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nobinobita
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"MOTHER" , posted Sat 25 Jul 05:40post reply

Warning: This is a really long post where I ramble on about Mother/aka Earthbound beginnings. No crying until the ending!

I recently started playing Mother aka Earthbound beginnings, the first game in the series. I’ve actually never played any of the Earthbound games at length (god forgive me!) so it’s a special treat for me to be able to play through em chronologically. I just wanted to share some thoughts on the game now that I’m a few hours in.

I think Mother is a game that’s about childhood (duh), and particularly childhood anxieties. Most narratives tend to look back on childhood with rose tinted glasses. Mother is definitely full of fantasy, triumphs and joy, but it’s all grounded in very real and very pointed fears that children tend to have. Thankfully it’s also about overcoming those fears head on.

The game starts with inanimate objects coming to life and attacking your family. The first thing you fight is a lamp! Next you fight your sister’s creepy baby doll! This reminded me of being a little kid lying in bed at night, afraid of the dark and what might be out there. It’s such a basic fear. I’ve heard from many people who swear that when they were kids, they saw objects in their room floating or being knocked off their shelves by an invisible force. I think this is a manifestation of the fear a child harbors at having no control over their own life. Even mundane objects can be out to getcha!

But fear not, you can fight back with your psychic powers! I’m pretty sure I’m not the only kid in the world who fantasized about being psychic. I remember quiet moments trying to will a pencil to move WITH MY MIND. I knew it was impossible, but it was fun to let some small part of myself believe it could happen. According to my armchair psychoanalysis prompted by this game, I think this common fantasy of having ESP belies a deep desire to have control over ones life (which kids don’t). Moving things with your mind is the most literal way you can have control over your environment.

After you defeat these animated objects and save your family, you’re introduced to your mother and father. At the beginning of the game, after you name your character it asks you to name your favorite food (I said otoro). Well it turns out, your mother will serve you your favorite food whenever you return home! I think food is an expression of love in most cultures, but it’s particularly important to East Asian families. There are millions of parents out there who might never directly say “I love you” to their kids. Instead they make sure they eat well. In many cultures “have you eaten?” is an indirect expression of love. So it’s deeply comforting to me that my videogame mom feeds me super premium fatty tuna belly whenever I come home haha.
Later on in the game people might talk to you about your favorite food.

They talk about food a lot in general. A random townsperson might say something like “I heard the next town over has strawberry tofu! I want to try it!” It’s really funny cos the game takes place in an idealised fantasy America, but it’s super Asian (or rather maybe everyone outside of North America has always talked like this).

In contrast to the warmth of your mother, your father only appears in the game as a detached voice you talk to on the phone. He deposits money into your bank account (you don’t get money straight away for defeating enemies, you have to phone your father then withdraw it!) and he also saves your game. He’s not directly present in your life, but he’s out there helping you out (though he likes to remind you that he’s very busy too). I’m sure a lot of kids could relate to this. It’s so simple, just a few lines of dialog and some game mechanics, but it says a lot about the relationship a child has with a working parent who isn’t around much.

As the game progresses, you have to find a secret key (which you get from your dog after reading his mind—it’s great!) which leads to the basement, which looks like a traditional RPG dungeon. This recalled childhood memories of fearing dark spaces like the garage, the attic, the basement, but also feeling a little thrill at exploring them and finding odd knickknacks from the past. You eventually find your grandpas diary (after fighting some rats—this kid is much braver than I am, I’m still afraid of rats as an adult), which becomes very important to the story later.

After finding the diary, you venture to the outside world and fight more enemies. Instead of fighting fantasy monsters, you fight real world animals. Stray dogs, centipedes, crows; things a kid might be a little afraid of in real life. I know it’s incredibly obvious to say that videogame enemies are personifications of real life anxieties, but hear me out. In addition to woodland creatures, you also fight crazy adults who are possessed by some unseen force. You fight your neighbor Wally. You also famously fight a hippie. These are adults outside of your family, ones that you’re not supposed to trust. Basically you are fighting stranger danger.

One thing I really like about this game is that you rarely kill anyone. When you defeat an animal, it says they’ve run off. When you defeat an adult, it says they’ve come back to their senses.

