We’re pairing 8-bit music thematically, rather than based entirely on series. You can find this track and more Tater-Tot Tunes on YouTube! Stop by and jam to some great tunes.
Normal Happenings is proud to present The Characters That Define Us, a year long collaboration of 52+ incredible bloggers!
Today we’re joined by a newcomer writer, Meghan Plays Games, who honestly deserved more followers! Meghan is a reviewer of the best type, with an analytical style but not so deep-rooted in the logical that delving into personal is frequent. You’ll enjoy it, so go check out the blog!
Thank you, Meghan, for joining this collab. Skull Kid is featured in one of our favorite games ever made, and we know you’ll enjoy today’s piece!
“You’ve met with a terrible fate, haven’t you?”
– The Happy Mask Salesman
This iconic quote is often used as the tagline for the Legend of Zelda classic, Majora’s Mask. It’s what the Happy Mask Salesman asks Link in the beginning of the game, after he’s been transformed into a Deku Scrub. However, as I’ve played through the game countless times, both as a child, and now, as an adult, I can’t help thinking about the Skull Kid whenever I hear or read this line. The Skull Kid is eerie (his laugh always sent chills down my spine) and almost frightening, but he is one of my favourite video game characters of all time.
Most of what we see of the Skull Kid is the fallout of his actions – The Great Fairy, broken and scattered, the Bomber’s Gang, refusing to let outsiders into their group after his betrayal, and of course, Kafei, transformed into a child. It’s never confirmed by the game’s narrative, but there also seems to be some kind of connection between the demise of the Deku Butler’s son, and the Skull Kid. Though the Skull Kid isn’t physically present throughout the game, as you travel north, south, east, and west to each of the temples, his presence is felt throughout – and you can always see him hanging around the top of Termina’s signature clock tower. As the player, we don’t know much about this character when we start the game. Most of his backstory we learn from Granny dearest in the back room of the Stock Pot Inn – her story, The Four Giants (which you’ll need the All-Night Mask to experience) details the origins of the Four Giants, and their unexpected friendship with the Skull Kid. From her tale, we learn that the Four Giants chose to leave the people of Termina, to protect the lands while they slumbered – when they left, it devastated the “imp” who took out his sadness and anger on the people of the land, wreaking havoc wherever he went. Eventually, the people called upon the Giants for aid, and they threatened the Skull Kid with their wrath, should he continue down his destructive path. According to Granny, “the imp was returned to the heavens, and harmony was restored to the four worlds.” This seems more metaphorical for the Skull Kid’s banishment – but he was banished and alone nonetheless. His anger and loneliness seemed tempered by his friendship with fairy siblings, Tatl and Tael, but eventually was taken advantage of by Majora’s Mask. Throughout the game, it’s left ambiguous as to how much of the Skull Kid, and how much of the mask are represented in his actions – it’s hard to tell where one ends, and the other begins. Looking back now, I can’t help but feel that (despite Majora’s Mask obviously wanting destruction) the Skull Kid’s twisted desires are more represented than the malevolent mask – or at least feeding into the projection of its evil. In bringing down the moon, the Four Giants are forced to rouse from their slumber and return to Termina, which is exactly what the Skull Kid wanted all along.
This lead up to the endgame, where Majora’s Mask abandons the Skull Kid, discarding a now useless puppet to ascend to the falling moon, is probably the most memorable for me personally. You’ll have to forgive my Majora’s Mask theories – it’s how I interpret the game, so bear with me. I always thought that the interior of the moon represented the Skull Kid’s thoughts and feelings – albeit in an abstract, distorted way. While I always believed the moon, seemingly tracking your progress through Termina, represented the gaze of Majora, ever watchful, the interior of said moon belongs to the Skull Kid. The central tree always reminded me of the Deku Tree, and more generally, the Kokiri Forest. The children that wear the boss masks, frolicking around the tree, are a lot like the Kokiri children, and will eagerly ask you to play with them, in exchange for some masks. When you complete the small trials of each child, before you return to the central area with the tree, they ask you some interesting questions – questions that are almost certainly coming from the Skull Kid, not the titular evil mask. “The right thing… What is it?” asks the one in the Gyorg mask. “Your friends…what kind of… people are they? I wonder… do those people… think of you… as a friend?” asks the one wearing the Odolwa mask. When I was younger, these strange moments really took me aback – the dream-like quality of the moon, and the children with the masks was not quite what I had expected to find. Nor had I expected the deceptively simple, yet compelling questions that they ask. Surely this is exactly what the Skull Kid is thinking, or has been thinking, ever since he was (from his point of view) forsaken by his friends, the Giants.
The first honest look we get at the Skull Kid comes at the conclusion – we learn that he is familiar with the lost woods, and quite possibly the same child that we sold the Skull mask to in Ocarina of Time. We get to witness a touching scene between the Skull Kid and the Giants, where he learns that, despite the time and distance, they had never forgotten him, and always considered him a friend. As the Skull Kid shakes with emotion, the Giants return to their places of rest: 100 steps to the north, south, east, and west. “Friends are a nice thing to have.” Skull Kid muses. The game closes with Link and the Skull Kid (with Tatl and Tael) parting ways amicably – the final shot of the game being a carving of them all together, on the stump of a fallen tree.
