Exploring questionable evolution in WWHD (SPOILERS)
Because it has been roughly a month since the release of The Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker HD, I thought it would be appropriate to have a discussion over one aspect of the game that I can’t help pondering over. As the title states, please be aware that there will be story spoilers in this article – the discussion on hand will be over information that is not known until the last two dungeons of the game. If you have not yet played this far and want to enjoy the story on your own, do not read further.
Now with that out of the way, let the discussion begin!
As my biography below states, I am a biological scientist by trade. I usually play video games in order to have my outlet for relaxation and fun that is outside my occupational realm, but sometimes my inquisitive and questioning thoughts are inescapable. This is particularly true for games grounded in science fiction, such as Capcom’s Resident Evil series. However, more recently I have found myself pondering the state of the Rito peoples in The Legend of Zelda series.
If you have played through the WWHD, you will recall that the Rito are the late descendants of the Zora. It is revealed late in the game that the Great Flood imposed some unmentioned selective force upon the Zora, causing them to gradually evolve from anthropomorphic fish to anthropomorphic birds (the Rito). While this is an interesting concept and lends a nice historical twist to the races present in WWHD, I still find it hard to see any logic in this.
For instance, let me pose what I just said in a different light: Organisms that are dependent upon life in and around water, that are able to breath underwater, and essentially are fish with gills, feet and (presumably) lungs thrive in a region with just as much land as water. However, once that region becomes inundated with water, leaving nothing more than a Great Sea and a few scattered islands, these same aquatic organisms are somehow spurred to lose their aquatic traits and evolve into creatures of the sky, wings and all. Now, does this make any sense to you?
How does one go from this: To this:
Before we continue on from here, let’s take a quick step back and review the basics of evolution by natural selection. Just as the long-repeated phrase states, natural selection is essentially “survival of the fittest,” but there are a few caveats to remember in this. For evolution to occur genetic variation amongst organisms is required, as are environmental stressors in order to give a net directionality in trait acquisition. The classical example of this phenomenon is the finches that Darwin described with variations in their beak characteristics that allowed them to use different plants as food sources, effectively reducing the number of competitors each had for food. However, what is key to remember here is that any particular variation carried within a species will not become enriched, or “selected” for in their offspring unless the trait provides: a) a survival advantage from adolescence through sexual maturity, facilitating the likelihood of mating, or b) increases the likelihood for successful mating by any other means (ie, more attractive feather pattern, smell, etc).
Let’s now return to the case of the Zora and consider that the Great Flood as the main stressor enacted upon them. Now this is a sudden, catastrophic event that would impose a great deal of selective force. However, causing an aquatic race to become an airborne one seems quite unlikely, so let us consider a few evolutionary possibilities.
One possible outcome of the Great Flood is that it could have just as easily made the Zora the dominant race of the (now inundated) land of Hyrule. As Hyrule’s seemingly most intelligent form of aquatic life, the Zora would stand fairly unopposed in the biological hierarchy of the “new” land (sea) of Hyrule. As the flooding culled most of the terrestrial organisms to near-extinction, the Zora would be left unscathed with a new, vast sea to populate.
A second possibility is similar to the first, but slightly different. The Zora were apparently depicted as fresh-water organisms in The Ocarina of Time, which immediately precedes The Wind Waker. Although other games in the series (such as Major’s Mask) suggest that the Zora can also thrive in salt water, for the sake of this consideration let’s just recognize the Zora as being fresh-water creatures. Therefore, in this case the Great Flood would impose a great deal of death on the Zora as well. However, in this case a few Zora that were born with a greater capacity for salt excretion would have a survival advantage in this hypertonic environment. Should such individuals exist within the race, they would live on and produce more offspring, and likely thrive in this new, sea-laden world. Eventually the result would be close to the first possibility: dominance of the region by the Zora race, albeit a slightly different race adapted to marine life.
We shall also pose the Zora as fresh-water organisms for the last possibility of discussion. Rather than be killed in mass numbers, the Zora, too, could have retreated to the mountains and survived to live on the islands of the Great Sea. In this case, it is quite possible that Zora with enhanced terrestrial characteristics would have a survival advantage. Perhaps these ancestors had more efficient lungs, or a lesser need to moisten their skin by entering fresh water, but for all of this to have a survival and/or mating advantage, there would had to have been a relative lack of freshwater sources on the islands they ended up on (which is the case for Windfall Island). If this were to occur, then the Zora could evolve into primarily land-based creatures.
I still find the last possibility the least likely, as it requires the most dramatic biological change. The Zora would be adapted terrestrial life, but there is little compelling evidence to suggest how developing wings would cause a survival/mating advantage. However, as is revealed early in the WWHD, the Rito do not grow their wings unless they are blessed with one of Valoo’s scales. Perhaps the now land-residing Zora (now called the Rito) stopped worshiping Lord Jabu’Jabu (Jabun), and instead paid homage Valoo, who in return granted them the gift of flight. Therefore, if Aonuma and his team did consider the mechanisms of evolution while developing the game, this is potentially how they came to the transition of the Zora to the Rito.
I personally doubt that the game developers even considered evolutionary mechanisms while planning out the Wind Waker’s story. While this hardly takes away from the game or the wonder of the Rito’s historical past, I found thinking through these possibilities as an interesting thought-experiment. If you have thought of any other possibilities, I would love for you to share in the comments section below!
This article was honestly to gauge interest in matters of applying scientific thought to our favorite game franchises on Nintendo systems, and I hope that you enjoyed it. Articles like this in which I explore science and science fiction in games is something that I would like to continue intermittently over time, so please leave any feedback below as well. I would love to hear your critique and whether or not writings like this are something that you would like to see continued in the future or not.