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Nintendo made a Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom ad about... midlife depression?

You can do it, sad bus man

Oli Welsh is senior editor, U.K., providing news, analysis, and criticism of film, TV, and games. He has been covering the business & culture of video games for two decades.

A man rides the bus home from work, sighing heavily. He, along with everyone else on the bus, is wearing drab clothing. He looks out the window at the scenery, but it only inspires another sigh. He seems exhausted. He gets home just in time to say goodnight to his wife, then pours himself a glass of tap water. A discarded panda toy in the hallway speaks of a child he hasn’t seen all day.

This isn’t a public information film about the mental health crisis, but an Australian ad for The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom. Under the title “Rediscover your sense of adventure,” the ad eventually shows the man getting the game and playing it at home at night, mastering Link’s new Fuse ability to make himself a raft that doesn’t capsize. Small victories! Soon he’s battling Bokoblins on the bus, using his Switch in handheld mode, and feeling better about himself. He looks out of the window, and this time, he seems to see the view for the first time. This time, it inspires a hopeful smile — and another sigh, but a happy one.

There are a lot of things that make this ad notable: its quiet, reflective, almost melancholy tone; the empathetic performance of the actor (Gareth Reeves, currently appearing as Harry Potter in the Melbourne, Australia, production of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child); the unprecedented realism with which it depicts someone actually playing a game (sitting still and mumbling inaudibly to themselves); and its appeal to the neglected but powerful gaming demographic of Extremely Tired Dads (we are legion).

The ad leans on the nostalgic appeal of the Zelda and Nintendo brands as a refuge from a world of adult drudgery. But instead of treating the game and console as a mere escape, the ad cleverly shows how this pastime enriches the man’s experience of the real world, too (chiming with the Switch’s portability in a brand-appropriate way). Beyond even that, the ad is bold (if a little glib) in the way it positions playing a video game as beneficial to mental health — an aid to depression rather than a symptom of it, like Thor’s Fortnite funk in Avengers: Endgame.

It turns out that the ad has a touching real-life inspiration. As discovered by Kotaku Australia, the team that made the commercial based it on a Japanese Amazon review for Breath of the Wild. Kotaku includes a rough Google translation of the review, in which the author bemoans the ceaseless grind of his salaryman existence, resenting the sight of mountains on the way to work. He buys a Switch on impulse, and the freedom of Breath of the Wild reminds him of his youth spent playing Super Mario 64 and Final Fantasy 7. When the Amazon reviewer sees the mountains again on his commute, he thinks I can climb it instead of feeling angry, and he is moved to tears.

Let’s not get carried away — Nintendo Australia is just the latest in a long, long line of advertisers claiming that their products can make you happy. But it’s a genuine step forward for game advertising nonetheless. And speaking as an Extremely Tired Dad (albeit one who likes his job, and who isn’t depressed by nice views), I’m looking forward to Friday as much as anyone.

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