“Whenever there is a meeting, a parting is sure to follow. However, that parting need not last forever… whether a parting be forever or merely for a short time… that is up to you.”
– The Happy Mask Salesman
I’ve always loved the way that Majora’s Mask leaned so heavily into its presentation of family and friendships. Nearly every character that you help along your journey is struggling with some aspect of a relationship – whether that’s Kafei and Anju, separated because of Skull Kid’s cruel prank, or the sisters, Cremia and Romani, the latter struggling to convince her older sister that their farm is in danger. There’s Lulu and her children, the young girl whose father is transforming into a Gibdo, the Deku King and his daughter, the Princess, and of course, the Deku Butler and his missing son. This undercurrent of loneliness and separation run beneath the surface of every interaction, every narrative beat in Majora’s Mask. It’s no wonder that themes of estrangement and isolation are so prevalent as you travel through the game, when they are the central emotions that seem to drive the Skull Kid’s anger, and thus, his version of Termina. His turbulent loneliness reverberates through the game so strongly, it’s one of the primary shaping factors that makes Majora’s Mask so unique.
Growing up and playing games in the Nintendo 64 era was great – a lot of companies were trying new, innovative things, and a huge number of incredible games were released as a result. But one thing remained fairly constant – at least in the games I tended to play. There was always good, and there was always evil. Black and white. For every Bowser, there was a Mario to defeat him, just as Ganon would always fall to Link. But Majora’s Mask was a little different, because Majora’s Mask had the Skull Kid. This game was a bit of an anomaly when it was released (and still to this day) because of its strange premise, haunting narrative, and surprisingly dark elements. For me, I had never before seen a game that represented a set of emotions, or feelings, so tangibly. Every character, narrative beat, and design simply screams of melancholy. In a lot of ways, the Skull Kid’s loneliness is mirrored by Link – in constantly restarting a three-day cycle, no one remembers him, nor truly understands the threat of the moon, and the mask. He is very much alone, as is the Skull Kid. Both of these characters have been separated from those once closest to them (Navi, in Link’s case) and by the game’s close, both have learned that to be apart is not necessarily to be alone. In many ways, Majora’s Mask as a game is the purest expression of this longing, of searching for common ground, or trying to understand the nature of the ties that bind us and inform our sense of self.
“Believing in your friends and embracing that belief by forgiving failure… these feelings have vanished from our hearts.”
– Igos du Ikana
For me, Majora’s Mask, and the Skull Kid, were the shapes that loneliness took – the easiest way for me to understand a vague feeling inside of myself. I was always a quiet, reserved kid and I always harboured a feeling that I didn’t quite belong. I think a lot of kids, and adults in fact, go through these periods of perceived isolation. I’m not sure exactly which aspect of Majora’s Mask initially resonated with me so strongly, but I think a large part of it was based in this sense of feeling alone. I know the “video games as art” argument is a divisive one, but Majora’s Mask was the closest thing to art that my young self had ever experienced – more relatable than any painting on a wall, or piece of literature. The oppressive sadness and all-consuming loneliness that Skull Kid represented was like suddenly being able to understand a text that had previously been unreadable – it made me recognize an aspect of myself. It also gave me the perspective to see the other side of loneliness – the solace that comes in the form of family and friends that forgive our failures and reaffirm our sense of self-worth when we need it.
I feel as though I’m getting a bit meandering, but this has all been to say that the Skull Kid, and Majora’s Mask as a whole, has been a defining aspect of how I view and approach video games. I’ve never since experienced such a relentlessly uncanny world as Termina, nor a villain who wasn’t really a villain, a child who isn’t quite a child, or an introspective representation of pain quite like the Skull Kid. In many ways, I think the games we play as children have the biggest impact on how we view games in future – there are a lot of firsts, unique experiences which simply cannot be replicated. It’s in these experiences that we enjoy the purest forms of excitement and anticipation, dread and surprise. I always enjoy coming back to this character, and this game, as a finite experience that is now a source of intense nostalgia, like reuniting with an old friend. As a kid, this was just a game about my favourite hero saving a doomed world that inspired a sense of unease I couldn’t quite name. Now, I look at Majora’s Mask and see everything that I’ve detailed in this discussion – I see myself in both Link and the Skull Kid. The original experiences I had with this game have never quite left me – the Skull Kid’s laugh, the moon, crying tears of stone, and the Deku Butler mourning his son as the credits roll. I’ll always attribute this outlier in the Zelda franchise with forming some crucial aspect of my standard for video game narratives, and how far I know they can reach in terms of representing formless feeling, bringing to life things that only exist in nebulous thought. And it all started with a mischievous, nameless little imp.
Adventure Map! *FINISHING UP!*