Our Special Topics In Gameology series on the unseen parts of games continued this week with William Hughes’ examination of parental figures in EarthBound and the rest of the Mother games. Ness’ absent father and loving mother are indicative of the series’ view on parents, William argued, but in the grand scheme of things, his dad was one of the better ones. Down in the comments, Fact Robot broke down how Mother handles the absent dad and abusive dad divide:
One of the interesting things about father figures in Mother games is how “bad” fathers have infantilized sons, while absent fathers have strong and independent sons.
In Mother 2/EarthBound, Giygas essentially regresses to an “almighty idiot” who just talks about his feelings and can’t comprehend what’s going on around him. Pokey/Porky has to do all the heavy lifting in that fight in terms of actually explaining what’s going on, but Giygas continually tries to reach out to Ness by talking to him.
Meanwhile, you’ve got Pokey/Porky, who is totally obsessed with Ness. His homes throughout Mother 3 are full of memorabilia from the previous game, and New Pork City boasts a dedicated museum and a movie theater that plays a slideshow of scenes from EarthBound. Like Giygas, he’s trying to latch on to someone who had a good dad and came out strong, and like Giygas, he basically winds up as a super-powered man-infant once he’s in the Absolutely Safe Capsule. It’s tempting to say that Pokey/Porky’s abusive mom is the determining factor in his downfall, but remember, Giygas was raised by Maria, a perfect mother.
Elsewhere, Quarrelin Hardy defended Flint, the father of Mother 3’s star, Lucas:
I guess I wouldn’t go so far to say that all the dads in Mother are useless. I definitely have a different take on Flint. The town of Tazmily in Mother 3 is such a highly idealized small town that at the start of the game, it has never had anything bad ever befall it. Suddenly, Flint’s wife is killed. The town has its first ever awful experience, shattering its ideal society at his family’s expense. Flint doesn’t know how to deal with it (no one in the town does, shown by Bronson’s terrible job breaking the news), and he lashes out in grief. I would argue that this lashing out isn’t any sign of his weakness as a father, but one of many natural emotional responses a person may have to losing a loved one.
Immediately following that, one of his sons runs away from home and is missing. In a short period of time, Flint loses two family members. That would be a crushing experience for anyone. He devotes himself to trying to find his missing son who he believes is still alive—a fact he’s right about. In the end, after three years of never giving up his search, he’s right there with Lucas in New Pork City. They just took different paths to get there. I don’t view that as useless. I view it as dedicated.
Merlin The Tuna agreed that Flint isn’t such a bad guy, but points out that his dedication still came at the expense of his other, present son:
Agreed that Flint is a stand up guy, but his single-minded fixation on his missing son causes him to totally lose sight of the one that’s still there. They do end up meeting up, but I recall that mostly being due to happenstance rather than to good parenting.
Meanwhile, Jakeoti suggested that maybe the player is the real parental figure in EarthBound:
For me, EarthBound has a level of parenting and guidance from the player to the character. Right from the start, there’s a dissonance between you and the main characters. Rather than have you name a file or input “your” name, the game tells you to “please name him.” It feels less like a game where you play as the characters and more as one where you guide them, helping them through all the stumbles. Even the neat gameplay gimmick where you can save a character who takes lethal damage feels like a mad scramble by the player to save them, not anything that’s doe by the party members. As anyone who has completed the game knows, the “Ness≠the player” feeling is very much on purpose. I’m curious if anyone who played the game as a parent chose to name any or all of the characters after their own children.
Relating it back to the inspiration for EarthBound’s alien menace, Needlehacksaw dug into Shigesato Itoi’s dark inspiration for the twins in Mother 3 and how it all comes back to parenting:
I did not know about Giygas’ appearance being inspired by a traumatic encounter with the wrong kind of movie. It’s incredible how much darkness Itoi could put below the cheery facade of those games.
A similar thing could be said about Mother 3‘s twins, who were infamously inspired by another disturbing piece of media: The Great Notebook by Hungarian-Swiss writer Agota Kristof. That novel fits in all too well with the topic of this essay, too: It’s about orphans who are growing up with an abusive grandmother during war times in a vaguely Eastern European country. They dare each other into more and more atrocious acts in order to kill all empathy, because they think—rightly so, it is implied—that this is the only thing that will make them strong enough to survive. It might be one of the most devastating books written from the perspective of children ever, all the more so because it is written in a simple, workman-like language devoid of most emotion. (Kristof wrote the book at a point in her life where she did not yet master the French language in a nuanced way.) It seems to say that not having the support of loving parents—and a mother, above all—in cruel times might render you the cruelest creature of all. I can see why Itoi would choose that message and novel as an inspiration.
Pulling double duty this week, William also reviewed Virginia, a new narrative game that takes some cues—in story, setting, and its use of the surreal—from Twin Peaks. The influence of David Lynch’s classic TV series has become more overt in games recently, as Fix The Fern In The Back points out. But what’s behind it?
This has me thinking. I know that the Alien movies have been a massive influence on video games, but it feels like Twin Peaks has had its fingerprints over a ton of games also, especially over the past few years. Is this just because the people who watched Twin Peaks as it aired are old enough to be heading these teams? Or is there something about the vibe of Twin Peaks that is so ripe for games to emulate? I’m genuinely curious if anyone has an answer to this.
As Beema mentions, there’s definitely more to this than its fans coming of age:
Twin Peaks has influenced lots of other media, starting not too long after it aired, so I don’t think it’s an age thing. “Small insular town with weird shit going on” is a pretty wide yet immediately involving template to work from. There have been games drawing from it for a while.
And Wolfman Jew reminds us that it’s a global influence as well:
One thing worth bringing up is that a lot of Peaks’ influence can be seen in Japanese games, because the series was just as influential there as it was in the United States. It was a landmark show for a number of reasons and managed to push a lot of cultural buttons without necessarily trying to do so. So even if people weren’t including the horror or the drama or the bizarre visual cues (Shigeru Miyamoto has cited it as the primary influence on Link’s Awakening, which is wildly different from most games inspired by the show), they may have been inadvertently reacting to the world building and storytelling the show was doing.
That’ll do it for this week, Gameologirewskis. Thank you for reading and commenting. We’ll see you next week!