An Animal Liberationist in the Great Deku Tree

For some time, I’ve been planning an unusual play through of “The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time.” I call it the Vegan Challenge. As one might expect, the goal is to beat the game while minimizing harm to animals or seemingly-sentient creatures, and using their byproducts as infrequently as possible. In short, no riding. No capturing or hurting cuccoos. No drinking milk. No capturing fish. No capturing poes or fairies. That sort of thing. Killing animals or sentient creatures in self-defense is fine.

Now, where did this idea come from? Well, I’m admittedly an animal rights activist. My first book — forgive the self-promotion — is a biography of the founder of the Animal Liberation Front, and will soon be published by McFarland & Company. So I have that in my background. But I didn’t pretend there was much political significance to my challenge. It was mostly an attempt to bring fresh life to a game I’ve beaten about ten times or so.

On a January day, I plugged a USB controller into my computer and loaded Nintendo’s classic, 1998 adventure game on an emulator. I was ready to begin my epic quest. After watching the opening cutscene, I awoke in Kokiri Forest and set out collecting those items I’d need to start my journey — a sword and shield. Like Indiana Jones, I dodged a rolling boulder, my brown boots stamping the ground furiously as I ran. Who knew if the footwear was intended, by the game designers, to be leather? It wasn’t something I could control as a player, so I didn’t worry about it.

After sending my child avatar climbing into a large chest to retrieve the Kokiri Sword, I used the weapon to cut grass, revealing rupees underneath. If only earning money in the real world was so easy! In a matter of moments, I’d saved enough to purchase the Deku Shield from the nearby Kokiri shop. With all the items I needed, I headed toward the Great Deku Tree, a guardian spirit under threat from malevolent forces. These had been unleashed by Ganondorf, the game’s central antagonist, who sought to dominate the land of Hyrule.

Once inside the titanic growth, I was confronted by Deku Babas, carnivorous plants which lunged toward me when I got too close. Did they qualify as a seemingly-sentient creature? They didn’t speak, as other plants in the game did, like Deku Scrubs. And in the real world, Venus flytraps can move to some degree — while lacking consciousness. Regardless, the Deku Babas were a threat. By the rules established initially, I believed I could kill them. So I did, collecting the Deku nuts and sticks they left behind.

But as I progressed into the tree — solving puzzles and killing more obviously sentient creatures, such as the spider-like skulltalas — I wondered if I was interpreting the rules too permissively. If one were to move that rationale into the real world, couldn’t a hunter deliberately move into the territory of a dangerous animal and justify killing the creature because it then posed a threat? Ultimately, though, my Vegan Challenge was a silly attempt to liven up a familiar game. So I didn’t worry about it too much. But I resolved that, if my interpretation made the challenge uninteresting, I’d change things going forward.

Eventually, I battled my way into the den of Queen Gohma, a giant arachnid. I made quick work of her and her children — which, when you write it, doesn’t sound particularly vegan! But far more than killing skulltullas, killing Gohma was necessary to advance the game’s storyline. Having done this, I was transported outside the Great Deku Tree, who was succumbing to Ganandorf’s curse. Before the guardian spirit passed away, he told me to visit Hyrule Castle, home to Princess Zelda. And that’s where I’ll be going next in this ongoing series. Keep an eye on my Twitter feed, where I’ll post a link to the next installment.

Jon Hochschartner is author of “The Animals’ Freedom Fighter: A Biography of Ronnie Lee, Founder of the Animal Liberation Front,” which is slated to be published by McFarland & Company. Visit his website: Follow him on Twitter: @JonHoch3.

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