Origin Stories: Take Away The Sword

Every great adventure starts with an epic origin story, right?

Perhaps my favorite video game origin story comes from way back in 1986, when Shigeru Miyamoto first created The Legend of Zelda. Inspired in equal parts by the fond memories spent collecting bugs from his own childhood, and the first two films in the Indiana Jones franchise, Miyamoto recalls how he “wanted to bring that sense of adventure to a video game.” I’ll let Gamespot do the heavy lifting here:

“The original The Legend of Zelda starts with Link obtaining a cheap wooden sword from an old man in a cave. But that’s not the way the game was originally designed. Early versions had Link starting the game with his sword already in his inventory. 


When game testers reported confusion over what to do in the game, Miyamoto responded, interestingly enough, by taking away their sword. The move was designed to get players thinking about how to proceed in this new type of non-linear game, and to encourage communication between players about the game’s many secrets.”

Immediately, playtesters “got” what the game was asking them to do. To put it simply, check out the title of the 2015 book by USA Today national education and demographics reporter Greg Toppo — The Game Believes in You: How Digital Play Can Make Our Kids Smarter.

Thirty years, dozens of sequels, and millions of units sold after its inception, the Zelda franchise is infinitely more complicated, immersive, and successful than it’s humble 8-bit pixel counterpart could ever have imagined it might become. Yet it endures not in spite of its complexity, but as a direct result of this fundamental gameplay maxim.

“The Game Believes in You.”

Yes, there are dozens of power-ups to be found across hundreds of levels as you battle thousands of enemies in adventures that will take days upon weeks to complete — but all that stuff is just stuff. So don’t get bogged down by all of the rules. You’ll learn about it as you go. From the outset, the game lives and dies by its first lesson: your curiosity, choice, and exploration will be rewarded. There’s lots of stuff to find out there. Now go have fun.

In rolling out my gamified classroom, this feels like an essential lesson to keep in mind. Education is supposed to reward academic risk-taking, foster a student’s innate curiosity, and encourage a person’s intrinsic desire to always want to learn more. Yes, there are lots of rules to a fully gamified classroom. In fact, the first draft of my game instruction manual that I shared with my Beta Testers was 50 single-spaced pages long! And it contains:


  • 12 uniquely themed Worlds with corresponding end-of-unit Boss Battles
  • 2 different advantages (Day vs. Night) that alter the nature of the boss battle
  • 6 different Farming behaviors
  • 4 different types of Head-to-Head Competitions
  • 9 different Leader Badges (plus stand-alone Mini Badges)
  • 3 different Ranks available for each Leader Badge – each with unique powers
  • 4 different Hero Types, with special abilities for each
  • 6 different Player Groups
  • 4 different Health Points available for each player
  • 12 different player XP Levels
  • 200 different Power-Up Item cards (and counting!)

Some quick factorial math here suggests that there are literally 3,583,180,800 possible ways to play the game PER PERSON.

But The Game Believes In You. 

Bottom line is that both student and teacher will figure out how everything works as we make our way through the experience together. All you need to know for starters is that there’s lots of stuff to find out there. And that your curiosity, choice, and exploration will be rewarded.

Now go have fun.

Author: John

John Meehan (@MeehanEDU) is an English teacher and school instructional coach at Bishop O’Connell High School in Arlington, Virginia. He began his teaching career in 2010 as a career switcher through The New Teacher Project, after spending five years working in social media and event marketing. He is a 2017 ASCD Emerging Leader, and an alumnus of the 2016-2018 Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation Teacher Advisory Council. In 2016, he was named one of Arlington, Virginia’s “40 Under 40” by the Leadership Center for Excellence. He is a past presenter and regular attendee at educational conferences throughout the United States, including the annual conference for National Catholic Education Association, ASCD Empower19, and the Play Like a Champion Today: Character Education Through Sports summer conference at the University of Notre Dame. He’s an avid runner who’s completed more than three dozen marathons, half marathons, long-distance road relays, mud runs, and obstacle course races. John lives in Silver Spring, Maryland.

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