Video games and the internet grew up together, intertwined, connected by our adolescence. The internet was the Wild West, and its message boards were drinking holes for the cowboys and prospectors chasing their own version of sterling gold.
And we were the explorers—like Magellan sailing around the cape—crusaders, cartographers, but instead of drawing our findings on some map, we took them to the internet.
This hunt for a game’s secrets and the growth of an online forum can sometimes coalesce and give rise to a perfect combination of enthusiasm, community, and excitement. It’s a wonderful thing, but it happens in the spastic flash of a second, and then it’s gone, and you’re left with that wistful hope for the past, when the community was at its epoch, when there was still hope for that last big find, that final secret, that hidden meaning, always tucked away, forever hidden.
Majora’s Mask struck store shelves in late 2000, and, like anything different, it struggled to find the reception it deserved. Fans wanted Ocarina, and what they got was perhaps the harshest departure from the series since its inception.
It wasn’t until four years later that popular opinion began to change. Players grew to love what had made Majora’s Mask so different—its gradual uneasiness, its disturbing lack of grand adventure, and its furtive story; like the many iconic melodies that fill its world, Majora’s Mask is a half-complete sonata with the final verse left as a mystery for the player to complete.
Sometime in the mid 2000s, a GameFaqs user took to the Majora’s Mask message boards. What happened after, no one could’ve predicted.
SDZion, the user, made a simple thread titled “Moon Topic.” He had reached the last area of the game—the moon—around 3 o’clock in the morning and was, maybe understandably, a little creeped out.
“I think the aspect that made the moon most creepy was the fact that this scene of serenity—big field, beautiful tree, kids whose actions seem almost alien—directly succeeds one of chaos—the moon going insane.”
SDZion left with a challenge:
“What kind of significance do you guys think this scene has with respect to the entire Zelda story? I’ve asked this question all over the Web, but no answer has really satisfied me…”
SDZion would never pop back in to say hello, never express his marvel at how a simple topic he made about the moon accrued five hundred replies. He never, as far as I can remember, returned to the board years later to see “Moon Topic” whispered between threads like some hushed legend. He would also never tell them if they ever answered his question better than the rest of the web. I hope they did.
A user points out that the five kids found on the moon are childish renditions of the Happy Mask Salesman (they have the same hair cut). Another poster adds to the discourse, and another, then a fourth. All leading to one question:
“What is the (Happy) Mask Salesman?”
No one had an answer. Maybe there wasn’t an answer. Still, speculation ran rampant. “Moon Topic” didn’t drop from the number one spot for more than a few minutes. You see, it happens in a second, in some dusty corner of the internet, on some message board for a game that was already five years old. An entire community as born from the perfect combination of enthusiasm and excitement—a totally special time and place, like standing on the right dune at the right beach at the right time and seeing the high watermark just before it breaks and recedes back into the ocean.
It goes from the Happy Mask Salesman to defining just what masks mean to the pensive denizens of Termina. Why are masks such a huge part of their culture? Then, another question, “What is Termina? And how is it so innately different from Hyrule?” No one has a straight answer. The participants accept that whatever analysis of Majora’s Mask they complete, there will never be a concrete definitive meaning to it all.
Yet they keep going.
There’s debate, discussion. But then the discourse turns crude. There’s some small talk about grammar, the forced lols, the rofls, the wtfs that plagued the web when acronyms still excited us in that silly, non-ironic way. A poorly written explanation of Majora’s past is meant with anger and pointless attacks of character. Someone rushes to their defense, another sides with the attacker, and the thread goes dangerously off-topic.
But all of this was temporary, and like chaff growing on a cliffy bluff it dissipated and gave way to real exploration. The thread turned into a branching path, turned into a stream, then finally, a smorgasbord of differing theories on various topics. They never stuck to one aspect of Majora’s Mask for long. They tackled them all.
They talked about the moon, the field, the trees, the juxtaposition between that moment of splendor and the next, filled by bedlam and destruction. They went from the moon, to masks, to the Mask Salesman. They talked about the Fierce Deity Mask. Was it good or evil? Someone points out that Majora only calls you the “bad guy” if you’re wearing the mask, otherwise you’re the “good guy” in his little charade. Then it’s onto the nature of Termina, is it supposed to mean terminal? Is it destined to end? What about the ambiguously macabre findings at Ikana and the Stone Tower? If Termina is a mirror of Hyrule, then where is the alternate Link?
The topic neared the five hundred post limit. There were hundreds of the theories, but no one was any closer to answering any of the real questions. Still, they couldn’t help but be enthralled. This level of conversation and community-wide analysis would’ve been impossible ten years earlier; it was so new to most of them. Many users rallied around the idea of a second topic to continue the discussion.
“this moon topic has been the only thing ive gone on gamefaqs for the last 3 months…” -Hillary
Someone should archive this. I came into this topic late, probably around, if not after, post 485… Never have I seen a topic where people can share their theories and have them complimented by others, without a single troll, flame war, or mark for spoilers. This topic is what GameFAQs and other boards aspire to be.
I’m fully in favor of creating this topic anew, even if it’s just a place to socialize with you great people. We started with a small topic, a mound of sand in the soil, and built it to great heights, using nothing but our imaginations.” -Kijunaa
One user going by the tag, Hillary, archived the entire topic in Word. Hillary started a second topic later; it stalled around one hundred posts. Months later, after many requests, he started a third. This time, Moon Topic 3 was just as huge a success as the first. It reached the five hundred post limit even faster than the first.
Hillary ended the third topic with congratulations and thanks to everyone who helped make it such a success. There were then others, but none ever reached the high expectations set by the first three. Hillary followed through and archived them both.
The board’s archives reach back to 2008, just four years too late to catch the Moon Topic’s debut. Today, the only way to read the two five hundred post threads is to find someone with Hillary’s archive somewhere on the boards. At the end of the archive, a note:
Thanks to all those who helped this topic achieve greatness and thank you to whoever originated the first one. I shall carry his legacy into death.
By 2008, there was nothing left to be said. Theories became so nonsensical that they bordered on the ludicrous. Posters were grasping for straws where there were none in a desperate attempt to keep the conversation going.
But, every so often, even now in 2013, some poster will come along trying to reignite the flame that had captured so many imaginations. Often, people will reply, but the replies will rarely be fruitful; they will be negative, livid, bruised by the idea of resuscitating the moon topics of old. They will argue that any more discussion would be superfluous. They might even say that today’s boards aren’t the place for theory or forlorn secret hunting. Regardless of reason, these attempts never make it much past forty posts—a small remnant of the five hundred high.
And the board itself is dead— just too far a cry from what it was in my youth to be worth posting. The community is gone; they moved on, but they moved on so quickly that I never got the chance to see where they were going. I never got the chance to catch up with them. We’re a quick moving herd, us gamers, going from one game to the next, stopping by each water hole just for a few seconds, just enough time to catch other travelers on their way to some far-off adventure. Sometimes, we pull up a stool, we sit down, and we talk. We talk about what we’ve found, what we’re looking for, what big prize might just be over the next hill. Sometimes, something special happens, but it happens in the flash of a second. And then it’s gone.
Written by Mason Miller