It’s hard to believe it’s been over 20 years since Nintendo’s Earthbound. While much of my childhood was spent in front of one video game or another, those that have remained as narrative pillars fill a comparatively short and exclusive list. Earthbound sits near the top, its facade of subversive, surrealist humor—hiding deeper political messages and life lessons behind the deceptively simple story of a small-town boy on a grand adventure—a prime example of video games as a meaningful, thoroughly artistic platform for storytelling and discourse.
Unfortunately, I never got to play Mother 3. While fan-made translations have long-since made the game accessible through emulation, it’s not as authentic an experience as I would have liked. That’s not to knock fan-made efforts, without which I’d have never had the opportunity to enjoy classics like Seiken Densetsu 3 or Bahamut Lagoon, but Mother was different; it was intrinsically weaved into my creative birth, the foundations of which I would entrust to very few. Imagine my surprise at plans to officially localize Mother 3 for its 10th Anniversary, tapered only slightly by the fact that I don’t own a Wii U and will be forced to beg and bat my eyes at someone who does before I can play it.
The things we do for love.
I still remember, even as a child, reading between Earthbound‘s lines: The cult of people most happy to comply, losing their identities in a blue, monolithic swarm of peer pressure and indoctrination. The trigger-happy police, willing to adopt violence against those they felt were beneath them, those they assumed couldn’t fight back. The ways in which Ness, however powerful, would lose his way if he forgot his roots, otherwise remembered through a simple call home to Mom. Most fondly, I remember the game’s ending, not just for the great satisfaction in destroying a monumental, semi-abstract evil, but for the way the game adopted me as one of the characters in its story.
It wasn’t the psychic powers or the silly yet effective weapons that prevailed against cruelty, but a hopeful prayer for the safety and happiness of the protagonist child, coming into his own as a cog in a vast wheel that sought to destroy him at every turn. As I fought this evil, I remember clutching at my controller, furiously trying to win a battle I was scripted to lose; the odds were against me, the world decided my hero’s fate before the journey even began, my choices and actions didn’t matter. Then, the final prayer, one I’d already had rolling in my head, became part of the actual story and game. I was blown away, made aware of how much I’d projected my hope onto this child, not as a vicarious fantasy of heroism but, instead, as if a separate, sentient entity whose hand I was guiding. We were not merely at the mercy of our enemies, but each other. Together we thrived, together we survived.
That remains a message worth believing in.