BY KATRINA SELLERS '26 & TORI BELL '26
What makes a villain? Is it their sinister appearance or their ambitions to harm others? In Nintendo’s action-adventure series The Legend of Zelda, the antagonist, Ganondorf, is a villain blinded by ambition who aims to usurp the kingdom of Hyrule and obtain the Triforce, an artifact granted by the Hyrulian goddesses. This relic consists of three triangles conjoined into one triangle, and the holder with all three receives the Triforce’s godly powers. The objective in many of the franchise’s games is to rid Hyrule of evil by defeating Ganondorf, achieved by embarking on an adventure as the protagonist, Link. Ganondorf’s desire for the Triforce depicts him as a power-hungry monster, furthering the narrative of him being a cold-hearted villain. However, Ganondorf is often misunderstood, and there is more to him than what one sees on the surface. Even if his intentions are executed in the worst ways possible, Ganondorf is not ill-intentioned.
In The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword, the main villain is Demise, an entity who has existed longer and is more menacing than Ganondorf. Also known as the Demon King, he has the power to create any curse until the end of time, and Link is faced with the challenge of battling this king. However, Demise sets a curse upon Hyrule with his last breath, vowing to Hyrule, Link, and Zelda: “My hate...never perishes. It is born anew in a cycle with no end!....An incarnation of my hatred shall ever follow your kind, dooming them to wander a blood-soaked sea of darkness for all time!” Ganondorf is a reincarnation of Demise’s hatred. Consequently, it is not Ganondorf who is the root cause of the catastrophes that occurred within the game’s universe, but the curse created by Demise that binds everything to his malice. Ganandorf doesn’t make an appearance in this specific game, but this curse explains his origins. Because all of his intentions can be traced back to Demise, Ganondorf doesn’t truly have power over his actions and intentions or a normal being’s free will. Being the vessel of Demise’s malevolence, Ganondorf executes his actions in the worst ways imaginable, giving him his atrocious reputation; he kidnaps children, manipulates others, and destroys whole kingdoms, making him appear cold-blooded. Nevertheless, beyond the boundaries of Hyrule’s universe, Ganondorf’s life also connects to the real world with the long-standing debate of nature vs. nurture. A person’s development depends on both factors, and Ganondorf’s origins illustrate how nature, in cooperation with nurture, can shape someone. Nature explains the reason why he executes his intentions poorly; he didn’t control how he came into existence, since he’s a mere reincarnation of Demise. On the other hand, nurture explains the reasoning behind his intentions.
For instance, in the Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker, Ganondorf is seen as evil for most of the game. He kidnaps little children trying to find Zelda and throws a thirteen-year-old Link into the ocean to inevitably drown. However, at the end of the game, Ganondorf divulges his underlying intentions:
“My country lay within a vast desert...a burning wind punished my lands, searing the world…[At] night, a frigid gale pierced our homes…the wind carried…death. But the winds that blew across the green fields of Hyrule brought something other than suffering and ruin. I coveted that wind..."
This quote reveals that Ganondorf wanted to help his people, the Gerudo, survive in the harsh desert despite the lack of resources in their environment. A villain is typically known for their bad intentions as a person and ill will against others, but Ganondorf’s actions are arguably justified because he wanted to help his people survive. Therefore, even though Ganondorf’s intentions were badly executed, they were well-intentioned. In the debate of nature versus nurture, both sides are seen in this example: Ganondorf was born with the intention to harm the world, but poor conditions afflicted him and the Gerudo. These hardships worsened his situation, fostering his hatred for the Hylians, who had everything the Gerudo didn’t; this led him to execute his intentions terribly.
At first glance, Ganondorf appears to embody corruption, ruthlessness, and pure villainy, but when looking deeper, he has misunderstood intentions and a sense of compassion that is often overlooked. Therefore, the blame for all the destruction in Hyrule and beyond can’t fully be placed on him.
In the real world, both nature and nurture impact an individual to some degree. Some people are predisposed to act a certain way, while others are influenced by their upbringing. For some, it can be a combination, like with Ganondorf. Since humans are so complex, the fine line between what constitutes nature or nurture can’t be drawn, so this debate can never truly be solved. Nevertheless, taking a fresh look at something that is usually agreed upon by many, like Ganondorf’s villainy, can be a great way to spark an interesting conversation.