I scored the gold Collector's Edition for Christmas when Ocarina of Time came out in 1998, and I proceeded to pick the game apart by playing with a strategy guide. Did all the things. But one thing in particular remains most memorable to me: the titular instrument. And it's a button masher.

I had never heard of an ocarina, but there was suddenly a glut of them on the market in the wake of OoT's release. Leave it to a video game to inspire me to pick up an instrument. As the strategy guide did for my gameplay, the ocarina did for my musicianship. I mean, there's only like three holes in the thing. Plus, I was already used to holding an awkward contraption—the N64 controller—and twiddling out tunes to the delight of a maniacally dancing scarecrow.

A scarecrow dancing to Link's ocarina tunes

I bought the soundtrack on CD maybe a year after getting the game. It didn't include the Gerudo Valley theme. Seriously? That's the BEST MUSIC IN THE GAME. So instead I learned to play it myself. It really wasn't too hard. Just a lot of flamenco-style clapping and a few simple melodies.

I would skip through the neighborhood like the Pied Piper, trailed by kids who wanted a turn on the Zelda flute. Dogs flocked to me, too, attracted by my shrill whistles and clapping. I'm still disappointed that I never managed to summon a horse.

In retrospect

These days I'm a lot less musical than I was. I've long since lost the ocarina and have all but given up on any attempt to take up another instrument. But OoT's soundtrack still resonates with me. The nostalgia of it grips me in the dark at night when I hum Epona's Song to get my kids to sleep.

Perhaps some day I'll do the game the justice of an unscripted playthrough, one where I'm not following the directions of a guide, one that's imperfect and full of surprises. I won't remember how to find my way to the Spirit Temple or get Biggoron's Sword. It'll be like it should have been the first time.

Maybe it won't even be me playing at all. Maybe I'll watch my kids be taken aback with the same wonder and sense of discovery that video games first provided me. And maybe, just maybe, they'll convince me to shell out for music lessons. Some endeavors are probably better off with a guide.

The Ocarina of Time advisory owl