Eventually the game starts to get more fantastic. You have to go to a graveyard and fight zombies! The game actually does a nice job of setting this up. Because everything beforehand has been relatively mundane, the zombies actually feel scary! Especially since they do so much damage! Zombies of course, are a common horror movie trope. They scared the shit out of me as a kid! You eventually also fight some aliens, which again, used to scare the crap out of me when I was little (I was terrified of “greys”). Orcs, Goblins, Dragons, Demons, even Vampires and Werewolves ... Those are cool. Zombies (death) and Aliens (the foreign and unknown) are scary!

So what comes next after zombies and aliens? Well, eventually you’re whisked away to a magical land called Magicant, which seems to float on candy clouds in the sky. Where everything before was rooted in reality (even the zombies and aliens to some extent), Magicant is total fantasy. People dress in wizard’s robes. Talking cats swim in the clouds. There is a beautiful fairytale queen in a castle. She used to love to sing, but she is haunted by a song she can no longer remember. She wakes up in a cold sweat at night trying to recall it. Not knowing the song has drained the joy from her life.
She asks you to try to find this song for her. I’m actually kinda choking up writing this, because it’s dawning on me that the moment you accept this mission is the moment you realize that the adults in your life are actually counting on you to make them happy. I think for most kids, this isn’t even a conscious realization. It’s something that seeps in slowly, just as the images in this game have been swirling around my head for weeks.

Most of the townsfolk of magicant are incredibly supportive. Like, almost heartbreakingly unreasonably so. They offer you shelter. They shower you with gifts. They are the ideal adults. They tell you things like “Even though you are an outsider, we consider you one of us” or “Promise me that if you need help, you will return. Everyone loves you.” They are insanely devoted to you. If you walk past Queen Mary’s Castle you’ll find a house full of Flying Men who look like birds. They are all brothers, sworn to serve you. They will fight alongside you, but they don’t actually appear in your party menu. If they take damage, you can’t heal them, because they are adults. They exist in a separate world from you. It’s almost unthinkable for a kid to think they can heal and adult.

And yet … that’s what the Queen is asking you to do. As I’m writing this, I think the symbolism of the game is really dawning on me.
When you first talk to Queen Mary, ruler of the perfect world of Magicant, she tells you:

“Welcome, Richmon.” (I named my character after myself—very creative I know)
“Here in Magicant, everyone is your friend.”
“You can have as much as you like,”
“Of whatever you want.”
“What? You want to listen to my song?”
“Sorry, I don’t know why, but I just can’t sing.”
“I beg you to learn the melody. It is only 8 notes long.”
“When you learn them all, return and sing for me.”
“If only I could hear that song…”

The first time I read this, it had incredible emotional resonance to it, but I didn’t know why. After spending more time with the game, I realize, this exchange basically went like this:

A mother (Queen Mary) tells her child (you) that she loves you and will provide for you. Whatever you want, she will give it to you. Instead of asking for something material, the child tells her he just wants her to be happy. For an adult, happiness can be very complex. She’s lost something in her life that she can’t regain by herself. She hopes you can find it for her. She can’t just magically make herself happy on command. It’s up to you to make her happy.

This is some heavy stuff!

In most RPGs you travel the land with friends, gaining experience and power to save the world. In this game you travel the land with friends, gaining experience and power in an effort to retrieve the song that your mother has forgotten, to make her happy. This is very much how most people who were lucky enough to grow up with parents live their lives. This hit me pretty dang hard! (my little brother is in the room with me playing Dark Souls, I hope he doesn’t notice me sniffling lol)

I don’t think I’m pulling this analysis out of thin air because the enemies you fight in Magicant are super abstract. They are disembodied pairs of eyes. They are literally called “Mom’s Eyes” and “Dad’s Eyes.” They are watching you as you take up this daunting quest. There’s even some grandpa/Groucho Marx looking eyes called “Groucho.” The secret to beating Groucho is to select “guard” instead of “attack.” He’ll leave you alone and you gain a ton of experience points. After all, inconspicuousness is often a child’s best weapon.

I have a lot more to say about this game and I’m really just scratching the surface. I’m only a few hours in, but I’m really glad I started playing it. It’s a nice reminder of the deep storytelling potential that’s always exsited in video games. This is the kind of emotional resonance I hope to put into the games I make. With just a few lines of text and some well thought out game mechanics, you can shake the world!

Thanks if you’ve read this far, and good night!






