Throwback Thursday: What Was Camp Hyrule?

Decades ago, Nintendo hosted a virtual camp — and those who were there remember it fondly.

Back in the 90s, one of the first things I did when I got on the internet for the first time was check out Nintendo’s web presence. After a near-disaster visiting “zelda.com,” which was a pornography site until Nintendo took it over sometime in the subsequent decades, I landed on a page for something called Camp Hyrule. I wasn’t sure exactly what it was — a real camp I could visit? As a confirmed indoors kid, the prospect of a Legend of Zelda-themed summer camp was incredible to me. Of course, Camp Hyrule wasn’t exactly that. But what was it, exactly?

An early experiment in online events, Camp Hyrule launched in 1995 on AOL and was typically held throughout the month of August. The site was a kind of virtual summer camp where participants could chat with other “campers” as well as engage with Nintendo employees and Nintendo Power writers. There were a smattering of interactive games available each year, themed around new or upcoming releases. Participants were assigned to different cabins, just like a real summer camp, and could earn points by playing games or completing other challenges.

Each instance of Camp Hyrule also had a sort of internal narrative to it. In 2000, the moon from Majora’s Mask crashed into the campsite, forcing a (virtual) evacuation. In 1997, someone ran counselor Dan’s boxers up the flagpole. They were later stolen, triggering a scavenger hunt to discover them.

Camp Hyrule
Camp Hyrule 2000

It’s kind of odd to imagine these kinds of hijinks occurring on a Nintendo-run site today, but the internet of the 90s — and even into the 2000s — was a lot smaller than today’s. Nobody had smartphones and the internet was a place you visited rather than an aspect of reality. Maybe that’s why the camp metaphor worked, making Camp Hyrule feel like a real place to those who participated in it. People were kind of just making stuff up as they went along, and many older people — including, I’d imagine, executives — didn’t understand the internet much at all, meaning that even big companies’ web presences often included these kinds of odd little experiments.

I’m not sure if I ever actually participated in Camp Hyrule, and if so, when I did. There’s very little information out there about the first couple of years, probably because it was hosted on AOL rather than Nintendo’s own website. I remember being kind of confused by the whole thing, but also kind of awed about the possibilities of the internet.

Camp Hyrule ran all the way until 2007, which is much later than I would have guessed. By then, the internet was beginning to transform into the shape it’s taken today, with social media dominating the online landscape. There’s a smattering of information available on Camp Hyrule around the internet, including on some charming, ancient sites that are amazingly still extant. The Internet Archive also has the Camp Hyrule games, so you can check those out if you want to get a sense of what it was like to experience what it was like to be a virtual camper.