mt itoi

Here’s a poster I made for a new documentary in production called Mother to Earth! It delves into the history behind the nintendo cult classic Mother 1/Earthbound Beginnings, its international release, and the secret black market of unreleased games. You can get the poster and support their kickstarter by visiting the link below. Cheers!

I am so excited for a whole new generation to experience

  • the wild frustration that is Duncan’s Factory
  • warping back to Magicant to level up new party members
  • thinking you have to fight your way through the super-tough enemies in the train tunnel because you don’t realize you’re not really supposed to do that
  • buying the rocket from the science teacher at the school
  • “what am I supposed to do with this big pink tentacle-lookin’ rock”
  • the first time one of those Metropolis robots hits with Freeze Gamma and suddenly you’re down to like, ten HP are you kidding me
  • trying to go down the mountain with Eve and getting wrecked and having to climb Mt. Itoi without your super robot pal
  • wait so the top level of Healing doesn’t revive party members?  I have to wait until I get Super Healing???  what
  • guys I got this ocarina but I can’t give it to the music shop owner what do I do
  • why won’t this dragon wake up
  • Yucca Desert
  • and probably lots of other little things I’m forgetting that make this game so amazing
Shigesato Itoi's MOTHER series: Endgame Narration defining Life, Death, and the anxiety of coming of age with virtual space over the course of 30 years.

DISCLAIMER: Hi professor, since you already gave me a grade I assume you’re not going to cross check for plagiarism. But if you see this essay come up, this is actually my tumblr blog and I’m the writer (Audrey)! OK that being said I just wanted to share my paper. That being said I made a ton of spelling errors and I am not gonna correct them right now and I got points marked off for not explaining the ontological space. If you want to know what “fig” images I used let me know and I’ll upload the PDF somewhere. Ok, ESSAY, START.

In the discussion of ontological and telelogical space, defining the beginning and end, videogames are a reletively new artform that create for us an entire world that is also tied down to a narrative. The beginning represents where our character is, and so does the ending, must also demonstrate narrative growth but also physological growth. How has the world around our character changed, and how does that reflect in their environment, and how do we illustrate the narrative and physical boundaries of beginning and ending? To illustrate how videogames can do this, I have chosen my favorite series of videogames.

Created by Shigesato Itoi in 1989 through 2006, The MOTHER series of videogames has been known to be a series of RPGS that make many narrative allusions to the importance of family, community and simply enjoying life in spite of its various difficulties and fears.  Each game stands on its own and has its own cast of characters. For the sake of this essay I will refer to each game as their sequential name in the MOTHER series, but for future reference,  MOTHER 2 was translated in North America for the SNES in 1995 under the title of EARTHBOUND, and MOTHER 1 was translated in 2015 under the title EARTHBOUND BEGINNINGS. As of right now the last game has yet to be translated.

Many RPGS follow this hero’s journey format, but what is particularly noteworthy about the MOTHER series is how its world is predominantly modern with some fantasy and scifi throwbacks when their narratives call for it. For the most part you are wading through subrurban landscapes with train tracks and nearby land developments and cities and your characters take on corrupt political leaders and thwart cultists with some cute nods to B-movie plots such as taking on zombies and aliens. There are elements of Itoi’s childhood experiences peppered throughout the game, with references to the 60’s drug culture, the Sha'ra cultists, political scandals and urban development in Japan.
The games themselves each build their own little worlds that mirror our own in various stages of a young man’s coming of age, though they most closely represent the ideal midwestern American towns with mini biomes of other parts of our real world,  and feature surrealistic places for those psychological elements to ebb and flow. One thing is consistent throughout the series, and that is what ends up happening towards the end is a total abandonment of the real for a surreal telelogical space that represents the character’s own personal journey, their end, and their world’s thematic crises.  
For the sake of this essay I will best try to summarize each of the three games as I go along.  
It’s important to note that all three of these games start out relatively the same.  This is our ontological space, the idea of a nostalgic and safe childhood. You are a young boy who does not talk in a striped shirt who answers the call to adventure whether it be a lamp attacking you, a meteorite landing, or you’re simply getting up in the morning to enjoy a nice day with your twin brother at your grandfather’s house. (MOTHER, MOTHER 2 and MOTHER 3 respectively.)  (FIG. 1-3) Your mother is always present and prepared to give you  your favorite food, which you input at the start of the game and it recovers your health (these games use fairly standard turn based RPG mechanics.). Once you leave the house, though, there is always a change and a long journey ahead and for two of the three games, home is always waiting back for you when you have grown. For the final entry in the series, home can never be returned to.  The importance of a mother figure in the game is obvious as it’s prevailing in the title, even though the games themselves never feature the mothers as playable characters.   Home is where we are all most familiar and safe and happy, with our loved ones, and even though various individuals have different experiences of home life, everyone has a shelter.  

All of the other characters in your party (a boarding school student, a crowned prince, a young girl) also have homes that are different from the main character’s view of “home” they want to return to after their quest is over, however again it’s notable that in the last entry into the series, “home” is a questionable place to come back to as each individual character discovers it’s either a farce, a place of abuse, or simply not the same anymore with the death of a loved one, and therefore a new “home”, a new “world” must be created for their happiness to return.  The prevailing sense of optimism in the first two games that you can return to home and everything is still there waiting for you is completely discarded in the third entry in the series.