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Iggy
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"Re(1):MOTHER" , posted Sat 25 Jul 06:10post reply

That was a nice read. Mother is special because doesn't offer interpretations or readings: it offers personal experiences. It's a buffet of childhood set pieces, and you just pick whatever resonates with you and hold it close to your heart.

I always liked Mother (mostly 2, I barely played 3 and never 1, and even 2 I didn't play that often). It's one of these games that immediately make you feel home, so it's not a game that's important or BEST GAME EVER or Romancing Sa:Ga, it's homey comfort.
Knowing that it's sleeping in my WiiU and could spring out to life with a single press of a button is a nice thing to keep in mind when I'm looking at that dumb black box. Thinking about it makes me want to call my dad.

On the other hand, I'm one of these morons who always answer that their favourite food was dicks, so as I walk through the games (as myself, since I call all my characters Iggy) everyone keep asking me if I want more dicks and how do I want them. It makes me feel warm insi... wait, wrong context.
It makes me chuckle, and I'm pretty sure I would have answered something equally ridiculous had I played the game when I was 10. This game is also the game that allows to come back to the age when "penis" or "boobies" or "poo" were at the same time the most gross and the most fun words in existence. Mother is the game before the discovery of corporate accounting.
And of course, there is something special with the idea of a safe place in the middle of the world, anchoring you, allowing you to travel as far as you want, because you know that at the center of the circle of your adventures there is home, with Mom, with your room, and plenty of delicious dicks to enjoy.





Maou
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"Re(1):MOTHER" , posted Sat 25 Jul 06:26post reply

Bravo, Nobi, you've outdone yourself here. I've never had greater respect for a series of games I've never played than Mother, and the profoundly intelligent writing of Itoi as well as the apparently profoundly human approach you describe makes it so appealing even from afar.

The last few weeks have been conspiring to indirectly guilt me into playing Mother 2 twenty years late. Years ago, Tim Rogers did a nice job of it with interesting pieces on Mother 2 and Mother 3, Itoi's elegy for Iwata added to it, and then one of my best friends from high school tennis club proceeded to celebrate over tracking down a physical copy of Mother 3 in a used game store "on principle" rather than go the easy route online.

Definitely make this your virtual Mother diary, then compile it!





人間はいつも私を驚かせてくれる。不思議なものだな、人間という存在は...

Professor
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"Re(1):MOTHER" , posted Sat 25 Jul 11:08:post reply

quote:
eventually you’re whisked away to a magical land called Magicant, which seems to float on candy clouds in the sky.~~~~~

The first time I read this, it had incredible emotional resonance to it, but I didn’t know why. After spending more time with the game, I realize, this exchange basically went like this:

A mother (Queen Mary) tells her child (you) that she loves you and will provide for you. Whatever you want, she will give it to you. Instead of asking for something material, the child tells her he just wants her to be happy. For an adult, happiness can be very complex. She’s lost something in her life that she can’t regain by herself. She hopes you can find it for her. She can’t just magically make herself happy on command. It’s up to you to make her happy.

Nice writeup Nobi! Ahh Mother... I remember how I was awed by it the first time I saw it on demo at the shops back when I was a kid. It was so different from all the other NES games of its time, which were mostly actions, baseballs, and fantasy RPGs. Unfortunatley on the store shelves it was also erroring a lot because they were running on overused Famicom disk systems, lol. Ahh the memories. Unlike other RPGs, Mother felt more fluid as a 'neighboorhood experience'.

Looking back, it has so many symbolisms that a kid playing the game wouldn't realize what they were about until playing back again in adulthood!


Spoiler (Highlight to view) -

Magicant's map is shaped as a Uterus
http://p.twpl.jp/show/large/bWHaR


End of Spoiler







[this message was edited by Professor on Sat 25 Jul 21:04]

Lord SNK
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"Re(1):MOTHER" , posted Sun 26 Jul 03:27post reply

Thank you for this excellent writeup!

I would like to play this game but I don't have a WiiU and Nintendo for unkonwn reasons has not released it also on 3DS Virtual Console





Spoon
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"Re(2):MOTHER" , posted Sun 26 Jul 04:35post reply

In Earthbound, one of the things you notice pretty quickly is that the first things you fight are wild animals, and mostly not of the exotic type. You fight crows and bugs. And when you beat them, in Dragon Quest fashion (which Itoi has previously said was a huge influence, and it shows!), rather than the battle narration saying something along the lines of "you have defeated XYZ" it says "XYZ became tame".

