I’ve had so many writing jobs, I can’t keep track of them all. I’m not boasting; this industry is so volatile, I’ve been bounced from joint to joint without much time to catch my breath.
As a consequence, I’ve become really good at learning how to hit the ground running. I just quote “No great loss without some small gain” to myself until I believe it.
But no matter what writing job I’m forced to undertake, I can automatically say it’s a sight better than some of the jobs I’ve in the past. Like “mall custodian,” which ended unglamorously when someone coughed TB germs on me. But that’s a long story that ends with heavy-duty antibiotics and a nervous breakdown.
The point is, I’m damn grateful for whatever writing work I can grab, but I still have my favourites. One assignment I particularly loved happened in 2008 or so, when I was writing about games for Nerve.com. I was pretty much allowed to write whatever I wanted, and “what I wanted” usually equaled “Mother 2 / Earthbound.”
I wrote about the themes in Earthbound. About the kids. About the adults. The innocence wrapped in Lovecraftian myth, like a 16-bit horror burrito cooked up by Stephen King and Crayola. There are layers upon layers in Earthbound, and when you peel them all back you find messages about the bravery of children and the vulnerability of adults, who break down in the shadow of the encroaching universe-destroyer, Giygas.
The adults in the game don’t actually know Giygas is approaching; only Ness and his friends understand the trouble the Earth is in. But his ill pall is enough to cause the game’s grown-ups to do crazy shit like lie, steal, backstab one another during zombie sieges, and join cults that revere the colour blue and have deigns on sacrificing children in hopes of catching a whiff of happiness.
There were Nerve readers who appreciated my endless nattering about Earthbound. And there were readers who accused me of looking back at the game’s admittedly archaic battle system and menu commands with rose-tinted glasses.
Here’s the funny thing, though. I didn’t actually play Earthbound until 2008. I never played the original SNES release (until my husband secured a copy for me a couple of years ago), and even my first attempts at playing a ROM went awry.
See, Earthbound has some very devious methods of copy protection, and a lot of those wound up in the ROMs distributed over the internet. One such security feature upped the enemy encounter rate like crazy, making it very difficult to slog through the game. This was the problem I ran into when I tried out the game in the early Aughts, so I gave it up and let my Earthbound curiosity lie dormant for a long time.
Then 2008 ticked into being, and a lot of shit went down. A number of my great aunts and uncles died, boisterous Hungarians who sucked a lot of life out of the world when they departed. My childhood dog, Rush, deteriorated rapidly thanks to hip dysplasia, and he was turned into a husk while his head lay in my lap. Most mind-numbing of all was the sudden death of my mother-in-law. She was with us, and then she wasn’t. Finito binito, as they say.
I don’t know why 2008’s climbing pile of coffins prompted me to decide, “All right, it’s time to play some god damn Earthbound.” Presumably I needed something innocent and bright. Earthbound is both — but, as I’ve emphasized already, it’s not.
And maybe that’s just what I craved, even if I didn’t know it at the time. A reminder that childhood is bitchin’, but contains a lot of hurt, fear, and disappointment. A reminder that sometimes even the youngest of us have to step up and face down what scares us most, because sometimes adults become flighty, silly, and blind, and can’t be depended on. But as long as we have our friends and people who believe in us, we’ll probably be OK.
So, Reggie my dear, when you tell Kotaku “Never say never” regarding Mother 3 coming to the Virtual Console–
Don’t play games with my heart, bro. It’s very soft. A boy in a baseball cap and a striped shirt turned it into mush.