What Zelda Teaches Us About Privacy

The first game I played in the Elder Scrolls series was Oblivion for the Xbox 360. Its in-game legal system, among many other features, blew me away. In most video games, you can loot any area you can access. In Elder Scrolls, trespassing where you do not belong or stealing something or killing an innocent attracts the long arm of the law. Villagers report your crime to town guards, who pursue you until you pay a bounty, spend time in jail, or fall under their sword.

That element of realism puts into perspective how much bad behavior goes tolerated in other games. Playing any game in The Legend of Zelda series provides ample opportunity to trespass, ransack, and thieve to your heart’s content. Some games have even made a joke of the trend by scripting a non-player character who objects to an intrusion. Then there’s the parody above with close to six million views on YouTube, leveraging for laughs the wanton destruction and looting committed by a “hero.”

The best humor rests upon truth. A live recreation of Link smashing pots in a random house makes us laugh because we recognize its absurdity. You can’t just barge into someone’s home and start trashing and looting.

... unless you’re the government.

There is  a strange tendency in our political culture to wring hands over imagined violations of perceived privacy while tolerating routine violations of actual privacy. We see this while juxtaposing reaction to recent state laws toughening restrictions on abortion and the lack of sustained concern over the IRS and NSA scandals. Tell a women she can’t kill her unborn child, and you supposedly violate her privacy. But feel free to tax her political speech and search her phone records.