction booklets and learning new words and what they mean. Anyone that thinks video games are just brain rotting play time...wrong! Without Zelda, I don't know what would've happened to me. But it was there and I learned thanks to it. It was also bonding time with my parents to which I am eternally gratefull. To this day, I look at A Link to the Past as my favorite video game. The awesome video game that taught me how to read. And just remember kids, reading is fun!