This piece of writing stems from a conversation I had with the Ultrakill guy, just a fair warning.
What are heroes in games, and are they real? Let the conversation start with a different question, is Link from Nintendo’s The Legend of Zelda real? Now, there are obvious surface-level answers that come to mind immediately: “No, he is a videogame character, of course he is not real” or “Yes, Link is real, just look at him and the effect he has had on the players and the industry itself, he is basically the quintessential silent protagonist.” Both can be valid answers, but we came to the conclusion that the answer lies somewhere in the middle.
Before we explore the topic of Link’s realness any further, let us first establish that he is, in fact, a hero. Link is the Hero of Time (other titles are available) and bearer of the triforce of courage, a powerful relic imbued with the essence of courage, his most defining feature. Link can be considered anyone, no one, and everyone, all at the same time, for not only is he a silent protagonist, he also has little personality-defining features other than being brave enough to save the world.. All you know as a player is that the world needs saving, and you are the one for the job.
And is that not enough? Does that not make a hero? The willingness to do the right thing in a situation, no matter the odds, no matter the risks, just because it is the right thing to do? From what we can tell, Link is not just a hero but the absolute essence of a hero, a role model, a good example of how one should act. He may not reflect exactly what you might think of as a hero in your day-to-day life, but he is to millions of people, for he is not an individual in and of himself, he is merely a vessel for heroic actions, the player’s medium of heroic conduct.
So we know of this courageous hero, willing to save the world because it needs saving, who ventures out, fights monsters, gets wounded, and rises again to continue the fight. He defeats powerful foes, gathers tools and weapons, grows stronger and more skilled, and in the end, defeats the great evil and saves the princess, time and time again.
But does he? I have seen him do this, many others have seen it too, felt the joy of defeating a strong foe with his sword, saving someone in need, or getting the Gorons something to eat. But all this happened in the world of the game, a place where things are not real, Ganon is not threatening the real world, only Hyrule, and yet Link defeated him and saved this place, which is not real… but it is true.
Think of all the people who have been positively affected by Link’s adventures, by the characters he met, his hardships, his defeats, and his triumphs. Think of the lesson that Link’s adventure can teach someone. Link is no one, anyone, and he rises to the occasion, does the right thing, and fights those that try to destroy that which is good, who hurt the innocent. Anyone has the capability to stand up against evil.
So no, Link is not real, but he is true. He has had many adventures in many worlds and made his mark on an unimaginable amount of people. We could say that Link is virtually real (not to be confused with Virtual Reality): His realness is implied so much that he cannot be ignored, but he cannot be tangibly a realness like you, the reader.
So rejoice, your adventures with Link and the feeling they may have caused, the experiences you gained, and the lessons you took away from the game are real, and the hero Link virtually is too.