There's a really great abstractness to the combat that to me suggests the kid thinks he's fighting and being heroic, but he's fighting in the way that a kid is (from the view of an adult), and even though we see damage numbers and all that, it isn't necessarily the case that the kid beat up anybody at all. The kid "fought" and eventually the animal ran off, or became friendly, or the moody adult came to their senses after wrassling with the petulant child. It absolutely takes bravery for a kid to take on an adult and not get cowed immediately when the adult yells at the kid.

There's an absoluteness in numbers in RPGs and in combat or mechanic dialogue that gives it the sense of being ground truth, and that's usually the case. But that narrator in DQ games was also tasked with making the game livelier because aside from character sprite flicker and screen shake, there's no other visual which occurs which describes the action. So we rely on these words to spice it up, and now that the narrator is not only doling out factual information ("You took X damage") but flavor text ("Fortune smiles upon thee, thou hast found the Y"), the account the narrator provides might be slightly dodgy/inflated/from a particular perspective. It is an omniscient voice, but it is also deeply affecting your perception of what is happening.





Maese
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"Re(3):MOTHER" , posted Tue 28 Jul 11:28post reply

quote:
A mother (Queen Mary) tells her child (you) that she loves you and will provide for you. Whatever you want, she will give it to you. Instead of asking for something material, the child tells her he just wants her to be happy. For an adult, happiness can be very complex. She’s lost something in her life that she can’t regain by herself. She hopes you can find it for her. She can’t just magically make herself happy on command. It’s up to you to make her happy.


Never played any of the games on the saga, but I've always wondered why Mother was called like that. It stroke me as an odd choice for a title name. Now I finally know! Kudos to Nobi for such a great, enlightening reading!

Since I started surfing the Internet I keep hearing about Mother's greatness, but it's actually you the one who has pretty much sold it to me. Maybe it's time to start searching for Mother cartridges around my usual second hand games store!





Loona
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"Re(1):MOTHER" , posted Wed 29 Jul 17:13post reply

Nice writeup - it's always nice to get an overview of a game or series that's more about its underlying principles and how they're reinforced on multiple fronts than on some more famous elements or moments.

Why post this here instead of the Art Eater site? Perhaps it felt a bit too personal for that?





...!!

kofoguz
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"Re(1):MOTHER for education." , posted Fri 31 Jul 17:28post reply

Nobi thanks for encouraging me to play this game it's not only interesting to play as I believe it provides a really great homework. I gave this game to my class as a homework for English purposes. I believe videogames are really great sources to improve your vocabulary.
My class has the average age of first years of university, and one of their cousin was surprised when she said she was going to do her homework then played Mother. And her cousin who is much younger than her wished her homeworks would be like hers (self proud moment as a gamer).

I also gave Ace Attorney to one of my private students, yes you guessed it right, an attorney. So I am looking for other type of text heavy fun games. Trauma also is a good option.





nobinobita
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"Re(2):MOTHER for education." , posted Mon 3 Aug 15:05post reply

Thanks for your kind words and comments errone!

quote:
Why post this here instead of the Art Eater site? Perhaps it felt a bit too personal for that?


I will probably do that. First thing I ever posted on Art-Eater was a long post I originally wrote here about DarkStalkers and the 12 principles of animation. The feedback from the cafe was so encouraging that I decided it was finally time to start my own website.

quote:
Nobi thanks for encouraging me to play this game it's not only interesting to play as I believe it provides a really great homework. I gave this game to my class as a homework for English purposes. I believe videogames are really great sources to improve your vocabulary.
My class has the average age of first years of university, and one of their cousin was surprised when she said she was going to do her homework then played Mother. And her cousin who is much younger than her wished her homeworks would be like hers (self proud moment as a gamer).

I also gave Ace Attorney to one of my private students, yes you guessed it right, an attorney. So I am looking for other type of text heavy fun games. Trauma also is a good option.



That's awesome! Sounds like you have an amazing curriculum going. I'm happy I could contribute to it in a small way.

quote:
Mother is the game before the discovery of corporate accounting.
And of course, there is something special with the idea of a safe place in the middle of the world, anchoring you, allowing you to travel as far as you want, because you know that at the center of the circle of your adventures there is home, with Mom, with your room, and plenty of delicious dicks to enjoy.


Iggy, your words touched me deeply. When people say "they should have sent a poet," you are the person their hearts are calling out to.






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