In my wayward geek youth, I presided over a prestigious organization known as the Nintendo Players Club.

Now, it's likely you've never heard of the NPC. It was a strictly local coalition of video game players in their pre-adolescent years. But we had a constitution, so we were pretty official. We also engaged in such vital activities as playing video games on Saturday afternoons, playing video games at all-night sleepovers, and playing video games by our lonesomes just about every evening.

The Nintendo Players Club is a remnant of an earlier age in video gaming, a time when the Xbox and PS2 owners of today were being indoctrinated into an industry that would later pluck thousands of dollars from their pockets each year. It was a far cry from the three-system (four if you count the Game Boy Advance) industry of today; sure, there was the Sega Master System, but no one I knew had one, certainly not the charter members of the Nintendo Players Club. In the late eighties and early nineties, if you were a pre-teen or teenager or you just wanted to play some video games, it was a Nintendo world.

Nothing defined those times like the Nintendo-produced games that became megahits for their system, games like "Super Mario Bros" and "Metroid." And none of those games have ripened with age quite like "The Legend of Zelda."

I'm speaking specifically here of the original "Zelda" game, released in 1986. Since then, there have been many more Zelda games for subsequent systems, reaching right up until the present. The terrific "Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past," originally released for the Super Nintendo, was re-released just last year on the Game Boy Advance, and the latest new Zelda game for the GameCube, "The Wind Waker," was named by many video game magazines and websites as the best game of 2003. But it all began with a squat little dude named Link in a green elf outfit who clomped around screen after screen of Hyrule in search of the eight pieces of the mysterious Triforce.

"What's a 'Triforce'?" you ask. See, in "The Legend of Zelda," there's this nasty dude named Ganon, and he stole the Triforce of Power and imprisoned Princess Zelda. You're Link, and to defeat Ganon and free Zelda, you have to assemble the Triforce of Wisdom by journeying into eight dungeons and retrieving all the pieces. Then it's a long voyage deep into Death Mountain for a throwdown with Ganon himself.

Like so many classic Nintendo games, the storyline is kinda malarkey. Triforces and Ganons and Hyrules make about as much sense as a plumber hopping onto walking mushrooms to defeat a flame-spitting turtle named Bowser. Still, there's enough plot in "Zelda" to immerse you in the adventure. Besides, when it comes to classic videogames, all that really matters is that the goal is clear: Survive eight dungeons, snag the pieces of the Triforce, then traipse on over to Death Mountain and wrap things up.

Along the way, you experienced seminal video game play. "Zelda" was the kind of game that was so well-designed and well-received that it basically wrote the rules for an entire genre of games, now known as RPGs or role-playing games. There's the constant acquiring of new objects and weapons which can be equipped by visiting an inventory screen. There's the gaining of power through defeating levels, though it's not as refined as most current RPGs with their complex "experience" systems. And there's the solving of puzzles, a landmark in video gaming that has defined how video games are developed to this day.

Unlike most games of its time, "Zelda" was about far more than just defeating enemies, jumping onto platforms, and trying to make three lives last as long as you could. It featured the first save function in video games, for one thing, which meant you could save your progress in the game at any time and defeat it over time instead of trying to knock the game out in one sitting.

But that save feature was more than just a convenience. It was a necessary part of "Zelda," because the amount of exploration and thought required to defeat the game were more than a player could manage in just one session of play. Defeating "Zelda," in fact, meant hours of sitting in front of the television trying to figure out which wall you hadn't bombed yet or which rock you hadn't pushed yet. You knew that finding just the right spot would reveal the next secret necessary to conquer the game. Cryptic messages from old men in caves pointed you in general directions and required pondering long after you'd shut down your Nintendo and crawled into bed for the evening. "Dodongo dislikes smoke"...what the hell is he on about? Oh yeah! Bombs! And then you had to count the minutes at school until you could get your Underooed behind back in front of the TV to try out your theory.

"Zelda" was also the first game (or if not, one of the first games) where the places you went and the things you saw weren't dictated for you by the game itself.

I remember spending hours on "Zelda." At times, it was all I could do not to lift up the phone and call the Nintendo Hotline, which of course cost serious money, just to get the one tip that would push me over the edge in the adventure. I would pore over the full-game map just to insure I'd visited every possible corner of Hyrule. I also recall bonding with my dad for the first time over a video game adventure, a tradition which continues to this day; last Christmas we defeated "Kingdom Hearts," and the one before that, it was the "Harry Potter" game for PS2. Good times, all, and each of them a direct descendant of "Zelda."

As you read this, you may be overcome by a nostalgic itch to relive your Nintendo glory days, or even a desire to visit the original "Zelda" for the first time. If so, you're in luck. A Google search for the words "Nintendo" and "emulator" will pull up any number of sites featuring programs that will run old Nintendo games on your computer. Set one up on your machine, and you'll be questing your way through "The Legend of Zelda" in no time.

Playing it, even now, may take you back to a time when girls were icky and spending a Friday night playing video games was about the best thing you could imagine. I know it takes me there. Here's hoping it will also open your eyes to how groundbreaking and exciting "The Legend of Zelda" remains, even eighteen years after its release. Graphics have improved and video game systems have become household fixtures, but for sheer gameplay and fun, it doesn't get any better than the classics.