In discussing the final areas of all three games: which are all thematically different, a summation of the world’s feel is needed. The first MOTHER ends on a mountain top (cheekily named “Mt. Itoi” after the director) (FIG 4.) after you have destroyed an imaginary world where a dead loved one is alive (your grandmother), and you sing a comforting lullaby to the main antagonist  (an alien named Gigue) who dearly loved this deceased woman.  Telelogically a mountain serves to show the highest peak and it’s an obvious paralell to a narrative climax as well as demonstrating the antagonist’s complete isolation. The space is quiet and eerie and there is no final boss music, just silence and quiet despair. (FIG. 5)  When the antagonist is finally calmed, he releases his prisoners and everyone can go back to their daily lives.  One could interpret this scene as being the moment in which the main character (Ninten’s) maturity has reached a point where he can empathize with even those who have harmed him, and has thus become a well rounded adult.

That space is not very cosmological, though. It’s very narrative and not really represenitive of the cosmology of its world. MOTHER 2 offers a different space, one totally detatched from the modern cars-and-cities landscapes that you are traveling through the majority of time. (FIG 6) and into a theorhetical space of time represented by organic (FIG. 8) and inorganic (FIG. 7) material, themes that would later be brought up in MOTHER 3. MOTHER 2’s antagonist is a chaotic entity of evil itself, posessing the weak minded. In order to fight him, the main characters must abandon their physical forms and become adorable little robots to enter an area known as The Cave Of The Past.  The area is seperated into two passages, a completely chrome and cold cliffside with light chrome abyss. The end of that passageway leads into a pulsating, completely organic and fleshy winding passage similar to intrails and organs. Many people who have played this game have likened the area to a womb where an evil  is germinating. I do not personally like that theory but it’s plausible.   You meet a jealous friend you lived next door to and the fight begins, and it is completely unwinnable until one of your party members (Paula) uses her otherwise underly used “Prayer” command that summons cutscenes of characters you’ve helped along the way praying for your safety. In a bit of fourth wall breaking, you the player (your name is asked for at one point in the game) also are seen contributing to the damage against the boss. It’s unclear whether this is some sort of theological connection or not but the spirit of community and love presents itself as the ultimate answer against evil and that it transcends the limitations of time and space.

In MOTHER 2’s ending, just like MOTHER 1’s, the main characters are free of the thing that has plagued them and the rest of society, and they can return home with minimal scars as heroes, with MOTHER 2 going so far as to allowing you to walk back to your house and eat dinner with your mother and your party member Paula (who you presumably have now entered those complex coming of age romantic feelings for.).  MOTHER 3 is where things get interesting narratively.   Made a full 20 years after the first MOTHER game and 10 years after MOTHER 2, the director’s got a lot more to say about how the world around him has changed.   MOTHER 3’s narrative right off the bat has a darker turn that the other games do not, it starts with an innocent pair of twins in a small ideallic village with a bartering system just having a good time. It’s not shortly after when their mother is killed by a genetically modified animal,  one of the twins is seperated and presumably dies during an act of revenge, and the town is suckered in by the promises of a corrupt salesman that wishes to upgrade their town. Home is no longer an option because home is no longer the same, and as the story progresses, everyone abandons this town to live  in an urban city filled with amusement parks, arcades and towers.  To a Japanese man living in the 1950’s to today, it’s an obvious commentary on the constant land development changing small town life.  The other party members are no better off, as one lives in an abandoned castle full of long-dead ghosts that she has claimed herself to be the princess of, and another is a young adult who is still living with his constantly breating grandfather (and ultimately, just by himself, when he is put away in a nursing home due to the town’s urban development.)  All this is nessecary to build the set up for the final telelogical space.
The villain in this game has a huge tower full of hedonistic luxuries that one must venture to the top of. (Fig. 9)  He has an entire hallway full of bathrooms, a lavish pool full of hippos, his own personal harem (or.. a rather kid friendly way to show it), robotic clones of his mother, and rooms full of balloons and toys where you play rigged minigames to appease “master porky”. (Fig. 10)  When we get to the top of the tower we see a hellish landscape that can only be described as isolated and angry. (fig. 11)  The connection here is obvious, there is a darkness to the hedonism we choose to pursuit that we ignore. The main characters are here to trigger the final event (pulling a needle) that would “restart” the world to get it to its former state with no known ideas of what will happen to them or their world, only the belief that anything is better than where they are now.  Before doing so, you must fight the man responsible for all the death and destruction himself: a boy with the aged features of an old man in a spider walker bed who did all of what he did out of pure boredom. (Fig. 12) And then after that, your twin brother who has become modified by cybornetic implants and is no longer himself, who  commits suicide before you.  (fig. 13)
At this point in the game the main character has lost almost everything he loves and he is now tasked with restarting the world. The result is a total destruction montage (Fig. 14 and Fig 15.) followed by a black screen, with people saying that they are fine and everyone is happy and loved, but no pictures to accompany this. (fig. 16.)  It’s one of the darkest endings I’ve ever seen in a game personally, encompassing a depressive tone.  Or it would be if not for a small eucatastraphe. There’s a message of hope, as they break the fourth wall to tell you everything will be fine, and to take care of your own world. It’s easy to read the Rapture analogy into this scene and that everything has found redemption, but it’s made specifically clear in this ending that there’s no way to go back to your childhood home and have it still be the same.

The series has grown and evolved with its audience and it’s all the more better for it, defining what growing up meant to a man over the course of 30 years of his life: and the narrative of what the “end game” of that growth is changed with him. From comforting others, to taking on monumental tasks of bravery, to just accepting that things can never be the way they once were. How we experience our own growth is a direct reflection with how we see the world and we build metaphorical towers of our grief that sometimes simply is less what the world actually will look like as it ends, and more how our anxieties are reflected in our own mortality.